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Considering that eating ranks high among my favourite activities, it only seems proper to begin recounting my experiences in India by discussing food. And as we are all aware, health follows naturally from food, so I’m going to cover that topic too!
My month in India marks the closest I have ever come to being a vegetarian. Other than a few servings of eggs, 2 trips to McDonald’s (driven by a need for protein), and one fantastic dinner of lamb in garlic sauce, I did not eat any animal products other than butter (which I applied liberally to everything possible, just to get something other than starch in my diet) and some other dairy (only during the first week) for the entire 4 weeks.
First off, social norms in India dictate that you MUST eat everything on your plate because wasting food is a major faux pas, for obvious reasons. Initially, my host family served us plates already filled with food, which meant that I had no choice but to eat what I was given and then get seconds of what I actually wanted to eat. This also meant that I ate copious amounts of wheat and dairy for the first few days. They soon observed that we liked some foods more than others, so then started allowing us to serve ourselves. After the first few days of eating dairy at every meal, I started to have some pain in my right ear, where I am sometimes prone to infections. At this point I stopped eating dairy entirely, and the pain disappeared. Wheat was harder to avoid, since it was the staple food in every meal!
A “typical” meal consisted of: rice, chapati bread, dal (made from one of: peas, lentils, chick peas, black eyed peas, mung beans, gram, kidney beans, soy cakes), and a vegetable (usually some combination of potato, cauliflower, eggplant, peppers). Sometimes there would also be raita, which is yogurt mixed with spices and chunks of vegetables (often cucumber). Breakfast would be a bit different. While living with my host family, we had “sprouts” a few times, which was tomato, onion, cucumber, and lentils or beans that had been soaked and started to sprout. This was my favourite breakfast because it was refreshing and not so starchy. However, usually we would have poha, a rice paper, cabbage, pepper, and peanut casserole type thing that I also liked and would be eaten with “snack sauce” which was essentially ketchup. If we didn’t have one of the above dishes, breakfast would consist of bread and butter, and maybe a piece of fruit. The fruit in India was amazing! Bananas, mango, musk melon, watermelon, and pineapple were the most common, always fresh and so delicious! I ate more mangos than I ever have before and I still wanted more!
The most notable physical effect was that I lost 10 pounds in just under 3 weeks, most of that no doubt being muscle. My clothes were literally falling off me when I left the country and most people told me I looked way too thin when I got home. I attribute this drastic weight loss to the change in diet (major deficiency of protein), the heat (eliminated my appetite), constant walking/hiking, and just plain day to day stress of culture shock, getting around, over-stimulation, etc. In the 4th week I consciously tried to eat more and gained back a couple pounds and then gained back the rest in my first week home!
Considering how much wheat I ate, I survived remarkably well! I think this is thanks to much healing achieved in the last year or two via BTD, homeopathy, and a consistently healthy lifestyle. I took Polyflora and Deflect daily, which kept my digestive system working as usual. I was fortunate enough to avoid any GI sickness for the whole 4 weeks while most (if not all?) other students in my program got sick (either with full-blown food poisoning or at least chronic diarrhea)! Most people resorted to Immodium and/or Cipro (broad-spectrum antibiotics) at some point, but I didn’t even bring those with me.
I wasn’t very anal about what I ate, excluding one day when I washed mangoes (bought on the street) and my knife (also bought on the street) with Purell before cutting them up to eat… I ate quite a few mysterious things, including what I guessed to be cornstarch/fat/sugar/spice balls given to us in a village by a family hosting a wedding the next day. These things were literally dripping with fat, but I was so hungry that I ended up eating many of them (I lost count) on an empty stomach and I STILL had no problem digesting them! And they sure were delicious…
However, I did come down with a pretty nasty respiratory infection in the 3rd week, while we were in the city where the air was extremely smoggy. I think I managed to just narrowly prevent full-blown pneumonia. I possibly had “walking pneumonia”, since I felt fine, but had the most extreme chest congestion I’ve ever experienced plus lots of strange noises (popping, crackling, wheezing) when I breathed deeply. Anyway, I DID NOT want to complain to any of the doctors I was preceptoring with that week since although I liked all of them a lot and respected them as professionals, I knew that as soon as they examined me they would pump me full of antibiotics and I would have little say in the matter. So, I managed to hang in until the end of that week, not getting better or worse. The 4th week we moved to a small village in the Himalayas (quiet, clean air, more exercise, yoga/meditation daily) and I immediately started to get much better, although it still took a full week for me to breath without crazy noises!
While I was in the city I also had some strange eye reactions. One day one of my eyes got very puffy and developed a dark red area below it. Idiotically, I decided to give it a vigourous wash with tap water, which just irritated it further! Then I realized I should probably wash it with bottled water, so then I washed both my eyes with bottled water by basically pouring it into my eyes over the sink (not pleasant!). At this point, both my eyes were red, puffy, and itchy, so I decided I should leave them alone! The next morning my eyes were still pretty puffy and the area between my eyes over my nose had completely flattened out due to the swelling! However, apart from looking kind of strange, I felt OK and decided to just leave well enough alone. Again, this approach seemed to work out and after a few days my eyes were fairly normal again (although they didn’t fully recover until I left the city).
So here I am, back in Canada - healthy and happy!
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