Hunger pains

By Published On: January 1st, 2016

My iron stomach, bottomless pit of an appetite and endless […]

My iron stomach, bottomless pit of an appetite and endless enthusiasm for anything edible made my enviable gig as a food writer easy. I would eat anything and everything and lots of it … until one day I couldn’t. That’s right: I became pregnant.

The parasite growing inside me certainly changed how I ate, but I never allowed it to stop me from doing my job. Although if I’m being honest, it wasn’t always easy.

Never again, tater tots, never again
I’ve eaten uncleaned pig intestine in Laos and plucked a live slug from a sandwich in Uruguay—surely a little bit of morning sickness wasn’t going to stop me from doing my job.

Shortly before I’d learned of my pregnancy, I’d signed on to do a trend piece for a local paper on “totchos.” For the uninitiated, totchos are nachos—but with tater tots in place of tortilla chips. It’s the kind of dish you mock until two Long Island iced teas past midnight, when you suddenly wonder what sort of maniacal geniuses tripped and dumped their grocery cart into the oven.

I hit a hard-core nausea phase while researching. For breakfast and lunch, I ate plain white rice with a pat of butter. But I dreaded dinner. I picked apart plate after plate of tots, choking down two or three so that I could form a comparative opinion. After I made it through five different versions of the dish, even talking about tater tots made me gag a little (though, so did things like walking and brushing my teeth, so it was hardly unusual).

I’ve always prided myself on not categorically disliking foods and on being open to trying anything. But it turns out, at age 31, I’ve discovered that’s a lie: I don’t think I’ll ever eat another tater tot. I said good riddance to that piece and started on my next article, which I’d originally feared far more: finding the spiciest dish in Seattle. However, it now seemed like a cakewalk. Namely because it didn’t involve deep-fried potatoes coated in cheese.

The highs and lows of coffee country
Toward the end of my first trimester, I headed to the high mountains of Colombia to learn about coffee, which presented two big challenges—and revealed an unexpected benefit.

As soon as I landed, I was whisked off to the research facility of the Colombian Coffee Federation. They started us off with an activity: smelling various coffees and matching them with aroma compounds. That’s how I discovered what I came to call my “super-nose.” So much of what we call taste is really smell, and I soon came to realize that my heightened olfactory abilities meant I could nail down exactly the compounds in each bean. Jasmine, toasted rice, citrus … if it was in there, I could find it. Using descriptions of each region’s characteristics, I matched beans to states with ease—I was acing a test for which I hadn’t even studied.

The downside was that, despite being in a coffee wonderland with access to the country’s best beans, I couldn’t safely drink too much caffeine. Capped at just one cup each day, I sniffed, sipped and spat. It felt kind of like watching a sunset with a blindfold on. I was aware of the greatness in front of me, yet I was unable to enjoy it.

Perhaps the ability to drink more coffee would have helped with my other issue of the moment, too. By the end of the trip, I hadn’t pooped in days. I began to look at the food—my favorite part of any trip—with a special form of horror. The golden-crisp corncakes called arepas that make up the backbone of Colombian cuisine appeared like hockey pucks waiting to cozy up under a blanket of local cheese, lodge themselves in my intestines and snuggle in for a good long stay.

The only small redemption was that the bathroom at my spacious hotel had possibly the greatest view of any toilet on earth. Colonial tile framed the endless peaks of the Andes Mountains as they poked and prodded at the wide sky. At least I was miserable in a beautiful place.

Making space for baby
My whole life, I’d joked that there was a food baby in my belly after gluttonous multicourse meals, but now there was a real baby in my belly—and it was affecting how I ate more than I’d ever imagined possible. When I got to Singapore, I was pooping again, and the nausea was beginning to fade. So, of course, it was high time for a new problem to arise. And arise it did: The baby had started taking up the space that I used to use for food.

At any other point in my career, Singapore would have been a 24-hour-a-day riot of eating, squeezing in five to seven meals plus a few snacks to make sure I didn’t miss a single thing worth putting in my mouth. The concept of eating until full had never been an option for me because I never got full. While this makes it difficult to maintain a supermodel figure, it is quite the asset for a food writer.

But suddenly I was one of those people I’d envied as an overweight teenager who said, “I’m so hungry!” and then, after a few bites, complained, “I’m so full!” Eating less makes my job harder (How can I choose the best chili crab in Singapore if I can’t even finish one?) and invites judgment (What kind of food writer doesn’t even finish her meal?).

Feeling better, still not eating
Judgment is common for pregnant women. At my brother’s wedding, I toasted with a single glass of champagne. My husband later told me a guest came up to him and made sure to tell him that I did so. Alcohol aside, the list of delicacies a pregnant woman is supposed to avoid reads like my dream last-meal menu: oysters on the half shell, steak tartare, sushi, stinky cheeses, charcuterie and medium-rare hamburgers.

I’d love to pretend I had the willpower to stick to the prescription, but the fact is that over the course of my pregnancy, I ate all of these things at least once. I wasn’t throwing back bivalves willy-nilly nor risking the life of my unborn child for a bologna sandwich, but at restaurants where sourcing was a priority and a top chef was hand-chopping venison tartare, I ate it, hoping my baby would inherit my iron stomach.

And now I am at the end. After nine months of my body—from which, essentially, I make my living—being occupied by an alien force, it’s time to reclaim what is rightfully mine. While I hope that the lasting effect of my “occupied” era is that I’ll remember what it’s like to eat small meals and practice restraint, the reality is that the only permanent scar might be my inability to eat (or discuss or even briefly think about) tater tots.

If I’ve learned anything from watching others, it’s that the painful parts of this process will fly out the window of my memory with the speed of a baby bird leaving the nest as I turn to my next big challenge: raising a little girl who loves the magical world of cuisine and culture as much as I do.

By Naomi Tomky

Image: / Gerenme