Earlier this week, Don started his “low-iodine diet” in preparation for exciting radioactive iodine therapy next month. He tells me he’s not allowed to eat milk or milk-products, soy or soy-based products, egg yolks, anything from the sea, iodized table salt, and all restaurant foods.
Food restrictions are pretty common for people with disabilities. A friend of mine discovered her chronic pain and fatigue was influenced, at least in part, by her wheat allergy, and described at length to me the perils of “hidden wheat” in things like Twizzlers, which is a brand of red liquorish available in North America. Another gets flair-ups if she thinks about stepping away from her gluten-free diet. Some people have serious allergies to corn, and must avoid any and all things with corn and high-fructose corn syrup. There are very specific diets required for people on certain types of medications, with certain types of short-term and long-term medical conditions, people with diabetes, and people preparing for types of surgeries. Many people recovering from Cancer treatments, surgery, or eating disorders, as well as people on certain types of medications that cause dramatic weight loss, are pushed (or required) to consume those “nutritional shakes” or other forms of meal replacements.
You know what’s fun for most of the above?
How incredibly expensive all of this stuff is.
So, let me go back to Don. Right now, all of Don’s favourite foods, and everything we’ve had stocked in the freezer, are off-limits. He tried to pick up rice milk so he could have some cereal, but surprise! Most rice milk in Canada is made with salt, except a very specific (expensive) brand that isn’t sold at our grocery store. So, either we need to go to the more expensive store downtown, I need to make rice milk (I have a recipe), or he needs to not have milk with his cereal for the next two weeks. We can’t find any bread we can guarantee is made without salt, so either he goes without bread at all, or someone makes him special salt-free bread. Today, while I was away, I think he ate some special, expensive, peanut-only peanut butter and salt-free rice cakes.
Because I’ve been busier than anyone probably should be, we’ve mostly been relying on very cheap, easy-prep frozen meals that are basically salt with food in between. I’m no less busy, but now Don needs to be eating so-called “real” foods that are time-consuming to prepare, and often very expensive to purchase, especially in comparison to how we normally do the food-thing.
If you’re not on a restricted diet, I recommend checking out some of the “special” foods that people on restricted diets need to purchase. See how expensive gluten-free foods are. Compare prices of cow milk, soy milk, rice milk, and nut milk. See how many things have “corn” in the ingredients list, and try and sort out how expensive it would be to try and eat nothing with corn in it, while still eating enough. Look at some of the stuff on the shelf and try and sort out what has “hidden” wheat in it.
The cost of these items is especially relevant because so many people with disabilities live near, at, or below the poverty line for their respective countries. Don and I are able to afford to spend extra money on this restricted diet because of family support, but this isn’t an option for very many people. If you do not have a restricted diet, imagine trying to afford the foods that allow you to eat without causing flare-ups in your chronic pain condition.
Imagine as well – and this, of course, applies even when one doesn’t have restricted diets – trying to put the energy and time into preparing these foods when dealing with second shift for the sick. Imagine trying to balance it all while some stranger tells you that your, or your kid’s, disability can be magically cured if you put your family on a special, expensive, restrictive, time-consuming diet.
Don and I are incredibly privileged in this. I can take the time and make him rice milk so he doesn’t have to eat dry cereal, and we can afford to run out to the store and buy those pricey egg-whites in a carton things. And this is a restricted diet he needs to be on for a little over two weeks, and then it’s done. So many people with disabilities do not have these options. It’s eat stuff that makes you sick, or don’t eat enough at all.
I wish I had some solution I could offer to this problem, some nice little bow of hope I could tie this post up with. All I have is the knowledge that these restrictive diets aren’t things people are on for fun, but because the alternatives for them are sickness or pain. And yet, the foods people are required to eat are priced like they’re luxuries.