Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Prisoner of Food

To those of you whose favorite thing to do in life is to sit at a table for hours and eat course after course of delicious food, this is going to come off just horribly bad for me.

But the truth of the matter is that I don’t really like food.

What? What do you mean? Don’t like food? What the hell’s wrong with you!

As it turns out, I have a natural propensity to put on weight every time I look at a KFC commercial. This, combined with the fact that from 12 to 30 I spent most of my days in a Speedo in front of at times, thousands of people, has given me a subconscious eating disorder.

Since I dropped the Speedo habit nearly 20 years ago, the way I have avoided putting on 50 pounds is to work out voraciously when possible and to convince myself that I don’t really like food. Food is just something you have to do in order to live. But I can’t like it. So whenever I smell a turkey cooking in the oven or even an exhaust vent from a Burger King, I neurotically tell myself it’s not that great.

But, of course it is that great and therein lies the problem.

When I lived by myself I could deal with my neurosis by just buying the same old crap at Fred Meyers and keeping my refrigerator bacheloresquely clean. If I put in a 100 mile week on the bike (or if I had a raging hangover) I would treat myself with a King-size junk-food meal. But basically my grocery list was down to spuds, rice, frozen vegetables, pork, chicken, eggs and cheese. You can ask my roommates; that’s all I had.

So on the occasion that I would grab some food at a restaurant before a Timbers game or be treated to a killer Portland BBQ, I would guiltily consume at will, knowing that it was just a small treat and  the next day I would be back to  my normal bland diet.

Sure, it's completely neurotic, but it worked. I’d always toss on a few lbs in the winter, but by mid-summer, I’d have ridden it all off and by the first week of October I was downright svelte for the Portland Marathon.

And then came the France thing. Now that I live in the gastronomic capitol of Europe, every day, check that, every hour revolves around food. When I first showed up it was right before Christmas and there were throngs of holiday parties and marathon dinners with friends I hadn’t seen in years.

These dinners go like this (not even the slightest exaggeration either) -> You arrive around 7:30 and are presented with your choice of cocktail and a huge spread of snitchables (enough that I could eat an entire meal of just appetizers). You’ve got chips, peanuts, cheese,  and usually some sort of little  baked seafood spread on crackers. Then you sit down to some soup or a little antipasto or both – again enough to satisfy a normal American dinner requirement. Then comes the baked cheese and potato casserole (gratin) followed by vegetables in some ungodly rich cheese sauce along with a gargantuan chunk of beef, fish or chicken – often times all three.  Not to be forgotten is that with each course you’re probably being served another glass of wine; not so much to get you drunk, just enough to help you process more food than you should be eating.

After that plate is cleared it’s time for cheese (four kinds minimum) then a little salad (read: HUGE complex salad, possibly with more meat or fish) to rinse the palette before desert. Desert isn’t just a scoop of ice cream, but a litany of pies and cakes paraded in front of you like super models on a runway. Since often times the guests bring desert, it’s polite to have at least a little piece of everything. And yeah, a scoop of ice cream too.

Finally the table breaks and the smokers go outside to satisfy yet another craving they may have left, while the host clears the table and sets out shot glasses for ‘digestives’ which are shots of 190 proof distilled fruit spirits. You don’t slam the shot, you milk that baby for all it’s worth. Finally it’s coffee which is normally served with some cookies. And then while everyone mills around the table and splits off into different conversations, they usually toss a basket of fruit out there for you to nibble on.

By this time it’s close to midnight and you’ve been at this for more than four hours. Nobody is drunk, but everyone is beat to death from the effort. You go home (or clean up if you’ve hosted) and feel absolutely gutted by the experience. You lie down and say good bye to your toes, because you may not see them again for a few days.

So the fact that I’m complaining about this might be too much for some of you to bear, but this doesn’t just happen on Thanksgiving. This goes on ALL THE TIME. By the time New Years was over I’d eaten at least a dozen of these meals in the space of three weeks. I don’t know how many kilos I’d packed on, but luckily I’ve been given a hand cycle and the weather wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t ride a bunch of it off.

But a few days after the 1st, I dismounted my ride and came into the apartment to be told that we had a dinner appointment with my girlfriend Helene’s brother.

“Again?” I asked. Helene was stunned.

“What do you mean, ‘Again?’”

“We just ate with them last week – we don’t have to have another huge dinner do we?”

“I thought you like them,” she said. “I thought you said the food was delicious?”

“I do!” I said. “And the food was great. But aren’t we done with the big parties?”

At this point she opened up her date book and showed me the plans for January. We had at least three of these dinners every week. It’s what they do. We get together over beers and watch sports – they eat massive marathon meals. Dining IS their sport. We know the names of all the players, teams and leagues; they know the names of all the wines, cheeses and vegetables. Helene refers to her friends by what they served at dinner – “We’re going to Martha’s house tonight. You remember them - they served the endive salad and the Thom cheese. You loved the boudin in the paillison! ” To which I nod my head and roll towards the car door having no clue as to which of her friend's houses I will end up in.  

When one of us is gone all day and we haven't seen each other, the question upon arrival is not, “How was your day?” The question is, “What did you eat?”

So not only am I living in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, I’m also eating like a king and drinking the finest wines and spirits on the planet. This may sound like heaven to many of you, but all this food is making my neurotic 25-year-old Speedo-wearing conscious explode with guilt.

I have been told it is actually polite to refuse desert or one of the courses, but I’ve yet to see this happen in actual practice. 

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