Motivations are very personal things sometimes. The motivation for Mezzacello – specifically the food generation component is very private and personal, but worth sharing to prove a point. I have lived without the ability to eat and forced to go hungry for a week due to circumstances that made the issue of food access and security very real for me.
This is a very personal blog post. There is a graphic image of me at a very vulnerable time in my life. But it speaks directly to my passion and commitment to Mezzacello and the food systems experiments I conduct here.
When I turned 35 years old I started having great difficulty swallowing solid food. Long story short, I dipped down to 54 kg (120lbs) because I could not eat. It turns out I have a genetic anomaly with my immune system that destroyed my esophagus. After my bloated esophagus blew up in my chest, and an emergency surgery to replace my esophagus with my descending colon failed (it was deprived of blood flow and consequently also exploded and spread gangrene throughout my pleural cavity) the result of these medical emergencies was that I was placed in a 4 month coma while they dealt with catastrophic septic infection.
When I woke up, blind, partially paralyzed and unable to take any food or drink by mouth I was really bummed. I also had a feeding tube that passed through my abdominal wall into my stomach directly to provide nutrition, liquids, and pain medication. The feed that was pumped into my body twice a day cost $900 a month. This was not covered by insurance, don’t get me started on insurance. I quickly burned through my savings just paying for the privilege to eat. Cheap food was not an option. For two years I lived like this. I would walk into bakeries and restaurants and just sniff – longing for tasty food. I’d stand in front of the refrigerator and just imagine chewing anything.
During those two years I also had to deal with the hole in my neck where my saliva drained. Yeah, you can’t stop saliva – it’s automatic. I wore Kotex pads taped to my neck (I called them “Throat-Texes”) many thanks to the many women that made donations of boxes of Kotex pads. I had the coolest mutant ability: I could shoot liquid out my neck! Killer party trick. This is also why I started wearing bow ties – to hide the throat-Tex taped around my neck and discourage unsolicited questions. But I also lost two teeth. When you don’t chew your saliva doesn’t properly clean your teeth. During this time I had to learn to see, read, talk, walk, and laugh again. This is also how, why, and when I learned Tai Chi.
One very cold winter the power went out for a week. I needed power to eat; the pump that forced pressurized feed into my stomach had no battery backup. I couldn’t get the feed to go into my stomach without a pressurized pump. I went four days trying to get feed into my stomach before a friend offered me a gas-powered generator and then I asked my dads if I could stay with them. They had electricity. I needed power to get nutrients that I could hardly afford and required a prescription to obtain.
My point here is not to solicit pity or sympathy. It is to point out why food security is so very, very real and important to me. I saw firsthand how precarious our modern food production and distribution infrastructure is. I see clearly the true costs and value, and chronic waste of food. As a result of the miracle surgery at the @ClevelandClinic I can now eat most solid food. But there is a cost; I have to trade time for food (I must lay flat and lay still for a minimum of 30 minutes – each time I eat) I can’t eat foods that are too dry as I don’t have an esophagus with peristalsis and if food gets caught at my trachea where my stomach meets my throat I can easily choke or suffocate. Oh, and I cannot eat processed food or sugar. No convenient fast food for me. Sugar catastrophically escalates my insulin response and my blood sugar drops to dangerous levels and I pass out and loose the ability to process most nutrients for three days. I MUST eat fresh, healthy food. Thus Mezzacello has become my lifeline in this world.
I grow a lot of food. I store as much as I can. I have a wonderful, creative, empathetic, and patient husband who is a fantastic cook and I eat like a king. But I know — without a doubt — the true cost of food. I have lived it. I am living it. That 30 minute lay flat rule means I avoid eating out and I often watch people in restaurants eat their food. Occasionally I will eat too and then go out to a car or lay on a bench or in a doorway to digest and reflect. Sometimes people give me money. I guess they think I am a homeless guy in a fedora, dress shirt, and a bow tie. Who knows? It’s a crazy world.
I hate to see food waste. There is so much of it. I am not preaching or demanding that you do anything different other than show empathy and awareness. Reflect on the food you eat; is it worth the empty calories, the waste, the fat? Are you powering your miracle body with the best? What can we do differently? I have been challenged to stay alive. I have also been blessed with perspective, inspiration, and purpose. I love my life, my husband, my job, my community, my friends, my strengths and my flaws, and myself. Welcome to Mezzacello. This is my why.