You probably can’t tell from looking at me, but my body endures constant abuse. No, it’s not like I’m getting battered in a boxing ring, working on an oil rig near the Arctic Circle, or fighting forest fires in the Wild West. The dents run deeper, with my stomach, liver, and kidneys taking the hits. After all, I am a food writer.
Sure, getting to partake in 12 to 20 restaurant meals per week probably sounds great, and for the most part, it is. I’ve managed to experience some of the best food on the planet, from chefs both famous, infamous, and anonymous, and when a meal’s really on-point, it’s thrilling. Still, all that fat, salt and sauce can take a toll.
This is hardly a new phenomenon. Even though I’ve only been writing professionally about food since 2005, food’s been a priority in my life since the mid ‘90s, when I was the restaurant critic for my college newspaper, the Vanderbilt Hustler. I spent seven intervening years working in television, but even then, I made it a point to seek great food, whether it was during an out-of-the-way lunch run, or around-the-world trip. Initially, I rarely experienced any adverse effects.
Hell, when my friend Ben Mayer still lived in San Francisco, we’d eat several meals back-to-back-to-back, and follow that up with a run over the city’s biggest hills, to the Bay and beyond. Of course, that’s when I was in my 20’s, and my body bounced back much easier. Now, I’m 37, and Bounce has become something that keeps static cling at bay.
In addition to my duties with Food GPS, where the clock’s never off, I also accept freelance assignments for publications I respect. I’ve powered through L.A.’s best hamburgers, nachos and fried chicken, all for the sake of “research.” Clearly, the public’s a better place for knowing that Salt’s Cure makes a great burger, and Tokyo Fried Chicken Co. is crushing the fried chicken competition.
There have been some extreme examples of my “commitment” over the years, perhaps none more glaring than the two weeks in 2008 when I was researching offal for a dineLA story. At that point in California’s history, I could still eat foie gras with impunity, and of course did. There was one lunch at a bygone Lebanese restaurant in Encino, called Alcazar, where I devoured chicken liver, lamb’s tongue, and lamb fries (yes, that’s a euphemism).
On the uncomfortable drive home from Alcazar, longtime friend Matthew Kang had a wild idea, restraint, and even prescribed a diet of steamed white rice and pickled Korean vegetables. After three straight meals, the combo stabilized my stomach. However, instead of taking it easy, I ran back down the offal-lined road.
By the end of my meal at LudoBites, where I downed a slab of blood pudding and a foie gras cupcake, I hit the wall…again…but continued to attend multi-course dinners.
Finally, I saw a doctor. Remarkably, a physical revealed no damage and my cholesterol levels were miraculously in check. My doctor preached portion control and prescribed pills to pre-emptively derail my discomfort. I started popping pills 30 minutes prior to each big meal to help limit the symptoms.
Maybe it was psychosomatic, but the pills seemed to work, and I slowly regained confidence in my ability to eat normally. In 2011, I stopped writing restaurant news, which amped up the RPMs on my hamster wheel. Now, my girlfriend and I are going carb-free on (most) Mondays, and I’ve even returned to running, making sure to storm the Santa Monica waterfront path at least once or twice a week. All told, I’ve started to achieve what could finally be described as balance, and my side of the seesaw is no longer planted in the dirt.
The human body is resilient. I’ve seen my system bounce back, and want to ensure that my second act doesn’t end up like legendary author A.J. Liebling of “Between Meals” fame, who suffered from gout and only took constitutionals to clear room for more food. I’m happy to increase willpower and limit intake to a level short of gluttony in order to move forward as a productive food writer.