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Arts and Culture

Soft Foods On 'Bread And Butter'

A white bowl of broth on a plate with a spoon

Five years ago, almost exactly, I dislocated my jaw. It had been an exhausting few days and we had run by a fast food drive thru as a hail Mary on the day. And as I opened my mouth to eat that first bite of juicy burger, my jaw locked open. Wide. Nothing I did would close it back up. A trip to the emergency room finally fixed it and a follow up doctor’s visit gave me a list of instructions for a six week recovery period. The top instruction was the order of soft foods, no exceptions, for the entirety of the six weeks.

I’m a meat eater. There are few things I enjoy more than a burger, loaded with BBQ sauce and onion rings or a corn tortilla stuffed with ground beef and every taco trimming available. In fact, I would happily eat burgers and tacos every day, comfortably, for the rest of my life. Neither, however, qualify as ‘soft foods’.

The first week I was in a bit of pain and smoothies saved the day. But after, I started to get hungry. And bored. My family was eating delicious dinners while I sipped broth. Or applesauce. Or another smoothie. My imagination went out with the hospital bill and thinking of things to eat was both overwhelming and tiresome. It turned into a very long six weeks and the sweet pork salad I devoured after my final check up was, to this day, the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten.

As this memory anniversary came up, I realized how our life takes on a comfortable hum. We have our favorite meals and routines down cold and it becomes an easy stretch from Taco Tuesday as a cliched joke to Taco Tuesday as a planning necessity and routine. But when something trips us up; a dislocated jaw, a pandemic, a loss, a new season in life, our routines are shaken and often fall out onto the menu board jumbled and confusing as we try to make sense.

For me and my situation, it was soft foods. We don’t have issues with food textures in our home and solid food has been a staple for decades. Being thrust into the world of soft foods only was abrupt and because of that, I became immediately overwhelmed. 

My kitchen and pantry were not equipped to handle such a request where opening my jaw to accommodate anything more than a straw was painful. Shopping was maddening because my eyes could only focus on my favorite foods that I wasn’t allowed and couldn’t expand to those things that would have been delicious and filling. In short, I was too busy focusing on the things I couldn’t have and neglected all the things I could, making shopping a frustrating and anxiety inducing production. Instead of searching soup options, which is truthfully one of my favorite dinners in the fall, I was longingly dreaming of steak.

What do we do when our own ‘soft food mandate’ falls in our laps? How do our food choices day in and out hamper us from rolling with crises and obstacles thrown at us? How did I become so paralyzed at the thought of soft foods that I couldn’t see past a smoothie to anything else?

 

Truth be told, I don’t really remember what I ate for the full six weeks. I would guess there was a lot of repetition. Cans of soup at lunch, homemade soups for dinner. Soft boiled eggs as the time marched. Applesauce, yogurt and pudding added into the mix. But now, five years later, I’m not certain that the same thing again wouldn’t paralyze the same way. Again. Months into the pandemic and I’m wondering, are my food choices and my food knowledge sustainable? Is my kitchen in order for the bumps and bruises we all take on in life? What can I do better, now, to prepare me for that, later?

I’m looking in to it. I’m going over scenarios in my head and dusting off long ago used skills. I’m fortifying my pantry with the quick and the healthy, but also the varied. Knowing you can’t stock for every conceivable possibility, I’m still trying. I think that is one of the gifts of this year: a renewed purpose to build the sustainable, freshen skills to put things up and away for later use and make sure my jaw is ready for soft foods, if needs be.