Saturday, March 1, 2014

Lessons from Ethiopia: Boycotting foodborne illnesses

Last weekend I was heartbroken after I was hit with a case of food poisoning after eating dinner at one of our favorite restaurants.  We've gone to Antica Pizza for two years and never had an issue with getting  sick from their food.  It was reliable.  Their pizza was on the rotation of only a handful of trusted meals that we eat out as a family here on the weekends.  We don't go out to eat in Addis for the amazing dining experience or the sensational food (although Sishu gets both of those categories right), we go out to eat for one reason and one reason only; to give me a break from the kitchen.  Three meals a day seven days a week I am preparing meals, not unlike lots of moms I know.  Like most mom/chefs, I need a break once in awhile.  Justin makes pancakes for breakfast on Saturday mornings and we go out to eat at least one meal on the weekends.  But, when you can no longer trust your most tried and true restaurants, what is a tired cook (read: Mom) to do?

Real life in a developing country comes with many challenges and the one I've learned endless lessons about, is how prevalent food borne illnesses are. 

My husband and I were riddled with parasites, E. coli and salmonella in Manila, Philippines. The city is full of restaurants and good food but the risk of getting sick was still high.  In Ethiopia, the risk is even greater.  Sanitation is poor, personal hygiene is even poorer.  Sewage pools on the side of roads.  People are defecating and urinating in public everywhere you look.  Food preparation and storage practices are unsafe.  There isn't a week that goes by that I don't hear of a friend who has been hit by food poisoning, parasites or bacterial infections.  It's so common that the embassy's medical clinic has a stack of laboratory sample forms that sit at the ready to hand to patients as they walk through the door.  Everyone keeps plastic stool sample collection cups at home in case of an episode.  It's just part of our life overseas.  An unfortunate part but one that we've become accustomed to.  We even have coined a term for the week following a bout of food poisoning.  We call it the "week of whatever".  After dropping a few pounds from being ill, you can get away with eating pretty much anything.  This past week I enjoyed a big bag of peanut M&Ms.  Yum! 
When we moved to Addis, and had to learn how to wash all our produce and eggs in bleach, I vowed that I would never let my family get sick from eating here.  I do all the cooking and food prep myself which means we've been really healthy here in Addis.  No parasites or bacterial infections!  We aren't adventurous about new restaurants.  We wait for recommendations from friends and we only go to a few places that have proven to be safe and clean.  This was all working in our favor until last weekend.  I ate a certain pizza and within an hour or so already could feel the stomach cramps and pains starting.  I was vomiting all night and sick most of the next day as well.  I was heartbroken.  It reminded me that nothing is safe here.  At any time our trusted meals outside of our home could make us ill.  I was sad and frustrated and just little more ready to leave Ethiopia.  Seriously Antica, you let me down!

What was this tired cook going to do?
I was told this is red basil but it looks more purple to me.  Made an amazing pesto!
I made pizza. All Saturday afternoon. The best damn pizza in Addis Ababa.  I proofed my yeast. I kneaded the whole wheat dough. I hand crushed the garlic into the purple basil pesto. I grated the Gruyere and sliced the mozzarella. I rolled out the dough. I heated my pizza stone.  I slathered on the sauce, layered on the toppings. and flipped it off my pizza peel.  I watched the crust bubble and crisp, I cut it with my pizza slicer and served it to my family.  I opened a bottle of fancy South African red wine (from our trip to Cape Town) and poured my husband and myself a glass.  Because the best damn pizza in Addis Ababa comes from my own kitchen and it's nice knowing I won't have my head in the toilet tonight.  

This tired chef decided to buck-up and boycott anymore belly aches in Ethiopia.  

1 comment:

FS spouse handbook said...

Avoiding foodborne illnesses is smart! And looks delicious!