Food in the Time of Conflict: The Marawi Siege Crisis, and How We Can Help

ph_locator_lanao_del_sur_marawi

© Mike Gonzalez, 2005.

Photo By Mike Gonzalez (TheCoffee) (English Wikipedia) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Bullets and bombs are the most well-known, but not necessarily the most widespread of weapons during times of war and conflict.  Displacement, disease, and hunger affect both combatants and civilians, with the latter often winding up as refugees forced to make perilous journeys to safety away from the ‘Ground Zero’ of war zones, places that had once been home to them. In different parts of the world, refugees from all parts of the world are forced to make do in crowded temporary housing, camps, and evacuation centers. In these places, they often face shortages in basic necessities such as food, potable water, clothing, and medication.

One such ongoing crisis is the siege in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, Philippines. Marawi was a beautiful city, the provincial capital with a rich history because of the heritage of its Muslim and Christian inhabitants. On May 23, 2017, a group of extremists known as the Maute group attacked Marawi City, leading to clashes with the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Most of Marawi’s 220,000 residents were forced to flee to neighboring cities and municipalities such as Iligan City and Cagayan de Oro City to escape the continuous firefights and airstrikes between government forces and the extremists.

At present, more than 55,000 refugees are staying in Iligan City and neighboring municipalities. The Department of Social Welfare and Development, as well as other agencies involved in the relief and evacuation efforts have to stretch limited supplies of food and other relief goods to meet the needs of refugees already being housed in 37 schools, multi-purpose halls and other buildings converted to evacuation centers, as well as newcomers who have just been rescued from or escaped the conflict zones in Marawi City.

One of the most immediate needs of the refugees is food, whether ready-made or in prepackaged forms. What makes this food crisis more challenging is that food donations for refugees from Marawi must be halal or prepared according to Islamic dietary laws. Halal foods are free from pork or pig by-products, therefore even vegetables and other foods fried in pork lard or fat are not permissible for consumption. Halal foods must also be free from blood, alcohol, and also involves a specific means of humanely butchering animals to be used for food.  

Apart from the Department of Social Welfare and Development, other groups involved in the relief efforts for the refugees from Marawi include the Red Cross, Alagang Kapatid foundation, Save the Children, Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership, and the Office of the Vice President. Universities such as the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila, Ateneo de Naga, De La Salle University, and La Salle Academy in Iligan are also accepting and coordinating donations for the refugees. One group directly involved in preparing and distributing halal food to the refugees is the Art Relief Mobile Kitchen. The Art Relief Mobile Kitchen (ARMK) at present prepares 10,000 to 12,000 meals each day for the evacuees in Iligan City.

Art Relief Mobile Kitchen is no stranger to feeding refugees from calamities after all. Starting all the way back from the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda (International Name: Haiyan) in 2013, ARMK set up a mobile kitchen near the area where refugees landed from Leyte and other typhoon-hit areas, with the efforts from volunteers and donations either in cash or in kind helped feed the multitude coming to Manila for safety.

Now the same case is happening in the evacuation centers in Illigan and Cotabato City almost a month in with the fighting in Marawi, where there are still reports of people in need of assistance and relief. Let’s not sit back and allow hunger to become a weapon of terror, help out in anyway you can, especially with addressing Art Relief Mobile Kitchen’s herculean task of feeding of our brothers and sisters in Marawi during Ramadan.

To learn more about Art Relief Mobile Kitchen and how to donate, one can visit their Facebook page by clicking here.

Saying Goodbye to My ‘Best Friend’—Getting Rid of My Caffeine Addiction

There was a time when coffee and I were inseparable. Friends caricatured me always holding a cup of the brown brew, and stops to a coffee shop were mandatory during any outing. At one point, I was clocking in about five cups a day—all in the name of staying awake during lengthy lectures or late nights finishing up papers. If I could not get coffee, I almost always resorted to chugging down cans of soda.  Inevitably this nasty habit caught up with me, resulting in trembling hands, jittery speech, and two seizures that were enough to send me to the emergency room. I soon realized that caffeine—or at least excess amounts of it—was a factor in my seizures. It was time for the coffee and the soda to go.

Now a caveat: Caffeine in small doses can be a good thing. It has been touted as a way to manage some kinds of headaches. Coffee is in itself said to be an antioxidant. However, caffeine in excess is another thing altogether, whether from coffee, soda, or other sources. Also, there is no nutritional benefit in ingesting soda, which is full of additives such as food colors and acids.

So how does one get rid of a caffeine habit? Many people trying to get rid of a caffeine addiction choose to cut back on their caffeine intake, by gradually reducing three cups of coffee a day to two, then one. Another strategy for cutting back is to reduce the size of one’s caffeinated drinks by a fourth to a half of a cup each day. Using low-caffeine substitutes such as ‘herbal coffees’ is also said to help get rid of a caffeine habit, but the use of such caffeine substitutes must be done carefully especially with persons who may have adverse reactions to some herbal preparations.

Other people choose to go ‘cold turkey’, as I did. The first three or four days without a drop of coffee or soda were nothing short of trying. I was cranky and felt as if my eyes were half-closed as I walked through glue. I wanted to just lie down and sleep off the hours, but I had to will myself to stay awake; at that time I was reviewing for a licensure exam and there was much ground to cover. Fortunately, within a week, my body finally found some equilibrium—or I had simply learned to adjust to a less frenetic pace once more.

What was also just as challenging was finding foods, as well as restructuring my habits, to fill up the role that caffeine once played.  I had relied on that substance to keep me alert and awake especially during lull hours. Now I had to literally find other ways to keep my eyes open.

One thing I made sure NOT to do was to switch out caffeine for sugar in the form of sweets, pastries, or other quick fixes. I also eschewed other non-caffeinated energy drinks as well as other stimulants. Instead I used these strategies:

-Eating smaller meals a day instead of 3 large ones: This was to prevent that dreaded post-lunchtime sleepiness. Also, breaking down 3 large meals into 5 small ones helps ensure a steadier blood sugar level, preventing ‘crashes’ that may actually be dangerous to one’s health.

-Hydration: I cannot stress this enough. That 8 glasses a day piece of advice is the bare minimum. Drinking more water not only helps keep one awake, but also does wonders for skin, hair, breath, and just overall health.

-Power naps: Instead of forcing myself to stay awake to the point of non-productivity, I learned the benefits of snoozing for just five minutes, in order to relieve eye strain as well as give my brain a break.

It’s been nearly a year since that last cup of coffee. To this day I still miss the taste of a hot, deep and dark brew, but I’ve learned that the health benefits of limiting caffeine far outweigh the jolt and exhilaration. I consider this change as kicking ‘my best friend’, caffeine, to the curb, in favor of taking care of my other best friend: my body. And that is something always worthwhile.

Heartburn: A change in lifestyle

the_definition_of_heartburn

Photo by Christopher Dart (https://www.flickr.com/photos/darty53/8686152556/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Before working abroad in Doha, I already had the problem of acid reflux and normal remedies prescribed by the doctor worked out well for me. A bit of portion eating there and a less chili, no coffee, booze, or softdrinks for a period of time, and drink your medicine. After those two weeks, I’d feel better and be back to eating anything I liked without a care in the world. A matter of wash, rinse, and repeat. Easy peasy, I’m mostly healthy after all. I was unfortunately mistaken.

After the wear and tear of shifting schedules from my many tech support jobs, and the six day work week in Doha, perhaps my body finally called up to take its dues. A month or so after coming back to Manila, I began burping and having the taste of stomach acid line my mouth. Didn’t mind it much, drink some water or some milk, good to go. I only took notice when I kept regurgitating foam after a single bottle of beer, my walk home punctuated by spitting out the foam that came up from my throat.

The gastroenterologist pretty much confirmed my worst fears, I had heartburn a few months before I turned 28th. I bet you’d ask, “So what? Just drink medicine and go.” or “It’s not like (insert here disorder / disease / ailment), you have it much better.”

One would normally dismiss such thoughts, until Kat reminded me what an untreated and ignored gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) / heartburn can do to someone.

According to this article from cancer.org, one of the risk factors for having esophageal cancer or Barrett’s esophagus is GERD. While it does not happen to everyone with heartburn, I most certainly do not want to ever encounter them in my life if I can help it. After all, everything that we eat and drink goes through the esophagus, so it’s imperative that we take care of it, along with everything else in our body.

I can safely say that I’m a foodie, having both an interest in having a meal and making one, something I share with Kat. I didn’t want to give up on that and live in the spectre of being defined as another foodie who had to stop because he couldn’t each much anymore. And with a few changes here and there, I can say I’ve done rather well with a good deal of help from Kat and a couple of friends’ suggestions here and there, along with our Team Glasses Food Blog.

But there are times where heartburn catches up to me, no matter how I try to take care of myself. After the string of many food adventures, I had to get myself checked up again. As per my latest gastro check up, I was told that it’s a recurring thing, so I guess I’ll have to deal with this the best way I can.

On my part and your part, if you’re dealing with heartburn but still love eating great food, here are some things to remember:

  1. Follow your gastroenterologist’s advice and don’t cut corners. Maintaining your health matters more, no matter how the medicines costs initially.
  2. Remember your trigger foods and stay away from these or at the very least, do your best to put these on the side if possible. Also skip the alcohol, deep fried food, and tobacco—even if you don’t have GERD.
  3. Find what works for you, in terms of food portioning and the meals you can actually eat.

As what I’ve learned here while writing with Kat about our different food adventures here in Team Glasses Food Blog, life doesn’t really end if you’re living with medical conditions here and there. One can still find great food places in Metro Manila, without sacrificing your health. And this is the reason why we continue to write our foodie reviews, thoughts, and adventures. We really hope that we help you out in our own way.

Eating and Cooking with Heartburn

Before having heartburn, I loved to try new things with food, from Japanese curry to a recipe a friend from Mauritius gave me, which was frying up butternut squash with fenugreek seeds. And of course, I loved eating spicy food, even learning to make my own kimchi while I was working in the middle east.

But like all good things, it came to an end in a spectacular way when I kept on burping on the way home after drinking only a bottle of beer. Just imagine all the foam and feeling that I wasted good craft booze that deserved better. This meant going to the gastroenterologist to have it looked at.

Lo and behold, I felt my foodie adventures disappear in an instant when he said that I had heartburn. I already expected him to give me a list of all the bland food I’d have to eat, but I think the fates were kind that day. The physician said that when I find food or ingredients that triggers the acid build up and burping, I should take note and avoid them. Of course the usual suspects were in the list, like citrus fruits, coffee, alcohol, milk, fried or spicy food. However, I didn’t expect eggs to be one of my triggers.

Since I live alone, eggs should probably have been the easiest to cook protein for a balanced diet; however, I only discovered I couldn’t eat them when Christmas time came. It was two weeks before Christmas when my landlord gave me a large tray of eggs, around 30 pieces in total for the holidays. Thankfully this saved me a trip to the grocery when the funds were tight. I first tried making sunny-side up and ended up burping like crazy even if I chewed slowly or at less. I then tried scrambled eggs with the same result, and later to progressed all the way to hard-boiled and soft-boiled egg. After the last attempt, I shook my head and gave the remaining eggs to my sister. I think for a week I couldn’t even look at the pack of pancake mix I was aiming to use.

But when there’s a will, there’s a way. I discovered ways around the thought of eating bland food by making hand tossed salads without the ranch or thousand island dressing, using reduced amounts of oil whenever I need to fry something, boil ingredients whenever possible, going less on the salt and processed foods, and if I have to eat something not exactly good for me, I eat just a few tablespoons of the stuff and then move on. Using fresh ingredients and light sauces as much as possible is one’s valued ally in not being stifled at every turn. I also had to teach myself how to chew thoroughly and slowly because I used to eat fast and plenty.

Another thing I’ve tried is drinking probiotic drinks or eat some yogurt every now and then. After reading up on a study on the benefits of probiotics for the stomach (Del Piano, M. et al… Capurso L. (2006), “Probiotics: from research to consumer”, Digestive and Liver, 38), I decided to give it a shot even if I knew dairy and I had a fickle, if not warlike, relationship. In a few weeks of drinking and stocking up on those two things, I’ve noticed that I wasn’t burping as often or as hard as before. And then out of sheer desire, I decided to give a glass of red wine a try. Thankfully, it didn’t cause me to be a burping mess again. Just a rumble or two but nothing beyond that. Hopefully there will be definitive study on it soon.

I’ve come to the present day realization that changing the way I cook, eat and drink helps keep heartburn or GERD at bay, giving one the opportunity to still be a foodie without sacrificing my health in the process. And anyone can do it given time, planning, and becoming the master of what you eat and drink, not the other way around.

Epilepsy Bite by Bite

When one thinks of diseases that necessitate food restrictions, among the first things that come to mind are food allergies, or ‘lifestyle diseases’ such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. Not many people would immediately put ‘epilepsy’ at the top of the list, owing to the fact that it’s not always a readily apparent condition. Yet according to the World Health Organization, around 50 million people worldwide live with epilepsy, and each year 2.4 million more people are diagnosed with it.

What exactly is epilepsy? Actually the term ‘epilepsy’ refers to a whole range of diseases that manifest as recurrent seizures, oftentimes without other underlying causes or diseases. A seizure may be described as an abnormal electric impulse in one part of the brain. In a sense it can be likened to what happens to some gadgets when plugged in during a power surge. Fortunately the brain doesn’t burn or fizzle out the way gadgets do, but instead it triggers changes in a person’s behaviour ranging from brief lapses of attention that resemble daydreaming, or outright convulsions. The Filipino word ‘tirik´ sums up the experience of a seizure quite aptly.

35471660-a-medical-background-with-a-man-and-epilepsy-waves

Credit to: 123RF

Since epilepsy is such a diverse disorder, there are no specific foods or ‘triggers’ that people living with epilepsy need to avoid. What may worsen a seizure for one person may have little to no effect on another. However some of the more common triggers include stress, sleep deprivation, and alcohol consumption. Other persons are triggered by sudden noises or the presence of flashing or strobe lights.

It has also been thought that caffeine, as well as food additives such as preservatives and artificial colourings, can be implicated in some seizures. One frequently blamed additive is the infamous MSG (monosodium glutamate), an often used flavouring in processed foods as well as some recipes. Other foods may not necessarily trigger seizures, but they may have unwanted interactions with the anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) that most people with epilepsy take in order to control their seizures. For instance, taking some fruit juices such as grapefruit may change the levels of an AED in a person’s blood, thus worsening side effects such as dizziness or drowsiness.

Considering all these possible dietary pitfalls, a ‘lifestyle change’ is often easier said than done. For yours truly this meant saying goodbye to a number of comfort foods from my student days. It was bye-bye to chips, instant noodles, fried luncheon meat and even some types of bacon. Instead of going to parties at bars or clubs, I had to content myself with more mellow cafes and coffeeshops. Then when it became apparent during my medical training that caffeine was not helping my condition either, I had to also give up coffee.

It was not easy. Suddenly it felt as if I could not eat anything I liked, much less be sociable in the company of other foodies. I could bring food from home, but what if I wanted other options or wanted to be with friends who were bent on eating anything they wanted? So what was next? Wide-eyed me, clutching a cup of hot chocolate, and wondering what on earth I could still munch on, without breaking my budget.

Fortunately I wasn’t exactly alone in this struggle. And so the Team Glasses Blog’s journey began with two foodies (one with Heartburn and me with Epilepsy) to help people with the same health conditions about making their own foodie trips in the Metro.

Thoughts on Heartburn

A few years back, I enjoyed and perhaps took for granted the fact that I could eat and drink anything I like. As a 20-year-old man, buffet or spicy food with a bottle of brew was love on my end. But things started to change when I heard the word ‘acid reflux’ from the doctor’s diagnosis two years ago. No to chilli peppers anymore, but I could still eat a good bit of food. In my travels in Qatar, I discovered Indian food which didn’t need the said peppers but still allowed me to eat spicy food. Some roti with some paya, masala, or beef curry is a passionate story on the taste buds.

But like all good things, it came to an end unexpectedly when I started burping one day after eating too much fried chicken two to four months before I came home. It led to that dreaded day I finally got my full diagnosis from the gastroenterologist. I now have heartburn or GERD etching itself into my daily vocabulary. From no more coffee, strong tea, and booze among other trigger foods, to slower and more thorough chewing, and altering my posture, my lifestyle changed almost immediately.

GERD

But why did I do that in the first place, a lifestyle change, you may ask? One nasty thing no one ever really tells you is that if one leaves GERD to its devices and lets it have its way, it may eventually cause esophageal cancer. With rather nasty cancer stemming from one’s esophagus, the lack of decent food will be least of one’s problems. And as someone who found his reasons to keep on living and chasing after the life I wanted to live, changing my habits was not a hard decision to make.

Still, one can live a foodie life in the fullest by remembering to do the following. First, noting down trigger food matters. Such is a case with Liempo. It doesn’t trigger me unlike someone I know who has GERD too. However dairy starts up my burping, and in worse cases, leads to some spitting of small amounts of vomit from the excess acid. Second, volume eating is the enemy. It’s best to chose quality instead. And lastly, consulting an expert is always best for one’s wellbeing. They are best situated to give the best advice possible for living with the condition.

Ending this on a good note, GERD isn’t death like I used to believe it to be. It isn’t insurmountable because with some lifestyle adjustments, one can still eat well, and live better. The best of luck and hopefully our blog helps with future foodie trips.

Guess Who Is Coming to Dinner… We Are

So tell us about yourselves

The simplest answer to this question is that we are foodies with challenges—namely health challenges. To the rest of the world we are:

Lee: a programmer by training, writer by trade and aspiring lawyer

Kat: a physician and aspiring researcher

It just so happens that Lee also is coping with GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease), while Kat has been dealing with epilepsy. Both of these conditions require adjustments to lifestyle, especially diets. It’s all about prevention after all.

After a recent food run to a convenience store wherein neither of us bought anything due to our respective health restrictions, we realized we were in an interesting situation. Lee couldn’t have foods that had plenty of dairy or were overly acidic. Kat couldn’t have processed meat, chips, or anything high in preservatives. Alcohol was off limits to both of us, and at the same time we were trying to learn how to survive without coffee,  soda, or energy drinks (after subsisting on these for years!).

We realized that we had to be resourceful with our meals together. So began our search within Metro Manila for food establishments with selections that were friendly for persons with various long standing conditions like ours. These places would also have to be accessible by commuting, and ideally within the budget of young professionals. This blog documents that food search, as well as our attempts at creating easy recipes for those times that call for a stay-in date.

Welcome to the Team Glasses Blog, and our adventures. We hope you will journey with us healthily and happily.