My first encounter with the delicate Canadian digestive system came many years ago, before I had set foot in Canada. I was in Istanbul, at some international workshop, with a bunch of Canadians. At the first collegial meal, partaken in the dining hall of the amazingly beautiful and stylish hotel we were staying, a Canadian lady got into a loud and incomprehensible argument with the waiter about the wheat in baclava. I shouldn`t say argument, as that would imply there was two sides, in fact, the lady was explaining loudly and angrily what the wheat would do to her digestive system, while the waiter, and other Middle-easterners including myself stared curiously and with little understanding, while the other First-Worlders rolled their eyes and smirked.

I dismissed that little incident as crazy-rich-North-American-person syndrome, little suspecting that in a few years, I would become intimately familiar with the digestive issues of many other Canadian colleagues, and their various sensitivities and food-intolerences would become imprinted indelibly in my brain.

‘Gabriela’ feels sick after eating gluten, but not always, and not in the right amount,so perhaps a tiny slice of cake would be fine. “Shania” couldn’t eat sugar. ‘Veronica’ would get terrible cramps after eating vegetables. ‘Daria’ would fart most loudly and terribly after eating dairy- no she never actually said that, but her stomach couldn’t deal with it. These are people, Gentle Reader, with whom I have no particular intimacy. However, after spending what now seems like half my life in Haligonian offices, I realised that where my colleagues in Iran used to talk obsessively and compulsively about beauty products and creams and things, here, the main focus of public, sociable interest is what you can and cannot eat. I admit I am biased- I prefer beauty regimens to dietary ones. I always thought certain matters should be kept private, and the details of what upsets your belly definitely counts among them.

And yet, I admit I am changing. As I become more integrated in Canadian society, I hear myself discussing whether my daughter and I have lactose intolerance, and whether the non-stop musical burping with which I entertain my family after a heavy supper may be the result of something I ate- or perhaps it is just stress? Who knows. But when in Rome, one does as the Romans do.


One comment

  1. Intense research provided new evidence for the importance of the gut microbiome. There are between 500 and 1000 different species of (benign) bacteria permanently living within us, mainly in the gut. In terms of total mass, they make about 2 kg and consist of roughly 10 to the 14 bacterial cells. It becomes more and more obvious how they are involved in health or diseases. Some species of bacteria secret toxins or other microbial metabolites that contribute to chronic diseases. Alterations in the gut microbiome (following changes in diet early in childhood) are for instance suspected to contribute to the development of autism.

    To make a long story short: If people talk about their problems with certain food incompatibilities, it is in many instances not their own problem, but a problem of their “pet” gut bacteria with the food. But I 100% agree with you that although it is an interesting topic for scientific discussion, at private or social occasions there are more funny subjects to entertain the people with. I think the English came up with a list of subjects one should try to avoid at a party conversation: No job related issues, No politics, No religion, No health issues.
    best greetings,

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