I first realized I had a problem when instead of hiking in Yellowstone National Park, I was in the bathroom. This was four years ago. My mom waited patiently outside. I blamed the incident on a sensitive stomach. My smart mother thought it was probably more complicated than just a delicate stomach.
While my intention is not to overshare, let’s be honest: Talking about eating, digestion and what comes out the other end isn’t something you can easily sugarcoat.
Which is why I was thrilled when the book “The Un-Constipated Gourmet: Secrets to a Moveable Feast” arrived in our newsroom last month.
My editor was appalled by the title. I was unfazed. And excited. Finally, a cookbook for people with troubled intestines.
The author, Danielle Svetcov, is a Jewish native of Larkspur, now living in San Francisco. Danielle has food sensitivies, and claims she “has never met a Jewish woman — ever — with a normal gut.”
Her anecdotal evidence is on the mark. Studies indicate both Jewish men and women suffer digestive maladies in disproportionate numbers.
Jews are two to four times more likely than non-Jews to have a spectrum of digestive ailments, such as Crohn’s disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, food allergies or lactose intolerance.
For a religious tradition so food-centric, we Jews unfortunately have our fair share of gastrointestinal dysfunction.
I met Danielle at her Noe Valley apartment last month. She made a lunch of three dishes from her cookbook. We spent a couple of hours talking (and laughing) about cooking, eating and digestion.
Like her book, Danielle is funny and forthright, and doesn’t mince words about the bowels.
For instance, each recipe gets a rating on the “Go-Meter,” which is Danielle’s unscientific score ranking a meal’s ability to get the gut moving.
Most gastrointestinal books “are very grave books,” she told me. “I wanted to write something that said, ‘OK, let’s first laugh about this, and then let’s treat it naturally, without drugs or laxatives.’ ”
Danielle lists all of the fiber-rich foods that will make for happy guts — such as bulgur, almonds, broccoli, yogurt and papayas. She also identifies the “Ten Plagues of the Gut” — bagels, semolina pasta, white rice — to be avoided at all costs.
Recipes include only fiber-rich and flavorful ingredients. Many recipes were inspired by traditionally Jewish or Mediterranean meals. The book contains recipes for chicken with prunes, tzimmes and Sephardic charoset.
But her recipes are not exclusively for the Jewish dinner table, because “there’s a broad audience for this cookbook,” she said. Pregnant women, couch potatoes, travelers and seniors also are often plagued with digestive ailments.
The 36-year-old writer and cook enlisted a number of friends and relatives to test her recipes. She had them report back if a recipe made sense, tasted good, and also how it made their body feel. In other words, the digestive efficacy of her dishes.
“They were all tremendously amused by the process,” she said.
After all, isn’t the way food tastes just as important as how it makes the body feel?
Because I’m lactose intolerant (only learned after the Yellowstone trip), I think carefully before I eat anything. I know that by giving in to the temptation of homemade macaroni and cheese, I will likely regret it later.
That mindfulness matters as much to me as the seasonality and taste of the food I eat. I’m excited to add Danielle’s healthy recipes to my cookbook shelf.
By writing candidly about constipation and its corollary, Danielle hopes for intestinal challenges to “become something other than secret or shameful problems.”
After all, as one popular children’s book so cheekily states, everyone poops.
“Mixing food and bathroom talk is antithetical to a lot of people,” she said. “But we can casually, happily, playfully talk about this.”
Stacey Palevsky lives in San Francisco. She can be reached at [email protected]