By Dr. Jim Ferguson
Sometimes I wonder how I came to be where I am. Ever the pragmatist, my wife Becky says, “Well, you have to be somewhere.” I guess that’s true on this “mortal coil.” But more importantly, I’m where I’m supposed to be.
Many of my friends are now traveling the world. Some are on safari in Africa. Some are tossing coins into Rome’s Trevi Fountain and others are taking cooking classes in Morocco or on cruise ships circling the tip of South America. I once had a wanderlust, but it left me.
I am glad that for five decades I traveled the world. With travel you experience other cultures and perspectives – and other foods. In France you need to be careful with a restaurant menu because a single letter change can summon an unexpected dish. The “meatballs” I thought I had requested in France were obviously not from Chef Boyardee.
I remember a scene in the movie The Way We Were where the friends sat around recalling their best experiences. I recall walking across the Ponte Vecchio one hot day in Florence, Italy and discovering gelato. This Italian ice cream remains my standard of a “ten” by which all other ice creams are measured.
In a dozen trips to Europe, more than a dozen trips across Central America and the Caribbean, as well as adventures in the Adriatic, Australia and New Zealand, I’ve seen many beautiful and exotic places like Tazmania, Iceland and Andora. However, America’s vistas are second to none and Becky’s crème brulée is superior to anything in Paris.
Perhaps the reason my wanderlust has dissipated is the view from my porch is unparalleled. Watching my grandkids come up our driveway for a Southern “visit” with JD (JimDad) and BeBe assures me my journey has brought me to where I’m supposed to be.
Edna St. Vincent Millay perhaps best expresses my travel perspective in her poem:
“How shall I know, unless I go
To Cairo and Cathay,
Whether or not this blessed spot
Is blest in every way?
Now it may be, the flower for me
Is beneath my nose;
How shall I tell, unless I smell
The Carthaginian rose?”
I’ve seen the ruins of ancient Carthage where Hannibal once stood. And though Tunisia is exotic and romanticized by Millay, nothing compares with childlike laughter coming up my driveway.
Traveling exposes you to the risk of foodborne illnesses, such as “tourista” in Mexico. Interestingly, travelers from south of the border can develop similar gastrointestinal (GI) illness in America when they are exposed to our indigenous bacterial flora. Be careful what you eat, especially when traveling. I learned that lesson after a misadventure with Antiguan sausage in Guatemala.
Especially problematic are cruise ship GI infections. Infectious entities like the norovirus can wreak havoc on a ship where thousands of people are gathered in close contact. If you take a cruise, my advice is, never pass a hand sanitizer without using it.
The French have a saying you are what you eat. I say, you need to be careful whatever and wherever you eat. My wife Becky is a fan of steak tartare, a dish made with raw ground beef mixed with onions and spices. If you were assured the dish was made from ground tenderloin instead of more superficial cuts as used in hamburger, the risk might be less. However, since I can’t be sure, this dish if off limits to my wife.
Becky also loves oysters on the half shell. After I encountered a bad oyster in a prominent Knoxville restaurant, I’m very wary of such delicacies, but occasionally I will roll the dice for special occasions, taking some reassurance from my previous hepatitis A vaccination. Ordinarily, I eschew raw seafood, adhering to the Tom Selleck sushi philosophy as depicted in the movie Mr. Baseball. He proclaimed to his Japanese friends, “I don’t eat bait!”
It is probably safer to eat at home because you prepare your own food. The recurrent food illnesses associated with Chipotle come to mind. However, if you follow the advice of charlatans and drink raw unpasteurized milk at home, you go in harm’s way as well. It’s tragic that parents recently ignored hundreds of years of science and gave raw milk to their children with terrible consequences.
As a class, bacteria are perhaps the oldest life forms on earth. Humans are of more recent design. We share the world with microorganisms and, in fact, have a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria which live in our guts. The observation that destroying these bacteria causes ill health led to the recognition that the biome of our gastrointestinal tract promotes health and a vigorous immune system.
I’ve recently written about generic medications, mentioning the standards of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). This federal agency began as the Food Administration during Teddy Roosevelt’s administration. Though TR considered the socialist Upton Sinclair “dishonest” and a “crackpot,” Sinclair’s 1906 novel The Jungle, describing the terrible conditions of Chicago’s slaughterhouses, led to investigations and ultimately the establishment of the Food Administration which later became the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).
With brand name and generic drugs I have to trust the FDA. I also trust the police to protect me locally and the military to protect the country. I am far more skeptical of the upper echelons of the FBI, the CIA, the IRS and the Justice Department. And my trust of politicians and Congress is just barely greater than that of the media which has lost virtually all credibility.
I do trust my Master and my wife with my life. And like expanding concentric circles from a pebble cast in a pond, I trust family, friends, fellow parishioners and neighbors. Jesus was once asked for his definition of a neighbor and he responded with the parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
Perhaps if I were a better man or a better disciple, my view of the world would be less skeptical. I’m working on it, just like the Master continues to work on my heart and mind and soul in this journey called life.