The Food Police

As a child, I was rather a picky eater. Things I would reject included potatoes, cooked vegetables, and most sauces and condiments. I entered university and this all changed. My new friends and I would arrive at the dinner hall the minute they started serving. For hours we sat and ate second and third helpings from the buffet. Technically you weren’t supposed to go up more than once, but we looked the part of innocent, underfed students and no-one ever noticed. Maybe it was all the intellectual activity during the day that caused my taste buds to develop so dramatically (or more likely, the hangovers). I discovered foods I never thought I liked such as the aforementioned potatoes and veg, spicy things, and all sorts of mystery meat swimming in delicious gravy. By the end of my course I left not only with a reasonable degree but a newfound appreciation for food, glorious food.

Since then I have been the kind of person who looks at a menu at a restaurant and finds it difficult to decide. Not because I struggle to find anything I like, but because there is often too much choice and what I really want is a bite of everything!

All of this is why I have had nightmares about eating banned food and getting arrested by the Food Police. My mother in law told me a little enviously that pregnancy is the only time in my life when I can eat “whatever I want”. To be fair, she did mean things like unlimited chocolate biscuits: I was going to get fat anyway, so why not go the whole hog and balloon?

Contrary to the above, I’m finding that for the first time in years I can’t eat what I want, and the restrictions have been surprisingly challenging. Take the example of unpasteurised cheese. This is an absolute minefield! I’d always known that pregnant women weren’t supposed to eat soft blue cheese, which I wasn’t that keen on in the first place ever since someone told me it was mould, and other soft cheese such as Camembert. What I wasn’t sure about was whether all cheese needed to be pasteurised. I even phoned Sainsbury’s about their ricotta tortellini and they said it would take two weeks for them to check and get back to me. I told them not to bother. I am sure that hard cheese such as Cheddar is fine, after all, the NHS tells me so: “You can eat hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Parmesan and Stilton, even if they’re made with unpasteurised milk.” And cooked unpasteurised cheese is ok too. I’m still nervous about the Parmesan in my fridge though, that actually says “unpasteurised” on it. In early pregnancy I’ll admit I did go through a phase of being terrified of all cheese. And I really love cheese!

Of course, this was not really a fear of cheese itself, but a fear of catching listeria or some similar horrid infection which might be fatal to the baby. Again, I only learned about all this once I was pregnant. Beforehand, I’d naively assumed that you might just get extra ill if you caught listeria while pregnant. Little did I know how harmful it can potentially be. The NHS warns that “even a mild form of the illness in a pregnant woman can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or severe illness in a newborn baby.” Eek! While most of the general population can happily fight off this infection, pregnant women’s weaker immune systems make us more vulnerable and are “almost 20 times more likely to develop listeriosis”. And while your average person might become ill from listeria and have a mild stomach upset, nearly a quarter of pregnant women with listeriosis lose their baby. Which doesn’t bear thinking about.

There is some good news, however: contracting listeriosis is extremely rare. I was unable to locate up to date statistics but someone told me that last year there were approximately 100 cases of pregnancy-related listeriosis. Therefore, only around 25 babies would have been lost through the infection. Considering the number of pregnancies and babies, this is a really tiny number.

Just don’t get me started on eggs, meat, fish, pate etc…! I’m planning to gorge myself on all these banned foods in a few months’ time. But wait a minute – I’m intending to breastfeed. Will it be ok for the baby if I eat rare steak or runny eggs? Argh!

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