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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Nutrition Is My New Tradition

If you have an autoimmune arthritis like I do, it really helps to live in San Francisco. There are gluten free, organic, vegan, paleo options for everything. If you want artisanal gluten free bread, we have it. If you want grass fed bison, we have it. If you want organic free-range farm grown eggs, we have them. San Francisco is a restrictive eater’s paradise. But living in San Francisco is expensive.

San Francisco recently surpassed New York as the most expensive city in America. The cost of rent has gotten astronomical. Whole communities are being pushed out in a mass exodus. The city looks completely different from when I grew up here. The neighborhood where I live, the Bayview, used to be considered the Harlem of the West because it was comprised of shipyard workers, mostly African American. It wasn’t given the same resources as other more prosperous (read: white) neighborhoods in the city. This trend has continued despite the fact that the city is now home to multi-billionaires. The Bayview is a Food Desert. Some of you may never have heard the term “Food Desert” before. It refers to whole neighborhoods in urban settings that have no access to grocery stores, butchers, or fresh produce. There are usually only liquor stores and fast food joints in Food Deserts. I am fortunate to own a car, have a full time job, and have a moderate savings. I am able to get by, but as someone who works in the nonprofit field and makes a modest living, food and medical expenses add up quickly.

As a newcomer to the Bayview I’ve had the chance to see how the community is trying to rebrand itself. “Nutrition Is Our Tradition” has been posted throughout the neighborhood. Murals have gone up. Banners have been on display at bus stops. Corner stores have started to sell small batches of produce. Community gardens have popped up. Food pantries have long lines for fresh vegetables from the Food Bank. Things are changing slowly and I’ve taken my cue from my new neighborhood. I’ve begun to realize how important nutrition is to me as someone with an autoimmune arthritis.

I was diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis six years ago, when I was 23 years old.  Psoriatic Arthritis is an autoimmune arthritis (like Rheumatoid Arthritis) which means that it is an inflammatory illness that not only affects my joints, but also my tissues and organs. Unlike the commonly known Osteoarthritis (the type most people get when they’re much much older than I am), autoimmune arthritis is caused by cellular malfunction, aka my body is attacking itself. With Psoriatic Arthritis there are symptoms of nail pitting, skin psoriasis, fatigue, low grade fevers, myalgia, and brain fogginess in addition to joint inflammation and deterioration.

During a recent visit to my rheumatologist, I had an x-ray and a blood test taken so that my doctor and I could get an update on my joints and bones. I’d been on NSAIDs or Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for six years. But when my x-ray results got back, I found out that I needed to go on to a more aggressive treatment. My joint deterioration was now more serious and was beginning to affect the bones surrounding my joints. In other words, the deterioration was spreading. Through talks with my rheumatologist, I realized that I was not only going to have to go on even more aggressive treatment, but that I was also going to have to make some big changes in my diet. The best way to fight inflammation is to get proper nutrition. Proper nutrition, as we discussed, is hard to find in my neighborhood, on my budget. So, here begins my journey. Nutrition is my new tradition and I’m going to find a way to change my diet and my lifestyle to reduce my pain in any way I can. Fighting inflammation one bite at a time. Here begins, DELICIOUS ARTHRITIS.

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