OH NO! AVOCADO!, Honorable Mention, 18th Annual Essay contest

By David Wills

From my hospital bed, I perused the list of foods I couldn’t eat on a kidney diet. And the first food that immediately stood out was avocado. I was 64 years old and this had been my comfort food since childhood, and my “go-to” nutrition as an adult. During one year in my “hippie” 20s I would eat six a day attempting a totally vegan diet. My delicious supply came from Grammy’s prolific trees, by the grocery bag sacksful. When I gave up and started eating meat again, avocados were still prominent in my diet.

I stared at the now-forbidden foods list and dryly observed that I hadn’t climbed on the avocado toast foodie craze (a traditionalist, my toast was topped either with butter and brown sugar or jam, as a breakfast side) so at least there was that.

My kidneys failed me, and the renal diet seems discouraging, but in reality, a variety of permitted foods and spices remain options.

The forbidden list included bacon, cheese, chocolate, potatoes, and even tomatoes, for goodness sake! There goes my standard shopping trip. I never made lists because I could cook anything and everything. I was both a gourmet and a gourmand.

I felt both sadness and panic at the seemingly all-encompassing and personal list of now forbidden foods on the renal diet.

How do I overcome these food challenges? I cheat. Well, not so much and not very often. Luckily, onions and garlic are fine to consume, as is a hard cheese like parmesan. Salt is not allowed, but black pepper is okay. My go-to, fill-up food became regular spaghetti noodles with minced onions and garlic, good (but expensive) olive oil, and some shaved parmesan or Locatelli Romano cheese, and black pepper.

And white rice. In two years, I’ve eaten more white rice than I did during the previous 50 years. It’s very filling, and I take comfort in knowing that around the world it is a staple food. So, I’m not alone. I even bought a rice cooker and save money buying bulk amounts.

Also particularly challenging was limiting my protein intake to four-ounce portions. Wow! My grandpa was a butcher, and he would supply my family of five boys with lots of red meat.  From childhood to kidney disease I ate red meat almost daily, save for fried chicken once or twice a month.

I meet this challenge by paying attention to portion sizes, and by concentrating on quality, not quantity. I purchase better, more expensive proteins because I don’t need (and can’t eat) so much, even though now I’m on dialysis and can increase my protein intake. Buying higher grade meats and fresh fish means I savor more, and I am grateful for every bite, and with vegetables and rice or pasta comprising most of each meal I’m able to completely enjoy even the limited portions of proteins.

And, yes, sometimes, but not often (very rarely now) I cheat … carefully, always mindful of phosphorus, potassium, and sodium as food culprits I must avoid. But food is a pleasurable experience, and if I become obsessed with a certain food, like cheeseburgers or milk, I’ll just eat that food as a help for my mental health. And knowing that I might cheat, but trying daily not to, keeps me on the right track.

My kidneys failed me, and the renal diet seems discouraging, but in reality, a variety of permitted foods and spices remain options.

Oh yes, my beloved avocados. Once I smuggled one into Holland, for a taco dinner I was making for my host while there. I tried to smuggle in some delicious varieties from Hawaii but was denied at the gate, so I sat down and ate three before I boarded. So how am I coping now? Luckily, this year the avocado crop was not great, with price increases for the dubious product, so avoiding avocados is easier. I’d hate to sully my memories and feel guilty about cheating if I were to get an unripe or spoiled avocado.

Perhaps if restaurants were back open, some freshly made guacamole may be on the table. And maybe, once a year on my birthday, I may splurge and eat a whole one right out of the skin, sliced, so I can savor every bite.

Oh no! Avocado! Indeed!

Listen as David Wills reads his essay:



la versión en español de ¡OH, NO! ¡AGUACATE! por De David Wills aqui


David Wills was born in Pasadena, California and grew up in Southern California in the 1960’s.  He ignored many symptoms of kidney disease until, at age 65, he found himself hospitalized; 6 weeks later, he was back home with End Stage Renal Disease. He resisted dialysis like he resisted the symptoms, delaying fistula surgery until it became necessary to insert a chest access to begin dialysis, which he began only nine months ago.  A lawyer for 30 years, he surmises his kidney disease is cosmic payback wished upon him by his many losing opponents in court. Or maybe just because he needed a smackdown from above…. ! 

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