The day before, I had eaten my first arepa con huevo. This Colombian breakfast favorite is a deep-fried corn cake that is split open, filled with an egg, and refried until the egg is cooked. The result is basically a corn muffin crust with a fried egg inside.
Dr. Fernando Stein, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) President-elect, describes the arepa con huevo as a true taste of heaven, and at breakfast he encouraged me to try it. Despite fears of gastrointestinal disturbance, I took a tentative bite and found the taste to be divine. I quickly ate two arepas that morning.
News of my arepa infatuation spread. The next day Edgar Vesga-Arias, director of the AAP Department of international Child Health and the person who had invited me to speak in Cartagena, strongly suggested I begin my PIR talk by saying, “I like the arepa con huevo.” Thanks to his tutoring, I did, in Spanish, and by doing so embraced a different culture’s language and food while readily making myself at home with new friends.
The popular phrase “You are what you eat” touches on our intuitive sense that who we are, how we act, and how we feel are reflections of what we ingest or don’t ingest. What we do eat or don’t eat affects our gut microbiome, gastrointestinal linings, antibody titers, and hormone levels. Authors suggest that our actions may also reflect how we are eliminating. Love in the Time of Cholera by Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez immediately comes to mind. Pediatricians know many a parent will comment that her or his child is constipated because the child is misbehaving. And every day we acknowledge the importance of our GI tract in our language, our entertainment, and our social activities (for example: swear words, commercial ads, and food festivals). Dr. Hugh Allen, our PIR Deputy Editor, likes to say, “The GI tract is the mirror of the mind.”
Summer is a time for outdoor celebrations, which invariably center on food, and August PIR pays tribute to our beloved GI tract:
- Drs. Shapiro, Subedi, and LeLeiko discuss the pathophysiology of “Inflammatory Bowel Disease” as an interaction of the gut microbiome, hygiene, diet, and genetic predisposition.
- Drs. Rome and Strandjord explore “Eating Disorders” as battles between behavior and calorie consumption.
- Drs. CaJacob and Cohen give an “Update on Diarrhea,” its causes, complications, and cure.
- Dr. Stratbucker gives a brief review on “Fad Dieting and Weight Loss in Children.”
- Even the “Visual Diagnosis” presents a case that involves the GI tract.
Travel medicine emphasizes avoiding contaminated food and water, especially in subtropical and tropical countries. I did not want to risk spending my time in Colombia in the bathroom. Thoughts of menacing E. coli and salmonella species crossed my mind as I bit into that first arepa con huevo.
But I happen to like fried eggs and I reasoned deep-frying should kill any concealed bacterium.
I did not get ill, which is ironic since my last bout with food poisoning occurred in Washington, the District of Columbia, months before travelling to the country of Colombia.
By sharing food, I truly experienced Colombia, conversing with its people and enjoying such elegant hospitality. “Yo soy una arepa con huevo.”*
*”I am the arepa con huevo.”