One woman’s journey of life re-imagined after the loss of sight

Mary Mammoliti, a legally blind culinary expert. PHOTO BY AGNESKIESZ /Pure Studios
Mary Mammoliti, a legally blind culinary expert. PHOTO BY AGNESKIESZ /Pure Studios

by Rita DeMontis | Toronto Sun, November 17, 2021

When Mary Mammoliti was young, she’d tell her mother she saw the world differently.

Not in an analytical sense, rather more along the lines of distorted shapes, colours and darkness.

She was only seven years old at the time.

What the Toronto native didn’t know was she was slowly losing her sight, and that things would get worse – a lot worse – as she got older. That said, at the time, Mary admits she assumed everyone saw what she saw.

Hide-and-go-seek was a favourite game with her friends but, one day, walking down the stairs suddenly proved to be a frightening experience. She told her mother she was scared.

Mammoliti was to learn these were the first indicators of Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a retina disorder that causes progressive vision loss. Her mother took her to various specialists, and she was prescribed glasses so she could see the classroom chalkboard, but “I had no idea what was coming.”

When she was 13, Mammoliti’s mother, her strongest advocate, passed away from cancer and it wasn’t until Mary was in her early 20s that she had reached a critical point: “I couldn’t hide it anymore. I was struggling to see, to figure out depth when I walked, but it was only after a night out with my friends – when I couldn’t find the exit sign to leave the bar – that I had reached a really scary point. So, the next day, I took myself to my local emergency department and asked for help.”

She was immediately seen and recommended to a specialist. With her older sister in tow, the doctor delivered the devastating news: She was going blind. “He was an older man and I suspect completely desensitized. My eyes welled up and he shushed me by saying ‘there’s no point in crying because it’s not going to change anything.’”

But it did, said Mammoliti, a lovely, vivacious woman now in her 40s who found another doctor, one with more compassion and whose specialty was RP, and swiftly went into “preservation mode.” Major life changes were in order to help her cope with her changing eyesight.

“At that time, I realized I had lied my way through my sight loss. I was an imposter in my own life. My biggest fear was the idea people would treat me differently – pity me – if they knew the truth. I hadn’t wanted to admit this was happening to me until I just couldn’t cope any longer.”

At the time, Mammoliti worked as a senior financial analyst “working on numbers all day, with big screens in front of me.”

Changes would come – but on her terms. Meanwhile, if there was one place Mammoliti always found solace was in her kitchen, and in cooking her family’s favourite dishes. She had always managed to navigate her own kitchen without relying on her vision: “In a kitchen, when you know where everything is, when you can navigate a pot of boiling water or a hot stove or a kitchen cupboard open … you’re actually free to do whatever you want.

“And for me – cooking set me free.”

Raised in a southern-Italian home, “food was at the core of everything – it was the ultimate expression of love. To this day, I do believe food heals us, unites us, and some of the most important conversations happen around a kitchen table.”

So when Mammoliti fully embraced the knowledge she would be losing her sight, she also started healing – and she did this by creating one beloved recipe at a time. “I was at my most vulnerable, but surprisingly, cooking helped me regain my independence.”

It also helped launch her new career, one in which she has grown and thrived, and re-invented herself as a legally-blind culinary expert, keynote speaker and disability advocate who is also a TV and podcast host, and founder of Kitchen Confession, an online resource for easy, accessible and flavourful meals.

Thanks to her pivot from finances to culinary expert, Mammoliti has made numerous media appearances on a variety of shows including The Marilyn Denis ShowBT, various news outlets and has been published in Refinery29 (“Are You Blind?”). If that hasn’t kept her busy, she also works on numerous brand collaborations, speaking engagements for the CNIB, AMI, eSight and more.

Her Kitchen Confession podcast was born in the spring of 2018 and now it’s an AMI Original Podcast. She doesn’t skip a beat when she says she doesn’t miss her career in finance at all. And just recently, her new TV series – Dish with Mary – premiered on Accessible Media Inc’s (AM-tv), where she cooks alongside some of the country’s top chefs. The show is the first of its kind using IDV (Integrative Described Video) so every viewer can watch the same show together without voice over prompts.

When asked how she sees the world today, Mammoliti says “give your eyes a really hard rub. Then put a straw up close to each eye. That’s how I can see the world today.”

But she also sees it full of joy. “I am the eternal optimist!” she says with a laugh. “There is no end to trying different things and living a life you were meant to live. By sharing my journey I am hopeful this will help others. I love to cook, I can’t take things too seriously, and I live each day in joy.”

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