There’s nothing like a day spent running to just not fall behind to make you appreciate your own mother. My mom has been reading my posts lately and we’ve been talking about the no-sugar project. She says the no-sugar diet isn’t all that different from what we ate growing up- prior to the super-saturation of the grocery store with convenience foods and high fructose corn syrup.
And that’s true. Looking back, I recall a clock-ticking consistency to her nightly meals: meat, starch, vegetable; meat, starch, vegetable. The meat could be a pork chop or a slice of meatloaf, or maybe a piece of swordfish. The vegetable was usually something simple and defrosted: peas, spinach. The starch was often mashed potatoes, or baked. Occasionally we’d be treated to her comfort food extraordinaire: her lemon chicken, her hamburger stroganoff or her fantastic meat spaghetti sauce. But looking back I can see that day by day she was working to provide us a diet of consistent food-grouping. Remember the four food groups? My mom was all over that.
Not to mention that she was insistent about dinner time being dinner time: no TV, no reading, no toys at the table. We’re going to sit here and talk to each other if it kills us- that was my Mom’s motto. It was from Mom that I learned the invaluable tradition of a sit-down, family dinner with healthy, homemade food.
And then every Friday, it evolved, Mom would have the night off and Dad would cook instead. He turned to Craig Claiborne’s New York Times column “The Sixty Minute Gourmet” and things would get really crazy- it was on these nights that we first tried pesto (“what’s this green stuff?”), hamburgers with blue cheese inside, and hummus. When Dad was in the kitchen, it was always a mess- there was usually flour everywhere. There was always a hint of danger, like maybe, just maybe, he’d set the kitchen on fire. Or we just might not have dinner tonight after all. And then at last Dad would emerge from the kitchen flourishing a giant cheese souffle and we’d watch it deflate like a hot air balloon as we cut cloud-like slices of it. It was from Dad that I learned to be excited about food and it’s possibilities.
It wouldn’t be until I went to sleep-away camp that I would learn about other modern culinary innovations such as Jell-O, “Bug Juice,” Cool Whip and potato flakes, all staples of our camper diet. It was a very active camp and I recall being famished all the time, but snacks were infrequent and getting ahold of an errant plum in between meals was a huge deal. When visiting parents brought cookies we’d squirrel them away in our clothing trunks like mice hoarding for the long winter. Then one summer it appeared: the soda vending machine (cue the angel choir) and we’d scrounge our dimes and nickels for another dose of that sweeter-than-sweet carbonated sugar water.
Cookies? Plums? Soda? Baked potato? Back then it was all just food. High fructose corn syrup had only been introduced in 1975, and manufacturers were just beginning to discover all the things they could add it to, to “up” the taste while reducing the cost.
So in some ways I’m returning to ideas about how to eat that I learned as a kid. And gaining a whole new appreciation for the folks who taught it to me.
**PS- Interesting AP article on the connection between high sodium intake and American’s poor health- “Govt advising Americans to eat far less salt”- sounds like we could say the exact same thing about sugar, doesn’t it?
“Even the most motivated consumer can make only a certain amount of progress before it’s clear that we need extra support from the food industry.”
-Dr. Howard Koh
Asst. Secretary, FDA Health and Human Services Department