Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mom versus food

Flickr: lePhotography
My first food memory--and one of my first memories, period--is of my mother feeding me scrambled eggs from a china bowl that was illustrated with pictures of nursery rhymes on the bottom, designed to encourage kids to clean their plates. I remember consuming the eggs passively, willingly and also how my mother would say, many years afterward "you always loved eggs when you were a baby," when I would eat buttered toast and bacon, but refuse eggs.

She said I was picky.  She'd serve me pasta with butter, which I said was yucky, then she'd put some of the red sauce on it that I refused before and I'd say I wanted it with butter. I really just hated pasta and I'm a grown-up now so I don't eat it.

Some of the things my mother served me seem really weird in retrospect. She made me creamed spinach for an after-school snack. When she made pancakes (always from a mix), she'd pour the whole bowl of batter into a big skillet and make a really big, thick, eggy pancake because it was too much trouble to make small pancakes. With butter in the center (always real butter) and pancake syrup (which we had no idea was not real maple syrup), I'd eat it but once I had those skinny, fluffy pancakes at McDonald's I was ruined for my mom's uni-pancake.  Ditto with eating her hot dogs and hamburgers once I ate them at the Windmill (a local gourmet food joint in Jersey).

My mom claimed to not care about food, and truthfully, it did kind of show in her cooking.  She'd throw a piece of meat under the broiler with salt (or garlic salt, depending on her mood); teriyaki  or paprika on chicken breasts. The foods she was good at cooking were things that most 'real' cooks can't cook because they over-think them.  For example, meatloaf--my mother would slather in Italian breadcrumbs, ketchup, garlic salt, egg, ample lashings of Worcestershire sauce and the results would be fantastic.  Good cooks say their meatloaf is nothing special because they try to put fancy cheeses and herbs and such in them.  My mother would throw together Russian dressing with mayo and ketchup, toss it with spinach leaves, tomato, and leftover grilled steak...I liked steak salad better than regular steak, of which I was always a pretty unenthusiastic consumer.

My mother hated the way I ate. And told me so. Again and again. As I kid, I mainlined birthday cake icing, M&Ms, and sugary Chicken McNugget sauce and fries they were going out of style. When I dieted, I counted calories and I subsided on Lean Cuisine pizza and low fat ice cream while she begged me to eat meat and vegetables.   I never lost a single pound eating that crap.  Then I went vegetarian and loved Chinese food; the only foods she was openly passionate about were steak and pizza.

However, even when she opposed what I ate, she always provided it for me. 

She said that I ate the way I did out of rebellion against her abstemiousness, and oddly enough, after her death, I find that I do feel much better when I eat more like my mother--not shying away from a little bit of fat, eggs, or even red meat and avoiding sugar--but plenty of green vegetables. Some of her obsessions--like drinking a big glass of orange juice every morning, her fear of spicy food, and her belief in the powers of Special K cereal and rye bread--I haven't adopted. She hated whole wheat and white bread, so maybe she was a bit ahead of her time food-wise that way as well. 

I used to be afraid I'd become my mother, but now I realize that is impossible for a childless person.

Anyway, my mother wasn't a stereotype--she cared too much about health to be one of those 'convenience food' moms, despite her hatred of cooking, and although she liked to be thin (and I like to be thin as well, so I can't complain about that) she was never one of those crazy 'diet moms' who encouraged her kid to live on Tic Tacs and Diet Coke (again, the hatred of processed food).

My mother doesn't have a 'food legacy' of any sort--no historic cookie recipe, no famed celebration meal--although after all of those years of fighting I guess we did have the same goal: for my body to be healthy.  And really, other than your mother and yourself, who cares about that? 


  1. My mom's pancakes were non-standard as well, but it was because she would somehow contrive to fry an egg inside. Not really sure how she managed it, but it was Not Good. All the same, I felt lucky that she actually cooked breakfast (no matter that it was the festival of fat and cholesterol known as the American breakfast) when most of my friends had to fix their own cold cereal before school. I remember feeling that there was something so dissolute about those other moms and their non-breakfast making ways.

  2. @Flurrious--perhaps our mothers had similar pancake making styles! My mom's pancakes did always look a bit yellow so maybe she threw in an extra egg for the protein.

    I actually liked making a cereal box fort as a kid of my favorite rainbow-colored cereals. But awesome hot breakfasts were like eating dessert for a meal (well, I guess so is sugary cereal) but my favorite hot breakfasts were McD's pancakes and later their biscuits. Mom's cinnamon toast and bacon was pretty good too, though...

  3. This is such a great post. My mom doesn't really care for cooking either but she also has never loved buying us processed foods (although she did when I was a kid) and always preferred that we eat our veggies!

  4. @Joanne--thanks. It is an important reminder to moms that they don't even necessarily have to be crazy 'foodie moms' to ensure their kids eat pretty well..although cooking does help to make healthy foods more palatable!