Friends who know me nowadays may find it difficult to accept my confession that my early childhood was one long food fight punctuated by periods of stalemate and cease-fire agreements; but in fact given my numerous requirements re-defining “sustenance”, it’s a plain miracle I didn’t starve to death before age 6.
Yup, today’s “I’ll try anything unless it’s moving” attitude has its origins in yesterday’s Diane’s Rules of Food Acquisition, which were narrower than a baby python in a peanut can.
On my ‘Do Not Eat’ list (resentfully consulted by Mom before each meal):
1. Diane’s No-No Color Wheel (…with a bow to my Tiny Tots Color Wheel, a tribute to the results of Early Learning….):
A. Green. From peas to salad, clearly nothing good came of anything green identified as potentially ‘edible’ by Mother. Perhaps this is why she chose to cook all veggies until they hit the second no-no on Diane’s Wheel:
B. Gray. I mean really, WHO in their right mind would consume GRAY food? It was obviously well on its way to the ‘poison’ category, which culminated in:
C. Brown. Clearly brown ‘food’ had traveled over the hill and resided on the Other Side somewhere between Love Canal and the County Dump.
I credit Diane’s No-No Color Wheel entirely for my subsistence on pureed rainbow colors of baby food well beyond the usual infancy stage. Nothing could beat the bright orange appeal of sweet-tasting pureed carrots, for example. Or the striking yellow color of pears. I was a Gerber baby, allright. And a Gerber toddler. And a Gerber 5-year old. I’m sure by the time I actually was lured away from Gerber by the confusing revelation pairing (beloved) Chocolate with (unbeloved) color wheel no-no Brown – which sadly called into question the logic behind the entire Wheel – Mom was likely contemplating the royalties to be gained from contacting Gerber with a proposal for a Teen Line of rainbow purees.
2. Diane’s Questionable Textures List.
A. Mushy. Mom never ‘got’ the fine line between ‘soft’ and ‘mushy’. I had to remind her at every meal. Loudly.
B. Hard (“as a rock…”). These admittedly are words NO cook wants to hear. (In all fairness, at the usual dinner table “hard as a rock” is NOT assigned to food that can’t fall apart in a faceoff by a fork or spoon.)
C. Sticky. You’d think a child who revered the opportunity to play in mud wouldn’t be bothered by ‘sticky’, but there’s a fine line between exterior stickiness and interior stickiness. And ‘interior’ begins at the lips.
D. Gritty. Mom’s ongoing attempt at Spinach held many obstacles as it oozed onto both the ‘green’ color wheel and the ‘mushy’ textures list, and if she didn’t wash it with a fine-tooth comb, ‘gritty’ completed the damning evidence against its consumption. (Note: The political concept of ‘3 strikes’ clearly originated at my dinner table.)
E. Chewy. Yes, we had teeth. And yes, they were (apparently) there to primarily chew with (“talk” at the dinner table being a secondary and unapproved action in my family.) But following my father’s example I duly protested that those baby teeth would ALL FALL OUT if confronted with anything more challenging than puree. Evidence: my father and his ongoing tooth battles/losses. So guess what? When MY baby teeth began to bite the dust, it was obviously, therefore, MOM’S FAULT. No Tooth Fairy in the world was gonna negate her responsibility in the matter, either. (Though when the payoff ante was upped to a quarter, I shutup and began to contemplate how many teeth needed to ‘accidentally bite the dust’ to get me my always-coveted Pink Schwinn Bike.)
3. Other. (I LOVE ‘Other’. It’s so…. ALL-INCLUSIVE and always filled with surprises!)
A. Questionable Origins. I didn’t watch science shows on TV for nuttin’. I early on and enthusiastically adopted the ‘questionable origins’ argument for anything that looked even slightly dubious. Including imaginary body parts embedded into the evening’s roast beef, such as eyeballs, tongues, or fingernails (add additional strikes of ‘gray’ and ‘hard as a rock’ and we moved neatly into the ‘three strikes you’re out/can I have the carrot puree NOW?’ arena of the evening’s food fight.) [Revelation: …and possibly my loud scientific observations contributed to the “no talk at the table” rule, I JUST now realize…]
B. Inedible. I’ll admit this was a big vocabulary word for a 5-year-old, but when I heard my father apply it to Mom’s Great Liver and Onions Experiment, its applications seemed endless. I can recall Mom’s shoulders heaving over the stove, back turned, as I royally proclaimed everything but the coveted Mac ‘N Cheese to be ‘inedible’.
C. Tasteless. Admittedly this was usually applied, in true reverse psychology style, to MY actions. But once I heard Dad apply it to a meal, the gloves were off. Anything without sugar was CLEARLY ‘tasteless’ in my book. And since Mom’s spice rack held the appearance of variety but in actuality consisted ONLY of ‘salt’, ‘pepper’ and the less desirable/never used ‘other’, she could never effectively battle the ‘tasteless’ accusation.
D. Contamination. I was a voracious early learner and ‘contaminated’ became part of my early vocabulary (thank you, Mom, for sending me to Tiny Tots!) so anything TOUCHING even an iota of my ‘no-no colors’ by association became ‘contaminated’ … and thus INEDIBLE.
Mom tried various sneaky strategies to amend my dietary restrictions and the two most successful by far were:
a. Equating Popeye’s super-strength with Spinach and advocating that my repeated inability to achieve a triple axle somersault off my swingset was undeniably due to a lack of Spinach in my diet and
b. Reinforcing the (televised) notion that canned tuna fish was in fact, ‘Chicken of the Sea’. The vision of a gilled feathered swimming chicken the size of a porpoise with a voice somewhere between Flipper and Foghorn Leghorn was in itself intriguing enough to justify whatever fishy taste came outta da can.
Mom believed she was doing me a favor by introducing The Food Pyramid into my educational process at a very early age (as though something invented in ancient Egypt had ANY relevance to modern dietary needs.) Likely she was striving for reinforcement of her Food Troops by referencing the higher authority of some invisible combat unit called ‘USDA’.
HER USDA-backed Food Pyramid may have been powered by the first shot of real authority…
…but MINE was duly provided in crayon, albeit with appropriate substitutes and a fair bit of category movement, to wit:
.TOP: Fats, oils and sweets. To be consumed simultaneously and often.
. NEXT, in descending order of importance:
a. Bread, Cereal, Rice & Pasta. (Note: ‘doughnuts’ fall both in the top rung AND the secondary rung of MY pyramid, making them practically a staple and an obvious nutritional requirement for breakfast, lunch AND dinner. Just sayin’…)
b. Fruits. Strawberries and any berries, to be specific. NOT to include: Bananas (see ‘texture no-no’), mangos and papayas (too exotic in my youth anyway/Mom would’ve never known about them as food from the tropics hadn’t been invented yet), grapes (see ‘tasteless’), or apples (see ‘chewy’).
c. Milk, yogurt and cheese. Strike the first 2 and you are left with Cheese, a product that daily inspired me to live up to my grandma’s nickname for me, The Mouse (…likely she also was referring to the Cheese Theft that mysteriously occurred whenever I visited; but that’s another story).
My simpler pyramid stopped there. Obviously, vegetables and meats fell under INEDIBLE and were simply omitted from the chart entirely.
With Mom’s help (and my insistence) I sent my crayoned revision to the USDA, backed with the full expertise and confidence of a 5-year-old. It’s been over 40 years and I haven’t heard a word back.
Well, what can one expect. The postal service is notoriously SLOW when it comes to government deliveries.
I experienced the same problem with my Gerber Teen Line proposal, also posted decades ago. I have yet to see the rainbow food colors teens might expect from a Gerber product line devoted to THEM.
Such is life…