Life in the Pedestrian Lane

Old food rules chewed up, spit out

Posted: Sunday, August 19, 2007

There's not much I won't eat. If you saw me you'd guess that. I'm not sure if it is because my parents were not fussy eaters, so taught me by example to eat everything. Or because their food rules were simple: "taste everything once" and "clean your plate" (remember "the little children in China are starving"?).

Whatever, I've never turned my nose up at any food except canned peas. (Thank heaven they are seldom on the menu these days.) Frozen green peas are slightly better, and I can be polite and eat a couple of spoonfuls. Now that I'm an adult, however, and have a more discriminating taste, I have found a few things I don't need to eat. Plastic potatoes (better known as instant mashed potatoes) for one. I came from Idaho, for crying out loud, "instant potatoes" is practically blasphemy. And I can pass up fried oysters, leaving them for those who truly enjoy them.

Hubby is even more indiscriminate than I. I watched him eat a stuffed frog once, on a stick, right off a roadside grill. That's probably why we raised four kids who will eat anything. We tease our youngest that we could feed him a bale of hay if we put ketchup on it. Our boys ate whelks they picked up on the mud flats in Cook Inlet and dropped into boiling water because their sister (bless her heart) had read that people in France eat snails, and they should be prepared just in case they ever go there (which none of them has to date). She's the one who ate a red ant because a character in "Good Morning Miss Dove" had made a point by tasting one. They ate beaver tail at a potlatch in an Interior village. They'll even eat liver and onions and cooked cabbage so I am unprepared for this generation's food hang-ups.

Have you ever seen such a bunch of "particular" eaters as today's kids? They're past fussy. A fussy eater is when you won't eat broccoli or cooked carrots. Today's kids won't eat eggs because they come from chickens or chicken because it comes from eggs. Peculiar eating habits have become a philosophical statement. Can you fathom one of the younger generation even tasting a fried oyster? "They're gross!" (I can hear it now). I guess it comes from having everything one eats available in the store, almost ready-made. In my lifetime (short as it is) the dietary lifestyle has gone from growing 80 percent of one's food to buying nearly 100 percent in a box at the supermarket or from a fast food counter with a toy in the bag. I was in school before I realized you could buy eggs and milk in the store. Having grown up on a farm, I thought everyone had a cow and a dozen hens in the back 40.

Mom always made butter. The first "artificial" food I remember is oleomargarine. My cousins lived in town and their mom bought this white concoction in a plastic bag with an orange pill packaged with it. You broke the pill and then kneaded the mixture until it turned yellow, like butter. We kids got to do that fun thing. The dairy industry was more powerful then than now. They didn't want anything sold that the consumer might think was butter. I can't see a kid today taking the time to mix up the package, nor eating it after seeing the great white blob that it was.

And how did we get by with so few soda pop flavors? I remember grape, orange, Squirt, 7Up and only two colas. And it was strictly for entertainment. No dressing them up as "health" drinks or "electrolyte replacement." They were a sweet, fizzy, flavorful "sometimes" treat not found in every lobby and definitely not in the school hallway! We absolutely did not take a pop in our school lunch. It came in a bottle, and you needed a bottle opener to be able to drink it. No flip tops or screw caps.

I've tried to be understanding. After all I didn't eat the frog on a stick, but I am distressed watching kids select a corn dog instead of turkey and cranberry sauce. Seeing them refuse long-time seasonal favorites like fresh asparagus or baked salmon in favor of chips and dips makes me worry for their health. After all, the growing generation is fast outgrowing their parents.

I wouldn't want to go back to the cow in the back 40 (my yard isn't THAT big) but a return to the rules of "taste everything" and "clean your plate" might start the next generation on the road to a better diet. Unless of course the plate is full of ketchup and greasy French fries!

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai.

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