It was the thing every child dreads: my parents were giving my brother and me THE LOOK. The kind of look that makes you start looking for an escape hatch: my parents were about to have us try a new vegetable.
At our house, vegetables were nothing new. Living in the fertile heartland of central Texas, we were surrounded by an amazing variety of plant foods. Several times a week, in addition to the produce and canned things my parents brought home from the grocery store, we foraged through the farmer’s markets for a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables to add to our table.
And for the first eight years of my life, we had a garden. Plus a grandmother who gardened and shared. If that were not enough, our already overflowing vegetable stores were additionally supplemented by our next-door-neighbors, the Smiths, who grew a simply gargantuan collection of food, which they loved to share, stuffed, cumbersome and heavy, into several large paper grocery bags. In our family, we ate a vegetable or three with lunch and supper, and occasionally – in the form of a V-8 torture session, er, “juice glass” – at breakfast.
It was during this time that I began my 20-year love affair with a taste-bud-smothering concoction of mustard and catsup that I mixed myself at every meal. This was adequate compensation for most under-seasoned vegetables. But not always. More often than not, my brother and I would slither away from the table, leaving mounds of vegetables that even helped along by generous (mountainous) additions of salt – and in my case, mustard and catsup – we were not able to choke down.
Sometimes I would smuggle some of my leftovers to the bathroom, where I would quietly stuff them down the drain. When I told my children about this, Lizzie, who was 15, said, “Why did you do that? You should have flushed them down the toilet! That’s what I used to do!” In retrospect, that would have been a vastly superior solution than the one I had come up with because from time to time my dad would have to take the pipes apart to dig out old pieces of decaying food. He choked, almost suffocating, under a several-sizes-too-small mask of strained parental patience as he asked me if I knew anything about that.
But there was a beautiful solution to this dilemma, so that our unwanted food was usually spared a purposeless journey to the landfill: we had a dog. One who was not terribly fond of the dry food my parents were buying for her. After mealtimes, finding the dog in a very agreeable mood to receive our leftovers, my parents would stand next to the back door, wringing their hands, while mournfully declaring, “Would you look at that! Queenie, unlike some children we could name, is very grateful to be eating the very same vegetables you two rejected!” My brother and I, unfortunately, felt no remorse. Now, 30 years later, I have to admit to you that we have never come to any real repentance over this issue.
The truth is, we were delighted to see the dog eating our yucky old vegetables. Many, many times, among the medleys of our unwanted greens would be found several small mountains of despicable, canned green peas. If ever a vegetable deserved to go uneaten, it was those awful peas. Years later, I still have difficulty making any connection between the bright, crisp, delightful little orbs coming from the garden or the freezer with the dull, squishy, tasteless blogs that come from a can.
At other times, my parents tried to induce my brother and me to eat new foods with the news that starving children around the world would be, and I quote, “Grateful to eat the foods that you children are turning your noses up at now!” So, we invited them to send our food to them. Seemed like a good idea at the time. To us anyway.
Keeping all these things in mind, my brother and I sank with dreading hearts low into our chairs, while my mom and dad glanced across the room at the blender, which was filled, almost to overflowing, with some slimy, barf-green colored substance we didn’t even want to think about. Our appetites had already left the country by the time my dad offered, “Want some guacamole? It’s really good for you!”
After our previous initiations with veggies, we weren’t exactly aware we had a choice. Stunned into silence, we shook our heads in unison as my dad gleefully rubbed his hands together. “Great!” he announced. “That leaves more for us!”
Now that I have married for nearly 23 years to a man who loves hot and spicy foods, having finally learned to appreciate the beautiful flavors of homemade guacamole—even a spicy one—I am a little surprised by this. As it happens, the avocado was the only vegetable my parents never made my brother and me eat. To top it all off, it also lowers your cholesterol.
When I look back both critically and honestly at how my parents worked their finances, I think that they actually were sending money to feed hungry children around the world with the money they saved in their highly nutritious-yet-frugal food budget. My brother and I did not go without nutritious food. What we did do without on a regular basis was those tasty-yet-not-so-good-for-you-long-term fast foods and convenience foods so many of our not-as-healthy friends were feasting upon. And we paid a big price for their careful food budgeting in health that was often better than our peers.
Not loving lots of drama around our table, my husband and I ask any visitors to our house to eat at least one bite of each of their vegetables when they eat with us. They don’t actually have to do this. But, it’s a small price to pay to get to eat desert!
This was a newspaper article that was published in our local paper back home in 2006. I have permission from the paper to republish it here, and having more time for editing now, I have tweaked it a bit.
Praying for you to find the joyful memories in your family,