I’m not sure I’d call myself a “foodie.” That connotes someone far more adventurous and urbane than I. I have become very knowledgeable about basic foods- milk, vegetables, bread and meat and that knowledge is mostly concerned with providing the healthiest version of those basics for my family. Part of knowing that, a big part, is finding out what ISN’T healthy! Everyone begins at the beginning and I feel like my food journey began years ago when my kids were all preschoolers and I had to make life work with very few resources.
Call it an epiphany . . . a “defining moment,” whatever you call it at the time I really didn’t know how much my life would be shaped by a pretty average summer 20 some years ago. In all reality there was nothing that happened but I always find myself thinking back on it as some kind of beginning.
24 years ago I was a single parent with four kids under the age of 6. I was going to college and surviving on a combination of public assistance and student loans and it would be a no brainer to say that food was probably the last thing on my radar. Truthfully, it was probably closer to the top than you might think, for a couple reasons. First of all having NO money easily makes spending any money a huge deal! I have always been above average in language skills and below to average in math abilities and 12+ years of public education couldn’t give me what one trip to the grocery store did! Having to stand at the check out register deducting items from my groceries due to my failure to add correctly was all the motivation I needed to start become an expert at prices! I became very focused, and quickly adept at making the most my food budget.
The second reason food has always been a priority to me is that as a single mother I knew that I needed to take every opportunity to strengthen the bond of “family” with my kids. My kids and I had the disadvantage of having only ourselves to rely on-no grandparents, aunts or uncles existed to rally round and make us feel like a family and I knew it was up to me create the traditions that allow many families to bond and feel a belonging that is bigger than any one individual. I chose to make dinner a family priority, a time each day that we would put everything aside and be together.
Okay back to that summer . . . I met a family that year, it was one of those times when you get together someone and just hit it off. Right from the start we knew we were friends, we had similar styles across the board- how we viewed life, thought our kids should be raised and what was important after all the business of life was dealt with. My friend was older than me, her kids a bit older than mine and to me she seemed light years ahead of me in the food realm. She introduced me my first organic food Co op, and was adept at preparing from scratch and, remarkable in our urban setting, a fantastic garden.
At the time I remember thinking how very much I wanted to be JUST like my friend. I wanted my kids to be like her kids, I wanted us to eat the way they ate, and I wanted us to talk to each other the way they talked to each other. In every way I thought “if only I could . . . “ just insert any issue and that was me wishing I could be any other person than me and that would make it better.
Luckily for me, before I totally lost my grip on life, my very good friend decided to serve seaweed for lunch. She had no clue when she pulled out those emerald green, papery sheets of nori that our relationship would never be the same. Prior to that lunch our kids had happily sat side by side devouring every vegetable and salad and otherwise healthy foods in the manner that kids generally do . . . without thought! The nori quickly separated the innocent from the experienced and it was immediately evident my kids were having an epiphany of their own- heretofore willing little bodies began violently opposing the menu! Oh I can’t remember now what was said or how I dismissed their concerns, but I’m human and I do remember being angry with my kids, thinking they could have been more polite. Here I was well on my way to being one of those “healthy food families” and they weren’t even willing to TRY something so obviously healthy as seaweed.
So I resolved to redeem myself and bought my own seaweed thinking we’d practice eating it, and next time it came up, we’d be one of the “in crowd.” Fast forward a week or so later and here we are at home making an effort to create our own seaweed wrapped hors d’oeuvre. As I sat trying as hard as I could to choke down that seaweed, I finally had to face the truth- it really was disgusting! Organic fruity cereal is one thing but fish food wrapped around rice was a whole new ball game! I realized that day that, while I did want to BE where my friend was at food wise, I wasn’t. I also knew that even if I did become that wise food person someday, I would likely NEVER be a fan of seaweed.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, as the saying goes, and your “food” self is an ever changing and growing part of you-not only NOT built in a day- likely never finished. What I discovered that summer has served me well over the years in all areas of my life-not just food related! It’s great to be inspired by others- sometimes I even go searching for inspiration but that is just a beginning point. Once you find something you like, something that sounds good in theory, you have to make it your own. Don’t be afraid to let it go if it doesn’t end up working for you.