all of the selves we Have ever been
I tried a new recipe this morning.
As I mixed condiments into a sauce to spread over some raw chicken, I began to doubt my choice of recipes. “Oh, geez! That looks like diarrhea,” I said. While not an enjoyable sensory experience, it did bring back a memory from my youth, and it made me smile.
When my mother grew tired of her children’s complaints about “what’s for dinner,” she had a standard response for the next and last critic of the day.
“What’s for dinner, Mom?”
“Shit on a shingle.”
“Mmm. Sounds good, Mom.” Enough questions asked.
Suddenly, cabbage and Brussel sprouts didn’t sound so bad even if they smelled the same as the daily special.
It was a master’s strategy. My mom was a well-educated, articulate microbiologist, not a mental health therapist, but she sure understood the power of crass language and visualization for changing minds and behaviors.
Face it. Cooking for a family is hard work. Thinking about what to cook in order to please every taste is exhausting. However, children don’t know all of that. They are primitive pleasure-seekers with uneducated palates. They want what they want.
It is easy to complain when a full meal appears on your table every evening. We were regularly reminded to eat what was on our plates and not be wasteful. “There are children starving in China,” our parents said. That was another master strategy–using guilt to gain compliance and elicit gratitude.
My knowledge of China was limited to canned La Choy Chop Suey and the understanding that if I dug deep enough, I could tunnel my way to Asia. I thought my parents made up the story of those hungry children just to shut us up. Turns out children really were starving in China. While I was grudgingly choking down limp spinach, the Great Chinese Famine was taking 36 million lives. I guess that would have been far too much for a six year old to comprehend. It still seems unfathomable.
Old-style parents weren’t about to explain themselves, or make six different meals, or fly in an order from a Michelin three-star restaurant in New York. There were limited prepared or processed foods in the house and, most certainly, no microwave to fix something special and quick for each picky eater. If visualization and guilt did not work, it boiled down to “Eat what’s on your plate…or else.” Going to bed without supper was an option in the parenting playbook, and we were smart enough to know that the “or else” chapter might contain scary mysteries we could imagine no better than a great famine.
And so I plan to eat that chicken I made this morning--no matter what. Thankfully, it came out of the oven transformed--moist, browned and smelling delicious. Hopefully, I won’t be thinking of diarrhea when I dig in at dinner tonight.
During this time of COVID-19, I employ the strategies from my parents’ old playbook. I take a bit of this and that from the refrigerator and craft a wholesome and delicious meal. I eat my sour-smelling vegetables, and I am grateful. The daily news reminds me that people in my own country as well as others around the world are going hungry. I don’t complain. I eat what is on my plate, and I do not waste food. I have not had to go to bed without supper. However, I do wonder what scary “or else” COVID-19 may be keeping from us. I pray there is a chapter in my parents’ old playbook that will see me through.