When I was a child, the best things I could think of to eat came in cans, in the freezer section, or in boxes. My parents, in that mysterious way that parents have, did not believe in ready-to-eat foods. While our peers in the trailer court were eating Pop Tarts, TV dinners, and Chef Boyardee, we were being fed made-from-scratch beef roast with mashed potatoes and gravy, chili and corn bread, lemon meringue pie.
You can imagine how irritating this was to us kids.
Was it so wrong to want Spaghettios and Raviolios? Would it have killed us to have had a Fudgesicle? Would it be so bad to buy the Captain Crunch with Crunchberries? Would it?
My parents’ disdain for these foods had its basis in several different things: 1.) the budget, 2.) their ability to really cook, and 3.) the fact that they believed these foods to be the work of the Devil.
OK. Well, maybe not the Devil. But the same reasoning that was behind my mother’s mockery of the paper towel (“Oh, yeah, spend more money! Grab a rag, ya lazy bum!”) worked for pre-packaged foods.
“Now why in the world would I spend that much money for Hyper Toasted Sugar Bursts with Marshmallows when for the same money I could buy a dozen eggs and a loaf of bread, not to mention that it’s better for you. What’s wrong with eggs and toast for breakfast?”
Nothing, except that, according to the television, everyone’s happily eating Pop Tarts for breakfast, Mom!
That was a long time ago. Today, Tasty Pizza delivers to our house at least once a month; I’m willing to work for take-out Pad Thai; and, for some inexplicable reason, there are corn dogs in my freezer. I’ve also been known, Heaven help me, to encourage hitting the drive-thru at the White Castle, particularly if I’ve been drinking. I’m no angel.
Still, I do a lot of cooking. My dinners are often made of the same components that my parents’ were. I make the cukes and sour cream dish that my grandmother made, the spaghetti and meatballs that my father did, the guacamole that my mother did. I keep these recipes in a three-ring binder that is added to every time I get a new recipe I fall in love with. My son asked me the other day if he could have that binder when I die. I was pleased.
Mom was right about all of it: the money, the nutrition, the possible complicity of the Devil. But she missed something even less tangible than the Devil’s connection to marketing campaigns: the role that food plays in love and tradition.
It’s odd, really. The older I get, the more I realize that my mother knows what she’s talking about. And here she knew so little when I was younger…
Now how does that work?
Winter mornings and pottery
3 hours ago