Monday, July 6, 2009

Don't Eat It If You Don't Like It

When I was a kid, I was never forced to clean my plate like many of my peers were. I wasn't overweight, and I don't think I had food issues until I was in my 20's. I didn't get the standard parental guilt trip of starving children in Africa, and if I didn't finish my meal it was generally no big deal. It was sort of the way I handle my children's eating: try a bite, and if you don't like it that's fine. I always have a variety of foods available for dinner so there is always *something* the kids like on the table.

But when we were eating at someone *else's* house, my mother changed the rules on me. "Eat WHATEVER you are served," she said, "whether you like it or not. You eat EVERY bite, so you don't hurt someone's feelings." And I was to take anything that was offered, as well. The point was driven home one evening when I was about 8 years old. We had to go to Bible Study every week at a local pig farm, sitting through the stench of the hot, manure-infused summer breeze wafting through the living room. One evening at the end of Bible Study, the Pig Farmer's Wife, dressed in a red-and-white checkered apron over a polyester dress, came over to me and said, "would you like a bowl of ice cream?" Being 8, and not having developed binge eating disorder yet where I would eat anything sweet placed in front of me, I asked, "what kind?" She answered, "Neapolitan." It didn't sound good to me, I didn't really want it, so I replied, "no thank you." She smiled and trotted away to get ice cream for the other folks who wanted it.

I was perfectly fine not having ice cream but my mother was disgusted with me. "That was so rude!" she told me later. "You probably hurt her feelings. When someone offers you something you should NOT ask 'what kind.' You should just say 'yes, thank you' and eat whatever they have!" When I asked why, she said, "because they will feel bad that they didn't have the kind you wanted. And it's not nice to offend people."

Just eat, to make other people happy.

I remember when my Dad was in the hospital. He'd had a heart attack, something not exactly surprising given his history of smoking since he was just a child. Our friends were very kind and caring to my mother and I, inviting us over for dinner several days that week so we would have some company and not have to worry about a meal. There was an old lady who went to our church, who had been single all her life. She lived alone in a big house, and she made wine in her basement out of dandelions from her yard and all manner of fruit scavenged from local orchards. In fact, her basement was literally FULL of glass gallon jugs of wine. She also went 'round to all the neighbor's yards (including ours) and gathered black walnuts off the ground, taking them home and husking off the black, smelly fruit and green skins so she could pound the walnuts to pieces with a hammer on her sidewalk, and pick out the nutmeats to freeze. She'd always bring us a bag of those nuts, which my mother would mix into a box of brownie mix, resulting in brownies full of hard, sharp pieces of shells scattered throughout. But I digress.

This old lady invited us over for lunch one day. My mother graciously accepted, but we both knew we were in for a truly unique culinary experience. My mother informed me in advance that no matter WHAT Bessie served, I was to eat it. ALL of it. With a smile on my face. And I knew that's what I was expected to do, no exceptions.

We sat down at the dining room table and Bessie shuffled about, all excited to be serving company. "I made a salad!" she exclaimed, "with tomatoes, and onions...." and off she went to the kitchen to fetch the salads. I glanced at my mother and she hissed, "You eat EVERY BITE!" She knew how I *hated* tomatoes and onions. There was nothing in the world I hated worse than onions!! Even when we had spaghetti sauce, I would pick out every minuscule speck of onion before I would eat it. And raw onions? Out of the question. But here came Bessie with our salads, and plopped a generous, filled plate in front of each of us with a smile. She sat down to join us and we dug in.

The salad was frightening at best, not exactly clean, but edible. Except scattered across the salad were the biggest chunks of raw onion I had ever seen in a salad, before or since. I kid you not, these onion chunks were at least an inch square. And they were not the "sweet" variety; these were the hot, acrid, burn-your-eyes-out kind. I looked at my mother, who was eagle-eyeing me as she ate. I knew what had to be done.

I stabbed an onion chunk, I put it in my mouth. I made pretend chewing motions and then took a huge swig of water, swallowing the chunk whole. I repeated this process with what must have been a full third of a very large onion, taking bites of the rest of the salad in between. When my bowl was empty, I looked up and was met with my mother's approving smile. Bessie was happy. Mom was happy. I was miserable, with pains in my stomach that lasted for hours.

Eat it, even if you don't like it. Even if it makes you sick. Because you don't want to hurt someone's feelings.

After I became an adult, I realized that it is usually not necessary nor beneficial to eat stuff you don't like. It's always good to be polite, and I give my kids the same little speech before we go eat at someone else's house: be nice, do not complain, say thank you, do not say YUCK at the food. Try to eat some of what's offered. But I also tell them it is okay to say "no thank you" or to not finish what is put on their plates. And if they are permitted to serve themselves, I tell them to try a bite of new things, and just take as much as they think they'll eat. I don't make them clean their plates or eat stuff that they have to gag down. No point in that.

The same goes for me, now, in my own home. As strange as it sounds, I've had to re-learn *not* to eat stuff I don't really like or enjoy. Buy a piece of bakery cake that you think is gonna be great, take one bite and it is dry and flavorless? Guess what, you don't have to eat the rest. Throw it out. Make a new recipe and pile it on your plate in anticipation, only to take a few bites and decide you don't like it? Don't force it down. Stop eating. I used to eat stuff just because it was there. Not anymore. There are so many good things to eat, we may as well only eat things we like.

The same goes for vegetables. Don't like broccoli? Try something else. Cook it a different way. Eat cauliflower or spinach or artichokes instead. There are hundreds of vegetables out there to try. And each one can be prepared many ways: raw, steamed, baked, sauteed, roasted. Find the ones you like. They ARE out there.

Don't eat it if you don't like it. It's pointless, especially if you're trying to lose weight. And especially if it results in picking shards of walnut shells out of your teeth.

Babies, 3 days old:


Tina said...

Awww Lyn, I could just feel your pain gulping down the onions whole. There is nothing worse. I remember throwing up all over my dad after he forced me to eat green beans. He never did that again!

Thanks for the lovely pics of your little birds. We have some in our fern that have just left the nest. I guess I'm an empty nester now ;) Have a great week!

Hanlie said...

I threw out half a pot of soup on Saturday... It was a new recipe and didn't turn out great. Neither my husband and I fancied having those leftovers the next day or ever! It was hard for me to throw food away, but afterward I felt quite liberated. Previously I would have endured the soup, overeating on it to get it done. But I'm no longer the garbage disposal!

beerab said...

My mom used to do that to me too- one day I cried cuz I really just did NOT want to eat one of the things they made. My mom was so mad lol.

This weekend my friend made cheese and jalepeno corn bread. She gave me a bite and I said "yummy" to make her feel better but in reality I thought it tasted TERRIBLE lol. She left half the loaf when she went home and I threw it in the trash- I felt bad but neither myself nor my hubby liked it! I find myself doing this more and more- if I don't really like something I say it's not worthy to go into my mouth ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm glad my mom wasn't like that, sounds awful. I was a super-picky eater, too. Now, I don't eat stuff I don't like unless I spent a long time making it, or it has expensive ingredients, but I certainly don't make myself finish it.

Val said...

This post really resonates with me as this is a lesson I am slowly learning. Several times this past week I have thrown away or given away something I wasn't a big fan of. It seems so second nature to my husband but he doesn't have the effed up relationship with food that I do ;)

South Beach Steve said...

I was always taught a little different. My parents said that I had to eat everything on my plate, but they didn't make me eat things I didn't like. Their way of thinking was that I shouldn't put much on my plate if I didn't know I would like it.

It is interesting how different everyone looks at things.

Tammy said...

I've been transported back to my childhood. I spent the night at a friend's house when I was about 7 or 8. The next morning her mom asked me if I'd like some eggs for breakfast. I said sure. Little did I know that there was such a thing as "sunny side up" eggs, and these were the only way she fixed eggs. My mom always either scrambled them or fried them hard where the yolk was completely done. I politely told the lady I didn't like those kinds of eggs and she politely told me that she had cooked them so I was going to eat them. And eat them I did, right before I threw up all over her kitchen table. I was never invited back. :) Thanks for the hilarious stroll down memory lane! :)

Heather said...

that was pretty much my familys philosophy growing up. sometimes it was eating things I didnt want which only made me want to go eat the things I shouldnt even more, and other times it was feeling guilt because I wouldnt eat something unhealthy. I never can really understand why food and what people eat is any ones business but that persons. sure when you have kids you need to look out for them, but kids know what they like and dont like, and we dont have to force or guilt anyone into anything.

*Fitcetera* said...

I don't remember anyone ever forcing me to eat everything on my plate or eating anything I disliked except for two times, both of my dad's doing ~~ canned kale & blood sausage. At 8-ish :(
THAT was memorable ... lol
Other than that it's been pretty much me wanting to eat it all.
I won't eat anything I don't like but I still struggle with leaving food on my plate. Not because I'm afraid of wasting it but because I love the taste of it. :)
I need to feed myself smaller portions in the first place, even of healthy foods. Like my dad always said, "Your eyes are bigger than your stomach"

screwdestiny said...

Heh, this totally reminds me of trying to eat something I made for lunch yesterday that I just could not stand. I made it because it was healthy, and I figured I'd be able to gulp it down as long as I had some tasty sangria to go with it. Nope. I was literally gagging. Not fun. I ate about half and threw the rest out. I'm sorry you weren't allowed to do that as a child.

Mike579 said...

I think vegetables should be strongly encouraged.. and junk should not be available to children... but I don't have what do I know... Anything else is optional...

Anonymous said...

My stepfather would force me to eat. I think it was more a form of punishment, especially after he started inappropriately touching me he'd find new ways to punish me. My mother never backed me up; just swallow it and quit making trouble. I think I've swallowed so much that its killing me.

Mama Bear June said...

I would never make my kids eat chunks of onion! When they were younger, they would eat what I prepared or go hungry. I wasn't a short order cook! :-) But I never made them clean their plates. And when they got old enough, they could fix their own meals if they didn't like what I made.
Path to Health

Angel Jem said...

Clean plate philosophy; why did our parents do it, and why does it take some of us so long to break the programming? But the raw onions is just cruel!!