Wednesday, February 23, 2011

We'll see, I guess

On the radio they were talking about kids and weight and body image and eating habits and all the rest, and I couldn’t help but wonder: Why is it such a big deal? Am I really that naïve? Clueless? Stupid?

I just can’t understand why it’s so hard. And I’m a picky eater! I would think of anyone out there, I’d be in the position to judge. Which is not to say pass judgment, but rather I’m in the position to say if it’s a big deal or not.

I’m picturing my hypothetical, unborn and un-thought-of yet child. Or children, I suppose. But in my head I think of her as Gidgit and there’s just the one. As a side note, I think it’s probably pertinent to say that know the source of that particular nickname. Well, okay wait. I’m not completely uncultured. I know Gidgit was one of Sally Fields’ breakout roles way back when, so technically I know two sources. But that’s not what I think of first when I think of the name Gidgit.

What I remember is much further down on the culture scale. It’s from an episode of Roseanne. Remember when Jackie tells her mother that she’s pregnant? It’s supposed to be this big shock, and as part of the whole “I’m pregnant” hurrah, she continues by saying, “And if it’s a girl, I’m going to name her Gidgit.”

Of course, in the episode it was funny because the mom already found out, and Jackie was disappointed because her surprise was spoiled, but for some reason that name stuck in my head as generic-unborn-baby-girl-name. And I’ve latched onto it because it provides a way to refer to my someday-child by a name instead of “It.”

At any rate, I just don’t think it’s going to be that hard when it’s my turn to take responsibility for nourishing another human being. On the radio, the caller lamented over her own problems with body image growing up. She admitted that it made her hesitant to talk to her daughter about the issues in case she (the mother) said something that was unintentionally tainted by her own experiences.

Is it my security in my own body that makes me so self-assured?

It could be, but I think not. I am—for the most part—relatively secure, and have been for the whole of my life. But I just don’t think my security is the reason behind my certainty.

I think it has to do with my journey along the road of pickiness. I grew up an extremely picky eater, continue to be very selective in my eating to this day—to the point that I annoy myself, truth be known—and my dietary choices have been much scrutinized for the entire 32 years of my existence.

There is, to put it bluntly, an implausible fascination with any food item that does or doesn’t pass my lips. Not just a fascination, but also a running commentary to the world at large by anyone in my general proximity. “She’s eating carrots!” “Noodles again!” “Mmmm, mashed potatoes!” Healthy, frozen, unhealthy, canned, preservative-full and -free. . . it doesn’t matter. Nothing gets by the masses.

I’ve stopped trying to respond to this confounding dialogue. There really isn’t an appropriate response, and the inappropriate ones just leave me feeling like a jerk. So I smile at their keen observation and continue my meal while doing my best to avoid eye contact.

But it’s been this journey that has lead me to a point today in which I feel utterly secure in my original statement that it just isn’t that big a deal. I am already assuming that Gidgit will be picky, at least to a point, but I’m also already planning how to handle it. I’m making plans based on my experience and what I wish could have happened.

First and foremost: things would have gone a whole lot easier growing up if we could have pinpointed a conceptual theme to my pickiness. Two themes that go hand-in-hand, actually: I’m a purist. Texture matters.

I’m a purist. I like foods in their natural state (or, in the case of veggies, steamed with little to no sauce or garnishing). I love vegetables. I also like a lot of meats, but if protein weren’t an issue I could probably live as a vegetarian and be perfectly happy. As long as being a vegetarian meant getting to have Fillet Mignon every blue moon. Ha.

I do love vegetables, a pretty unusual variety for a “picky person,” but I don’t like them prepared all different ways. I could probably eat steamed broccoli until I explode, but don’t try serving me broccoli with bread crumbs or inside a breakfast burrito or . . . well, maybe broccoli isn’t the best example. I’m drawing a blank on different ways to serve it. But still, you can catch my drift. I can’t even count the number of times I heard this:

“But you like this! It has _____ (e.g., broccoli) in it!”

To which my only response is: “So?”

I don’t care that I like broccoli, or green beans, or corn, or peas . . . whatever. Don’t mix them in anything!

Conceptually: I like my foods pure. By themselves. Not mixed together. Even, perhaps especially, when it comes to foods I enjoy (like all of the above listed vegetables). That doesn’t mean they go together. Vegetables and other kinds of foods I like don’t usually go together either. It is never okay to mix corn and mashed potatoes, by the way.

This concept has been a part of me longer than I can remember. It is as much me as my brown hair and stubborn charm. Identifying it and accepting it would have avoided many a dinner fight, subsequent “leave the kid at the table until they take one bite—they’ll crack eventually,” and ultimate conclusion, “Sigh. Go ahead and go to bed, I guess.” Stubborn to a fault, I also had the patience of Job. “Just take one bite” never worked. Not even once.

And I think my knowledge about this, and my other conceptual issues, will only help me with Gidgit. Because wouldn’t it have been great to have been encouraged to verbalize why I didn’t like something?

That isn’t a reproach against my parents. I’m just saying: wouldn’t life have been much better if we hadn’t been fighting at the dinner table so much?! Imagine the peace if we’d just figured out the theory behind my so-called bizarre pickiness. After so many years of frustration (“What? I thought you liked _____?”)(because no one could keep my eating likes and dislikes straight—it just seemed completely random), I would hope I have at least one tidbit of knowledge to pass along to Gidgit.

The tidbit is in the why. I now know there are many types of pickiness out there. Taste. Texture. Smell. Principle (I don’t eat veal on principle; I’m sure the taste is excellent, but I can not condone the treatment of the calves).

In the house I grew up in, the why didn’t matter. Why I didn’t like something was irrelevant. Someone (usually my mother) had prepared a meal, “It’s not poison!” and “There’s nothing wrong with it!”, so there was no reason why I couldn’t eat it.

That’s true. There was no reason why the food was bad. Except that I was morally against the concept of it. Stew. Casserole. Chunks. In my mind, I knew that was the problem, but we didn’t talk about it. You know. We didn’t talk about it rationally.

I’m ready to not take personal offense to Gidgit’s reasoning why. I’m ready for Gidgit to change her mind, and like (or not) something now that she did (or didn’t) like then.  I feel like I've always been the same, but I know it seemed that I changed my mind at random, and that was the most galling part to my parents.  Unfortunately, I think it was just too complicated to understand in the hectic world of "Well, this is what's for dinner, so deal with it."

I believe it’s simply a matter of options. That’s what “they” say too . . . whoever “they” are. But they say that you should give your child a choice so they can feel in control. I like that idea. But I think it will be a matter of art and paying attention and plain blind luck when it comes to choosing which options to provide. Both should be healthy, but they need to be different enough to start learning concepts even when Gidgit is too little for helpful verbalization (“Eww, yucky!” really isn’t helpful).

So—always only giving healthy options—why would someone give two options that are both conceptually the same—perhaps prepared meals he or she is morally against? Between sewage and blended sewage . . . what would you choose? If Gidgit smells sewage when served a plate of asparagus, well my response is that an adult can lead a healthy life without ever having eaten asparagus. If it’s that big of a deal, then she doesn’t have to have it.  And I certainly won't expect her to eat a dish that includes asparagus, if asparagus is the concept she's against.

Because in my house it will never be a sin to choose broccoli over asparagus, to choose asparagus over cauliflower, to want cabbage instead of green pepper, or to want green pepper instead of cucumber. FYI: I love all of those vegetables. But I don’t like cauliflower raw and I do like green pepper raw or sautéed. I detest cabbage raw, love it cooked. So giving me a choice between raw cabbage and sautéed green pepper . . . it’s not really a choice. But giving me a choice between sautéed green pepper and a bag of Doritos . . . I can tell you that now in my 30s I pick the healthy one, but I really couldn’t tell you what I would have chosen as a teenager.

What I can tell you is that I know at that time I couldn’t be trusted to make the right choice. When presented with options, and if the options include junk, I’d wager most teenagers and younger would go for the sugar, the salt, the preservatives. Like moth to a flame, they’re magnetically drawn to them.

So, ding ding ding! This is why I think the radio caller was making an issue where there wasn’t one. Why not just remove the temptation? No junk food. Is it that hard to only present healthy breakfast options? Plain wheat flakes or cereal with almond and fruit chunks? With or without milk. Yogurt on the side, fruit on the side, vegetable on the side (I guess, although personally I think that’s weird). Glass of milk, glass of O.J., class of cranberry juice. “On the side” is a big deal to me because I have such an aversion to anything mixed. Which is to say, some foods can be mixed, some absolutely can not. I always want to do it myself.

Back to the weird. That’s important too. Who cares if it’s weird to eat sliced cucumber in the morning with breakfast (on the side)? What does it matter? I’ll never forget one of the first dinners I made for my husband while we were dating: spaghetti with Ragu sauce, and for a vegetable—obviously on the side—I chose my favorite: broccoli. It sounded good that night, and didn’t seem weird to me, but I remember he thought it was about the oddest combination I could have come up with. Again, I’ve got to come back with: what difference does it make? Broccoli is a healthy vegetable. Just because Marie Callender doesn’t pair a spaghetti meal with broccoli for a vegetable doesn’t make it wrong. Good heavens!

I still don't know if I'm naïve, clueless, or stupid.  Perhaps all three, perhaps none.  I certainly hope Gidgit doesn't embarrass me by going into a detailed account of why she won't eat something when we're guests at someone's house.

Not to say I won't be secretly proud of her expansive vocabulary and undoubtedly witty repartee, of course.


Nina said...

The issue does seem to be overblown, doesn't it? There are always healthy compromises to offer. It sounds like "Gidget" will have a sensible mom.
By the way, I'm totally in your corner regarding the unsavoriness of food-mixing. And simplicity. My husband prefers every meal to be swimming in sauce or gravy, and if I serve meat with sides of three or four veggies, he mashes everything up into one homogeneous goopy mess.
It's insulting. I may as well puree it and save him the trouble.
Generally I stick to the basics and compromise by preparing sauces and whatnot that he can add if desired. Extra work, but it keeps everyone happy.
Who knew that food could be such a minefield ...

Toyin O. said...

Interesting post, thanks for sharing.

Toyin O. said...

I have always been a picky eater myself:)

Related Posts with Thumbnails