Today I took my mother to the Farmers Market for the first time. She’s never been with me before. As incredible as this may seem, I normally go to the FM while she is at church. Today is the day of the church picnic, which for some reason she does not enjoy. So she played hooky from church and came to the Farmers Market with me.
It was an interesting experience. I think the open stands and the people giving out food and the crowds and just the sheer experience of it was a little over the top for her. And I think the concept- of farmers bringing their fresh, in-season produce – to neighborhoods, was just not something that she’s ever thought about.
As I’ve been on this “healthy journey,” as we call it, I have had to think a lot about the decades-long habits I first learned when I was growing up. There were a lot of things I look back on now and shake my head. She was doing her best, and doing what many others did at the time. Back in the 70s, when I was young, frozen dinners were seen as this very cool new thing, a convenient, happy thing, and the same with fast food.
My father was a traveling salesman and he was gone 75% of the time, traveling. So when it was both her and me (I was an only child) we subsisted 100% on frozen TV dinners, fast food takeout, or if it was a real special night, teriyaki hotdogs over rice. We’d go through the aisles of the A & P and fill the cart with frozen blocks of food, some her favorites, and some mine. We got to have whatever we wanted.
Every night, she’d offer me the choice between a “vegetable” – usually iceberg lettuce with “Russian dressing” (mayo + ketchup) or a plate of cold tofu with soy sauce on it. Nine times out of ten, I chose the tofu. I think in her mind, tofu = “vegetable” because it was “healthy.” Or something like that. Needless to say I did not ingest many vegetables probably until I went to college. I remember coming home my freshman year and buying alfalfa sprouts and avocados and she was like, Oh you hippy.
Every day after school, she and I would sit down to “Snack” – milk plus cookies or cake or something sweet. (Ding Dongs? Twinkies? Coconut Snowballs?)
That was my life. For her, not much has changed. She still has an ongoing love affair with McDonald’s and gets insulted if anyone insinuates that fast food is in any way bad. Brown rice makes her shudder. Same with whole wheat bread. She will put up with our vegetables and our salads and such, but if given her preference, she would live on chocolate. And salami.
Sometimes I find myself getting annoyed when I see her food choices and I know that I am forever trying to untie the knots that she showed me so long ago, and which still live inside me. Those kinds of foods are the ones that sustained me for almost the first two decades of my life, and where I want to go when I am feeling needy or just, want to GO BACK there. (to a place of mindlessness and just NOT KNOWING how unhealthy it all was)
It was hard not to wince when she beelined to the kettle corn and the chocolate sorbet and the pastries. It’s not what I can do anymore. And as far as her making these choices? Listen. She’s almost 88. She is in good physical condition and who am *I*, her kid, to be telling her what to do? She has made it this far. And for now, food is one of the pleasures enjoys. I’m not going to take them away from her for the sake of her longevity. Maybe I’m an enabler when I buy her chocolate. But she’s 88. She still bowls a 175 every week. She can walk more than two miles. She’s doing so much better than people a decade younger than her.
So today we went to the farmers’ market. She got a bunch of corn. (one of the few vegetables she likes) She smelled the basil and liked that, but wouldn’t know what to do with it. She bought a cheese Danish and had some samples of peaches and bolanis. She said “no thank you” to the free blueberries and sped-walked past the vegetable stands. I thought about where we came from and where I am now. It’s a lot to think about.
July 12, 2010 at 12:21 am
Ha this so reminds me of my dad’s habits. But they are his and I can choose to live by mine.
July 12, 2010 at 4:26 am
But I still maintain that frozen food and things like ketchup were WAAYYY different back then. The chemicals and preservatives that are on the market now-a-days were NOT in our food back then. ALL of our food was different even the fast food and the junk food. It was not as healthy as “healthy” food-of course, but I think it was very much more healthier than it is now.
A milkshake at McDonalds USED to have actual MILK in it. It is WAY different now.
And you are a good daughter to not try to push your new found way of eating on your 88 year old mother. I know it is difficult, but . . . . she sounds healthier than a lot of people I know much younger than her!
July 12, 2010 at 6:41 am
this post had me nodding in vigorous agreement.
I love my parents and wish they’d shift a bit more to a healthy path—but all I can do is lovingly gently lead by example huh?
July 12, 2010 at 11:18 am
Looks amazing! Farmer’s markets are THE best thing to happen to me in awhile. I’m a freak as you may know, so to me, there is nothing more amazing to me that like the perfect onion or some leafy greens that aren’t limp and sad looking. You can only get that at the farmer’s markets, what would I do with out them?!?!?!
July 12, 2010 at 11:23 am
Just goes to show how deeply ingrained the habits we learn in childhood are. I know we had fresh vegetables (nothing exotic) because Mom had a garden. But we had lots of “kid foods,” I loved them until a few years ago. One of the reasons that I’ve been changing my habits now is because I want my daughter to learn to choose healthy, real food. Some day she won’t have me there to offer her fruit instead of sweets, so I want her to KNOW why we eat differently than other people might.
Thanks so much for sharing this. 🙂
July 12, 2010 at 11:47 am
This is one area where I can say my mother was different. She very much valued whole, fresh food; cooking; portion control; lots of veggies; regular exercise; and so on. She love to research foods from other countries and make “ethnic” dishes.
Yes, she made and/or bought cookies, cakes, pies and other treats, but she was definitely an everything-in-moderation model. Fast food and soda were things to be had once in a while. There are a few exceptions though, and I think I got some mixed-messages. For example, she loved to buy Velveeta and use it to make macaroni and cheese (and I think she may have “binged” on it)…but then there were other times when she’d make it from scratch. Then there were times when she’d make brownies at night because she craved them, But like Terrepruit said, even the packaged food was different back then (I grew up in the 60s and 70s).
July 12, 2010 at 11:51 am
Wow, your mother was way ahead of her time!
July 12, 2010 at 3:52 pm
I totally understand your frustration, but love how you state that she’s 88 years of age. For the most part, my grandmother lived a healthy lifestyle. She was diabetic all of the years I knew her, and was really strict with her food intake (using artificial sugar in her coffee, eating gluten-free bread, etc.). It wasn’t until she was in her late 80s/early 90s that she began to eat what she wanted. Her health never failed her at that point. She simply died from old age one day at the age of 93.
July 12, 2010 at 4:40 pm
Every once in awhile I come across something that has me e-mailing my dad saying, “Look! You knew THAT way back when.” My dad liked vitamins and “health” food. I ate carob when I was young. My mom used to make millet. We used to drink non-fat milk. They were pretty good and did the best they could on a budget. Now . . . they eat a lot of packaged food. Sigh.
July 12, 2010 at 4:49 pm
When I was little, my father used to have to go to business training trips, and as a special treat, we got to eat tv dinners and rent movies. Im not sure why it was a treat because those things tasted gross. The rest of the time though, my mother, like her mother and my father’s mother, cooked us homemade meals (from scratch desserts too!). Shes’s a great cook, although she does tend to double the amount of meat for any recipe. Her food wasn’t the healthiest, but pretty healthy for growing up in NH and since then she’s taken a nutrition class so I imagine it’s even healthier. I realize how lucky I was to have sit down family homecooked meals. However, your mom seems really healthy and active, so I guess her way is definitely working for her (whereas mine is only in her 50s and not very healthy or mobile, & my 81 yr old grandmother cant even leave the house) so yay for your mom shes doing something right! She looks cute.
July 13, 2010 at 12:47 pm
I read your McMemories piece, very wonderful piece.
Does your mom hate to cook? Just wondering b/c she reminds me of myself.
July 13, 2010 at 12:53 pm
She DOES hate to cook and pretty much always has. She also hated to clean and do any of the typical wifey things. However, she was killer with the snowblower and could rake a 1/2 acre of leaves in a flash. And now, she is not really able to cook anything beyond the simplest things. But she is a fabulous sous chef!