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.