Friday, May 08, 2009

Without Mom Where Would I Be? With Food and Vegetables

Family meals growing up were always interesting, and they happened almost every night. My mother made dinner. With a meat and potatoes husband, most of the time, and 3 particular daughters, I am sure that it wasn't easy to make something that everyone liked. This is still the daily dilemma for many Moms today. Although now, if your child doesn't like something, you can open the freezer and hand them something to pop into the microwave. But not then.

My mother never forced me to finish a meal or clean my plate. When I was a very young, and naturally too-skinny, girl she would tell people, "She eats just fine and when she wants to." Mom was responsible for most of my good eating habits, and a few of the not-so-good ones, too. She used to take me to the bakery for a treat (remember those black and white cookies?) at least once a month as I recall. She let me walk to the candy store and buy whatever I could afford, which usually wasn't much. She never made much of a big deal about either activity.

But what my mom really did for me was just let me be the eater that I was, and offered meals with vegetables daily. My best meal memories actually have to do with another Mom, and that was my grandmother, my mother's Mom.

My Nana, as she was affectionately called, was an excellent cook. She loved cooking and really knew how. My grandfather had a heart attack in his mid-40s (he lived until he was 78) so she had him on a special diet based on the Kempner rice diet. She cooked "special" things for him. It was those “special” things that I looked forward to tasting when she'd come to visit us for dinner. I am sure that my Mom could have made the same food as my Nana but it was Nana's domain and she wouldn't let anyone else do it. She carried a little cooler filled with what I deemed “the good stuff.”

My grandfather’s food was perfect for me -- baked potatoes, special tomato sauce, vegetables and usually chicken or fish, which I didn’t ask to eat. It was only recently that I realized that I ate all the vegetables that Nana brought with her whether it was eggplant , broccoli or green beans. I ate plenty of vegetables at home, too, but Nana's always tasted better. Maybe it was the special love that she put in for my grandfather that made the food taste so good.

My very special memory of my Mom, who is alive and doing well, is in the summer when I was 4 years old. She bought, or maybe grew, English pod peas. I don't remember eating them before but when I tasted them, I loved them. I recall her giving me an entire bag to shell. I went to a neighbor’s house and while sitting on a swing, I was shelling peas and eating almost as many of the small, sweet rounds as made it into the bowl for my mother. She would add them to macaroni salad. (Yes, this was pre "pasta salad" days). I am sure that I ate macaroni salad because of the peas, and not the other way around.

After I left for college my mother tended a garden. One winter I came home and my mother cooked kale. I didn’t recall ever eating it before – maybe they didn’t sell it in the supermarket. The flavor of those sweet greens still lingers in my mind today ---one of the best vegetable eating experiences I’ve had, and lead to me eating kale and other greens often.

Food issues with my mother didn’t exist since she let me eat what I wanted when I wanted without ever thinking that it was strange. When I left home and packed on some extra pounds more than once, my mother didn’t say a word, likely knowing that I had the inner wisdom to eat what I liked, and regain equilibrium and return to my natural weight.

I find it fascinating that I have turned into the quintessential mother in my professional life as The Veggie Queen™. I repeat the Mother’s war cry: “Eat your vegetables every day” although I don’t say it quite that way.

So, I have my mother to thank for good eating habits: eating when I am hungry, never feeling as if I need to finish the food on my plate with a strong desire to eat my vegetables. And when I see my mother we can share a piece of pastry or chocolate, and that also feels like a natural part of healthy eating.

Note: After writing this post I took my dog for a walk, and realized that there is indeed another Mother to which I owe complete gratitude, and that is Mother Earth. For no matter how we treat her, she still continues to provide nourishment to millions of people. She knows how to nurture each plant to provide for each person, and it’s our job to listen and learn. For without Mother Earth, we and bounty wouldn't be here.

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If you like this post or have any comments about it, please enter them in the comments section below. I want to hear what you've got to say about your Mom, or other, experiences that have influenced your eating.


Anet said...

What wonderful memories for Mother's Day. I spent Mother's Day camping with two California mothers. Our Mother's Day feast was pork sausages, eggs, deep-fried plantain, and fried Arepa con queso (thick corn tortillas with cheese). Low on vegetables but long on love. Reminds me of the lab-rats on the high-saturated-fat diet that outlived expectations because they were cuddled by the night technician at the lab who cleaned their cages. A healthy diet is important, and so is getting love and attention from your Mom and her Mom (and Mother Earth). Gratitude for love is healthy... feelings of gratitude may even dissolve arterial plaque!

Fran Costigan said...

I am so touched by your sharing the wonderful family and how beautifully you honored your mom. Now I can see the starts of you sunny personality and nature. My story is quite different. I surely love my mom, but she'll be the first to tell ya'll that she was a terrible cook-hated being in kitchen. Plus, I was always admonished my beloved grandma, who was a wonderful, albeit chicken fat kinda cook, to watch out and don't get fat. So it is curious to my family that I do the work I do and love to shop for and prepare delic plant foods. I love being in the kitchen, I love making meals for family and friends, I am not fat and I heart you!

kta said...

I love that your mother let you eat what you wanted, when you wanted. This is a great example for mothers everywhere! And I love your good words for Mother Earth. Nice post!

Bonnie P. said...

A nice trip down memory lane, thanks for sharing your memories. It is amazing that you were naturally drawn to delicious veggies at such a delicate age. Or that you were drawn to nature at such a delicious age. Or that you were drawn to delicate veggies at such a natural age.

The Veggie Queen said...

Thank you all for your comments. I really enjoyed writing this. Not sure if I was drawn to vegetables or they were attracted to me.

A mother's love means a lot at any and all ages. We need to remember that everyone has, or had, a mother that influenced their life.

TRISTA said...

This post hits home for me. I've been trying to figure out who or what first inspired me to become vegetarian. I recently realized that it's my mom, even though she's not veg. She showed me how to be curious about new foods/cuisines and to try everything at least once.

One question your post raised for me is: why is it that most kids (all the little ones I know) really, REALLY, don't like vegetables? Especially green ones! Do you think it's how they're presented by the adults in their lives? Your mom seemed to trust that you would like them, and you did--what if you had refused to eat any veggies?

(I'm glad I "met" you through Culinate and the veg-chat a few weeks ago. I'm enjoying your site. --TRISTA)

The Veggie Queen said...


Thanks for visiting and reading this post. I think that you the point that you make about your mom and her encouraging you to try things at least once is important.

My lovely cooking class assistant Ellen told me that her Mom eats all kinds of foods but didn't offer them to the family when she was growing up. Ellen just ate French green lentils for the first time a couple of weeks ago and really likes them.

My son actually liked green vegetables as a young child, especially broccoli which he used to call Broc-a-dee. His favorite way to eat it was with tomato sauce and pasta. I think that maybe he ate it because he liked the sauce and pasta.

The other thing with kids (and adults, too) is that they don't always like something the first time that they try it. But I think that you can't go wrong with in-season delicious vegetables. There is a lot of variety most of the year. So you just have to keep trying.

It was great to "meet" you, too. And to know that we have our Moms to thank for our eating habits.