It’s All About the FOOD!

I grew up in a family where to a great extent, I was “allowed” to be a picky eater. My parents never focused on nutrition; their goal was to have us fed, and therefor happy.

Every Sunday morning, the butcher, or his son would deliver our order. My parents too so much pride in being able to provide us with the best quality kosher meats. They were cost prohibitive, therefore, a symbol that their hard work was worth it.

I loved the butcher’s son, but I hated the meat delivery.

Long before I knew that vegetarianism was a viable way of eating, I despised eating meat. Since I refused to see anything that resembled blood, or pink flesh, everything was cooked to shoe leather, which obviously made the texture extremely off putting. I was reluctant to explore spices, and seasonings, so the flavour was non-existent. Add to this the fact that my body struggled to digest meat, and we had the perfect tantrum-inducing scenario at the dinner table.

My father’s idea of a well-balanced diet included meat, more meat, potatoes, canned green peas, canned peaches, watermelon, tomatoes with snowcaps of salt, and apple pie. Cheese came in slices that were more plastic than their protective wrappers, or in a jar that was shelf-stable until it was popped open.

My mother’s ideas were a bit more balanced. She loved salads, and fish that wasn’t packed in salty water and preserved in tins. She enjoyed fresh fruits, and vegetables, but never prepared anything too adventurous for us. Maybe it was the expense, or maybe it was because nutrition was never a primary focus in our household. For us, food was a way of connecting with each other, not about being healthy. My father ate to live. My mother, although she struggled with healthy eating habits, and never had a healthy relationship with food, did the same. Her love affair with bread and cheese was obsessive.

Sunday mornings in our house were all about cooking. My mother would stand in the kitchen and produce meals for the week. Our fridge was constantly filled with edible gifts wrapped in foil. It was often my responsibility to warm them up after school so that we could eat at a decent hour.

My mother’s cooking skills were stunted by my father’s limited pallet. They were even more closeted by my reluctance to eat most of the meat that she’d cook. I remember once throwing a fit because my father wanted steaks one night, and I hated eating steak. I couldn’t chew it. I couldn’t digest it. I begged, and begged, and begged for a McDonald’s Happy Meal instead. Of course, I wanted the toy that came with the meal, but I also had the logic that if I HAD to eat meat, the thin little patty was considerably easier to choke down than a steak. My parents thought I was the most ungrateful child on the planet. They couldn’t understand why I’d turn down a STEAK to eat a thin, processed piece of garbage. In retrospect, I completely see their point, but I was six, or seven years old, so cut me some slack, okay?

As a result of all of my sensory issues related to food, in combination with financial struggles, a lack of nutritional information, limited time, and myriad other issues, I was “allowed” to become a picky eater.

As time marched on, my parents slowly lost their battle to get me to eat meat. We settled on a few “must eat meals,” but other than that, while my family indulged in their decadence, I was allowed to eat scrambled eggs, peanut butter sandwiches, or a bowl of cereal. This coddling as some saw it, didn’t apply outside of the house. When we visited other people’s homes, I was expected to eat what I was offered. This, for some reason included my parents insisting that I eat tongue at a fancy restaurant simply because my father’s cousin had invited us, and for his expense, it would be rude if I didn’t have meat on my plate! (For the record, I’m still resentful about that day!)

While some people saw my mother as coddling me for not forcing me to always eat what was on my plate, I saw it as a mutual respect. My mother found a way to nourish my body, while also instilling a sense of responsibility on my part. I wasn’t eating a protein that she offered me, so I had to find an alternative. Sometimes, my ignorance gave way to poor choices, but for the most part, we figured things out together.

When I finally decided to become vegetarian, my mother told me that since I had a part-time job, with the exception of household staples, I could buy my own groceries, and cook for myself. She wasn’t going to cater to that level of complicated eating.

My first year as a vegetarian, I gained a great deal of weight. I was living off of pasta, and rice while I was exploring new vegetables. I was also learning how to balance portions sizes in terms of cooking for one person, keeping leftovers, and not wasting my hard earned money. It took a while, but I eventually learned balance. I also learned to take risks and start eating many more fruits, and vegetables. Most importantly, I discovered a love for spices, and flavours! I began exploring world cuisine!

I was vegetarian for years until I finally realized that I truly wanted to be vegan. Sadly, that experience didn’t last because people in my life found it too complicated to invite me to their homes, or out for social events. I caved to peer pressure. I went back to being vegetarian.

Poor medical advice, and depressing fertility issues led me to eating chicken for a number of years before I reclaimed my body. Vegan for almost eight years, I’m healthier now than I’ve ever been. I also eat considerably more variety than I’ve ever dreamed of!

Many people believe that allowing children to be picky eaters will create unhealthy relationships with food. There is absolutely a connection between children being super picky, controlling their dietary intake, and unhealthy nutritional decision making. There is also a huge connection between unhealthy eating habits, and forcing children to eat what they truly dislike.

There are ways of making foods more appealing to children. We don’t have to shy away from spices, or flavours. Bland food isn’t appealing to most people. Consider alternatives; if your child doesn’t like carrots, try sweet potatoes, or orange peppers. A once rejected food can be tried again in a different presentation, cooked, or seasoned differently, or with a different accenting flavour.

There are thousands of ways to introduce children to healthy eating, and not everything works for every child. While I personally disagree with hiding vegetables in people’s food, I also see the perspective that many people don’t consume enough fruits, and veggies in a typical day, so adding the extra nutrients is never a bad thing.

What I disagree with completely is adults villainizing vegetables, or plant-based diets. I don’t understand the entire “I can’t live without bacon” theory of life. I’ve lived quite a wonderful life, and I’ve NEVER eaten bacon. In fact, when I was younger, I came up with very creative ways to get out of eating meat. I once told a camp counsellor that I was “allergic to hotdogs” because I didn’t want to eat one. I’ve successfully made it this far in life without ever eating a “real” hotdog. In fact, although I’ve had vegan versions, I don’t even like those.

Picky eating doesn’t have to mean unhealthy living. It can mean being quite selective, but still eating a well-balanced, nutritionally packed diet, with some fun treats thrown in.

I am a firm believer that everyone needs to eat what is best suited for their personal needs, and tastebuds. Had my parents not allowed me to explore my own personal flavour, and texture profiles, I would never be the healthy person I am today! I would never have come into my own eating pattern of trying new foods, and cooking exciting meals.

My parents never understood my food choices, but they also never put me down for them. It’s 2023. People adhere to all sorts of fad diets, personal preferences, and special regimes for health reasons. Any food shop from small mom and pop convenience stores, to major grocery chains offer selections of intense meat, vegan, and gluten free foods, yet people continue to face ridicule for their eating habits.

Not a day goes by that I’m not insulted for being vegan. Not a day goes by that I’m not lectured for raising my children as vegetarians and giving them the choice as teens whether, or not they wish to eat meat. (They don’t, but their decisions are based on facts, nutrition, and personal choice.) I don’t understand the hate. At no point in time do I preach to others how they should eat. At no point in time do I ridicule, or shun what others choose to consume. I simply make choices for myself, and allow my children to make choices for themselves.

There is no difference in someone raising a child to eat meat, and then that child choosing to be vegetarian later in life, than there is me raising vegetarians, and them possibly choosing to be omnivorous later in life. Besides, what difference does it make to the lives of people who aren’t chewing our food?

The other day, I made the poor choice of eating in the staffroom. My meal contained all the natural colours of the rainbow in vegetables, as well as a plant-based alternative to chicken. Someone rudely commented across the table that she couldn’t believe that I was actually going to eat “that garbage,” and how she hoped that I didn’t expect a man to eat it because “MEN NEED MEAT!”

First of all, take your eyes off of my food. Secondly, no one NEEDS meat (well, maybe there are a select few who have health issues and can only get their protein from meat, I am not judging anyone.), but seriously, back off! I do cook meat for others. In fact, I’ve been told that I’m an excellent cook. I don’t enjoy cooking meat, but I am a provider, and as such, I cook what people need, or want. Eventually, however, I’d love to have a meat-free home. That’s my personal preference for MY personal space.

There are myriad ways to create unhealthy relationships with food. I’ll be the first to admit that my connections aren’t always friendly, or healthy. I do however subscribe to a “live and let live philosophy” that encourages people to make the best, and healthiest choices for their lives, their bodies, and their minds.

With that, I wish you a bon appétit!

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