Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Food, Glorious Food!

I come from a long line of finicky eaters. My Gram told me about how, when my dad was a baby, she worried herself sick because all he ate for a solid week was oatmeal. And when she was a little girl she was so fussy she would hold her bread up to the light hoping to find a speck in it so she could refuse to eat it. So why was anyone surprised when I balked at the dinner table?

I remember sitting for an eternity at a deserted table staring at a plate of stone cold liver and fried cabbage: Organ meat and a vegetable that smells like dirty socks. Sometimes I could slip little pieces of the liver to my dog under the table, but what do you do with a vegetable that the dog licks and walks away from? Feeding Fritz was risky at best. Then my parents came up with the brilliant idea of offering my sister and I a spoonful of Cod Liver Oil in place of our unfinished dinner. Cod Liver Oil, for the uneducated, is just what it sounds like; the oil from a codfish’s liver. It is fishy, and livery, and oily and you taste it for days. Having to choose between eating liver or drinking the oil from the liver of a fish is like being asked if you’d like to die by fire or drowning.

I got artistic with my food, cutting it into small pieces and rearranging it on the plate. I hoped it would look like some of it had been eaten. I also tried stuffing my mouth and then excusing myself to the bathroom to spit in the toilet. However, it is hard to excuse yourself with a stuffed mouth and not appear guilty.

Part of the problem was that I was never really hungry. I pictured myself as someone who could Live Off the Land and had numerous hidden resources. Endowed with a mere smattering of genuine Iroquois Indian blood, I knew how to provide for myself. I learned to whittle very sharp arrows from skinny branches and fashioned working bows to launch them from. The homemade arrows could travel an impressive distance, albeit inaccurately, but I practiced tirelessly in case I ever ran across any unsuspecting game. My stomach rarely complained as I was cunning enough to find sustenance from the bounty of Mother Nature, snacking all day long like a vagabond beggar.

I began first thing in the morning. Right after my own breakfast of Raisin Bran and orange juice, I’d head over to the Barry’s next door. Their clan of five always tumbled out of the house around 9 AM, still in their jammies, carrying the most tantalizing food of all—peanut butter toast. And not just any peanut butter toast either. This was undercooked toast, more like warmed bread; spread first with butter, then peanut butter. Drooling, I would watch them eat, lick the dripping peanut butter from their fingers and beg for just one bite. No toast at my house ever tasted like toast on the neighbor’s back step.

On the other side of our house lived an old widow, Mrs. Nelson. Early in the day we children would conspire what time was best to approach her door as we knew it would be impolite to go too often. All we had to do was knock and wait on her step, smiling. She was quite hard of hearing so we had to knock a few times, and loudly. Eventually she came to the door to greet us. I don’t remember that she spoke English. She’d say something in Norwegian, smile at us, and disappear only to return minutes later with a single lemon drop for each of us. We’d pop the candy in our mouths, wave, and be on our way. Every day was like Halloween with this nice lady next door.

My grandpa was always good for a handout, too. Mid-morning, my sister and I would pedal our bikes down to the Equity station where he worked, pumping gas and washing windshields. On a good day, he’d notice it was coffee time and would take us to the City Restaurant across the street. We’d shinny up the high stools at the lunch counter and watch him slurp his hot coffee from a saucer while we drank bottles of orange pop so fast we got fizzy mustaches and could belch impressively. Then we’d spin on the stools until we were dizzy and Grandpa said it was time for him to go back to work. Some days, he was too busy at the station to go to coffee. When we looked sad, he’d reach into his gray work pants and pull out an oblong rubbery coin holder with a slit that opened when you squeezed the ends. He’d hand us “two bits” and tell us, “Don’t spend it all in one place.” Grandpa was full of sayings like that which made no sense to a kid.

When the noon whistle blew, I knew enough to be home for lunch—which I also picked at half-heartedly before I’d rush back outside for an afternoon of foraging. I stuffed myself on green apples, unwashed carrots plucked straight from the garden, wild plums, and some kind of seedy green berries that must not have been poisonous because I’m still alive to tell you about it. Mid-afternoon, it was time for Renee and me to visit our Gram. If she was at home, she’d let us raid her copper cookie jar, “Have all you want!” And there was always the red glass candy dish that sat dead center on her oak coffee table. Year around it was filled with all our favorite candy and we could eat as much as we wanted. And we wanted a lot.

If it was a day that Gram was filling in at the Ashby Federal Credit Union, so much the better. First, we’d keep her company between customers by helping her type on the old manual typewriter. She gave us carbon paper so she could keep a copy of our work and we had one to take home. Before long, she’d pull out her purse and suggest we go get ourselves a treat. We’d act all surprised like the thought had never occurred to us then skip off to Buddy’s or Capper’s and debate what to get. Renee liked candy that lasted a long time.My favorite was a little box of pretzel sticks that cost a nickel—I wanted to get the most for my money. Sometimes, we put up our whole quarter for a paper sack of bing cherries. Then we’d sit on the Credit Union steps under the big cloth awning eating cherries and spitting the pits into the street.

Before we knew it, it was suppertime again [sigh]. My folks did all they could to coax me to eat. They tried calling ordinary beef stew “Daniel Boone Stew.” I’d picture myself sitting on a sparse wooden bench beside a fire eating from a tin plate. I’d even hum a few bars of “Daniel Boone was a man, was a b-i-i-i-g man…” But even my vivid imagination didn’t help when I got to the carrots. I would chew and chew and chew and the carrots would grow and grow and grow inside my mouth. Why did they taste better raw with a bit of dirt still on them?

As the years passed, I overcame my aversion to conventional meals. In fact, I grew extremely fond of food and there is very little that I will not eat—even without the imminent threat of Cod Liver Oil. I’ve spent much of the past three decades honing my cooking skills and feeding others. As I’ve gone along, I’ve noticed something: People like people who feed them. I have also come to realize that Food is my Love Language. If I was at your house five years ago, I could tell you what you fed me. If you were at my house five years ago, I could tell you what you took seconds on and what you passed up so I’d know what to make for you the next time you come over. I watch cooking shows and read cooking magazines. I view dining out as a Spy Mission. I analyze what I am eating to see if I can make the same thing at home. With all this interest in food and eating, it was only natural that I would seek a profession in which I could use my gifts. I am happy to report that, at the tender age of 45, I found my life’s calling: I became The School Lunch Lady.

These past three years I’ve been able to combine my love of kids with my love of feeding people and it’s truly a match made in heaven. Every day I get to feed dozens of kids and I never make them clean their plates. I don't threaten them or even make them try a bite of everything. (I figure that is what their parents are for.) I give them seconds on anything they like and applaud those who return for veggies. I cheer when they drink their milk. They hug me when they see me in the hallways.

I was recently reminded of the time when Jesus miraculously fed the 5,000 with two small fish and five loaves of barley bread. People flocked after him because he fed them. (What did I tell you?) But Jesus later said harder things to swallow like, “I am the bread of life,” and “Take, eat—this is my body which is broken for you.”

Jesus didn’t come just to fill people’s stomachs and make them feel good for a moment. He is able to make much out of what little we offer to him—multiplying it so it’s pressed down, shaken together, and running over when it comes back again. But better yet, he came to give HIMSELF to satisfy an appetite we didn’t know we had—a hunger for some meaning in life outside our own day-to-day scavenging for significance. He has prepared a table for us…no gimmicks, no bait and switch, no distasteful surprises. He’s promised Goodness and Mercy to follow us all the days of our lives. Where is my fork? Let's eat!


  1. yes, bring it, lets eat!! what more could we dream to ask for...
    oh and i have to say, i love that lunch lady picture, hahaha

  2. AAHAHAHAA... ok, I haven't actually read the post yet, but the title made me laugh out loud. Also, I then said it out loud in a very theatrical voice and Paisley totally cracked up. I'm going to go read it now...

  3. That's where Amy must get her love of food from! :)

  4. oo, and the rest of the post did not disappoint! I loved picturing you eating Daniel Boone Stew and getting money from Gram for a treat. And the red candy dish... although, as I recall, when I was a kid it almost always had that ribbon candy in it and I've never been a fan. Peanut butter toast with butter...mmm. The stools at the City Restaurant. I love that a REAL treat was bing cherries.

    And amen to food being a love language - I am so with you on that one. I also remember what I ate at different places years ago - and I always notice when people take seconds of my own cooking or, better yet, ask for my "recipe" and actually use it!

    Here's to eating - and to feeding others!

  5. Ah yes, the Gift of Feeding Others is a dominant gene that is passed on from generation to generation. You start by making mud pies for your dolls and--voila! You end up feeding real food to real babies. It's addictive. When I can't find people to feed, I get day old bread and feed the ducks.

  6. Hahaha your Grandma was so nice!

    Ha, and I love how someone else's peanut-butter toast tasted so much better. Haha
    And P.S., I'm glad you never forced me to eat anything!!