Stan Voit: Chicken pies, fish sticks not part of my table
I was out to eat with some friends not long ago, and I asked if anyone might want an appetizer of shrimp. “Oh, no,” one said. “I hate shrimp.”
He hates shrimp. That’s fine. But where did that hatred come from? Was he born hating it? Did he get some bad shrimp one time? Is he a vegetarian? Does he own goldfish?
Those questions came to mind, and then it made me think about the foods I don’t eat. When you are little, you eat what your mother puts in front of you, unless you’ve been raised to eat only junk foods.
I meet mothers all the time who say their kids are picky eaters, and I am led to wonder if they are picky eaters because they’ve been allowed to be, or because they really tried but don’t like a lot of foods. These days, when a burger and fries constitutes dinner for many, it’s no surprise that vegetables and fruits and things that are good for you are ignored by many kids in favor of stuff that is not good for them and makes them fat.
My brother and sister and I joke a lot about our own childhood food experiences. My mother had a habit of going to the A&P on Thursdays and stocking up for the week. Thursday night supper, by contrast, was always the least satisfying of the week.
We had all these foods new to the house, but the meal was often not what we were used to. Selfish, yeah, but none of us ever said a word to my mother about that. Not so sure today’s kids wouldn’t show their disappointment, but we never did. Instead, we stored the experience to use later.
There were two foods my mother served often. By often I mean at least once a week. Those foods were chicken pies and fish sticks. She’d buy four Swanson frozen chicken pies and one beef pie that my father would get. We spent our childhood wondering what a beef pie tasted like.
The fish sticks — I forget who packaged them; maybe Mrs. Paul’s mother — were a staple in the house. Week after week we got them. We ate them. We never complained. The five of us — three kids and the ’rents — would sit together around the kitchen table for meals every night. That’s a tradition we all look back on and delight in, even if it’s a practice seldom in play today.
Every Thursday we could count on either chicken pies or fish sticks. Every Thursday. Without fail.
Today I am an adult. I have been for about 45 years. I am old enough to decide what I like and don’t like, and what I’ll eat and won’t eat. I don’t have to try to manipulate a youngster’s eating habits.
When I first adopted my son, he made it clear to me he hated liver. One day we ate at a buffet and he got meat from the dish, ate it all and said he liked it, without knowing what it was. When I told him it was liver, he decided he didn’t like it and to my knowledge has never had any more. Liking something he professed to hate didn’t fit his narrative, even at age 6.
I don’t hate chicken pies or fish sticks, but they are two frozen packaged foods not allowed in my house. I don’t think I could get one spoonful of a chicken pie or one fish stick down the throat. When I pass by them in the frozen foods aisle, I push the buggy fast to escape the view.
Many of you like those foods, and to you I say, fine. Eat all you want. “But Stan,” you may say, “you can get gourmet chicken pies in the store and even at some restaurants.” True, but they are still called chicken pies, and the adage about the rose and how sweet it would smell by any name ... well, that applies to chicken pies.
There are other foods I won’t eat, like okra (fried or otherwise), asparagus, rutabaga, canned spinach, avocado and, like my son, liver. But I’ll try most anything once. Anything I haven’t already tried and disliked.
Our taste buds are funny. Like fingerprints, they seem unique to our own bodies. Bonnie can chow down on a plate of fried okra, but won’t dare nibble on a mushroom.
We have that control over our diet as adults. Kids? You know, if you’re gonna feed them what’s easy, like burgers, fries and sweets, then that’s all they’ll eat, and they’ll miss out on what they might enjoy and would be far better for their bodies.
Chew on that one a while.
— Stan Voit is editor of The Mountain Press. His column appears each Sunday. He can be reached at 428-0748, ext. 217, or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @stanvoit.