“What are you eating?” “Eww gross, why are your chips that color?”
“Your sandwich smells.”
These were just some of the comments I heard in grade school when I would bring a lunch from home. My mother was very into the whole health food scene. This was way before it was “cool” and endorsed by celebrities. Nowadays, everyone raves about being vegan or into macrobiotic this or that. When I was growing up, no one had even heard of such things. The kids at school would laugh when I would pull out blue chips made from blue corn and beans.
When I was a kid, having food that wasn’t prepackaged in lots of plastic made me stand out. I brought interesting things that the rest of my classmates had never seen before because they grew up on a diet of Lunchables and Happy Meals.
My parents really wanted us to grow up healthy and did not want us near all the processed food that had ingredients like “yellow 956,” so they put a lot of extra effort into the first three children – me and two of my brothers. One thing they were very insistent about was no junk food. It didn’t matter if we were starving on a road trip: Fast food joints were out.
We would whine and beg and my mom would simply say, “Here, have a sandwich.” Now, sure a sandwich sounds great, and you probably think I was a brat for not wanting to eat it. I know food is food and there are little children starving all over the world, but when you are 7 years old, you want a kid’s meal from some nasty, greasy place no matter how gross it might be. You want to be like all the other kids at school. The sandwich was usually made on this stiff, whole-wheat bread that came from a special health-food store. It tasted like cardboard and was hard to swallow. And it had that annoying grape jelly. To this day I wonder why, out of all the flavors, does the purple grape jelly not have the ability to spread properly on bread.
Because we were hungry, we’d eat the sandwich. We were also bribed that if we ate the sandwich, we would get a treat. I was excited once when my mom found these supposed chocolate peanut butter cups at the health food store. It was going to be an interesting treat. It turned out to be carob, honey and peanut butter. If you have ever had pure carob, you know what I mean when I say it has sort of a chalky feel to it and is not very sweet at all. I admit that we gobbled them up because that was as close to chocolate as we would probably get.
Another thing my mother was fond of making were “Popeye” burgers. These were hamburgers made with spinach right in them. She would tell us, “You want to be big and strong like Popeye, well this is his favorite food.” I would throw a tantrum because I refused to eat a hamburger with green things in it. My youngest two brothers didn’t have any of these experiences because I think we gave her too much stress and she eventually stopped trying to feed us strange concoctions.
The strangest thing of all is that I love everything that I hated as a child. I used to vow to my mother that when I had kids, I would have cupboards full of chocolate and candies, and they could eat whatever they wanted. Now, however, I want my children to be snacking on roasted soy nuts and carob chip cookies instead of all the extremely unhealthy processed foods that are only making us fatter.
Mariam Sobh, Daily Illini, University of Illinois.