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Last night on Facebook, I read something that rubbed me the wrong way.  A peer, a woman I worked with for two months, posted a conversation she and her mother had had after seeing a yoga mat tucked into a Toys for Tots donation box.  “That’s not a Toy for Tots!” she cleverly quipped, “It’s a Present for the Privileged.”  I wasn’t sure how to articulate it at the time, but it bothered me, so I passive-aggressively posted a link to a blog that had gone viral about a woman finding quinoa in the food donation box at a school where well-heeled children attended.  The blog, of course, was about not judging “those people” who receive food donations or welfare, in the face of blatantly prejudiced concerns about welfare moms toting iphone 6s while gaming the system for free WIC benefits and food stamps.  The author had unexpectedly found herself in a position of using a food pantry previously, she writes, and far be it for us to assume who is at the other end of our donations.  I didn’t expect my former colleague to see herself in that story, but it set my brain on fire.

 

During the two months we worked side by side at a state-funded program for full-day pre-kindergarten for needy families, and children with developmental delays, she had lamented, while justifying why a professional woman holding a master’s degree was still living with her parents, that in this economy, one could have a car, or an apartment, but not both.  It’s insulting not only because I was doing both at the time, but more so because the families we worked with, most of whom were single-parent and/or immigrant families, were struggling without the benefit of native English proficiency, white privilege, or higher education that she and I both enjoy.

 

Then there’s her assumption itself, that a yoga mat is a privileged item, that yoga is a bourgeois pursuit, that a $10 yoga mat is an inappropriate gift item for a child in need.  What, pray tell, would one rather choose for a 10- or 12-year-old girl?  A piece of mass-produced commercialized plastic drek that will last no longer than Christmas morning?  Whereas a yoga mat needs no batteries, no assembly, has no directions, and no limitations.  Boys, girls, young and old.  And, contrary to the assertion of another Facebook commenter, it can provide more than just a “clean surface to play on” over the presumed squalor of the recipient family’s overcrowded tenement.  My own kids, not even three, but already in the throes of pretended play, have commandeered my dormant yoga mats, and set them up as roadways for their cars, towels for their “beach” excursions, and blankets to hide in.  A pair of pointe shoes or a riding helmet might be a White Elephant for an impoverished child, but a quick trip to the library would yield a DVD or a book of yoga poses to imitate.

 

Many years ago, around Christmas time, my mom read a “letter to Santa” in the local paper, written by a little girl whose family was in need.  My siblings and I spent our first night of Hanukkah wrapping matchbox cars, Barbies, stuffed animals, winter coats, and an artificial Christmas tree.  My mom played elf and delivered it all to the little girl’s school.  When we were talking about our first nights of Hanukkah at confirmation class the next day, I shared the warm, fuzzy feeling I had gotten from our act of charity.  Cynically, one of my classmates posited that it had been a hoax designed to garner sympathy and free stuff.

 

Is my classmate the same kind of person who thinks a yoga mat is a trapping of the well-to-do, that charity should be practiced with a distinct separation between the stuff we use, and the stuff they’re allowed to receive as gifts?

 

The social justice club at my school is collecting canned/boxed foods and free turkey certificates so that local aid organizations can give traditional thanksgiving meals to the hungry.  What started as an effort by a small group of kids resulted in a school-wide donation of 30 boxes of canned food and 10 free turkey certificates.  Due to the need for the stuff to be shelf-stable, most of the donations are the usual food pantry staples: mushy canned yams, canned corn, limp green beans, jellied cranberry sauce (with the ripples from the can), and boxes of instant mashed potatoes.  I don’t know of another way to collect and distribute food donations, but the result is that those have become poor people food.  Those are the go-to donations.  Alongside my jar of cranberries from Trader Joe’s in the donation box was the 30-cent can of corn niblets I found at Giant.

 

The canned-corn-and-instant-potato-flakes stereotype speaks to the larger issue of access to fresh fruits and vegetables that is often lacking in “food deserts”.  Fresh food costs more, has to be stored differently, expires faster, and requires more time to prepare.  But does that mean hungry people don’t deserve quinoa or yoga mats? If we really want our charity to be meaningful, we should choose things we ourselves would use.  There’s a significant difference between donating canned caviar, and buying an extra jar of the same spaghetti sauce your family uses when it’s 2/$5.

 

When we used to collect coats, hats, and mittens for a preschool service project, we would tell the kids it was for “friends we haven’t met yet” to make charity accessible to a 3-year-old brain.  That’s all “those people” are — they’re just friends we haven’t met yet.  I’d buy my friend a yoga mat, wouldn’t you?

 

Honey wheat?  How did that even get in our house?  As they say in the film, Funny Bones, “I only eat brown bread”.  Now that Arnold no longer makes the “Bran’ola” I grew up on, it’s been a struggle to find a whole grain bread for the house.  I bring home whole wheat, multi-grain, something healthy sounding with whole grains in the ingredient list.  But honey wheat?  I estimate I do at least 75% of the grocery shopping in the house.  And I put away at least 80% of the groceries.  How did that loaf sneak in under my radar?  Yet there it was, in the form of toast for our ten-month-old twins, sitting innocuously enough on their trays, slathered in yogurt or apple butter, being raked into tiny doughy hands, slipping almost unnoticed into our children’s mouths.  As soon as I saw the loaf in the fridge, as I was raiding the bread drawer for some other morsel, I flipped.  I ran to their trays, grabbed up the offending squares of toast, and chucked them into the trashcan, with perhaps a bit more force than was necessary.

“Two things they can’t have,” I said slowly and sternly, perhaps a little too loudly, “Two.  Honey, and nuts.”

“Children under one year should not be given honey under any circumstances,” said Carole Allen, M.D., pediatrician and Vice President of the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “There is too great a risk that the infant may contract infantile botulism.”

Are my kids under one?  Yes.  Are they practically 11 months old, and mere weeks away from one?  Yes.  Do I think that any magical processes happen in the digestive system the day of their birthday, allowing them to be safe from botulism?  No.  But I don’t think completely adhering to a recommendation from the AAP when the risk is paralysis is unreasonable.  Will they probably be okay, being merely weeks away from the (magical) one year old, having consumed a smidgeon of honey baked into a highly processed loaf of white bread?  Yup.  Still, to me, not work the risk.

Rigid, inflexible.  Resistant to change.  These are adjectives I used to write on evaluation forms and IEPs to describe preschool-age children with autism.  Am I so like them?  I intend to breastfeed my children for one year, and not a day less.  You have to make some goals for yourself, some guidelines.  And if you don’t stick to your own, completely achievable (only 4.5 weeks to go, and no signs of earnest weaning yet) goals, what’s the point of setting them at all?  AAP says, breastfeed for (at least) a year, so I will.

Apparently, though, it’s not the goal setting that’s an issue, nor the good intentions.  It’s the rigid adherence to the path that sets me apart, that makes me feel like a petulant child.  A few years ago, going through a bout of digestive disquiet, I was unable to eat anything for breakfast besides cereal, soymilk, and low acid orange juice.  I missed leisurely weekend brunches filled with pancakes, eggs, or even yogurt and granola.  If I found we were going out for brunch, or if Mr. Apron wanted to grab breakfast sandwiches from Delancey Street, I would pre-game with a mini-breakfast of cereal.  My stomach just wouldn’t have it any other way.  Without my pre-breakfast, I’d be miserable for hours.

Thankfully, after I gave birth to the twins, my stomach improved and I was able to consume large quantities of whatever I wanted.  It was liberating.  And necessary.  As I struggle to keep up with the demands of two milk-consuming monsters, I’m grateful I can (and do) eat anything that isn’t nailed down.

I look back through the various aspects of my life, and I see the rigid adherence to an ideal (if not an overt goal), sometimes flavored with notes of perfectionism, or at the very least, the idea that there is a right way to do things.  Growing up, we never had a uniform set of dishes or towels.  Towels had been accumulated through the years, through various moves and houses, and there were sets from my mother’s childhood through my own.  There were the yellow ones from the duck bathroom in Plattsburgh, and the purple ones from my parents’ master bathroom in Rochester.  There were the soft, almost velour-like orange towels that could only date from the 70s, and a random assortment of washcloths that could tell the story of the textile industry from the industrial revolution through modern day.  Dishes were another story.  Owing in large part to my bargain-hunting grandmother, we had full sets, but never in one color.  One set of plates were 80% blue, and 20% yellow.  The melamine Dallasware was blue and red, with one random set of yellow.  I desperately wanted matching towels for my wedding, probably because I had never known such uniformity in a linen closet.  Though we registered for all sage green towels, Macy’s ran out before our friends and family could buy them all.  We have coral, green, and honey colored towels.  All the same brand, mind, but it seems I was not meant to have my towels match.

Who cares?  Apparently, I do.  Apparently, in some deep recesses of my mind, towels and plates should match. That that is the right way (that there is a right way) to furnish one’s linen closet and one’s home. A right way to get your car repaired or to choose a dentist. A right way to feed your children, a right time to have children. While I’m working on my new mantra of “Other people make different choices,” there is still the niggling voice that adds, “which I would never make” and the tacit thought besides: because it’s wrong, or at least wrong for me. I can get smug (even to myself) when I do accomplish something grand, or do succeed at making a “right” choice. And I can get positively furious with myself when I fail at self-imposed perfection. My first cavity, my first B, missing an appointment or shirking on a potluck by not bringing something homemade. I’m setting myself up, if not for self-defined failure, then for disappointment, when I can’t, or refuse to flex. Boxed brownie mix taunts me, as does the Cooper Hospital-emblazoned diaper bag we use, a reminder that I wasn’t able to make a diaper bag for myself before the kids were born. I don’t reflect on the crib skirts (with their combined 16 pleats), the tree mural, the mobile with hand-stitched birds dangling from a branch, or the name buntings I was able to complete, only on the few points I fell short of being as ready as a new mom “should” be.

I will always fall short of my own ideals unless I find a way to be flexible. To look at other ways, not just as inferior options for legions of “other” people, but for a human version of myself, too.

Dear Food and Cosmetic Industry,

Thank you for elucidating specifically which foods are meant for which people.  I never would have known which yogurt to buy if it weren’t for your well targeted advertising on TV and your helpful product names. 

For example, now that my nephew is weaning off formula and incorporating more solid foods into his diet, it’s imperative that my in-laws know what kind of foods are specifically for him.  Since unlike any of his blood relatives, he likes yogurt, they would have no idea what to feed him if it weren’t for the “YoBaby” line of yogurts.  A reasonably well read consumer can’t be expected to integrate the knowledge that children under 2 should eat only full fat (whole milk) dairy products into their selection of a whole milk yogurt at the dairy case.  Thank you for making it painfully obvious. As I have just learned, “YoBaby is the only whole milk organic yogurt made especially for babies and toddlers.”

As my nephew matures and sheds the “baby” image, it’s also nice to know there’s a line of yogurts for the “toddler” segment as well.  What would it be but “YoToddler” of course!  And onward to the “YoKids” line, which, of course, is low-fat.  As long as you stay glued to the Stoneyfield Farm website, you’ll know exactly what to feed your kids.

But what about adults?!  How would we know what is suitable for men and women if it weren’t for the food industry, helpfully giving us hints all along?  Thankfully we have commercials to point out that yogurts in flavors like “key lime pie” and “Boston cream pie” are just for women.  You’ll only ever see a man in a Yoplait commercial if he’s being chastised for sneaking his wife’s yogurt in search of an aspartame fix. 

Yogurt’s not really a manly thing, anyway.  Now, soap, that’s manly.  How to tell, though, if soap is for men or women?  Mercifully, dark colored packaging and the recent inclusion of the word “MEN” on the label (as in Dove “Men + Care” body wash or the aptly named “Nivea for Men”) clears up that mystery.  Heaven forbid men use a product that smells like cucumber & green tea scent or nectarine and white ginger.  Or “unscented” or “original”.  Now I can tell just by glancing at a box whether a soap, body wash, razor, shampoo, or band-aid is right for my husband, or designed exclusively for me. 

Wasn’t there a Pepsi product that was supposed to be for men?  Ah, yes, the Pepsi Max was intended to be a diet soda for men. Men aren’t really supposed to like diet soda or light beer, but Pepsi knows there are guys who are Diabetties, or don’t want the extra calories.  What was a man to do? Thank you, PepsiCo, for leading the way with the man’s diet cola! 

Frozen foods?  Clearly, women are the ones who should be watching their calories and they can rely on frozen dinners to help them accomplish this.  Lean Cuisines are just right for that calorie-conscious woman on the go.  But men?  Men eat frozen dinners when they need to fill up their manly stomachs.  Poor things don’t have someone to cook them enough to satiation, so they need things like “Hungry Man”, and other foods that advertise their main selling points as the number of pounds and ounces of meat-like substances crammed in their paperboard containers.  Thank you for making it obvious.

But what to feed our kids?  Thanks to advertising, I now know that kids should only eat foods that come in lurid colors.  Ice cream in “bubble gum” and “tutti frutti” flavors, popsicles or string cheese that has added bonuses like jokes and cartoon characters on the box. We are guided to feed our kids frozen dinners in they can eat with their fingers (silly kids can’ t use utensils!).  And it’s all thanks to you, food industry.  You take care of our families.

Thank you, food industry, for telling us what to feed our family!  Thank you, cosmetics industry, for showing us which products are suitable for which gender. 

Yours,

A demographic

Nothing quite makes you have to pee so acutely as hearing someone say the toilets are not working.

As I lounged on the couch yesterday morning, in my usual half-stupor, I barely registered the news or traffic reports, let alone the ticking timer that serves as a constant reminder that I cannot be trusted not to fall asleep completely in the minutes before I leave for work.  I heard about a burst water main near my school, so I grabbed the GPS in case I needed to reroute through the tortuous one-way city streets. 

I arrived at work, the timer having done its job, and I prepared to do my own. My supervisor came in a few minutes later and told me we had neither water nor heat in the building.  The 100 year old building I work in is heated in a manner similar to my home – hot water.  I do not know how the boiler and the pipes and the radiators work, but I do know that it’s a system that is slightly dependent on, well, water.  I had not registered that it was cold – the 3rd floor of an old building often is, first thing in the morning – but it became clear this was to be no ordinary work day.  Since it’s illegal to hold class in a building with neither heat nor water/toilets, we found other facilities – a nearby basement/bingo hall/cafeteria – and traipsed over there.  We then commenced to have a “normal school day” full of “productive, educational experiences”.  I could barely meet with any of my speech caseload, due to new schedules, a lack of materials, and the noise level — jet engine – that occurred as a result of cramming an entire middle/high school into a room usually suited to church suppers and bingo night.  Literally, there is a giant bingo board at one end of the room, and all the chairs face it.  Three giant “Smoke Eater” machines from another era are bolted to the ceiling, reminding me more of clubs and bars than a learning environment.  Some kids had class in the kitchen, and other classes convened around long tables, with sporadic internet and creative teachers to keep them busy.  It.  Almost.  Worked.  Mercifully, administration let the kids go at noon, lest we tempt mutiny by prolonging the tenuous arrangement. 

The worst part, however, was not the feelings of futility, the rage at freezing temperatures, the uncertainty of kids’ rides home, or the disappointment at having to stay the afternoon to engage in some faculty-oriented “learning activities”.  It was missing out on Adult Lunch.

Adult Lunch is a marvelous invention.  When it’s lunchtime, we shoo all the kids down to the cafeteria, and immediately proceed to take a much-needed mental break by eating together in the library.  Some days there are as few as 4 of us; other days the census at the round table swells to 8 or more as we compete for elbow room, but we never run out of space.  Round tables are magic, as is the time spent in adult company after a morning of discussing video games, new cell phones, and ”The Wizards of Waverly Place.”  The other thing we do is drool over each other’s lunches.  There is a vast continuum of cooking ability represented, from those of us who grab Lunchables or Uncrustables from the fridge/freezer or rely on Lean Cuisine, to others who always have leftovers from gourmet meals.  Homemade soups, pasta dishes, panko-coated chicken, and more.  I think I fall somewhere in the middle, but I always lust after the effort (if not the product – being vegetarian and annoying as I am) of the thoughtfully cooked meals. 

Wednesday night, Mr. Apron and I made summer rolls, using instructions and materials sent to us from an authentic Asian friend.  I was apprehensive, but we had success!  I even made the accompanying peanut sauce.  They were not bad looking for our first try, and I could not wait to bring the leftovers into work yesterday to show them off.  I mean, to eat them artfully and let others wonder and ask if I had made them myself.  Of course, I would have been modest and self-effacing, yet I would have eagerly shared the process and talked about how it was not so intimidating as my (professional) rolls might make it seem. 

And I missed all this because of a water main.  We’ll have to make summer rolls again, so that I might show and tell, and receive the good, affirming praise all children seek, whether they bring in a favorite stuffed animal, a piece of string, or a story about how grandma fell and broke her hip.

To prove my assertion that my mother’s visits are like a tornado, I have made a list of all the food items found in and out of the fridge that she deposited here last weekend.  Keep in mind, there are plenty of non-food items (“Projects,” clothing, magazines, newspaper clippings, etc.), but these are easier to catalog.

To wit: The food found in the fridge post-Mom:

  • ½ garden burger, fries, from her lunch on the way down.
  • 1 bite of pumpkin cheese cake in a Ziploc baggie.
  • ¼ Austrian tea cake from a bakery in Plattsburgh, NY, where we used to live.
  • Leftover yellow curry, from our Thai dinner before going to see Mr. Apron’s play.
  • A blob of sugar cookie dough, neglected from when she made turkey sugar cookies within minutes of setting foot in the house.
  • A small Greek salad from Panera, neglected by my sister, who didn’t like the dressing.
  • Bulgarian cheese, because in my 5th grade gifted program (“Odyssey”) I researched Bulgaria and made an authentic dish which called for Bulgarian cheese.  Back then, we made do with farmer’s cheese.  What am I going to do with Bulgarian cheese?
  • Turkey sugar cookies.

And lest the cupboards become jealous, here is what she left them:

  • 1 pkg Cadbury chocolate eggs.
  • Pumpkin seed brittle
  • 1 bag chips from Panera
  • 6 bags of Trader Joe’s low-fat kettle corn
  • 1 tin “pretzel poppers”, chocolate covered pretzel balls, which resemble goat turds.
  • 1 opened package of “Spongebob Graham Snackers”

My task is to consume or redistribute as much as I can before the expiration date.  We have so far eaten the garden burger + fries (Mr. Apron’s lunch), the Thai curry (my lunch), most of the turkey cookies, the Greek salad (appetizer for Mr. Apron), the chips (another lunch accoutrement) and 2 bags of kettle corn.  We are working on the pretzel poppers, graham “snackers” and Cadbury chocolate eggs.  We have given away several turkey cookies to my in-laws.  I have pitched the bite of pumpkin cheesecake (and Ziploc baggie). 

Will the guilt expire before the pumpkin seed brittle does?  Will I ever find a recipe for Bulgarian cheese?  How many kernels of popcorn will I find in my teeth?  Stay tuned for these, and other questions, in another installment of “Food = Love”, brought to you by the number 17, the letter Q, and mothers everywhere!

I have a confession to make.  Hello, I am a grown up, and I eat kid food.  My basic cooking repertoire consists of kid food.  No fancy French reduction sauces, nothing braised or poached or simmered.  Essentially, it’s kid food, and I am deeply shamed.

My freezer and cabinets hold the following foods which can be boiled and smothered in a jar of some kind of sauce – pierogies, gnocchi, ravioli, macaroni, and noodles.  I even have Kraft fluorescent orange Mac & Cheese, and Chef Boyardee dinosaur pasta.  There are no children in my house, to speak of.  You may often catch me grating cheese over a flat tortilla, and throwing in some hastily warmed frozen veggies for a mock-quesadilla.  I eat roasted yams with ketchup.  My sandwiches are mini-bagels and cream cheese.  My lunches have Oreo-style cookies in them, string cheese, boxes of raisins, and goldfish crackers.  The only thing missing is a cookie cutter for my grilled cheese sandwiches. 

Maybe it’s because I came of age as a vegetarian in small towns without much culinary imagination.  Minnesota was a meat-and-potatoes place, and our part of Upstate New York hadn’t heard of bagels yet, let alone couscous, quinoa, or açai berry.  Though my parents have been vegetarian, or nearly, for longer than I have, so our family meals have always had a meat-free vibe, I didn’t get a tremendous amount of modeling of culinary sophistication.  My brother, the notoriously picky eater, influenced what was served at the table, and his predilection for chicken nuggets/fish sticks, pasta drowning in red sauce, and French fries swimming in ketchup didn’t allow the rest of the family to have a gourmet experience.  That’s not to say I don’t enjoy grown-up food; I do, very much, but I’m petrified of cooking it. 

My coworkers come in with Pyrex containers (there’s a BPA phobia around here, so glass is “in”) brimming with delicious leftovers.  “Oh, just some panko-encrusted flank steak I whipped up last night” sidled with fresh green beans and homemade mashed potatoes.  “This?  It’s my homemade barley stew.”  “Leftover lasagna” “Herbed chicken in a bouillabaisse with polenta.”  My sad little bagel stares up at me. 

I’ve heard people say meat is easy.  Not that all the myriad things being done on television cooking shows are basic, but meat is an easy thing to base a meal around.  You start with some cut of some animals, do stuff to it, and add on veggies and a starch.  Crafting a balanced vegetarian meal is trickier, so I usually end up mixing such flavors as pickles, cheddar and sour cream potato chips, and a garden burger.  If it’s not billed a “main dish” when I pick it up off the shelf or out of the freezer, I’m not quite sure how to convince myself it’s meal-worthy.  I’ve tried innovating a few times – chick pea “cutlets”, home-made garden burgers, barbecue “chicken” sandwiches with a fabulous product called “Quorn,” but many of these are just meat substitutes repackaged to look like a vegetarian main course, and that feels like cheating.  I’d like to make meals that aren’t trying to replace meat meals, but that stand on their own.  And I have no idea where to start. 

I haven’t make quinoa in years, polenta scares me, and tofu never has a pleasing texture when I make it at home.  My stir-fries are fabulous, but few and far between as I am lazy and/or rushed in making dinner.  Lasagna is great, but it makes enough for the block, and I get easily bored of eating it for a week straight in my lunches.  And, really?  It’s just noodles and sauce and cheese repackaged in layers, which reminds me too much of my former roommate.  She, too, was a vegetarian, who gave the rest of us vegetarians a bad name by subsisting entirely on combinations of white bread, cheddar or American cheese, pasta products, and tomato sauce, with nary a real vegetable in sight.  Her meals rotated between grilled cheese, pasta in sauce, and pizza, the very essence of kid food.

It’s bad enough I still package up my lunches in Ziploc baggies of snack foods; my mother only feeds into this by purchasing me applesauce in a squeeze bag, which has a warning on it that this produce is not suitable for children under 3 as the cap is a choking hazard.  I can’t bring myself to squeeze a bag of applesauce into my mouth in public, even if it is strawberry applesauce. 

Give me my Chef Boyardee, give me my Kraft Mac & Cheese.  At least I’m not eating Dora ice cream, flourescent Gogurt, or chicken nuggets in the shape of dinosaurs.

I know I was a picky eater as a child – my siblings and I all were – but my brother was far worse than my sister and I combined, so our relatively typical picky eating paled in comparison.  

Looking at the childhood brother clinically, from my view as a speech language pathologist (yes, we also work with children/adults on swallowing/feeding/eating/nutrition issues), he’s just barely sub-clinical.  He would have (today) been a kid that a responsible pediatrician or SLP would have monitored to make sure he continued to meet dietary needs, but wouldn’t have offered direct intervention. 

Sub-clinical or not, it was always a source of stress in our home.  My brother was definitely a picky eater, just below the threshold for “Problem Feeder,” a distinction SLPs will make for kids who eat fewer than ~24 distinct foods, often fewer than 20.  Problem feeders may only eat foods of a certain color (orange, red), or texture (only crunchy, only pureed), or may avoid entire categories of foods.  They melt down when confronted with a new food, and may have accompanying sensory issues, which is often the case with children on the autism spectrum who are problem feeders. 

While my brother’s food repertoire did have certain patterns, and he had more than one melt-down at a restaurant when something was not just right, he still doesn’t quite make it into problem feeder territory.  First, let us count his food repertoire:

1)      cheese ravioli smothered in pasta sauce

2)      spaghetti smothered in pasta sauce

3)      Kraft Macaroni & Cheese

4)      fast food chicken nuggets smothered in ketchup

5)      restaurant French fries smothered in ketchup

6)      Chef Boyardee pasta shapes (with or without meatballs) in tomato sauce

7)      poptarts (strawberry) liberally topped with cream cheese

8)      bagels (plain) liberally topped with cream cheese

9)      green peas (his one non-tomato sauce vegetable)

10)  cranapple juice or cranberry juice cocktail

11)  milk (on occasion; we’re not big milk drinkers )

12)  hotdogs or hamburgers on occasion, with the usual ketchup

13)  Quaker Chewy granola bars, in peanut butter and chocolate chip

14)  frosting off of desserts (he didn’t care for the cake)

15)  fish sticks dipped in ketchup

16)  tortilla chips and salsa

17)  potato chips

18)  challah bread

19)  mozzarella cheese sticks

20)  fruit roll-ups, fruit-by-the-food, fruit snacks (the only fruit-like product, outside of juice)

21)  soda

22)  ice cream (I forget which flavors, probably vanilla or chocolate)

23)  Friendly’s peanut butter cup sundae

24)  M&Ms, Reese’s peanut butter cups

25)  Other chocolate things

Phew; we made it to 25, plus there are all sorts of junk foods I’m undoubtedly leaving out.  Looking at patterns in the above, we can see he likes tomato-based products, applied liberally.  There is also brand and flavor specificity.  My brother had a continual issue with home-baked fries and chicken nuggets; as they were not deep-friend and packed with junk, they never tasted crispy enough.  Looking at the tendency towards salty, highly-flavored foods, one might label my brother a sensory-seeking child, which I would agree with entirely.  He likes crunchy foods (chips), soft foods (ice cream, cream cheese), chewy foods (fruit roll-ups, chicken).  I know my parents were frequently concerned with his protein intake, so he began consuming some tuna in adolescence. He’s since been turned onto steak, and enjoys ordering a steak (smothered, of course, with A1) when he eats out.  He does (and did) get into food “jags,”  and to this day (he’s nearly 27) eats a strawberry Pop-tart with cream cheese every day. 

One of the other issues, besides the obvious nutrition concern, is social.  A family is restricted not only when they eat out (we were stuck with American, family-friendly traditional fare for years), but also at home.  I think my sister’s and my food repertoire were somewhat stunted as Mom would have had to cook separate meals if we wanted to eat something other than what my brother was eating.  And then there’s the peer concern.  Something interesting happened on my brother’s early separations from the family.  When he went off to camp (3 separate times, for short sessions), he was faced with a distinct lack of the usual fare.  Though Mom had no doubt packed his suitcases with Quaker Chewy granola bars and Strawberry Pop-tarts (and still stocks the pantry likewise), he had a choice – to eat some of what was provided during meal times with his peers, or go hungry until he could eat his food back in his bunk.  At college, too, he learned that if he wanted to go out with friends to eat, or enjoy a meal in the dining hall (if that’s possible, given some of the “tofu and yam surprise” options) with roommates, he had to go along to get along.  As a result, he added foods like pancakes and kebabs to his ever-growing list of foods.  Recently, we have been able to go out to eat at ethnic restaurants, including Indian and Asian cuisine, which would have been unheard of. 

My brother is often deserving of the term “late bloomer”.  He’s been able to travel abroad, live alone, socialize with peers, and assume some responsibility for keeping himself alive nutritionally.  Amazing what a picky eater can do when confronted with a healthy dose of peer pressure.  Funny how they never tell you the positive effects of peer pressure during DARE assemblies.

As the final task of my clinical fellowship, I have to give a staff “in-service” presentation tomorrow.  I don’t have stage fright, performance anxiety, or fears of having my skirt tucked into my underwear.  I’m sure no more than 8 people will actually show up.  My supervisor asked on Friday, “So, do people know you’re doing the presentation on Monday?”  To which I replied, “It was on the calendar.”  I didn’t pass around a memo or anything.  It’s already been rescheduled from May 19th because no one was going to be in the office, even though I’d put it on the calendar in February.  So, no, “being on the calendar” is no guarantee of anything.  Yet I’m not looking forward to it, whether I have an audience of 2 or 20. 

I dislike these contrived presentations.  We did many of them in grad school, as a way of spreading out the work, so no one had to read more than one article, yet we were all expected to pay such close attention so as to absorb the information in all 31 presentations.  Always with the powerpoints.  Even better with the handouts.  Then you didn’t have to write anything down or pay attention.  The notes were all there, and you didn’t have to prepare for class, so it was great all around.  I still disliked it.  I knew that no matter what I did, it was going to suck.  No one would care.  “Just don’t put us to sleep, and don’t go on too long.”  As long as they’re required to attend, and since I’m no motivational speaker or Michelle Obama, no one is really going to pay attention.  The same goes for tomorrow.  I tried to pick a topic that would have some bearing on their work — English language acquisition in second language learners.  I tried to keep it relevant, but I have no delusions about it being interesting.  It won’t be.  It’s barely interactive.  I have no Far Side cartoons.  Heck, I don’t even have a projector.  It’ll just be me with notes in front of the staff in the staff lounge, bribing people to show up with brownies. 

Oh, yes, that was the other thing, I was told people will expect to be fed.  If I don’t bring food, they might not show up.  And then this’ll all get prolonged further and further, spreading the dread across the summer. But there will be brownies, which Mr. Apron and I made Friday night.  And they will be fed, into a chocolate-laced, post-lunch sugar coma, with expressions of food joy on their faces, which I may choose to believe is my audience hanging on my every word.