Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Really, I'm Not Starving

As children, my siblings and I did not fit the stereotype when it came to our food preferences. For example, we loved most vegetables, and gobbled them up without complaints (even Brussels sprouts, which I adored). I credit this to my parents, who strictly followed the “You Eat What We Put in Front of You” child-rearing plan. Since we didn’t have any choice in our dinner menus, and my parents would have simply laughed if we’d suggested they prepare two different meals, it was inevitable that we would try a bit of everything. Thinking back, my parents were brilliant; they couldn’t imagine catering to children who refused to eat anything but Kraft Dinner and hotdogs, and so they found an easy way to avoid that situation entirely: telling us what to do. Now, that’s smart parenting!

I remember begging my dad to fix us our favourite snack: a plate of cheese cubes, grapes, crackers, and carrot sticks, and us jumping up and down with joy around him while he prepared it. I also remember a similar reaction to my mom’s “ants on a log”, celery stuffed with peanut butter and topped with raisins. Yum!

A funny story about my sister and I that I only heard recently illustrates our childhood diet quite impressively: when we were five years old, and our brother three, the whole family took off in our minivan for a two-week trip to Disney World. Since this entailed a three-day drive, not to mention many nights away from home, we were stopping to eat at a lot of fast food and casual family dining restaurants. After one too many nights of eating greasy food, my sister and I started whining, complaining that we were sick of burgers and fries, and hey, could you get us some veggies? My parents had to drive around until they found a salad bar for their little princesses. Mom and Dad deserve a pat on the back for that one, if you ask me.

Thanks to my parents, not only did I have a nutritious childhood, but also these good habits have followed me into adulthood. I still love vegetables, and can’t understand why a lot of people think of them as boring (or even evil). I’ve been thinking a lot about our society’s relationship with vegetables lately, because of some strange reactions that I have received from co-workers when opening up my lunch.

I bring a lunch to work every day, and it normally consists of a veggie plate and dip, or a green salad. To me, this is lunch food. I don’t like to eat a heavy meal at lunch, because if I do, I’m less productive in the afternoon. I eat a gourmet breakfast, and I also snack on things like cheese and nuts between meals; therefore, I hardly ever get hungry during the day. Plus, when I get home in the evening, supper is always a very filling production. I’m not denying that eating vegetables at lunch allows me to indulge more at other times, but that isn’t the main reason why I eat them so often. I eat vegetables at lunch because I like them. Is that too hard to believe?

Apparently, it is, at least for some people. Whenever I eat with a big group of my co-workers, I am inevitably asked, in an alarming tone, “Amanda?! Are you on a diet?!” When I say no, and enquire as to why they asked me, I always hear, “Well, it’s just that, you’re only eating vegetables!” If you replaced the word vegetables with asbestos, I’m convinced the tone and grimace on the inquisitor’s face would hardly change. Furthermore, they often feel that they have the right to tell me that I don’t eat enough, and that I must be starving. As someone who works very hard at preparing delicious quality food for herself on a daily basis, this is a huge insult. Never mind that they haven’t tracked my eating habits beyond what they see at noon hour; and never mind that I pack so many vegetables, I very often have a hard time eating them all in one sitting. "Nope, starving!"

I get really annoyed, and frustrated, at this ‘diet’ question, especially since it is sometimes asked loudly, in front of others. First of all, that’s rude. (WHO CARES if someone is on a diet, anyway? I sure don’t). What if I was on a diet, but didn’t want to talk about it in front of everyone? What if I had some medical condition that required a certain meal plan? What if I had an eating disorder, and you were forcing me to address a very painful issue? None of these answers apply to my case, but they very well could. My point is, you never know why people do the things they do, so shut your trap, already.

What bothers me even more than the rudeness is the fact that someone eating vegetables is worth this much attention and awe. What does this say about the average person’s eating habits? Vegetables are real food; they grow in the ground, not in factories, and provide us with essential nutrients, just like they did for our great-great-grand-parents, who, I suspect, appreciated them a lot more than we do, since they worked so hard to provide fresh ones for their families. We should be ashamed! Delicious vegetables are available year-round, without us having to even lift a finger, and all we do is wrinkle our noses and associate them with deprivation. It just doesn’t make sense that a plate of vegetables or a salad should be met with hushed tones and condolences.

I don’t comment on other people’s food choices at lunch, so I don’t understand why anyone cares about mine. I’m not emaciated, and my stomach can’t ever be heard grumbling from across the room, so any “concerned” citizen can mind their own damn business. I am genuinely pleased and excited when I look at my lunch, but the Diet Police can easily ruin any nice foodie moment, which is extremely disappointing. So far, defending myself or playing dumb have not really helped as far as stopping comments, so I’ve resorted to avoiding the crowd entirely, instead eating with a very dear co-worker who is also a fan of light lunches, and who says adorable things like “that looks so good!” when I open mine. She’s a treasure, and exactly the kind of person I like to be around at meal times. How refreshing to eat lunch without judgement or personal questions; really, it’s revolutionary.

When I eat vegetables at lunch, I am contributing to my health, energy levels, and satisfying my cravings for fresh food, the latter having been instilled in me at a very young age by my caring parents. I wonder if, when they were serving me lots of vegetables without incident, they ever imagined me as a healthy, veggie-loving adult, who would someday carry on these habits with their grandchildren. Although I might not have realized it at the time, I know now that my parents gave me a great gift, and it would be sad if I threw all of my old habits out of the window by eating processed food or grease every day.

I’m telling you, some people simply like vegetables. There’s nothing more to it! When you see me eating my greens at lunch, please consider the possibility that I’m doing something that makes me happy, that has always brought me pleasure, and that all you’re doing by questioning me is raining on my parade.

(Thanks, Mom and Dad!)


  1. Hear, hear!

    (Aw, dad's "goûter"! Haha :))

  2. Me again - a funny detail about the Disneyland trip is that mom and dad decided to bring us to fast food places every day because they wanted us to enjoy a special vacation and indulge ourselves as a treat. Haha!

  3. Man! That's so much funnier! I wish I'd consulted with you first...

  4. I'm so pleased that you all grew up with such great eating habits - it wasn't always easy with all the fast food choices out there. you forgot to mention the "soda pop" rule: it was not allowed!

  5. You should be proud of yourself, Mom! :)

  6. If I had seen this post 3 years ago, I would have responded back then; as it is, I will have to chime in very late in your support. I grew up LOVING veggies. Yes, brussels sprouts, kale, fresh green beans, lettuce (never had iceberg in our house, although I love a good wedge salad any day) and corn on the cob. MMMM. Other kids hated these items. The problem is that most of these kids had vegetables from a can for dinner, and these vegetables were cooked into a smelly, disgusting mess. Any vegetable from the mustard family when cooked down to oblivion produces a noxious fume, aka MUSTARD GAS. No wonder these people don't enjoy vegetables!! They never had fresh veggies, blanched or lightly sauteed or raw. They never experienced the flavors and textures that make vegetables so good. The reason that most people will eat broccoli and cauliflower and carrots set up with a dip station is because they a.) are eating veggies the way they were meant to be eaten, with all of their vitamins, minerals and flavor and b.) because of the dip.
    I wish all kids could have had a mom like mine, who loved to cook and loved to make things that we all enjoyed completely. I grew up loving vegetables, with kale still being my absolute favorite.
    The only vegetable that I dislike is the lonely lima bean. I have tried to like it, and I revisit it every so often to see if I can get past it, but to no avail.
    Perhaps you can publish a good recipe for limas that may help me learn to enjoy these little legumes, even if only in one meal I dare to eat them in. :)