Growing up, I was a picky eater. Tomatoes were persona non grata on my plate. Though I recognized that the “I’m-A-Fruit-Masquerading-As-A-Vegetable” meant well, I couldn’t understand why tomatoes insisted on encasing their precious seeds in something the consistency of snot. Oranges were also out of the question. If we were meant to eat them, why would the powers that be weave all that stringy, pulpy crap throughout an orange’s flesh? Bananas? Fuggetaboutit! After three bites, the funniest of fruits becomes slimy on the inside, almost as if a tomato had dropped by for an evening of inter-genus plant sex and didn’t bother to clean up the wet spot post-coitus.
Despite the lure of a red-lipped, ginger psycho clown, I may have been the only kid in America who didn’t want to devour a McDonalds’ hamburger – or any burger, for that matter. Ground meat could contain, well, anything. Animal bone. Truck parts. Factory workers’ fingers. Bits of curling, ginger, evil clown hair. My fears were confirmed when my parents forced me to eat a homemade hamburger and, with my very first mouthful, I bit down on a piece of dreaded gristle. Okay, no one ever called it the dreaded gristle but me. Still, when your mother tells you to spit it out and continue eating, you realize that the gristle shouldn’t have been there, much like Michele Bachmann at Drag Queen Bingo. It didn’t help that no one would explain to me exactly what gristle was, how it ended up in my burger, or what would happen to me if I accidentally swallowed a piece of it. All I knew was that it sounded a lot like grisly - as in grisly murder.
On the rare occasion in which I did chow down on a slab o’ meat, it had to be completely exorcised of the sinister fat that wound its way around and throughout the cooked piece of carcass. Fat was disgusting. Like gum, it could be chewed and chewed, but unlike gum, it didn’t taste like fruit, nor could it be blown into pink bubbles. It did introduce me to my overactive gag reflex which is called into action anytime my mouth comes into contact with something that doesn’t belong in it. Okay, maybe not everything. Nonetheless, every round of Junior Miss Snarky Pants vs. Fatty Porkchop ended the same way: with little balls of masticated pig flesh hidden in my napkin or beneath the rim of my dinner plate.
Perhaps the most baffling part of my childhood was spent trying to figure out (1) why people ate fruits and berries that were covered in hair or fuzz; and (2) why people would bother eating foods that required one to spit a portion of that food back out again. With regard to the first, I couldn’t and still can’t comprehend why a human being would deliberately ingest hair. Is it not generally considered bad form to lick one’s cat or dog in order to groom them? If so, then why would a person consume a peach? Or a strawberry? Any fruit that wants to be eaten should have the decency to shave first.
Likewise, it was puzzling to be told by my mother that when eating watermelon, I should spit out the seeds. Although I didn’t harbor the fear that a watermelon would grow in my stomach if I swallowed one of its teardrop-shaped seeds, I was offended by the watermelon’s audacity to have so many seeds, not to mention the fact that it allowed them to spread throughout its flesh like those obnoxious people in the airport terminal who plop all of their carry-on luggage on the empty chairs so that no one else can sit down. Watermelon is a fruit that has no respect for the people who eat it, unlike, say, the apple – who keeps its seeds under control, confined to its core. An apple begs – no, pleads – to be eaten; small and encased in a protective, but edible, skin, it promises to be fast about it and not waste your time. Watermelons are so laissex-fucking-faire about the whole thing. Come eat me, the watermelon purrs, but don’t make any plans because you’re going to need a chainsaw in order to open me up and then it’ll take all afternoon for you to sort through my flesh with your tongue, reserve the seeds in the side of your cheek and then spit them out before starting all over again. This is why watermelons are only eaten at picnics on lazy Sundays and not during your half hour lunch break at work. Sorry, Kitchen Slattern, watermelon vodka shots don’t count. If they did, I’d reach the suggested daily allowance of fruit by 10:30 a.m. each morning.
So why the diatribe about my awkward relationship with food, which, by the way, was accurately diagnosed as texture issues by someone with no medical or psychological background whatsoever? Because although I wasn’t a fan of certain foods as a young child, it didn’t prevent me from correctly identifying a vast array of veggies, fruits and berries – even if I didn’t like them. Today’s kids – and teenagers, for that matter – don’t know the first thing about fresh produce. Now before you begin typing out an indignant comment in which you paint your particular child as a lover of all fruits and vegetables, one who personally tends to her own organic garden and orchard which she fertilizes with homemade compost, take a moment to watch celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, as he asks a classroom of first graders to identify some common fruits and vegetables:
My only consolation is that the child pronounced potato as po-tay-toe instead of po-tah-toe, like some Downton Abbey lord of the manor. That and the knowledge that if the little moppet had been sired by a migrant farm worker, he would’ve known the difference. You may be thinking to yourself, “These children are merely six years old.” Yeah, well those six year olds know how to write binary code, count to 1,000 in Mandarin and recite the entirety of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows verbatim. The reason they can’t tell the difference between a potato and tomato is because everything they eat comes out of a can or a box. How would a non-breeder like myself know this? Because these processed food-eating
garbage disposals kids eventually grow into the teenagers who work as cashiers at my local Super Wal-Mart – the same cashiers who inevitably hold up the line for twenty minutes as they scan page after page of laminated, illustrated produce printouts because they’ve never seen a butternut squash in their entire lives. Or an avocado. Or spinach. Or a tomato – or was that a potato?
Despite my attempts to assist the cashier by saying, “Erm, that’s a butternut squash,” the confused teenager will call for manager assistance – probably because customer-perpetrated produce fraud is sooooooo rampant these days – and then me, the cashier and the twelve shoppers in line behind me will all wait. And wait. And wait. Eventually, the overworked Wal-Mart manager will arrive and declare the foreign substance in the cashier’s hands to be a butternut squash. Before I can say, “Hah! Don’t tell me that I don’t know my gourds,” the manager has raced off to another checkout stand to announce that baby carrots are coming through (no, they don’t wear diapers), and to a third aisle to identify a bell pepper that had the nerve to be both red and green at the same time. In the end, it doesn’t matter because the manager will have to revisit my aisle multiple times because the cashier has confused red cabbage with iceberg lettuce, and doesn’t know the difference between a zucchini and a cucumber. Which means Hubby’s ice cream has melted and my almond milk is warm. Grrrrrr.
Of course, the larger issue is that if a teenager old enough to work at Wal-Mart can’t identify most vegetables and fruits just by looking at them, he or she probably isn’t going to buy those fruit and vegetables for the children that he or she will one day spawn. Within two generations, we’ll be surrounded by millions of Honey Boo Boos, who eat nothing but roadkill, ‘sketti and cheese balls. For those of you who have wisely resisted the urge to tune in to watch Honey Boo Boo and her talking belly, ‘sketti is spaghetti noodles served with a sauce made from ketchup and margarine. I’m pretty sure that Bizarre Food’s Andrew Zimmern, who, incidentally, follows Miss Snarky Pants on Twitter (I know…OMG!), just threw up in his mouth.
Much in the same way that we describe alcohol as being distilled multiple times, the fruits and vegetables of the future will be processed again and again until they no longer resemble their original selves. The only way we’ll be able to distinguish pureed carrots from pureed sweet potatoes will be by reading the printing on the frozen, cardboard box they come in – because, Lord knows, our kids won’t be able to tell by looking at the photo. If we don’t make changes now, our fresh produce will be molded and shaped by technology, becoming – in the process of being, erm, processed – as unrecognizable as that chick from “Dirty Dancing.” What was her name again? Jennifer Grape?
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What foods did you hate when you were a child? Do you eat any of them now?