Sometimes a salad is just a salad

Living with my parents continues to be interesting.

I am not feeling as panicked around food as I was when I first arrived;  my mother continues to make comments about my eating, but I have been feeling much less defensive and just rather amused.  I have not given her the big talk that I still feel brewing in my head, but have been deflecting.

For example, the other night I went food shopping with my dad, and the store had a sale on Ben and Jerry’s.  I love Ben and Jerry’s because I totally love the kitchen sink approach to ice cream – the more stuff in it,  the merrier – and so I picked up two cartons.  (Boston Cream Pie and Snickerdoodle Cookie – both flavors were fabulous.)  That evening I scooped out some into a little bowl and had it while watching TV with my mom after my dad went to bed.  I had offered my mother some, and she wasn’t interested, but after I ate mine, she said, “wow, you ate that pretty fast.”

Which is pretty hilarious – as my husband and many of my friends can attest, I am a pretty slow and methodical eater, and was even before doing the nutrition program.  And I really wanted to taste and savor the ice cream, so I definitely ate it at a pace where I was getting maximal enjoyment out of it.  (An aside:  I really want to get a collection of demitasse spoons for eating stuff like ice cream and yogurt – I swear food like that tastes better when eaten with tiny spoons.)   So I just said something like “no I didn’t,”  and went back to watching TV.  Her perception clearly didn’t have to do with reality – as if there is an Official Ice Cream Eating Speed Limit! – and it clearly was about her issues and not mine.

Now that I have more emotional distance and feel grounded again in how I eat, it actually rather amuses me to watch my mother’s reactions to my food.  The other week I was eating salad for breakfast, which I totally love and it will keep me going for hours – arugula with avocado, tomato, feta, and sunflower seeds, yum – and every morning, my mom could not help herself from saying things like “really, wow, salad for breakfast, my goodness, who ever would have thought?  I don’t think I could ever do that.  A salad.  For breakfast!  Who ever heard of such a thing?  And oh, that cheese!  What is that again?  My goodness, it is so stinky!  I can’t believe you can eat that!  Wow, salad first thing in the morning!”  I had no idea that I was so transgressive in my breakfast choices!

Then the other day, my parents decided to go out to dinner and invited me along.  Earlier in the day, I had been helping my mom in her garden pulling up weeds, and when I was done I had a late lunch (of aforementioned salad) because I was ravenous and couldn’t wait the few hours before we went to dinner.  By the time we got to the restaurant, I was a little hungry, but not very much, since I had had lunch so recently.  So I ate a small roll when they came out, but when the family style salad came out, I declined to have any, because I wanted to save my appetite for my meal, and I had just had salad earlier that day and wasn’t in the mood for any more.

And this just about blew my parents’ minds.  They just could not believe that there was salad on the table and I wasn’t going to eat any.  Even after I calmly and matter-of-factly explained my reasons, they still pressed.  “Are you sure?  Look how much there is.  You don’t want it to go to waste.  Are you sure you don’t want any salad?”  And I just laughed and said, no, I’m fine, but seriously, it bothered them until the meal came.

My dinner was a little on the disappointing side – my scallops were a bit rubbery and my asparagus dry – but I ate enough to be satisfied, leaving probably a quarter of the food left.  My mother finished as much of her food as she wanted, but then kept trying to feed me what was left of hers.  I kept having to say, no thanks Mom, I’m full, no thanks.  I eventually did capitulate and have a fried shrimp – which was way tastier than my scallops and wound up being a nice way to end the meal – but it amazed me just how invested my mother seems in other people’s food.

Then again, it’s not like my mother lives in a vacuum – the Food Police are rampant in American culture (something I didn’t miss one bit in Europe), and she’s not immune to the conflicting messages we get bombarded by.   I’m finally feeling able to step back and realize that it’s virtually all about her and her own unexamined issues, and doesn’t have anything to do with me at all.  I am feeling very comfortable in my ability to choose my own food for my own reasons without the emotional baggage any more, even around my mom’s angst.  I am delighted that my ice cream is not forbidden and sinful, nor my salad virtuous and moral.  For me, it really now is just a salad.



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9 responses to “Sometimes a salad is just a salad

  1. Andrea K

    heh, the mom thing reminds me of something that happened this spring when I visited my mom in the midst of my changing how I eat. (Cutting and pasting what I wrote back then. I know the dieting aspect isn’t your thing, but the mom parallels spoke to me.)

    ” I had to go up to my mom’s house this weekend to help her with some things and I found this a mixture of amusing, frustrating, and astounding. This is the first time she’s really been around me when I was trying to watch my food diligently. I was amazed how often she was trying to feed me. I had even brought up a lot of my own food just so I was sure to have healthy stuff, and assured her she didn’t have to worry about feeding me. She kept making comments. Like when I was making myself a sandwich, she’d say “Why aren’t you having mayo on that?? BLECH a dry sandwich??” Mind you, I hate mayo even when I am not dieting and always have a “dry” sandwich. But I was kind of shocked she’d be so openly encouraging me to add crap to my food. Also I’d told her many times I only allow myself to have one soda per day anymore, and that I have it with lunch. But come dinner she’d say “wouldn’t you like another soda with that??”

    Sometimes the comments were more about her. She’d keep asking me if I wanted this, or that, offering me food. We went out and she kept trying to get me to go in on an appetizer with her when I had already assured her my entree would be enough and would already in fact put me over. Then she’d make a comment like “it makes me look like a pig!” I just stared at her in kind of shock that at least in the moment, it mattered more to her what she looked like eating more, than the benefit I was achieving by eating less. It seemed rather twisted. Like I should break my discipline in order to put her at ease.

    At another point she actually was in tears because she kept offering to make me something for dinner and I would genially tell her “no thanks, I still have my sandwich stuff and I don’t want you to go to the trouble!” She genuinely felt like I was preventing her from “taking care” of me, like she felt it was her duty to do while I was in her house.

    Weird. I had to remind her of something SHE told me the hospice workers told her when her husband was dying. “Food is not love”. There are other ways to nurture someone than to try to get them to eat things.

    There certainly was no malice or spite to it, of that I am sure. Nor jealousy, really. But some sort of grand inability to change her paradigm even given the input I was presenting about what I am trying to accomplish.

  2. Heh, Andrea, we’re eating for different reasons but with strikingly similar maternal responses! I can definitely have compassion for the response, but it is still very wearing to be the recipient of it.

  3. meerkat

    When I homestayed in Japan they kept giving me salad at breakfast (but along with other things). I just ate it to be polite, because I really do not want salad at breakfast time. I may want it later in the day but at breakfast I only want carbs and sugar, or perhaps miso soup.

  4. Na

    I sometimes give my left over food to my husband. Not that he wants or needs it, but it makes me feel justified for enjoying more food than I really need.

    Just another way to look at it. As you said, it’s your mother’s issues with food and not with you. Could she be using you (subconsciously) to justify herself.

  5. Jenny Islander

    Transgressive eating. Isn’t it weird that the concept even exists?

    I actually felt guilty the first time I ate exactly what I wanted for breakfast instead of whatever was easiest off of the list of traditional breakfast foods I had in the house. What did it matter whether I ate chunky vegetable soup with cheese ravioli instead of oatmeal or toast and jam or eggs or raisin bran? But even though the soup satisfied my vegetable craving and warmed me up nicely (it was frickin’ cold outside), I still somehow felt that I had done something wrong.

  6. You are so right about tiny spoons with tasty treats! My husband used to call my smaller than his teaspoons which I use for everything “Baby Spoons” (they’re not that small), but has since come to realize that I just don’t like large silverware of any sort and yes, things taste better in smaller more savored doses.
    I find it interesting that your mom was trying to get you to eat her food after you declined and couldn’t even finish your own meal. It’s almost as if she’s trying to prove something. Just a thought.
    I used to order a small green salad with my bacon & eggs for breakfast on weekends. Ha-ha! Glad I’m not alone! I like yours though, I will have to try it.

  7. Quercki

    “Dinner for breakfast” must be some sort of meme today. I was just at the farmer’s market and overheard someone say that.

    I was in Japan a long time ago, and it was fun to go to a “coffee shop” (the signs said that in English) and order “morning service” (breakfast) just to see what that coffee shop thought an American-style breakfast was. Once we got salad, canned mixed vegetables, a quarter of a hard-boiled egg, a pancake, toast and coffee.

    My Mother-in-Law used to drive me nuts nagging my children to eat. But then I realized that it was in her job description for Jewish Grandmother and I quit worrying about it. When one of the grandkids was hospitalized and the doctor said that the child could go home after zie had started eating again, I called on my MIL.

  8. Jill

    wait, salad isn’t virtuous and moral? I thought the renaissanice painters did portratits for chapels. sigh. Glad you can laugh at all this now. It still makes me crazy and confused.

    I’m with you on the demi-tasse spoons – they do make yogurt and things taste better.

  9. We do the tiny spoon thing here too!

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