Memory is a funny thing.
Like the time I caught the boys marching through the house sporting superman underoos on their heads chanting “WE ARE KLINGON! WE ARE KLINGON!” probably intent on offering their newborn baby sister up as a Romulan (Vulcan?) sacrifice or something. Seriously, you just can’t make this stuff up. But would I remember it so clearly now if not for the 4×6 print tacked to my bulletin board of them in various Klingon-esque poses wearing their footie pajamas and diapers, ready to fling their Toy Story underwear slingshot-style at the camera? (And no, I will not post it, since they know where I sleep and since their friends read this blog. I may be old and uncool but at this point my existence does not embarrass them and I plan to keep it that way). Probably not.
But I do not need a photo of certain foods from my past to remind me how much I hated them. Hate isn’t even a strong enough word, and that’s just the point; the details of most memories fade with time, but food memories, at least in my head, seem to intensify.
Anyone who knows me fairly well has already learned about my anti-relationship to hotdogs. However, hotdogs aren’t even a food, so I won’t deal with them here.
I’m talking about what other people do consider to be food, things that, for some reason, scarred me for life. My mother used to make this dish she called “Chicken Spaghetti.” Just typing that title makes me throw up a little. It consisted of a casserole (“casserole”=dirty word #1) full of cooked spaghetti, coated in some weird mix of cream of something soups (dirty word #2), chicken pieces and some form of nasty pseudo-curry powder, topped with what the Velveeta people were somehow permitted to call “cheese,” and baked until the Velveeta slices turned inky black (sorry, cheese just doesn’t do that) and the whole house smelled like Eau de Singed Athletic Sock. My mother tells me the only time she was sick when she was pregnant with me was when she ate Chicken Spaghetti. How poetic.
I cannot begin to describe how that dish stunted my culinary growth for over 30 years. Thanks to Chicken Spaghetti, I was led to believe I hated curry, and therefore avoided it entirely until my mid-30’s when my now-husband accidentally ordered us Indian food and I was too embarrassed to tell him I’d rather brew us up some nice kitty litter tea than eat curry.
The thing is, it didn’t smell like Chicken Spaghetti. I gathered up all the anti-nausea strength I had and tasted it. Funny, it didn’t taste like Chicken Spaghetti either. It slowly dawned on me that maybe what I’d always thought of as curry really wasn’t curry at all. My elation over suddenly discovering I had a whole new cuisine to explore quickly gave way to exasperation over having missed out on 30+ years of really, really good food, all on account of one horribly disgusting (ok, more than one, because she cooked that dish all the time) food experience from my youth.
This is what I hope to avoid in my own kids. I constantly worry that one bad food experience at my hands will close doors they may never be fortunate enough to have opened for them in the future by some knight in shining armor bearing a Sher E Punjab takeout box. I mean, I know it’s not my mother’s fault that I avoided all curry in every form possible for 3o years. And now that I think about it, I avoided all cream of something canned soup and Velveeta too, but in those cases I don’t think I missed anything. It was my choice, and mine alone.
So while some scoff at my strange (I prefer to call it “passionate”) approach to feeding my kids, the bottom line is that we all want our kids to grow up and go forth with the ability to make good choices for themselves. I just want to make sure those choices don’t include opting for Hamburger Helper or macaroni & cheese because that’s what they remember best.