A culinary childhood denied | Art & Appetite

By James Spangler | Oct 24, 2016

Our dinner table was most often a place where conversation flowed freely.

Loud discussions might involve the news of the day or perhaps what we learned in school. It was not unusual for someone to jump up and fetch the dictionary or some other resource to settle a dispute. One evening, my slightly older 8-year-old brother brought our dinner revelry to a screeching halt.

With stoic resolve, he sat rigid, stock still, eyes burning holes in the wall in front of him as my imperious father directed him to eat something – spinach, carrots, broccoli – I don't recall exactly what. All 55 pounds of him steadfastly refused.

This battle of wills played out for several weeks.

Many families have a similar story.

I’m reminded of Norman Maclean's autobiographical novella “A River Runs Through It.” Read it if you get a chance. Maclean’s brother fought an epic battle at the dinner table.

Some parents subscribe to the idea that if a boy gets hungry enough, he will eat. But my mother was unable to maintain the ruthlessness necessary to achieve that end.

Her accommodation was the invention of a couple of gastronomic abominations: First, “Spanish rice” – a canned tomato juice reduction with rice and chopped hot dogs.

Second, but by no means any less abhorrent, “tuna casserole” – essentially elbow noodles, breadcrumbs, canned tuna and some sort of ghastly cheeselike product. (It may have been canned cream of cheese soup – yes, regrettably, such a thing did, and still does exist.)

My mother and father likely had only themselves to blame. Nutritional studies indicate roughly three-quarters of that sort of picky eating behavior is genetic.

There are probably good evolutionary reasons for children to eat only food known to them. I imagine that picky eaters are well represented in our gene pool because, over the ions, adventurous eaters like me often took fatal wrong turns along the way.

“Hey! Look at this pretty orange mushroom! I wonder what it tastes like?” are words that would have been uttered by my brother exactly … never.

It should be noted that mushrooms, which I happen to love, are high on the list of most disliked foods in America – along with liver, lima beans and okra.

Someone once said that when you give up smoking, drinking and making love, you don't live longer, it just seems like it. I feel that way about food. What a curse to be burdened with, to never have been curious about cauliflower, kale or kohlrabi.

As I grew up on the other side of the dinner table (close physical proximity to my brother never ended well, my parents discovered), I constantly surveyed the table and would exclaim: “Hey! I didn't get any of that!”

If there is a hell, it will be serving “tuna casserole” for eternity when I get there.

I was the polar opposite of my brother – a frustrated, adventurous eater whose diet, along with the rest of our family, was dictated by my brother’s tastebuds, not my own.

But it's possible the mountains of “spanish rice” I was forced to endure have made me appreciate our diverse culinary landscape just a little bit more. Who knows, maybe my brother saved me from the modern equivalent of that delicious looking orange mushroom.

I should be grateful, right?

James Spangler is the owner of Spangler Book Exchange in Edmonds and an aficionado of all things art and appetite. Do you know of a Snohomish County restaurant, art gallery or theatrical show worthy of a review? Call him at 206-795-0128 or email him at jamessspangler@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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