Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Food has been an stressful thing for my family of origin. It's not the only stressful thing, but somehow it's up there in terms of conflict and stress.

I suppose I always knew this, but recently I've come to an increased awareness of it.  It should be simple, right? It's just food.  It's just money.

I think being aware of why things are the way they are, and accepting that - we can figure out how things can change (if they can change).

Money is where it started, as most things start with finances.  Growing up my Mom was responsible for grocery shopping and meal planning.  My Mom was a stay at home homemaker.  Money was very tight as our family kept growing on one income (four kids under the age of five, five kids under the age of eight).

Money spent on groceries must have been something my Mom could control. 

The other day, I was at the grocery store and I remembered that my Mom used to sort the food on the conveyor belt before checking out.  I was trying to figure out why she would do this.  (I would ask her why here in the present, but she would probably say she either doesn't remember doing that, or doesn't know why she did that.  So my impressions get to work for us both.)

I think she would group the crackers or vegetables together because later she would go through the receipt - line by line.  Making sure everything she bought was on the list and needed.  And probably checking the price to see how prices had gone up.

This would have happened only when she had energy.   I can't imagine how exhausting having so many young kids might be.  She also suffered from undiagnosed depression, which also would have impacted this process.

As a result, where corners could be cut, they were cut.  We never went hungry, and we always had "balanced" meals.  Not necessarily low sodium meals - lots of food from cans.

But if my Mom could buy stewed tomatoes for $.05 cents less than diced tomatoes, she would.  And she would drive to multiple stores to get the best prices. I do the same thing- but as an adult I'm aware of the cost of time, gas and other factors.  Is it really worth two gallons of gas (and the illusive environmental impact) to drive and save $.30 on a can of tomatoes?

So I think it had a lot to do with control, and with feeling successful about feeding our family.  I see commercials or tips for parents to save money on groceries - and I confess, a part of me cringes.  Saving money is a good thing. But there is a point where the quality of life suffers.  I am not saying that our quality of life suffered - but the goal is making the best tasting meals, that everyone likes, for the least amount of money - something's going to give. 
Cooking is also a skill.  Just like painting a wall, writing a paper, fixing a vacuum cleaner.  Cooking is not a "natural" talent for everyone - just because a person is a certain gender, or has a certain ethnic identity doesn't mean they will be able to cook. And it's not just cooking - again - it's cooking on a strict budget, for eight people, with a variety of tastes. My Mom had (has) some dishes she makes very well.  And my Dad did cook some of the time. 

But no matter how she felt, my Mom made dinner, for all of us.  And sometimes she was more successful than other times. And going out to eat was way too expensive. Going out was rare - so rare that I remember heated disagreements with my siblings about where we would go.  Since going out was so elusive, you wanted to make sure you went somewhere you wanted to go. 

So as adults, we have all this baggage that informs discussions and gatherings around food.  And to top it off, now some of us have food allergies or other dietary needs.  Not that anyone should be blamed for developing food allergies - it's just another thing to try and consider that makes meals much more difficult.

And just like with any group of adults - some people don't care for certain types of ethnic food, or had a bad experience at a particular restaurant chain, etc.

It makes discussing and negotiating food issues difficult. 
I visited my family earlier this month.  The visit went well.  I had been sick the week before, and May is a notoriously busy month for me.  I sent my Mom an email talking about potential plans, discussing what I would be willing to make.  I didn't explicitly say that I would get groceries while I was there (with whatever they might have in their pantry) but I was planning on it. And that's usually how the routine goes - I go out and get coffee each day while I'm there (my parents have a coffeemaker?  ha!).  And I get groceries to help out - and to have a bit of my own say/control.

I arrived at my parents' house, and find out that instead my parent's would make another dish (one that I hadn't particularly liked as a child.  Did I mention I was a picky eater??)

So I had a choice, at that point, to flip out (which I probably would have done twenty years ago) or to go with the flow.

I talked about it with my Mom later - not getting angry, just curious asking her what her thought process had been.  She had seen my e-mail, and immediately thought of a reason that the meal I suggested wouldn't work ( a food allergy that as far as I know no one has) but instead of talking with me about it she just decided to make something else. 

This is pretty classic behavior for my Mom, for the record. 

Throughout the conversation, I just felt good about being able to explain my request without getting angry and confrontational.  And to make a request that in the future, she and I need to be able to discuss this type of thing.

With that said, however, food in my family of origin is pretty much like a hole in the road - it's there and not going anywhere.  I get to decide how to react, and how to make sure my needs are met.  And let the rest go.

1 comment:

Freckle Face Girl said...

Family issues can be so difficult. It is amazing that you dealt with it so well. I think it is easier to fall back into old patterns.

I remember tight budgets too, but my mom isn't very good at all of that and sadly neither am I. One of the great things about being away from the situation is picking out the things you liked from your childhood & trying to discard the rest. Sounds like you are doing it in a healthy way.