30 June 2017

A Spectrum of Beverages, A Spectrum of Guilt

Certainly every family has its idiosyncratic foodways, and of course we're part of them ourselves-- they don't arrive despite us. Possibly I belong to the only family where people ate mashed potatoes for dinner, with a side of meat (chicken, cube steak, meatload, whatever) because my sheer love of mashed potatoes meant I would demand that for dinner, and then whatever else my mother wanted to make with it.

When I think about forbidden food, I think about "junk juice." It's apparently called "Little Hug," that juice you get in a barrel:
I still remember being in a grocery store with my mother and seeing pallets of the stuff by the checkout lane and asking for it. "Oh you don't want that," my mom said, "that's junk juice." So in the way you do at that age, I was convinced it was actually called junk juice for years, maybe not until high school did I learn that wasn't the case, and I still think of it being called that. I did tell my wife about this a few years ago, and she bought some for me, and I learned that despite my pining for this forbidden pleasure all these years, it actually really wasn't very good. Also I kind of felt guilty.

Speaking of guilt, if there was one unbreakable rule in my family, it was that you didn't buy pop in a restaurant. As far as my parents were concerned, it was a straight line from buying pop to a life of poverty. (And maybe, if you have a family of five being supported on one income, that's true.) No combo meals in our family: you bought a couple things off the dollar menu and got a cup of water. Of course we chafed under this for years, but my father was resolute, reminding us that for the cost of a glass of Coke in a restaurant you get get a whole two-liter of Big K Cola.

This I internalized too, to the extent that in high school I'd go out with my friends to White Castle or whatever and be unable to order pop, just thinking of the disapproval radiating from my father. I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I guess we do all become our parents, whether we like it or not.

Well, maybe not. One thing we had without fail as children with dinner was a glass of milk. Specifically skim milk. Now people tell me that skim milk is the most terrible form of milk, but having been raised on it, my main conclusion is that it makes you hate all milk. Skim milk itself is no fun to drink, but having been raised on skim, all other forms of milk are cloyingly thick. (On those rare occasions we would buy chocolate milk, we would mix it 50/50 with skim milk to thin it out.)

When I moved out on my own, I dutifully bought a half-gallon of skim milk and drank a glass of it with dinner every night. I still wasn't enjoying the experience anymore than I had for the previous twenty-three years of my life. After about a month, I think, it dawned on me: No one is making me do this anymore. So I stopped drinking milk, stopped feeling guilty, and I've been much happier ever since. Will I inflict it upon my own children? I guess I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

It wasn't all bad when it came to beverages in my family, though. Sometimes my father would treat us to vanilla milk, a mysterious beverage only he could make, consisting of milk, vanilla, sugar, and a "secret ingredient" that meant we could never make it on our own. Now that stuff is delicious, but because my father has never revealed the secret, I can't make it for myself.

#554: What messages about food and eating have you learned from your family?

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