My childhood diet was the result of my mother’s obsession with healthy food and dieting. She is, I think it’s fair to say, a yo-yo dieter, and her food choices inevitably impacted on the family diet. Let’s just say there was an unholy obsession with brown rice and wholemeal flour. Have you ever tried cooking scones with wholemeal flour? And then served them with CREAM and STRAWBERRY JAM and lashings of TEA? No? Well, then, the conundrum begins.
When I was 12, my mother discovered Pritikin. Oh, God. Of all the things she could have fallen for, she fell for the fat free, flavour free, sugar free, taste free hell on earth that is the Pritikin diet. We had no sugar in the house. No biscuits. No lollies. No soft drink. No CORDIAL. No chips or crisps. No FAT. My mother cooked, in UNSALTED water, chickpeas (rock hard) and ghastly vegetable soups with no salt that took forever to combine because she would cook them in a pot of about 20 litres of water and they’d never quite get up to a good boil. It would take 3 days for the vegetables to break down. She made us eat wholemeal pasta and as far as I can recall we never had any processed food in the house at all. Oh, the privation.
She never added salt to anything, and she never cooked with onions or garlic because my dad complained he didn’t like the flavour (and he had stomach ulcers). And my mother didn’t like mushrooms very much. So there was nothing in our diet that was in any way flavourful or tasty. For 3 years. Prior to Pritikin, my mother had fed us simple, plain food that at least was quite tasty, things like sausages and chops, and fish fingers and tuna mornay, and spaghetti bolognese and moussaka and lambs’ fry.
Well, we rebelled, my sisters and I. One of my sisters (clever thing), started making chocolates in moulds and giving them to people as gifts. Or eating them. She also made cakes. Lots of cakes. We frequently made cheesecake and I worked at the Golden Arches for a time, putting on several kilos as I hoovered up the inevitable free meal (can’t eat the stuff now – tastes like cardboard).
My mother caused us a lot of food misery and I remember complaining bitterly about the absence of anything to eat in the house. But, you know: now I’m grateful. Because I’ve at least grown up in an environment that valued health. I’ve grown up valuing whole foods and fresh produce. I’ve grown up in an environment without processed food. And as a result, my change to healthy living is really just revisiting my childhood, except with much more variety in my food. And I’m finding the change easy to achieve.
As I look at my step-children, whose idea of “snacks” are highly processed, salty or sweet, sugary foods, I despair. Because I am not teaching them anything about the healthy food they will need in future to protect their health. I took a tally of the food my step daughter ate throughout the course of the day just recently, and she started with sugared weetbix, followed by nutella sandwiches for lunch, an apple, and sweet biscuits for afternoon tea, plus highly salted, processed snack biccies. Hideous.
However, slowly, slowly, we are clearing the cupboards of processed food, and soon there will be nothing naughty left but honey and white flour (because I’ve never been able to go back to wholemeal flour, not ever). And they will have to make their own snacks. Like I did. And they will complain, like I did. And SH will also complain bitterly, because he is addicted to sugary, starchy foods, and can’t understand the need for green things in the diet.
And you know what? I don’t care. I LIKE chickpeas. And lentils. And brown rice. And quinoa. And salad. So, kids, HTFU and have a banana. And, no, you CANNOT have cordial – we’re not buying it anymore. Have a glass of water.