ROOT PROBLEM Growing up in a household where potato chips abounded but even carrots were deemed exotic doesn’t teach you the best nutrition habits
I’ve never met a vegetable I couldn’t grow to hate. Honestly, with the exception of corn and potatoes, I spent most of my life avoiding vegetables the way a cat avoids a bath. I like to believe that genetically, I come from a long and successful line of hunters. When I imagine my ancestors I envision great mammoth hunts and of course, I am among the loin-clothed hunters, handling a spear as deftly as I’ve ever handled a pen. After we’ve slayed the beast, we load its bounty on the backs of our well-trained giant pre-historic dire wolves and return home to our grateful mates who prepare a tremendous feast in our honour.
Unfortunately, the reality is that I just wasn’t exposed to many vegetables. In fact, I wasn’t exposed to many different food types at all. My father was a junk food addict, and my mother wasn’t very interested in cooking. Both were baby boomers with an upper middle-class income, but a very unrefined palate and the result was an incredibly poor diet. Both were heavy smokers and of course, smoked in the house and in their cars. I guess it should’ve come as no surprise when my father had a massive heart attack when he was just 59. But it was.
I had unlimited access to cola, other than at supper when I had to have milk. There were always an array of potato chips and other snack foods in the house. They ordered take-out for dinner at least three times a week. Other meals were often highly processed and there was an abundance of white bread products readily available.
There was never broccoli or cauliflower in the fridge. Or asparagus, or avocado, or even carrots. Occasionally, they’d crack open a can of peas or green beans, but the standby was corn. When I was little, they would buy corn on the cob. Then it was canned and finally, before I moved out, they were buying the prepackaged frozen kind immersed in some kind of butter-like product.
If we ever had fish, it was so heavily battered that it could have passed as chicken, or even squirrel. Nothing was made from scratch if it could be helped. I never saw anyone drink a glass of water in our house, not even once. I was nearly 17 before I tried pasta, tacos or even rice for the first time. We were a take-out family and if it wasn’t take-out, it was meat and potatoes.
In other words, my sister and I were being groomed for obesity, an early death and a myriad of other weight-related health problems.
When I had my own children, I definitely tried to raise them with a healthier lifestyle. They weren’t allowed pop and I tried to limit the junk food. Of course, that didn’t change my own eating habits much and as the years went by, the pounds packed on. Having an active and busy lifestyle helped, but it wasn’t enough, especially when I endured a 60- to 70-hour work week for a number of years.
It wasn’t until about a year ago that I really started to take health and diet more seriously than merely losing a few pounds for the sake of appearance. Pop has been entirely eliminated from our household, with the rare exception of the occasional birthday party. Our rice is now brown and so is our pasta and bread. We very rarely eat out, maybe averaging one meal per month from a restaurant. Processed foods like frozen pizza or TV dinners are even less frequent.
It’s made a tremendous difference, but it’s incredibly time consuming and if I didn’t work from home, I’m not sure I could have done it. The changes I’ve made have caused me to see food in an entirely different way, and I am aghast at how poorly we were eating before.
Despite how rosy our food future now looks, we all have our crosses to bear, and my vegetable aversion remains as staunch as starch. Sure, I eat lettuce and raw spinach. I’ll even eat finely diced peppers and raw peas and I love making fresh guacamole and avocado sauces for pasta dishes. But most vegetables still don’t even register in my brain as an edible option.
If I were presented a plate with a chunk of drywall and a pile of brussels sprouts, I’d probably taste the drywall first.
Slaying this last dragon of my childhood nutritional nightmare is going to be exceptionally difficult, but I know it must be done. My doctor has told me there is no taste bud removal surgery available, but I haven’t ruled out hypnotism just yet. I’ve scoured the Internet, and I have yet to find a recipe that can make vegetables taste like a rare steak. I am left with only one choice. Instead of growing my hatred for veggies, I’ve decided to start growing a garden — and only 80 per cent of it will be reserved for corn and potatoes.