Looking back at those curly-edged black and white photos pasted in my family albums, I note that I was thin until I hit my thirties. Until I hit my teens and discovered the glory of after-school french fries, gravy and cherry cokes at Diana Sweets, I was actually skinny. That’s mainly because we grew up on a farm in Beamsville. It was ostensibly a fruit farm, but what sticks in my memory is my younger brothers and I picking up rocks from the orchard and piling them in rows along the fringes of the fields. We worked hard. We played outside every daylight hour. We didn’t have much to eat but I don’t recall being really hungry, except for sweets. Getting a fat Jaffa orange and a bottle of pop at Christmas was a huge treat.School was probably four kilometers from our house, west along Green Lane, a rough tar road with gravel shoulders, north on Maple Grove Road then past the two-lane Queen Elizabeth Way through an underground walkway that stank of urine, to SS#1 Lakeshore Public School. No school buses. No, “Mom, can you pick me up?”
Why do I bring this up now? It’s because I realize I have to jettison my old-timey thinking about not wasting food. ‘Clean your plate’ might have made sense when we lived on the edge of poverty, but not now, in an environment of plenty. Tucking bits and bobs of leftovers got me to the point where my waist reflects too much food consumed. Because we were sharecropper poor, my mother never threw anything out. Back then, she’d ask the butcher for beef bones ‘for the dog’. Chicken backs and necks were free, but they made good soup. That’s where my habit of never throwing anything out came from. Saving up odds and ends for a stew or a casserole. There were children starving in Africa, after all. What they’d do with the overcooked liver I didn’t want to eat, I never knew. But I did feel guilty.
I remember Mom making bread pudding from all of the scraps and dried ends of day-old bread. She’d try to disguise it as dessert with raisins and cinnamon, brown sugar and orange peel. Same with oatmeal. Cornmeal pudding. Rice pudding. To this day, I hate them all with a passion. Why? They were poor food. They made me gag then, they make me gag now. But I’m also sad because I know how hard she tried, when we had so little.
Not to get all Freudian about those years – we were happy most of the time and wallowed in love. As soon as I could afford my own groceries, I bought full-fat cream, chicken breasts, 70% cacao chocolate, butter. And began cloaking myself in a carapace of flab. As tedious as it is, I’ve been writing down everything I eat. Still too much fat and not enough protein. My next step is setting goals so that I can calculate what I consume compared to what I should be eating. Ugh.