“Allergic to Advice”


Food allergies are serious business. Some of them can actually kill. One of our favorite pastors died from eating something with peanuts in it which produced anaphylactic shock. My daughter’ father had a frightening reaction to fried rice which had some shrimp mixed in and I had to take him to the hospital for treatment. My daughter had hives break out from a tiny bit of shrimp, so we know she inherited the allergy.

But the medical community came up with advice for new parents about twenty years ago, cautioning them to delay introducing foods which commonly caused allergic reactions including peanuts and eggs. They maintained that waiting would reduce allergic reactions in children.

Today the pediatric community took back their advice. It turns out that postponing introducing these foods actually INCREASED the number of peanut allergies in children rather than decreasing them. Apparently having a variety of foods after four months actually gets babies’ digestive systems used to them instead of producing an allergic reaction.

At the same time doctors are telling us that all our cleaning and sanitizing has made things worse for people. Dirt actually helps kids get immunity to germs rather than giving them germs. Even the five second rule(if it is on the floor less than five seconds you can eat it)turns out to be true.

I have learned to take most food advice with more than a grain of salt(including watching my salt!) Has anyone else found advice contradicting earlier advice?

“No Accounting For Taste”


My husband can’t stand the taste of cilantro(also known as coriander in other parts of the world from the U.S.). I love the taste and would like to include it in many dishes I cook. My compromise is to have a little bowl of it for me to add to my servings. It turns out that about 10% of the population worldwide thinks that cilantro tastes like soap. Knowing that certainly makes me sympathize with his dislike of the herb.

My granddaughter is a “supertaster,” a genetic trait that allows her to taste differences that I can’t notice. For instance she tasted the metallic effect of the muffin tin on her muffins, something I was oblivious to. She can distinguish between foods that taste identical to me. Many foods, therefore, are too strong for her to enjoy.

In addition to these inborn differences in taste, many of us have aversions to specific foods. I had a terrible response to the feeling of little tentacles in my mouth from the calamari in an otherwise wonderful paella. I haven’t tried it since. It’s the texture of lima beans that I can’t tolerate. My husband dislikes bananas for the same reason though he enjoys them baked in banana bread.

One of the most intriguing thing about tastes to me is the different reaction people around the world have to different foods. What one country loves–roasted insects–another country(here)finds disgusting. The meat consumed in the United States appalls Hindus. Raw fish appeals to many and horrifies others. Heaven help the family that brings two different eating cultures together!

Bon appetit, whatever you are eating in your home today.

“A Cold War Panic”


It seems that periodically the United States gets in a panic about the weight or fitness of its children. Towards the end of the 1950’s, such a concern surfaced about the physical condition of American kids. Bonnie Prudden, then a dancer and exercise advocate had designed a set of exercises that she tried on European and American children. She determined that American children were trailing far behind their European peers. By extension, then, they must be falling behind Soviet children. In the Cold War era, there was a constant emphasis on keeping up with Soviet children, whether in science knowledge or in fitness..

Commissioned by President Eisenhower, a set of exercises were devised to get kids fit. Sadly, once other government agencies became involved, the exercises took on a military character. These new goals, such as climbing up ropes and doing multiple chin-ups were borrowed from skills needed by combatants, but not necessarily needed by children. So suddenly I, who was very fit in the usual sense of the word,  found myself deficient when tested by these measures.

And tested I was, once our high school physical education class undertook to evaluate us all, boys and girls, tall and short, against the same standard of “fitness.” Sadly these tests, at which I was a poor performer, somehow changed my idea of my own strength and ability. From thinking I was a fit, agile and strong girl, I came to see myself as weak when measured by these standards. I climbed numerous stairs both at home and at school, walked a couple of miles a day, did household chores and carried my siblings around, proving I had appropriate strength. But since I couldn’t shinny up a hanging rope, I felt like a failure. I have never put much faith in the government’s exercise programs since.

“Picky Picky”


Ironically, many adults who are now trying to cut back on their eating were once small children who had to be coaxed into eating. I am sure that some scientist could study a correlation between the two, but I will simply make the observation. “Picky eaters” are nothing new, though what they “pick” to eat has changed over the years.

My best kindergarten friend, Dude(his dad was named Bud, by the way) would only eat two foods, Gerber’s vanilla pudding and hamburgers. My mother had no patience for such demands and couldn’t believe that Dude’s mother went along with this routine. As I have mentioned before, picky eating wasn’t an option for us. My mother cooked one dinner and that was that. We were hungry and we ate what was there. In fact when I was first married I maintained that I liked all food since I had never really had a chance to form preferences. The only food I knew I hated was lima beans. Fortunately my father loved them and was only too happy to eat more than his share at dinner time.

As an adult I have been delighted to try all sorts of foods. I think that my childhood exposure to many tastes has helped. I know adults who still stick to just a few foods and even seem to take some pride in being “picky eaters.” A neighbor won’t eat leftovers. A friend’s husband won’t eat food in sauce. I wonder if their mothers catered to them the way Dude’s mother did. Wisely they married agreeable women who go along with their demands. As for me, I still seem to answer the question “what’s for dinner?” with my mother’s tired reply. “Food.”


“Fresh From the Laboratory”


Throughout my childhood and teen years, I kept noticing new foods that didn’t resemble ones I was familiar with. The first jolt was seeing Wonder Bread. Supposedly it could “build strong bodies 12 ways,” but I was most intrigued by its ability to be squeezed into tiny balls and hurled across the classroom. My mother refused to buy it, maintaining that they had taken everything healthy out of the bread and she used to say “I WONDER why they call it bread.”

At the same time, some of my classmates arrived with strange sugar deserts in their lunch boxes. Among them were Hostess Twinkies and Hostess Cupcakes. Sadly, having these in your lunch became a status symbol. But my mother refused to “waste the money on that junk,” and we stuck to regular cookies.

The strangest invention of all was Tang, soon to be advertised as the drink of the astronauts. My mother did succumb to our pleadings to buy this wonderful invention. She warned us that it would probably fail to live up to its advertising. Sadly, she was right. In no way did it taste like orange juice, and it even fell short of the kick from orange Kool-Aid, a much cheaper powdered drink. That unfinished Tang bottle hung around for months.

Today kids are used to invented foods from Pirate Booty to Gogurt. But they were a rarity in my childhood, and I remember the disappointments of each one.

“Into The Mouths of Babes”


As soon as television made its way into American homes with programs designed just for children on Saturday mornings(allowing parents to “sleep in”) advertisers saw their opportunity. And they rushed in with appeals to kids. One of the first was the introduction of “Tony the Tiger” with his gr-r-reat endorsement of Sugar Frosted Flakes. Interestingly after a while Kellogg’s dropped the Sugar from the name and just went with Frosted Flakes.

Not to be outdone, General Mills created a rabbit for its brightly colored Trix cereal. He was repeatedly told, “silly rabbit, Trix are for kids.” Of course Rice Krispies had their own trio of Snap, Crackle and Pop. And for many years when I was a kid toys and prizes came at the bottom of the cereal box. There was only one toy to a package, forcing some major negotiations when there was more than one child in the family. The best solution we offered our mother was to buy more packages.

I don’t remember any particular concern about feeding kids sugar in the morning. Certainly no one was worried about the burst of energy it gave since it would be used up on the walk to school. And once a kid tasted sugar cereal it would take an act of Congress to get her back to plain old corn flakes. Fortunately Congress wasn’t taking up the topic of childhood obesity. Not then.

“Eating Between Meals”


One of the oft mentioned suggestions from health professionals is to avoid eating between meals to maintain a healthy weight. They say to pay particular attention to “snacking.” I started reflecting on this activity and wondered if it was just my imagination and faulty memory that led me to think this had not been an issue in my childhood. It turns out that my thinking was fine. Even between the 1970’s(when my children were young) and today, children in the United States have gone from two snacks a day to an average of six snacks a day.

We had no snack food in our home unless there were crackers left over from an adult party. We had cookies, but they were for our lunches, not for eating whenever we felt like it. In fact we understood, as did many Americans in the 1950’s, that food was consumed three times a day. That, combined with our very active childhood lives, probably explains the lack of concern about “childhood obesity,” a topic now much in the news.

I don’t know if it is possible to get the snack horse back in the barn now that it has run free through American lives. Somehow we seem to have acquired, in a land of plenty for many, a fear of being hungry. The first pang of hunger sounds a danger signal, apparently, and we must reach for a snack. There are genuinely hungry Americans who lack access to healthy food. But there are also plenty of overfed, underexercised kids in this country. And that is a change for the worse.