Almost every night for dinner, when I was a kid, we had either deer meat and potatoes or hamburger and potatoes. Very occasionally, we had spaghetti. Or kielbasa and cabbage (with potatoes). I definitely did not learn how to create a meal plan that went beyond having the same thing for supper every day.
It’s no wonder, then, that the two times we went to a Chinese restaurant with my father by the time I was 12, I was enamored. I’d never tasted anything like that food. And I loved it. I dreamed of the day I could add barbecued spare ribs (Chinese style) to my own dinner menu.
Fast forward to adulthood. I didn’t add spare ribs, but I did add pork and chicken. Plus potatoes. Vegetables were always an afterthought. Fruit often came straight out of the can. My single adulthood indulgence became butter instead of margarine. I was set for life.
But then a dear family member had a heart attack at age 50. I also became a mom-to-be. Around the same time, a friend of mine who’d been struggling with severe chronic fatigue became a vegetarian and I noticed that she lost weight and her skin became dewy-beautiful—better than mine, despite that I was 10 years younger. All of these dynamics converged and invited me to consider altering my menu. Except I was not versed in planning healthy meals at all, let alone plant-rich healthy meals.
It didn’t take me too long to figure out the solution: I went ethnic.
Many ethnic traditions have healthy combinations of foods and delicious recipes. In some cases, we’re talking about hundreds or thousands of years of taste-testing and health-testing. There is no need for us to start from square one.
Over the years, I’ve explored Greek, Turkish, African, Indian, Persian, Mexican, Chinese, Thai foods, and more. This is why my fridge currently holds pomegranate syrup, tahini, ginger, sun-dried tomatoes, chick-pea flour, couscous, and other things I’d never heard of as a child. My pantry holds a plethora of spices like saffron powder, cardamom, turmeric, fenugreek powder (wow, tastes like maple syrup!), and many kinds of curry powders, as well as all the “ordinary” spices a kitchen might rely upon.
This makes for a very interesting food lifestyle, far from my childhood and deep into healthy realms. Plus, it makes the question of “what’s for dinner?” much easier to answer (if harder to choose).
What was your childhood food lifestyle like? Did you like it? Do you believe it was healthy? (How do you know?) Write a poem called “Journey” that takes you from your childhood food ways to a potential new exploration of ethnic foods. Where will you go? What foods will appear?
There were no spices
at our table,
unless you consider
salt a spice.
Vegetables, there were few,
unless you consider
potato a vegetable.
The deer that I saw
no longer running in the field
filled me with sorrow.
But, at the table,
hunger closed my heart.
Since then, I’ve traveled
to Persia, India, Greece—so many
places, on the little boats
of spices, over fresh rivers
of fruits and grains
that carry me
to culinary joy.
But, and this is the poem’s secret:
I always bring salt—
in my bag.