Forkways #5: Food Memory

When I was in preschool I went to a private school taught by nuns. In the cafeteria we could not leave until we were dismissed. Sometimes but not always it was required that all the food on the plate was eaten. This food was not high cuisine, mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, and on one day tuna fish. I was three or four and at this time in my life it was already very clear I was a picky eater. Usually I could eat around the foods I didn't like and clear my plate without much issue. But how does a child, age four, eat around a tuna fish sandwich when one does not eat tuna? I sat quietly and peaceably staring at my plate. I was concerned slightly about the events that may follow. My fellow preschoolers began to leave and, the crowd thinned and thinned until there was only one child left in the room. One child looking at a tuna fish sandwich on a plastic plate a color directly between blue and green but not fully qualifying as either.

Canned tuna between slices of white bread mocking me because of my inability to determine how to eat around the offending food. The nuns began to notice me. At first one, who tried to cajole me. Then two discussing what to do. And then more. I remember staring at the white square on that plate with the almost indescribable color. I stared at the white bread like we were having a starving contest. I was determined not to lose.

A voice told me I had to eat it. But I stared and stared.

In one movement my hands rose up and swept the food off the table and onto the floor. I think I was testing an intricate logic puzzle. If I am not allowed to eat food off of the floor, as most children have been warned against since birth, perhaps I could override the demands of ingesting my food. The plate clattered to the floor and soon I found my face surprisingly close to it. The nuns had decided almost as quickly as I had that my logic was faulty. The floor was no boundary to their cruelty. My hands were pressed behind my back, my head was pressed to the floor and I was instructed to eat off of the floor.

Tuna fish is not improved when consumed at floor level.

Despite the aggression I was able to escape with only a few tainted nibbles of white bread. I was made to sit in the corner for the rest of the day.

This is not my only food memory, but it sticks out more than the others. Good or bad, food does transport us. Which is why I have vowed never to eat canned tuna again. (I have added the modifier of canned since I lifted the embargo on tuna in general when I started eating sushi. But really fresh tuna and canned tuna have very little in common.) Do you have any significant food memories? Are they good ones or bad ones? Or maybe one of each. Because I was a picky eater, there is no shortage of bad food stories. Though some good ones also emerge out of the kindness people who loved me showed when they made efforts to work around all my weird eating ways.


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