Monday, November 9, 2009

Food Family Part 2

My mother is a glutton. I don’t know how else to describe it. She takes a perverse pleasure in an abundance of food. For some reason, it’s the quantity of good food that makes her feel… whatever it is it makes her feel. I’ll try to illustrate. There are usually 6 people at Christmas dinner. When she makes the giant turkey, she also makes a ham. For side dishes, she makes a vat of mashed potatoes, a large pan of sweet potatoes, 2 giant pans of stuffing, corn, another vegetable, rolls, a relish tray, and crackers with a salmon spread. Then there’s pumpkin pie, pecan pie, apple pie, chocolate cake, jello, and several different kinds of cookies and fudge. There is enough for 20 guests easily. All of this is just for our family of 6. You might think this is just holiday insanity. Oh no. This is how she cooks for us normally. If she makes hamburgers, there are also baked beans, potato salad, a green salad, corn chips, potato chips, and again, the relish tray.

I once attempted to talk to my mom about this need for massive quantities for food. Her denial of personal responsibility was immediate. “Oh, it’s a Southern thing. That’s the culture I was raised in.” Hmm… let’s examine that, shall we?

Mom was born in California in 1949. Her parents were share-croppers from Arkansas who moved when the war ended. They had been barely getting by with one daughter and then when Grandpa joined the Navy, he saw that there were opportunities elsewhere. They moved to Port Hueneme, California and Grandpa took a job on the naval base as a civilian. A little while later, Grandma found herself pregnant again and that was my mom. Mom was the first in the family to be born in a hospital, the same hospital that I would be born in 25 years later.

They lived a basic, working class life. Mom essentially grew up as an only child because her sister was 12 years older. She got married and moved out when Mom was 5. They were comfortable, but hardly living in luxury. I’ve heard Mom bitch that they would never let her get a big Christmas tree because it was too expensive. They were also devout Baptists, so extravagance was definitely not part of their vernacular. But she was exposed to her Southern roots. In the summer, they would drive to Arkansas for their family vacation.

Now remember she comes from share-croppers. These are farmers who don’t own their own land, but rather work the cotton fields of land owners in exchange for living on the land and a small percent of the crop yielded. In other words, they were dirt poor. When she talks about her extended family, she talks about her dad bringing them groceries because they would literally be subsisting on biscuits and flour gravy. She was the “wealthy” kid from California.

Now where in the world does she claim this “culture of abundance” comes from? Her plain Baptist parents? Her barefoot, cotton-picking cousins? Please, explain to me how you get the cultural expectation of needing a turkey AND a ham for Christmas dinner out of that? I might buy it if she would admit that her need for abundance has something to do with feeling deprived as a child, but that’s a stretch. Pete was deprived. Nanci, who changed the “y” to “I” in the 60s to be cool :), had two good, upstanding parents, a stable home life, and plenty to eat.

I honestly don’t get it. I have been disgusted by it for most of my adult life. I am embarrassed to sit down to dinner most nights. It’s too much. But it get’s weirder of course…

During my childhood, Mom told me not to eat too much because I would get fat, all while providing more food than any one person should ever eat. She was particularly invested in my breast size, repeatedly offering to pay for reduction surgery, even though I repeatedly told her, “No way!” So eating too much would make me fatter but Mom kept laying out the spread anyway. And you can’t turn it down. She takes it very personally if you don’t eat what she has cooked. Jesus, watch out if you don’t appreciate it. A common refrain is, “Jenny, why can’t you just say ‘thank you’!” So I’m a bad daughter if I DON’T eat it and I’m a fat daughter if I DO! What the hell is the right choice here?

See, Dad’s hang-ups make sense to me. Plus, he acknowledges them somewhat, even though he seems incapable of changing them. Mom’s weirdness over food makes NO SENSE. Why do we need so much? Why does she need us to be so fawning and grateful? Why can’t she acknowledge it’s about her needs, not ours? And most importantly, why can't she make the connection between the volume of food and the obesity that plagues us. It baffles me.

But not as much as the true psycho of the family…

1 comment:

  1. Is it possible your mom's need for abundance of food is a reaction to not having enough growing up? Now that she can afford to have a lot, she does?
    As for you not being grateful/not eating - I would just address it head on: Mom, I'm grateful for you cooking, but I'm trying to lose weight, so I need to change my eating habits."
    And you can add in the old "it's not you, it's me" line if that helps ;-)