Of the few childhood memories I have retained, I can easily dissect each one and find within some pivotal moment or life lesson that played an instrumental role in forging my identity. That time I waited too long to audition for the school play and had to join the chorus. The day I got my driver’s permit. Waiting in line all night for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
It’s amazing – perhaps a little suspicious – how many of my most crucial memories feature food in a starring role (though Harry Potter won “best supporting actor”). My relationship with food has shaped so many stages of my life. Any child growing up in a household full of strong dietary preferences would likely agree (and I’m looking at you, vegetarian-since-birth Riley). When I misbehaved, it wasn’t my computer privileges that were taken away, but my “snack privileges”. Our plates and palettes resisted meats, processed foods, sugar, salt, artificial additives, (fun,) grains, and second helpings. We (my sister and I) were instructed to eat slowly in order to allow the stomach to realize it was full. I once wrote an award-winning essay about my mom’s cooked vegetables.
My food habits played a pervasive role in my life and development, as my sister and I took our parents’ lessons exceedingly seriously. I can vividly remember tailing my father throughout Jimbo’s supermarket as a grade-schooler, holding two pints of ice cream to ask which was healthier. This was a maddening task, as he would coolly reply, over and over, “Neither is healthy. They’re both ice cream.” Eventually, I learned to ask, “Which is less unhealthy?” to which he would finally reply, “the second.” Cracking this code makes my top-ten list of “reasons I might one day be pushed to criminal insanity.”
This childhood battle to earn favor lasted for years. I can recall learning in school about the merits of fruits and vegetables, promptly going home, and eating eight clementines from the garden. At dinner, I expected that my parents would swoon over my healthiness – I mean, I must have been radiating vitamin C at that point, right? – and they swiftly instructed me that a variety of food groups are necessary for maintaining a healthy diet.
In the end, I’m sure that my present good health can be attributed to the teachings of my parents. At times, however, the cost has felt severe. I often suspect that the benefits of the healthy eating habits I adopted have been partially compromised by the negative effects of stressing over my diet. My sister developed Orthorexia (an anxiety motivated by the desire to eat overly healthily), which impacted her happiness, friendships, and self-esteem. Another memory that sticks out in my mind is from the day I did poorly on a test, got a comfort milkshake on the way home, and spent the rest of the night thinking about what my Mom and Dad would say if they found out.
I frequently wonder how the effects of home-taught health habits vary from family to family. What could my family have done differently to foster a more positive relationship with healthy eating? Is a parent’s first duty to promote the happiness of their child, or the health? In my case, health undoubtedly came first, and the happiness was something that I had to teach myself.
Hopefully, the thoughts I keep in this blog will help me concretize my relationship with not only health, but with how individuals regard health, how health habits shape our identities, and how I can encourage my own (non-existent) children to make healthy eating choices and feel satisfied by those choices.
After all the molding and instruction on behalf of my parents, I didn’t end up perfect, and still sometimes find myself in the frozen section wondering which of these two ice creams is just a little less unhealthy.
Image obtained from morellisicecream.com