Watching a mother struggling to buy food her kids would eat in the grocery store the other day got my attention. We circled up and down the aisles together, her and her son pushing a cart (disagreeing over each item on the grocery list) while I followed (remembering how it was to shop with my young children) and sort of eavesdropped on and off until we reached the cookie aisle.
"Why can't I have these cookies?"
"Because they are filled with sugar," the mother said, and then grabbed a package of "good cookies" and handed them to her young son.
"They're supposed to have sugar, they are cookies," the aggravated child said while puffing out his bottom lip. "Those things taste like cardboard."
"They're good for you."
"Then you get nothing."
While I applaud the mother for standing her ground, I also agreed with the son. I thought briefly about mentioning a third option, making cookies from scratch, but decided to mind my own business and continued my shopping.
However, I admit the incident stayed with me.
Food used to taste good and knowing what to eat was easy.
Throughout human history, the question of what to eat was pretty much decided by what men (or strong-minded women) were able to use their hands (or a weapon) to kill whatever animal, fish or forage for vegetables to bring home for the family.
It was a simpler time, when the word "diet" wasn't a part of our vocabulary and what humanity ate wasn't determined by "so-called" expert advice.
I understand, and often agree, that some food choices we make are not good for us. Eating an entire half-gallon of chocolate chip ice cream is not a healthy choice, no matter how better you might emotionally feel afterward.
With the age of modern enlightenment, the food industry and nutritionists have interfered so much with our thoughts about food that some people cringe at the idea of a trip to the grocery store.
Supposedly, all the years of professional, scientific nutritional advice was intended to make society healthier.
Yet, sooner or later, the health studies telling us to not eat that and eat this instead gets blown away by a newer health study that says they are both bad.
Remember how we weren't supposed to eat sugar? Now you can have it, but only in moderation. Guess what, my grandmother used to say that all the time about any food item that we ate.
"No matter what you think, Ivella Sue, you don't need four toasted peanut butter and banana sandwiches," she'd tell me when I was a child. "I think your eyes are bigger than your tummy."
Many people are so fixated with the struggle to count calories, carbs and fat grams of this or that food item that eating has become a chore. Miserable, and often confused, they end up afraid to enjoy eating a meal with family and friends. They hide themselves away, often binging on whatever they can find or order from a drive-thru restaurant, feeling remorse, guilt and alienated from the world.
This is the age of convenience and it's created a sedentary and alienated society.
Automobiles take us everywhere, even around the corner. Elevators and escalators take away the need to walk up staircases. Televisions, computers and videogames entertain us for hours in one chair. Even the invention of cordless phones and remote controls mean we don't have to make much of an effort to change channels or to interact with others.
Overworked because they need to pay for their conveniences that over-entertaining them, people are exhausted and often too tired to cook or enjoy the taste of their food.
A dining experience should be about the joy of community. People should experience the pleasure of spending time and connecting with loved ones, whether in jubilation or times of sorrow.
My grandmother insisted that people needed to share and enjoy the taste and sensations of food together.
"You don't have time to overeat when you're reminiscing with friends and family. There's too much of living life in those moments to worry about the food," Grandma Iva would say. "You can relax and enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes of the moment. Sharing the food becomes part of the experience, part of the memory."
If you ask me, there couldn't be truer words.
Although she died several years before the birth of my children, I've always known that Grandma Iva stood next to me while I've cooked every meal for my family. She's been present at every family and social get together our family has been a part of. My children know her because of our shared experiences over breakfast, lunch, dinner and many late night snacks.