It’s enough to make a grown man cry, diets that seem to scream at each other. Mostly, I don’t understand. I recognize, though, that opinions swing widely, depending on who is asked—and when. Supermarket isles are blanketed with ads trumpeting high proteins and low carbohydrates, and shoppers squint at the small print, focusing on fat content, yea, even different kinds of fat. In kitchens across the land, cooks are treading a fine line, trying to keep recipes both appetizing and nourishing.
For the majority of us content to graze on whatever is presented—not unlike the cattle on a thousand hills—food is, well, a detail—not a major issue. I’ve rarely fretted about food. My wife knows that she is welcome to eat liver—beef or chicken—as often as she likes—as long as it is in the next county.* Same thing goes for lemon pie. Whatever else, bring it on….
With certain groups, however, food is a very big deal. I shudder to think what would happen if cafeteria diners throughout the nation—yes, include the colleges—combined voices with persons residents of jails, prisons, care centers and hospitals. Now that would be coalition to be dealt with.
Yes, even now, millions of people dream of food like Momma used to make, even though the mommas of our land never made food nearly as good as we remember. We sometimes have living color memories of black and white food….
No doubt the US Postal Service would cost us bill-mailers even more if not for "care packages" from home dispatched to colleges, military posts and other places where most food is viewed as being less than imaginative. Such mailings may indeed delay swelling disapproval of "institutional food." Within seconds of such packages being torn open, recipients are surrounded by a host of friends they didn’t know they had….
Who among us has not referred to "mystery meat?" In our county, where a new food contract for the jail is a multi-million dollar deal, an inmate referred to the Salisbury steak as something that wants to be sirloin. Friday—burrito day—seems to be the dining highlight of the week.
Our high sheriff remembers that in 1980, a typical meal was a 29-cent chicken potpie and a glass of water. Now, the county pays $1.04 per meal. "We don’t want them to like the food so much they don’t want to leave," Sheriff Dee Anderson observed.
College students, some whom see themselves as inmates, are at the point of the semester when menus are memorized. They know which meals to skip, and are keen observers of dining clues. One student, showing his parents around the campus, was surprised when they wanted to eat dinner in the cafeteria. Upon entry, he froze, saying, "Not tonight." His parents didn’t understand. "When I spot four knives in the peanut butter, it is not a good night for the cafeteria," he observed….
A detail or not, food ranks right up there with the weather in being talked about. "Chew each bite 28 times. Take all you want; eat all you take. The best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Food for thought." Oh, the list is much, much longer….
East Texas storyteller Bob Murphey tells about a father intent on his son marrying a "working woman." The young man wasn’t sure how he would know….
"Go over to her house early of a morning, and learn whether her mother is a working woman," Bob says, "You won’t even need to go in the house. Just go out back by the woodpile, and if there’s biscuit dough hanging from the axe handle, there’s a working woman there…."
At our house, there were plenty of balanced meals when the kids are coming along. They were prepared, on balance, regularly and with loving care. Now, we eat when we’re hungry, and often are "on our own." Remember, food is a detail. There are always left-overs. Frozen dinners abound in the freezer. And, restaurant row is only a mile away…. Also, it is fully understood that when I want a hot breakfast, it’s mighty easy to put the bran flakes in the microwave….
Dr. Newbury is a Fort Worth author/speaker/columnist. His column appears in more than 125 newspapers. He welcomes comments and inquiries. Send email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 817-447-3872. Website: www.speakerdoc.com
*Household aromas can be misleading. In our early years of marriage, a few minutes before I came home, Brenda sprayed furniture polish on her hands so she could smell like she’d been working….