Readers’ Corner: The influence of foods from childhood

Marge Wang

By Marge Wang
For Northwest Asian Weekly

We all prefer or avoid certain foods. Such behavior can probably be traced to our childhood when we were first introduced to foods that made lasting impressions. These foods often trigger a flood of memories. For example, French author Marcel Proust rhapsodizes about the madeleines (cookies) that he ate when he was a little boy.

Many of us can claim happy memories of foods from childhood, whether it is grandma’s potstickers, Mrs. Johnson’s ginger bread, or Uncle Lee’s spicy barbecue ribs.

Today, we hear many reports about the alarming increase in obesity among children in the United States. This could be attributed to their sedentary lifestyle of watching TV and/or playing computer games. Blame could also be placed on their daily diet that consists largely of fast food and junk food. Parents may know about the importance of healthy and balanced diets, but they often fail to use fresh vegetables and fruits in meal preparations. Oh, maybe they occasionally serve iceberg lettuce smothered in rich dressings. Or, they serve canned vegetables that are mostly mushy, stringy, and salty. No wonder many children hate veggies!

For families who do serve balanced diets, there are often the inappropriate foods used as rewards or punishments. Children are promised certain foods that are usually sweet (like cookies, candies, and ice cream) for good behavior. Conversely, food is used as punishment: “You cannot leave the table until you eat all the green beans.” All of this could foster bad eating habits. Former U.S. Surgeon General Everett Koop has said that 70 percent of all Americans are dying from diseases that are directly tied to their eating habits.

Sometimes, we crave foods that have comforted us in our childhood. These are usually “uncomplicated” foods like chicken soup, pudding, or mashed potatoes. In the case of my sister Sally, it was xi-fan or rice porridge that is typically served for a Chinese breakfast or as a soothing remedy for an upset stomach.

Sally was happily married to a Frenchman, and together, they raised two sons in Paris. Sad to say, at age 54, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. During her final days when she could not eat anything, she poignantly asked for some xi-fan. Her husband rushed to their favorite Chinese restaurant where the chef felt insulted at the request for this simple food. No such thing on his acclaimed and extensive menu!

However, one of the Chinese waiters offered to have his wife make it at home. He delivered it to the hospital the next day. Sally smiled when the aroma of the rice porridge permeated her room. She could take only a few spoonfuls, but that was enough to make her feel content and comforted.

How intense the influence of foods from childhood can be! As adults, we may have changed and embraced new diets, but we continue to be affected nutritionally, socially, and emotionally by these foods. Perhaps this is something to keep in mind if we want the younger generations to associate us in a positive way with foods that are “good for you.” ♦

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