My grandma spoke through her food.
She spoke of her love, respect and trauma. My grandma grew up in poverty in Tennessee during the Great Depression. She knew the value of having food and the disappointment of not having food. Every part of every animal and crop served a purpose. You didn’t just throw out parts of a cow, when you knew the value and desperation of hunger.
She shared some of these same values with my mother, who then instilled them into me and my sister. Growing up in poverty like my grandma did, my mom did and then I did, gives you a different perspective on food. I remember hearing stories of Santa bringing gifts of oranges and new blue jeans to my grandma’s generation. You ate what you had an abundance of – usually livestock and vegetables, and fruits like oranges were a treat.
My grandma was pulled out of school at an early age — I believe third grade — to help pick cotton in the fields. The food she ate was to sustain her for a long day of work. Typically unappealing food was disguised by being battered and fried; those recipes handed down from generation to generation.
I can still smell my grandma’s kitchen — a mix of grease, fresh garden vegetables and spices. No matter who walked in, she offered her food to you. I’d hear the same, “Are you hungry? Do you want another plate of food? What can I fix you?” every time I visited. I learned great and not great food habits from my grandma.
Some of the good habits — it’s a sign of respect to not eat in front of visitors before offering them some food. Meals should be shared around the table. Be thankful for the food you have. Always thank the person who cooked your meal.
Some of the bad habits — eat everything on your plate, no matter if you’re full or not. Don’t turn down food if it’s offered. Fried food is a staple. A meal should include a meat, two sides and always a piece of bread, cornbread or a biscuit.
From my grandma’s generation to mine, we became a lot more sedentary. We didn’t spend hours in the field doing manual labor, but sat inside watching cartoons, but those meals somehow stayed the same, because they still spoke the same message – “I love you. What I have is yours.”
It’s strange to think that my grandma’s generation feared starvation while our generation fears childhood obesity. According to the Minnesota Department of Health the U.S. obesity rate for ages 10-17 is 15.8%. It’s hard to change healthy habits the older we become, so by encouraging healthy habits for youth, lifelong health behaviors can happen. For example, my grandma lived her whole life eating the way she did during the Depression, which led to heart disease and obesity later in life. Because of the food my mom grew up eating, she also has had a struggle with her weight in adulthood.
It’s difficult to separate the love and memories we have with food and knowing what our body needs. I still crave some of those foods my grandma made for me, even though they are unhealthy, because they remind me of her and her love. But it’s my choice to emotionally separate myself from the food I eat, which isn’t always easy.
Tips for Making Better Food Choices:
Enjoy your food but eat less
Load up your plate with healthy fruits and vegetables
Use less fats, salt and sugar
Try healthier alternatives to the foods your love
Be active whenever you can