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My mom grew up on a farm and after retirement my grandparents kept a kitchen garden and chickens. We always had a garden and until my father died when I was 12, we “put up” all our food for the winter through water canning and cold storage in the basement. Now 68 years later, in this garden called California I have come back to my “roots”. I grow food year round in 2 community garden plots and use my own home made compost instead of commercial fertilizers. Last year I produced 70 lbs of tomatoes from a 3x8 row, all by organic sustainable methods. And I teach by example. More and more people in my neighborhood have joined the garden after tasting my produce and visiting the garden. Free growing advice is cheerfully given! Let us make more community gardens and people’s grocery stores everywhere. Young and old together, we can make the earth and ourselves healthy and beautiful, one garden at a time! Plant something you can eat today!
Growing up with my two sisters in a small apartment by the sea in Pacific Grove, CA frozen french toast was considered a special breakfast and for some reason completely beyond me the combination of frozen pizza and french fries was a go-to dinner if my dad stopped by the store on the way home from work. Vegetables were always around but they were almost always frozen and overcooked to an ambiguous green-orange mess since that was the way my dad liked them, having grown up on mushy canned stuff as a kid in Philly. Sometimes my mom would take us on the bus to the Farmers’ Market where we’d treat ourselves to berries in the summer. My mom made most meals, would score us mangoes into “hedgehogs,” would draw or paint elaborate scenes on our brown paper lunch bags, and would never get us Gushers or Fruit Roll-ups like we wanted, but it’s the meals my dad cooked that I remember most.
Typically traditional, my dad cooks three times a year- it used to be four until I took over Thanksgiving in a Food Network-inspired tirade- and occasionally bakes an incredibly elaborate cake. Every year for as long as I can remember he’s cooked a traditional Polish meal for Christmas Eve, roast “beast” (a la The Grinch) for Christmas dinner, and a lasagna or two for New Years. He grew up in a working-class Irish/Polish household and, despite having his Polish grandmother and all her recipes around, would have Mrs. T’s pierogies, kielbasa, Manischewitz latkes, and frozen lima beans- with sour cream, apple sauce, and a wafer from the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa. Tradition on a budget. And so this is the tradition he wanted to instill in us, and we’ve had it every year of my entire life. If we didn’t, I think the world would end. The meal hasn’t deviated at all, not with a change in family income, not with knowledge or incentive to make these dishes from scratch, not with dietary restrictions (though one year I made vegan latkes for myself, and this year we fried the pierogies in olive oil instead of butter).
My Nana keeps a box of Mrs. T’s pierogies in her fridge year-round, but at my house they’re saved for Christmas Eve and Christmas Eve only. And I still refuse to eat frozen lima beans, and my dad still makes so. many.
I’ve been a vegetarian since I was born. When I tell people this I invariably get asked “so wait…never?” to which I could tell them about various sauces I didn’t realize had chicken stock in them or ramen that had pork broth but those are pretty boring. Usually I tell the story of how when I was 3 or 4 we were visiting my Aunt overseas.
I’m a vegetarian because my mother chose to raise me that way but her family was never really on board. Cooking has always been very important to them and the sorts of foods they cooked tended to contain meat.
Anyway, this time we were visiting we went to a meal where there was roast chicken. I was too young to know what that was. I don’t think I even knew that I was a vegetarian. My aunt capitalized on this and offered me some without telling my mom. Since this memory is very hazy I like to imagine my mom seeing this from across the room, the realization slowly spreading across her face as she begins a slow motion sprint knocking over family members and tables alike.
The end of the story is what you’d expect, I liked the chicken. From what I gather, everyone likes chicken. My mom was upset and my aunt said something like “but look he likes it!” and I never had chicken (knowingly) again.
I grew up in a lower middle class family of five. My Jamaican mother stayed at home. We lived on the salary from my Cajun father’s janitorial job in a bakery (meaning lots of German chocolate and pound cakes). I always knew what dinner would look like: Mondays were leftovers from Sunday, Tuesday was Wendy’s, Wednesday was Pizza Hut, Thursday was KFC, Friday was TV dinners, Saturday was McDonald’s, and Sunday was the only home-cooked meal, usually a Cajun dish made by my father (gumbo was a favorite). Thursday was also grocery day, where we loaded up on chocolate chip cookies, Twinkies, canned items, and other unhealthy supermarket staples. I was constantly sick. Luckily, the high school track team and its rigorous afternoon workouts provided a buffer. In the early 90s I was diagnosed with Meniere’s Syndrome, a condition that caused hearing loss and necessitates a low sodium diet, exercise, and overall healthy eating. I’m convinced my condition stemmed from and was compounded by horrendous eating habits. I hit rock bottom right around the time of my diagnosis, when massive dizzy spells left me incapacitated, and I knew I had to either change or continue suffering. Dramatic shifts are indeed possible—I now look forward to my new family’s weekly produce box from our CSA, visits to the local butcher, recipes sourced with organic fruits and vegetables, and feeling confident that another day can pass where nothing’s spinning. For me, food is personal, political, and medicinal.
Over the years I have been extremely fortunate to have access to many different types of food. Having that access allowed me an array of choices when it came to eating. After gaining 20 pounds the two years following high school I realized that although I had power to make choices when it came to food, I often chose fast food and junk food. About six months ago I had an overwhelming feeling to get healthy by exercising and eating right. I have lost 15 pounds so far and I feel so much better. By eating fruit, veggies, lean meats, and other healthy snacks I learned that having a choice is an amazing thing. By taking advantage of my power to chose I have transformed by body and will continue to live a healthy life.
I took a trip out to Pittsburg Pennsylvania to visit my cousins. My uncle owned a corner store there, and that was what I was really excited to get to! Over the next month that I was there the corner store became my life! I tried new things that my mom had never let me eat before! Not realizing that I was gaining weight by every bag of chips and soda that I consumed. By the time I left I had gained over 8 pounds!! This was a learning experience I will never forget. Now that I am older and wiser I take time to take into consideration what I put in my body before I just go "way too far". :)