In my case, that advice started coming when I was a mere toddler, and the truth of most of it didn’t hit me ’til about age 25; but in essence, I think that saying is about right. I’m 37 now, and not a week goes by that I don’t thank my mom for lecturing me on everything from the importance of good posture to the nutritional value of fresh, seasonal vegetables.
It was Mom who told me not to give a hoot what the popular girls at school thought of me. It was Mom who shook her head and said, “Those things will fill your brain with nonsense” when I turned into a Glamour, Cosmopolitan and Seventeen magazine junkie at age 10. It was Mom who taught me that money didn’t count for much when it came to creating a happy life, who said no to having a TV in the house, and who insisted I’d feel awful if I spent another perfectly beautiful afternoon cooped up indoors.
An accomplished farmer and gardener, my mom raised us on some amazingly good food — organic food grown right in our own backyard — and even if my sisters and I didn’t appreciate it at the time (we were too busy bemoaning the fact that we couldn’t eat TV dinners, Twinkies and sodas like everybody else), when I look back now, I realize how grateful I am for her insistence.
Mom wasn’t a hardcore food cop. She was all for homemade cookies, and a big fan of ice cream for dessert. But by feeding us every imaginable kind of vegetable prepared in every imaginable kind of way, I think she gave us a taste for them. And by showing us how beautiful honest food could be (Mom was famous for sprinkling edible flowers over nearly everything she served), she also helped us appreciate the pleasures of the table.
A few years ago, I was invited for a business lunch at Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’s legendary restaurant in Berkeley, Calif. I’d heard people express awe at the flavors and colors, the delectable preparations and the subtle synergies this restaurant created with locally grown, mostly organic produce and other high-quality ingredients. When my tomato salad arrived, sprinkled with fresh herbs and garnished with edible flowers, I had a moment of déjà vu. The smell, the look, the taste — it was the spitting image of what my mom had been plunking on the table most of my childhood. And which I, ungrateful wretch that I was, never fully appreciated.
Sorry, Mom! I can only hope there is still some pleasure in hearing “You were right” this late in the game.
In a way, I guess I’ve come full circle. Looking back on my rebellious high school junk-food phase, and my complacent college-food phase, and my dorky dieting phase, and seeing the much healthier and more enjoyable place I’ve come to now, I have to give my mom her props. If it weren’t for the fact that she introduced me to the foods she did when I was little, I don’t know if the transition back to them would have been so easy and rewarding for me. In fact, I sometimes shudder to think how I might have turned out.
So to all you parents out there, making airplane noises with forkfuls of butternut squash, or watching your little ones turn up their noses at the gorgeous produce you lovingly selected from the farmers’ market, I say take heart. Perhaps someday you will get a letter like this one from some grateful, healthy adult who now sees the error of her ways. In the meantime, I hope that in this issue of Experience Life you’ll find some inspiration and support toward making your family’s health — and your own health — a priority.