Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Culture Clashes

My husband and I are one of those argumentative couples. We both like to argue, and whether it's politics, the media, fashion, who should sit next to who at a dinner party etc., it's bound to an active debate between the two of us.

But probably the biggest area of clashes revolves around food--both how we should eat and how to feed the kids.

I grew up in a somewhat unusual situation. My mother, most unusual for the 1960's, worked full time. My grandmother, who lived with us, actually raised my sisters and I and did all the cooking, cleaning etc.

My grandmother, being an Italian immigrant, cooked like an Italian immigrant. Everything was cooked from scratch, there was little meat, and most meals revolved around vegetables, beans, eggs and pasta. She also did the shopping and never brought home what she called "American Food" meaning boxes of processed cookies, cereals or candy.

This was, of course, the food my mother grew up with so she had no complaints. My father, the son of Italian immigrants, was substantially older than my mother (and was in fact only a few years younger than my grandmother), so it was also the food he was used to eating.

We never ate "dessert" in the traditional sense, other than on Saint's feast days, holidays or at a party. Our "dessert" consisted on my father bringing a bowl of food to the table every night, cutting and peeling that fruit, then distributing it amongst the rest of it.

Thus, the only time I was ever to eating steak for dinner or processed foods like Hamburger Helper was if I ate at somebody else's house. It was a huge treat to get chocolate pudding at a friend's house.

My husband, on the other hand, grew up in a Jewish household in a family that had been in this country for several generations already. He routinely ate meals like pot-roast, steak, and brisket. He says he couldn't remember a single meal growing up that dinner center around meat. Additionally, his mother kept boxes of sugary cereals, like Lucky Charms and Fruit Loops, in the pantry along with boxes of Chips Ahoy and Oreos. Candy was a frequent treat and no one regulated how much or when he ate.

Once I left home my diet "Americanized" somewhat in that I started buying and eating processed food. But I always seemed to focus on what was "healthy" and "natural." Once I started living with my husband, while I gave in and cooked meat more and more frequently, I still refused to buy what I thought of as processed "junk food." My husband, bought it for himself, because I didn't even want it in my home.

Now that we have children, the real culture clashes have begun, and though I was losing for a while, I think I'm finally making headway with my husband. My husband often takes the kids for ice cream (sorbet for my son who's allergic to milk), candy and other treats (like going to fast food restaurants which I abhor).

For years I've been arguing with him that he's doing his children no favors by filling them with junk, and that he makes it harder to introduce them to food that's good for them. Why eat a healthy plate of baked potato when you know Daddy will get you French fries tomorrow? His response has always been "They're kids, they should be able to eat like kids."

But I always say that what you teach your children now, carries over into adulthood. Why teach them bad eating habits now that they'll have to unlearn later?

Now that my husband is having his heart scare, he seems to be finally listening to me. Maybe finally, I can convince him to just stop buying the junk.


  1. I've been slow to come around to the idea that kids will benefit now and down the road by learning from us about eating more healthy. I think we just want our kids to be happy, but we're putting them in the same leaky boat we sailed on for way too long.

    Good post.

  2. Well my husband is one of those people who can eat anything and be thin as a rail, so he really doesn't get it. But, he's now got heart problems, and has to watch his diet.

  3. Yeah, it's a fine line to walk. My family's been in this country, both sides, for generations, but even the halfway decent food culture they grew up with is eroding. I don't want my kids to have too much of a "junk food is evil" philosophy for fear it might lead to eating disorders. On the other hand, it does unfortunately seem to be sort of evil. My vote (do I get one?) is to allow your food culture to prevail at home and let your husband to take the kids out for chocolate or ice cream occasionally.

  4. I really never thought that kids should eat any differently than adults! I

    I tend to agree with Larkspur. I'd ban the junk food cereal and cookies from the house.

    I have no problems with kids having cookies, as long as they're homemade. Anything homemade (even with white flour and white sugar) is better than the store bought stuff. I actually have no problem with them having a couple of cookies daily.

    As for Dad taking them for fast food...well, when I was a teenager my friends and I used to go to the equivalent of McDonald's or Burger King every Saturday afternoon. It was a weekly treat. Of course there was no supersized portions then.

    Everything in moderation...including moderation

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