Growing up Food Secure with a Legacy of Hunger

February 2, 2009 § 7 Comments

blog_lisaLisa Goddard
Advocacy and Online Marketing Director

My earliest memories with my father always centered on food. It wasn’t so much about what I ate, but how I ate it. Dinner was more than a moment of consumption – it was a performance. He would beam when I would clear my plate and ask for seconds, or use my knife and fork to ensure every last morsel of meat was cleaned from a bone. I was scolded as being “scornful” if I chose not to consume the un-pretty parts of meat, such gristle, slightly burnt or fatty pieces.

He, on the other hand, relished eating. Fat was for flavor. Bones, as long as they were soft enough, were consumed. And he always ate fast, starting on seconds before the rest of the family was finished with their first plate. Wanting to please my father, like most children do, I emulated his eating habits.

Scarborough, Tobago

Scarborough, Tobago

Meat was not a treat for him but a requirement for a well-rounded dinner. It was my mom’s charge to ensure we had one yellow and green vegetable on our plates. On the occasional weekends when my mom was at her second or third job, he would purchase a fatty steak and broil it for breakfast, serving it with fresh Italian bread from the local bakery to sop up the juices. I think it was his way of compensating for the lack of family time so my brother and I could enjoy a good education and the occasional vacation trip.

In my adulthood, my conversations with my dad often center on food. Trips down memory lane are not of a destination, but a special meal. He loves to share his cooking achievements with a play-by-play of the seasonings used and detailed descriptions of preparation methods. He would ask what’s for dinner right after eating breakfast. When he visits me in Austin, his face lights up when we take a trip to Whole Foods or Central Market because, according to him, “The meat sections are so pretty.”

As I got older, I began to understand the connection between his eating habits and what seemed to be an obsession with meat. You see, my father grew up poor in rural Tobago in the early 1940’s. Even with the chicken farm he was charged to tend to, he often went without food, or was limited to a diet of eggs. He recalls the embarrassment of passing out in school because he only had eggs or nothing to eat. On the very few occasions that meat was available for him to eat, he would keep the bone in his pocket to suck on from time to time, ensuring every last morsel of nutrition was consumed.

It’s sometimes difficult for me to listen to his stories of poverty and food insecurity as a sadness and shame consumes his face. In his mind, he has transcended poverty and lack of education, and enjoys a comfortable retirement in Miami with his wife of 37 years. But I know from my own childhood and the conversations we have to this day, that there is a lasting affect from experiencing poverty and childhood hunger. He still cannot eat slowly and exhibits disordered eating from time to time. He still watches how his family eats. He still exhibits an anxiety about having enough food for those unexpected guests dropping by. I now understand how his childhood hunger influenced personal relationships with food as I try to remind myself to eat slowly.

This year’s legislative focus on childhood nutrition is not just part of my “job” but a personal mission to do what’s right for the innocent and vulnerable members of society. I can’t help but think of my own father, and the physical and emotional toll food insecurity has taken on his life. This is not rural, post-colonial Tobago in the 1940s. There is no legitimate reason for children in Texas to be hungry and malnourished.

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§ 7 Responses to Growing up Food Secure with a Legacy of Hunger

  • Nice post Lisa. I too grew up with food insecurity and have eatin’ a bit too much “carne” in my adulthood. Now I try to eat a taco balanced diet with lost of veggies! 😉 Give ’em hell at the Capitol!

    Check out my reflections on poverty on my Care2 blog: http://www.care2.com/causes/civil-rights/blog/poverty-the-recession/

    Mando

  • A Friend says:

    Enjoyed reading your post, Lisa. It’s interesting how much we are shaped by simple childhood experiences. As one who grew up in a household that was just above the poverty level, I can relate to the food insecurity issue. My sisters and brother and I thought that spaghetti – with a very, very small amount of hamburger in it – was a great treat! Meat was something we just didn’t eat much of growing up, and once I became an adult I realized it was because it’s so expensive. Ditto fresh vegetables. I think the only vegetables we ate that didn’t come from a can were potatoes and the occasional tomato. Beets? Broccoli? Brussels sprouts? Squash? Never had them growing up, much to the surprise of my husband who lived in a stable household with enough income to provide for these goodies. I still try to eat every bite on my plate whether or not I’m hungry. There’s just something about wasting food that bothers me. And it bothers me that we have such abundance but that so many go without. I don’t know the answer to the problem but I’m glad that you and others at CAFB are trying to bring this issue to the forefront so that we can try to solve it.

  • pittsburghcurly says:

    I enjoyed this. It made me think of my grandmother who grew up during the Depression. She would tell stories of how she and her family grew their own food in their little garden so they wouldn’t starve, and how they had to guard it. She always went overbaord with guests and always had too much food to give us grandkids.

    I has wondered if she was still over-compensationg from her youth, and your post reminds me how childhood experiences with food can shape us even into middle and old age.

  • Sarah says:

    Great post, Lisa! Food insecurity is such a huge issue for so many people in this world, especially children.
    Thanks for sharing your story!
    http://www.mealsonwheelsandmore.org/blog

  • Lisa Goddard says:

    Thank you all for your comments. This disordered eating and unhealthy emotional relationship with food is something I’ve seen over and over again in people close to me. Without revealing too much personal information about them, I’ve seen these people hide food in their bedrooms, in their clothing, take extras “home for the dog” when I know they couldn’t bear to see food waste and other such things.

    Now that I’m a bit older and my metabolism has slowed down, I see how it has impacted my ability to maintain a proper weight. I’m fortunate to be food secure and have the knowledge and tools to make the necessary changes.

    Many studies link obesity to depression & stress – something I’m sure people living in food insecure households deal with on a regular basis.

    These are the stories our legislative community needs to hear.

  • Vince Ashwill says:

    Wow Lisa, what an amazing post. Beautifully written.

  • Kevin Taylor says:

    You made me think we have to instill solid nutrition in the youth of today. There are so many things a child needs to be educated in when it comes to nutrition and emotional eating. Thanks

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