My Family (a long time ago)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Poor Starving Kids

Another post in a series on Famous Family Sayings

Sometimes you make a meal and it just doesn’t turn out how you thought it would. There have been times my wife and I made something that sounded great, but the outcome didn’t match the expectations. We made Thai food once and it was good, but we thought we’d change a few things and it would be better. Unfortunately, it wasn’t, nobody really liked it and we threw most of it away.

There are times my kids don’t really want what we’re having for dinner. When they were younger, they had to have at least a little of everything, otherwise they would have lived on Mac and Cheese, chicken nuggets, peanut butter sandwiches and Cheerios. We didn’t guilt them out over not eating a lot of the food; we just told them that there was no dessert if they didn’t eat the spoonful of whatever we put on their plates. Seriously, one spoonful of green beans is not a lot, especially if dessert is on the line. Now that they’re teenagers, if they don’t like what we’re having for dinner, they can make something for themselves. They’re fully capable of cooking for themselves without burning down the house.

When I was a kid, there were a few meals that I just didn’t like and did what I could to get out of eating. My all-time least favorite meal was liver and onions. I guess it was one of my father’s favorites, so even though we only had it every once in a while, it was too often. I’d complain that it was too dry and I couldn’t chew it. Mom would say to cut it into smaller pieces. I’d complain that I didn’t like the taste of it. Mom would say it tastes just like steak if you put ketchup on it. I’d complain that I didn’t like the way it looked, or smelled… or something. Mom would say to mix it in with my mashed potatoes. If any of us complained too long or too loud, she brought out the line that told us the complaining was over: “There are starving kids in Biafra who would love to have what you’re having!”

Biafra? I had never heard of Biafra, except from Mom. I used to think, “Wait a second, is that even a real place?” Usually, one of us would say, “There’s no such place as Bee-afra.” Sometimes, one of us would get bold and would even dare to say, “Then send it to them!” To which the reply was usually something to the effect of “Be quiet, be thankful you have food to eat and eat your supper.” And that was the end of that.

Much to my surprise, I found out years later that Biafra really did exist, at least for a little while. I also found out that a lot of people my age got the “There are starving people in…” line from their parents. For some, it was China, or Africa, or Cambodia. One or two even got Biafra, so my mother wasn’t alone. All of us had the same kind of (mostly) silent reaction, which was to send whatever meal it was to those people and let us have something we like.

As I got a little older, I often wondered what mothers in other countries told their kids. Did they have the same set of poor starving countries, or did they have a different set? Maybe kids in England heard about poor starving kids in India; kids in France heard about poor starving kids in Bangladesh; kids in Switzerland or Sweden heard about poor starving kids in Russia. Who knows, maybe kids in Russia heard about poor starving kids in America as a propaganda tool. Wherever you grew up, there were always poor starving kids somewhere else who would just love to eat what you were having for dinner – without complaining.

But I think that was a lie. Maybe we should have sent those meals to poorer countries and just watched what happened. I can just picture those poor kids having to eat liver and onions three or four times a week from all the American kids who didn’t like it, maybe with beets or brussel sprouts. I can just hear the kids saying, “NOT LIVER AND ONIONS AGAIN! I’m NOT eating that. It’s DISGUSTING! And these beets look like hardened BLOOD!” Their Mom would look at them with that hurt face and say, “There are nice people in America who sacrificed to send that to us. You’ll eat it and you’ll LIKE IT! Now put some ketchup on it, if you don’t like the taste. Then you’ll know what steak tastes like!”

If they had to choose between liver and onions or going to bed hungry, I’d put my money on them going to bed hungry. I would have if I had the choice, but I didn’t, and that’s probably why I still don’t eat liver, with or without onions. I’d rather eat a peanut butter sandwich. That way I could still have dessert.

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