Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Food for Thought

My early childhood was impactful.  I was born in Russia where I lived for the first five years of my life.   I lived in poverty and food was scarce. Much of what food I ate came from the earth.  I remember pulling turnips, gathering eggs and drinking warm cow milk. When there was food, it was greatly valued and appreciated. Nothing was wasted. There were no scraps left unused. My early experiences with food laid a foundation for my current values.

Just before I left my birth country with my new adoptive family, in the home of our hosts in Moscow, we celebrated

my American grandmother's birthday. It was then that I began to learn that food is something that can be not only appreciated for its nutritional value, but also something that is a part of tradition and celebration. I felt proud to present my babushka with a traditional Russian cake that was hand-crafted by our Russian host family.  In addition to the special cake at our host's home, we later celebrated my gramma's birthday at a dacha, a country farm where family and friends meet, make small-talk and enjoy each others' company. On this day in particular, I had a chance to try something new.  It was something delectable, something that I would learn to love from that moment on. I experienced chocolate for the first time. I was so excited at the delicious taste of this rich sweet candy.  These foods exposed me to desserts and special treats that I'd never experienced before.  I left with memories of special food related to special celebrations.

In Russia it was customary to present departing guests with a gift of remembrance. I received a large, hand-crafted Khokhloma spoon from the people at the dacha. It is special to me still today. Every time I look at it, it makes me smile, and remember my very early childhood. That means a lot to me. 

Once I arrived at my new home in America, I quickly realized my opportunity to experience so many more wholesome new foods. Not only did my American mom prepare recipes  (such as borscht and shchi) to help me remember my Russian heritage and the Russian culture, but we had seemingly endless amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, some of which I had never tasted before.  I appreciated everything and enjoyed eating them all. There was something about that produce that was just unexplainably delicious. It may have partly been a result of having had such a limited amount of wholesome food when I was a young child, but I believe that I simply had grown to love good fresh food.  Furthermore, since food had been such a high commodity in Russia, I felt the desire to eat all that was put in from of me. Most importantly I thoroughly enjoyed every bite I ate.

My value for healthy foods has stayed consistent as I have grown older. For instance, as a child, when I  had the opportunity to lick cookie batter from the beater, I would have declined.  I would much rather have preferred something more healthy and sustainable, for example, picking chicken off of a stewed chicken bone. This is a preference I still hold true today.

Good wholesome food has stayed important to me. I understand it. I've learned about it.  I value it. But there is something that I have never been able to grasp, something that has bothered me for a long time. One day shortly after I had arrived in America, I was at a store and I picked up piece of fruit. I touched it. I looked at it, turning it in my hands. I smelled it. I tried to eat it. It was odd. I asked my mom, "What is it?  I don't understand?" She told me, "It's plastic fruit." This concept of plastic food simply perplexed my mind. I could not understand why someone would make such a thing. As a child fresh fruit was a  rare thing to come by, and to buy plastic fruit was just inconceivable to me. There is still question in my mind today, "Why?" It makes little sense.  The answer still eludes me. I can only explain by suggesting, if the desire is to have decoration, why not buy fresh fruit and put it in a basket and use that instead?"
I truly realize how important food is to me today, and how it has shaped what I value. Coming from poverty, I have learned that appreciating what I have is important. I don't take what I eat for granted, rather I give it serious consideration. Honestly, I doubt that I will ever place a bowl of plastic fruit upon my table. Rather I would always choose to have a bowl of fresh and delicious apples, oranges, bananas and pears.

No comments:

Post a Comment