I guess it’s a really big deal to some people of the culinary killjoy variety (like, say, my husband) that I’ve been in New York for almost two weeks and haven’t eaten a vegetable yet. Well, so what? I’ve been very busy.
We go out to restaurants, since it’s kind of like we are in restaurant heaven right now. Look north, look south, they’re everywhere. Thai, Middle Eastern, Italian, you name it. Every day when we arrive at a new one, I’m already very hungry and in a big hurry. When I’m in a big hurry, I can’t eat vegetables. They take too much time, what with pushing them around the plate like I was a three-year-old and hoping they’ll disappear.
Which is exactly why I almost spent the entire night at my maternal grandparents’ house when I was six, staring eyeball-to-eyeball with a nasty clump of fried okra.
“Your grandfather told you you could try it and spit it out if you didn’t like it,” my grandmother said. “That was nice of him.”
No, it wasn’t. I didn’t want that vile stuff in my mouth in the first place. I could already tell I wouldn’t like it, so why did I have to wreck my digestive system and tastebuds by proving it?
“You can go to bed now,” my grandmother said a couple of hours later. “You are a very stubborn little girl.”
The way she pronounced that word stubborn, I could tell it wasn’t a compliment. She preferred my other cousins, who were always cheerful and cleaned their plates and liked to wash dishes with her. My sister and I, both sullen bookworms and rumored slobs, were the least-favored grandchildren in the group. We didn’t even like to go swimming.
Anyway, with a childhood okra trauma like that, it’s little wonder I don’t like vegetables. When I get around to eating them, I like them all gussied up with cream sauce or cheese or Hollandaise so you don’t really know what you’re eating.
But being here, being surrounded by a jillion new restaurants, appetizers and entrees, puts an even greater strain on my occasional eating to-do list, which includes a gargantuan effort to try to eat at least one vegetable a week. I mean, I lurch into an Italian restaurant and what am I going to order? Broccoli or fettucine Alfredo? Or a Thai restaurant with broad, handmade noodles — or some worthless, stalky green thing I could probably cook myself, but never do.
“I don’t understand it,” says my husband, who is the kind of man capable of uttering a statement like, “I’m starving. I really want a carrot.” (I, too, am often starving, but never, ever for a carrot.) “How can someone not like vegetables?”
I would tell him the tragic and heartrending experience with my grandparents and okra and the scars I still have from that experience. But he’s heard it before. Every time I’ve told it to him, I can tell who he’s mentally siding with. It’s not me.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)
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