Growing up there was a food rule in our house. We could pick two foods we didn’t like. After that we ate what Mama Alice and Papa Joe decided. This menu included some great foods like pesto and some undesirables ones like overdone, unseasoned broccoli and salt-free lentil soup.
My father’s response when we reminisced the other day was, “You could have salted the lentil soup yourself. It was an available condiment.” Then he motioned like he was extending an imaginary saltshaker to me and said, “Here. Have a ball for yourself.” (Aside: Have a ball for yourself is a Papa Joe signature expression.)
For most of my childhood we were meat-free with an occasional fish or poultry guest appearance. My mother made everything from scratch including some scrumptious soy burgers and tasty hummus, tabouleh feasts. This choice made my parents unpopular at home rarely and unpopular in the outside world constantly. They were bona fide weirdos. No meat? Blasphemy. No sugar? When I say freak you say show.
I watched my mother combat her in-laws, her friends, my friends’ parents, the know-it-all passerby, and her children. (Aside: Mostly we were on board but have you heard of these things called Pop Tarts? When I was 8 I wanted some of THAT!)
Unpopularity is not synonymous with isolation or segregation. Conversely it isn’t a license to feel superior. My mother struck a balance of holding onto her ideals while graciously accepting others’ right to disagree. She never pushed her ideas on anyone and she never asked for permission.
My parents’ decision by association made me unpopular. Those times spent arguing on the schoolyard about Jello containing animal bones prepared me for a lifetime of daring to be unpopular. At the same time her choice never prevented me from doing something I wanted to do. It just meant that when I was doing it I couldn’t eat until my mommy brought my tofu hot dogs to the party.
I’m so grateful my mother cared enough to bring me my ‘weird’ food. The older I get the more I see how valuable an experience that was. Daring to be unpopular empowers you to live a life you truly love. You are free to be yourself. Based on my experience and some informal independent research it doesn’t hurt to have a good sense of humor and pureness of heart.
Ok maybe now that 60 percent of the population is overweight and health food is all the rage my parents are entitled to a giant “I told you so.” However, humility is a virtue Mama Alice valued dearly.