My mother was ahead of her time when it came to nutrition. She achieved the now surely impossible feat of not introducing us to sweets until after we started school, whereas my own girls’ junk food education started at approximately 9 months old. (Although maybe if she had still been alive then, I might have held off for longer.)
Even when at school, visits to the corner shop in search of sugar fixes were strictly rationed to once a week, on a Saturday. She was an advocate of whole food for as long as I can remember, although I’m sure she had an unfair advantage over most people, being as involved as she was in the folk scene. Even her (home-made) pizza bases were wholewheat. Her piece de resistance was becoming a vegetarian when I was about 14, thereby automatically converting the entire family since no one else was willing (or particularly able) to cook.
Of course, I’m not saying that I entirely appreciated this state of affairs. If I had to face one more buckwheat pancake I think I would throw up, and despite being the only remaining vegetarian of my family, at the time I was the last one to give up my sausage rolls and pork chops. In fact, I do think there have been some serious downsides to her zealous approach, namely my barely controlled addiction to all things chocolate, caused, I am utterly convinced, by unnatural deprivation in my childhood.
At the age of 11, on starting secondary school, my mother rather unwisely decided I was old enough to manage my own money and so would give me £5 a week pocket money to include my school dinners. Had she a grave, she would be turning in it when I confess that this ration was spent almost in its entirety in the school tuck shop quite methodically at £1 a day (at least I didn’t blow it all on the first day; I was after all my mother’s daughter). I still cannot fathom how I avoided obesity and even more miraculously how my first cavity did not occur until well into my 20s by which time I had progressed from the school tuck shop to the ubiquitous worker’s one.
That aside, however, I now realise she was a forerunner of today’s organic mother, trying to feed her offspring as healthily as is humanly possible without actually raising your own livestock à la The Good Life. Although organic was likely an unknown word to her then, she certainly took on the principles of cooking from scratch with the best possible ingredients – and when I say best I mean unaltered from their natural state rather than sourced from an obscure hamlet in deepest North Wales. To her, anything from the freezer other than frozen vegetables was ‘junk food’, lemonade was just for special treats (ok, trips to the pub) and Coke was simply off the menu. The only time a Mars bar was ever allowed in the house was when my brother (a diabetic but energetic exerciser) was around and then they were practically treated as his medication. Such was my respect for my mother that I can honestly say I never touched one of those Mars bars.
The irony is that although I naturally rebelled against my mother’s nutritional peculiarities (as I thought them at the time), of course now all I want to do is feed my own precious charges the healthiest food possible – wholemeal everything, tons of fruit and veg, and of course oily fish at least once a week, despite the fact that neither Nick or I eat any fish at all, oily or otherwise. I somehow feel that, no matter what other mistakes I may make in the course of their upbringing, nutrition is something that is relatively easy to ‘get right’. In theory, that is.
Of course, the practice is very different, as any parent will tell you. Children have their own specific ideas of what a balanced diet consists of; in my opinion formed in the womb and based on whatever their hapless swollen host can manage to ingest in a futile attempt to stave off the horrid empty sick feeling one gets during early pregnancy. Needless to say in my case it was generally chocolate in some form or other, so I suppose I really shouldn’t be surprised that Alice’s most common refrain is “can I have something from the cupboard?” (said cupboard being the home for their and my respective hoards).
I try to emulate my mother, I really do, but I’m afraid I’m just not as disciplined as she was – either with myself or my girls – and so the occasional sugar-loaded snack does make its way past their lips, I admit. But hopefully if tempered with a good helping of healthy stuff they will grow up with a balanced approach to and sound appreciation of food, which after all is probably the best one can strive for.
Now where did I hide the Green & Blacks…?