FOOD FANTASIES

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BY JOELLEN COLLINS

As I write my first sentence, I glance at a small bowl holding three cookies, look-alike Oreos filled with non-dairy cashew centers, good for my new focus on healthy diets for my upset esophagus, consisting of nothing interfering with this positive change. But they are NOT OREOS, so my writing-break snack won’t be as yummy as my tastebuds desire.

I do know some snacks are better than others: an apple, nuts and raisins, a slab of melon, help me focus on those, instead of Key lime pie, cheddar potato chips, coffee ice cream, Boursin cheese, and crème brûlée, ad nauseam.

All of this is OK, of course. I am lucky now to have such good food available: seeing images of starving children makes me pause in gratitude for my birthplace and fortunate life journeys. I can’t recall ever being so hungry that pangs weren’t filled in due time.

I just pulled out a puzzle my daughters and granddaughter worked on in August when they spent part of their vacation giving me joy. After camps, theater rehearsals, tennis lessons, bike riding and a quick dip in the frigid water of the nearby creek before dinner, they often sat down to laugh and talk while working a puzzle. This one chronicled my youthful era of available food products that we thought normal, minus the availability of purchasing good, healthy food for our families. My mother was a fabulous Swedish cook, one reason I miss homemade sweet coffee cake in the morning, but we did not have access to or perhaps think about including more healthy vegetables and proteins.

Our summer task was to put 1000 puzzle pieces together of images like Sanka Coffee, SPAM, Shake-A Pudding, canned green beans, Velveeta, Franco-American spaghetti, creamed chipped beef, Ding Dongs, and creamed marshmallows.

My generation found these foods normal, understanding parental admonishments like “Remember starving children” or “What if you had to shuck your peas.” We hadn’t been exposed to the omnipresent influence of food experts, brilliant chefs, and glamorous foodies in a soon-available massive network of information.

As a young girl living off food production processes in World War II, I remember Mother kneading a new version of white oleomargarine with an enclosed food-coloring capsule. The result was inedible pink goo. That same week we received a letter from a British woman my parents had met through the Salvation Army. We had found some fat, not overly ripe oranges to send her in London. Her response stated that she had rarely tasted fresh fruit in the duration of the war.

I learned to eat whatever was put before me (my favorite – gasp – was white bread smothered with sugar and butter). We did have a Victory Garden and, in the spirit of wartime, did not indulge in lavish gourmet meals; my favorite dinner of the week was egg-potatoes. I somehow survived the “unhealthy cuisine” of my era. Nonetheless, it is fun to put puzzle piece 999 smack dab in the center of the label for canned Chun King Chicken Chow Mein.

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