Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ethnicity & Food

Okay, I'm going to piss off a lot of people, but I will go ahead & say it:

Black people (in general & especially) need to eat healthier.

~waiting for hail of stones to stop raining down~

Now that I've gone and put it out there, let me explain what I mean.

Not all black folk eat unhealthily. I know a lot of black (brown, taupe, tan, deep chocolate,etc) people who do watch what they eat and understand why they need to. That said, I also know a LOT of "us" who still use the excuse of "Grandma did" to eat things that are so bad for anyone: lots of pork and "drippings," red meat, salt, salt and salt. I am not joking when I say that I knew an older woman some years back who actually ate salt sandwiches. Did you hear what I said? SALT sandwiches. She would cut up a raw onion, some tomatoes and literally coat this in salt and make a sandwich. Seriously. (She is dead now. Died at around 58 years old.)

My mother was an "old school" foodie - she ate a lot of green stuff, cooked and raw - but she had that salt habit. Salt and pepper were her seasoning staples. She also ate tomato and onion sandwiches. She didn't coat them with salt, but she did use salt.

When babies were born into our family, some of them teethed on pork gristle. Yeah. Kind of gross, but at least there was no salt involved. Yet. (I have one niece who has been a chicken-or-fish-only gal for about 15 years & if I really want to make her ill, I remind her that her teething was done on a pig ear! LOL)

The biggest excuses for a lot of poor eating habits, no matter what your ethnicity is, is: "Mama did it," "It's a black/German/Puerto Rican/Polish/etc thing." Like La Nostra Cosa (hope I didn't mangle that). Yeah, and sometime "Our Thing" will kill your ass. As deadly as it it cool-sounding.

Our family "thing" with food has always been a lot of variety as long as it's battered, buttered, fried or salted. Or all of the above, damnit. I got better about my eating habits as I got older (mostly out of shame), but until I was around 20 and got married, I ate a lot of delicious and bad-for-you food. My first husband was from a country where the food is bland but the people live for-freaking-ever! I'm from Texas. Take a look at what I can tell you about:

Homemade cakes (Pound, Chocolate, Pudding)
Fatback (deep-fried and eaten just like that, drippings poured into vegetables as a seasoning)
Grits, rice and hot cereals (with butter - lots of butter)
Hominy (which is the only "grits" we ate without butter)
Eggs, eggs and eggs (scrambled, sunny-side, runny or hard-cooked - as long as they were salted and sometimes, believe this or not, buttered)
Pork (chops - breaded or not - bacon, skin fried or pickled and funky - aka CHITLINS)
Breads (rolls of all kinds, corn-batter, hoecake, corncake, fried, grilled and sun-cooked)
Greens (always with drippings, salt and a hunk of that damned fatback)

Do you see what I mean about good food & bad habits? It's a joke among black people that we will waste no part of a pig. "From the rooter to the tooter." I mean, seriously, we eat the feet, tails, ears, ass and freaking guts. Ya know. That's not a diet, that's damn near an addiction. I remember the stench that hovered over the kitchen whenever the family sat around cleaning "chitterlings" (my British ex-husband actually called them by the proper name & I damn near laughed my ass into a fit every time he said it. He kind of liked that nasty shit. Ugh!) If the smell of "chitlins" didn't put you off any food until the smell of rotted ass died down, I don't think you can be cured of Pork. You almost couldn't fix chitlins without have the neighborhood knowing. I think the only reason folks eat that mess with so much hot sauce is to give their senses something else to concentrate on while they eat it. I'm sorry, but, damn.

Some food that I heard my parents talk about might not have been bad for the health, but it still just didn't seem right for humans to eat. Let's visualize what "Rocky Mountain Oysters" are, shall we? They are bull's balls. I promise. Apparently, my Grandma Jack just loved her some R.M.O. (What's really nasty is that I hear they have a gelatinous texture. Ewwww!)

But back to my original point. We (meaning anyone who grew up eating unhealthy foods) have got to do better, people.

One of the reasons given for a bad diet (other than the old "Good enough for Mama" excuse) is that "Mama" and her mama & daddy  ate the way they did because of poverty. Okay, a lot of people (especially in this economy) are still feeling impoverished. (And trust me when I say that I can teach you some creative ways to spell "broke.") That's still no excuse not to do what we can. Guess what's free? NOT adding so much salt. NOT adding so much (or any) "drippings." Not cooking everything in a batter or butter or fatty oil.

Guess what else? Not being a diabetic, amputee, kidney patient is cheaper than anything. We can make all the jokes we want about people having "Sugar" (diabetes) and "Salt" (high blood pressure), but that shit isn't even a little funny when it hits home or heart. I know firsthand.

With that little mammy-made rant of mine over, I will say this: I've recently learned that it is possible to do better. And it's not as hard or expensive as we'd like to think and in some ways is cheaper (go price a pound of butter if you don't believe that). It's not easy though. Breaking life-long ways and habits is never easy. Just trying is better than nothing at all.

I recently learned that I can eat my vegetables without curing them in salt. I am having a hard time getting used to eating so many vegetables, but my goal is to eat vegetables as much as I used to eat meat. I'm not giving up on meat (I'd be out of mind to swear off Lucky Wishbone forever!), but I'm not making it a part of every meal as if I can't live without it. I can and of I get any sicker or broker, I will have to.

For Memorial Day, I had a two burgers. One beef patty during the barbecue we had and one Portabello mushroom later when I went back for more. It wasn't bad at all. I consoled myself with the fact that I could have just a thin beef patty but a fat-ass mushroom burger! I think it's partly in the seasonings and partly in the mindset.

As I try new vegetable dishes, I tell myself what my former mother-in-law told me was an old English joke for the newly married virgins: "Just close you eyes and think of England." That never fails to crack me the hell up! I just close my eyes and think of life not on dialysis or in and out of a hospital.

Good eating, everyone. After a couple rough days, I'm having a lucid one so I'm off to work on the book.