Weird Kid, Food Division


Susan Kelly

Susan KellyI’m pretty sure I was what, for my generation, would be described as a “weird kid,” at least in terms of my eating habits. Take, for example, a list of my favorite childhood foods. Here are the things I loved most, back when I was in the single-digit age bracket:

  1. Olives
  2. Oysters on the half shell
  3. Harvard beets
  4. Spinach

I ate my first oyster on the half-shell when I was, I think, nine. My parents, siblings, grandfather, and I had gone to the Molly Pitcher Inn in New Jersey for dinner. My grandfather ordered a plate of oysters on the half-shell as a starter. He noticed me gazing at them and offered me one. I took it.

Love at first slurp.

I don’t know how I acquired my love of olives—it goes pretty much as far back as I can remember—but I can tell you that one Christmas, again when I was about nine, I asked for my own personal jar of Queen olives (those colossal green ones) as a gift. I may be the first and only kid on the planet to have requested such a thing. I got my jar of olives.

As for the beets and the spinach, I have always loved all vegetables, apparently another thing that made me weird, since all kids are supposed to hate them. (I have always had a streak of the perverse.) The only vegetable I will not, cannot ingest—I suppose, strictly speaking, it’s a fruit—is lima beans. They’re disgusting. There is no form of preparation that will render them anything less than vile. Put this on my tombstone: Lima beans made her gag. That and: She screwed up every demographic she got into. The latter’s, however, another story.

As a kid, I didn’t care much for the two things kids then were supposed to adore: hamburgers and apple pie. I quite like either one now, but that’s because there are so many interesting ways to prepare them. (Try a shot of Courvoisier in the apple mix before baking the pie.) As a child, though, I found both rather dull.

But the all-time disgusting food I remember from school cafeterias is that culinary abomination known as…American chop suey.

Every kid I knew loved it. They’d gobble it like starving wolverines. As for me, I would eat it maybe as an alternative to being tortured. Under any other circumstance—no, no, a thousand times no. This stuff is slop: overcooked macaroni mixed with poor quality canned stewed tomatoes and overcooked pulverized gray hamburger meat. No herbs. No cheese. No touch of olive oil. No frigging salt and pepper, for God’s sake. Absolutely nothing to make it remotely palatable. But, as I said, every other kid seemed to love it.

Another thing I couldn’t stomach was those cold cereals in weird florescent colors. Worse were the ones that had rock-hard marshmallow bits in them. Even worse than that were the ones that were in the shape of animal, quasi-human, fairy tale, or horror movie characters. Happily, my mother refused to buy any of them. Even as a child, I hated getting up in the morning, and the only thing that would have made getting up worse would have been lurching to the table and staring down into a bowl of teeny green leprechauns or teeny brown vampires. (Lucky Charms and Count Chocula respectively, if you care.) To this day I avoid the cereal aisle in the grocery store, except on the rare occasions when I want a box of raisin bran, which I do find edible, although not as an every day or even weekly event.

The thing that strikes me, though—and I consider this a happy development—is that if I were a kid now, my tastes might be…mainstream. I once overheard a lively discussion about the level of cuisine in various Thai restaurants conducted by three of my nephews, who were, at the time, sixteen, eleven, and eight. More recently, another eight-year-old nephew informed that he’d eaten some “super-good” Indian food at a local restaurant, as opposed to the just “good” Indian food he’d had elsewhere. This is also a kid who, at age 2 ½ , devoured three helpings of a chicken-prosciutto tortelloni dish in an Alfredo sauce I made.

So perhaps I wasn’t weird, back then. Just…ahead of the curve?

Happy New Year to you all. And may your children and grandchildren never, ever have to consume a bowl of American chop suey.

If they do, and they like it…they’re weird.

7 thoughts on “Weird Kid, Food Division

  1. I can’t agree with your distaste of marshmellon (marshmallow) cereals, but American chop suey was, is, and will always be the funniest abomination ever. I joked in high school in my TV announcer voice, “looks the same coming out as it does going in, American chop suey!” (Just imagine the American chop suey being sang like American Top Forty).

    • Don, anyone who agrees that American chop suey is perhaps THE classic culinary abomination can like all the marshmallows he wants.

      I’m handing you, through the screen, a virtual cup of hot chocolate…with an armada of teeny marshmallows floating in it.

  2. I was of the generation (economic and social) where eating out at one of the Horn & Hardart’s restaurant locations was a great gastronomic (and expensive) experience. Who could not like their Harvard Beets, creamed Spinach, baked beans, or Americanized (meatless) Spaghetti. Only there could I observe the parental command to “Eat all your vegetables.” And H&H flaky-crust apple pie sprinkled with powdered sugar as a meal finisher was a real delight.

    • Marty, if you’re talking about the fifties, I think the cuisine of that era has been much maligned. For one thing, we didn’t have the obesity problem that we do now. My mother wasn’t a fancy cook, as these things go, but she was a very healthy one: We always had salad, and with the main course two non-starch vegetables, and potato or rice or noodles as well as the meat, poultry, or fish. No deep frying. No junk food. No tv dinners.

      Some of my students (millennials) seem to have no idea of what it is to sit down at a communal table and eat decent food. I remember one of them mentioning once, quite matter-of-factly, that he and his family members ordered their own take-out and took it to their rooms to eat when it arrived. And another was surprised to find, when she got to college, that people actually set tables, sat down at them, and ate there.

  3. Hilarious, Susan… Loved reading this. We had something called “Blushing Bunny”, I think it was called, on our little up-state N.Y. public school lunch menu, which equates your American Chop Suey… gnarly stuff that! And milk. My god… I hated milk. I can only drink it now if heavily disguised.
    Happy New Year to you… I hope there’s magic in it awaiting you and your loved ones…
    Very sincerely… Kathleen

  4. Oh, dear Gawd. I just Googled “blushing bunny” and found a recipe for a blushing bunny sandwich, which consists of scrambled eggs mixed with stewed tomatoes, mayo, and mustard and served on Wonder Bread.

    My deepest sympathies, Kathleen, if you had to force this stuff down your gullet. It makes American Chop Suey look like foie gras.

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