On this Father’s Day I wanted to write about how my dad taught me to find pleasure in food when I was a child. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at fourteen-years-old, I had two strikes against me when it came to food. Strike one= as women, we are not supposed to love food. Instead, we eat salads, skip breakfast, and say no to desserts. As a young, woman with diabetes, I was the only girl in my dorm (I went to a private boarding school) who woke up early and went to the dining hall for breakfast while my friends skipped breakfast and went on “Grapefruit diets.” Strike two=as diabetics, food is a science and we are taught how to count carbs, measure insulin ratios to carbohydrate intake, and use language like “food exchanges,” “sugar-free” and “moderation.” So, as a young woman with diabetes, I learned to say no when it came to food. But even before I was diagnosed, my father laid a foundation of food appreciation.
I was a child of the seventies and my parents were hippies. We lived on one hundred acres in Vermont where we raised chickens, pulled our vegetables from the garden and composted the remains (the browned bananas, the hardened tips of green beans and the moldy tomatoes) were tossed on top of the pile in the back yard. Dad said that when we were hungry, all we needed to do was go outside. Every spring, he drove me to the bottom of our dirt road to visit Hazen Clay in his sugaring shack. We walked through the crusty snow across the cow field to the small, wooden shack with smoke pouring out of a chimney on the roof. In my moon boots, I could almost walk the whole way without falling through the snow. Even though it was March, it was still cold, and my breath came out in puffs. Dad opened the door, and we entered a thick wall of heat. I unzipped my parka. In the middle of the small space was a giant tub where the syrup was cooking, and I had to stand on a bench to see. Hazen stirred the syrup with a long, metal spoon and the sugar water bubbled, light brown and thick. Finally Dad motioned me outside and Hazen passed us each a small silver bowl from his shelf. We scooped up crusty snow and Hazen poured the thick liquid over the top. The first bite was always a surprise, a strange mixture of textures and sensations-the crunchy, cold snow and the still hot, too sweet syrup. I shivered, and ate another bite.
I used to think of that maple syrup after I was diagnosed and wanted Dad’s famous animal pancakes for breakfast. My sister also had type 1 diabetes and so Mom replaced Hazen’s maple syrup with the sugar-free kind that tasted like water. I hated the sugar-free kind. So I stopped eating pancakes. But I missed the animal pancakes. I missed the special trips to Dunkin’ Doughnuts with Dad when I would order the kind with pink icing. I missed holding marsh-mellows over the campfire until they burned, and I had to blow out the flames and then put the melted, gooey, white fluff onto a graham-cracker with a thick chunk of chocolate. I missed Dad’s home-made lasagna with the melting cheese and his crusty garlic bread for dinner. I missed stopping for ice cream on our annual drives to Keoka Lake. I missed saying yes to my dad’s outstretched hand when he was offering a bite. I missed saying yes to food. Dad never stopped offering me bites but it wasn’t the same when only a bite was allowed. I was angry, and resentful and tired of saying no.
It has been twenty three years since I was diagnosed and only recently that I have begun saying yes to food again. Yes to raw green beans from the farmer’s market, yes to bell peppers, plums, cherries, cheese, avocado, turkey bacon, peanuts and dark chocolates are some of my favorites. Now that I am a mother, I want to reach my hand holding a spoon and offer my children a bite. I want to watch Will and Miles’ eyes close in pleasure-whether it be over the peanut butter we’ve ground in the machine at the local health food store, or the strawberries we’ve picked off the vine or even candy; Air Heads, Candy Corn, Pez and Reese Peanut Butter Cups. I want to teach them a love of food like my dad taught me, whether I take a bite or not.