A Food Memoir

A Swanson "Hungry-Man" TV dinner, co...

A Swanson “Hungry-Man” TV dinner, consisting of chicken fingers, French fries, corn, and a brownie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What do people eat?

Seems like a fair question to me, right up there with the now-popular Parade Magazine cover story that appears regularly, asking “What Do People Earn?” Food is perennially popular as a topic. Consider the rumpus kicked up recently by NYC Mayor Blumberg’s presumptuous proposal to limit not the nature of, but the size of, sugary drinks in the Big Apple. One thing for sure, just based on personal observation of the public and my own extended family, eating for the average American is not what it used to be.

Things have changed since I was a kid. (We’re talking 1940’s here.) Back then, prepared foods were a rarity. About the only prepared food back then I can think of is canned soup. Heck, they didn’t even have frozen foods to buy – people bought the raw and fresh products and prepared food at home. One thing we used to have fairly regularly was hash. My mother would save up beef scraps and put them through a manual meat grinder. Other common entree’s were noodles and beef, and pork chops. Microwave ovens weren’t even a dream (who’d have thought?) During the war we, like most people, had a “victory garden” in the back yard and during the war raised potatoes, cabbage, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and corn. And rhubarb. She would make rhubarb pie, something at once so uniquely sweet and tart that I can still remember the taste today.

Nowadays, however, most food comes already prepared. Mollie, with me helping, does the bulk of grocery shopping not only for us but our kids and grandkids, so I have some insight into their world. They’re deeply into prepared foods and if it can’t be micro-waved, it isn’t likely to appear on the menu. As for us retirees, however, we have evolved our own habits. We are in a weekly rut as far as menus go, but it’s a nice rut. Mollie doesn’t eat breakfast, but I usually have bran flakes with blueberries.  (Blueberries come frozen, handy sealable pouch – delicious, high in anti-oxidants, low in calories.) Lunches are usually leftovers. With firm commitment to portion control, here’s what our typical retiree dinners look like lately:

Monday: Romaine lettuce, mozzarella cheese, black olives, onion, w/ one fried chicken breast or some shrimp in it, Ranch or Caesar dressing, wheat Bollo rolls.
Tuesday: Mollie’s surprise. Sometimes pasta w/ homemade meat sauce, more wheat Bollo rolls. Sometimes baked chicken, sometimes stuffed peppers.
Wednesday: Dinner out, often at a favorite Mexican restaurant. Often, the vegetarian fajita, but sometimes fish at another.
Thursday: Fried Chicken leg night (one each, from the deli – see previous blog post). Favorite small side dishes from the deli include home-style slaw, 6-bean salad, “krab” salad (I think it’s dynamited, ersatz fish product), broccoli salad. (We find small quantities compensate for their high per-pound cost.)
Friday: Sandwich night out. Usually a grilled ham sandwich, mayo, onions, pickles, lettuce, tomato, french fries at Babe’s, a local and long-time popular burger house. Sometimes we have a BLT instead – Babe’s BLT is messy but delicious. We split a small french-fry and always leave some to boot. No Big Gulps for us – big H2O’s instead.
Saturday: Pizza night. One slice each, sized proportionately, vegetarian-extravaganza pizza, plus some variation of the same sides as Thursdays. We buy the pizza’s fresh and freeze them. Three large last the two of us about 9 weeks.
Sunday: Treat day. Small steaks, ½ baked potato w/ sour cream, ½ ear of fresh corn in season.

Mollie is retired too, but fortunately not completely. She cooks some for the kids every week – otherwise, she says, they’d starve. The above routine eases the load on her while affording us the kind of food we both like. Portion control is critical – we bought some very small clear-plastic cups for the deli salad stuff and that has worked out great.

Modern life is fast-paced. People on the go are, it seems to me, pretty much captive to the commercial culture that packages and sells what most appeals to the palate with total

A hatchery on a shrimp farm in South Korea.

A hatchery on a shrimp farm in South Korea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

disregard for health concerns like salt, sugar, preservatives, antibiotics and God knows what else. Today we were shopping for shrimp for Monday night’s salad and having seen a TV news warning about bad practices at Asian shrimp farms (disease, antibiotics) we decided to seek out shrimp sourced from the wild – finally found some at double the price of the farmed – about $25 a pound! We decided to cut up a hot fried chicken breast instead – price $2.48.

The industry uses economies of scale to boost portion sizes, as in sugary drinks or TV dinners. It is becoming harder and harder to eat healthily. This is what we do. What do others eat?

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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5 Responses to A Food Memoir

  1. PiedType says:

    You forgot baked beans. Campbell’s Pork & Beans has been around forever (1904 according to Wikipedia). Of course, they were only the starting point for mom’s beans. She added tons of bacon and onions, mustard, catsup, and brown sugar, and baked them. Mmmm.

    I envy you and Mollie and the incentive probably you provide each other to to eat well. (It doesn’t come as easily to someone living alone.) I’m curious about the 6-bean salad. I’ve always loved 3-bean salad but have never heard of 6-bean. Just more bean goodness, I’m sure.


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Right on, PT, baked beans. Also, now that some brain cells are tickled, how about spam and “vienna sausages”? Thanks for the tickle! 😆

      The 6-bean salad is a marvelous concoction in a delicious marinade. I’m not sure of the full list, but there are at least Lima, kidney, garbanzo, and I guess pinto.


  2. “krab” salad (I think it’s dynamited, ersatz fish product) is hake fish with a dye coating. Ran into that at a restaurant once. It was in a seafood salad. Didn’t know is was fake until I was sick for a week. My niece told me how it was made. I’m allergic to dyes, no wonder.

    Prepared foods have been around since the Napoleonic War 12,000 francs was offered up by the French Govermen to any inventor who could devise a cheap and effective method of preserving large amounts of food. The larger armies of the period required increased and regular supplies of quality food. Limited food availability was among the factors limiting military campaigns to the summer and autumn months. In 1809, a French confectioner and brewer, Nicolas Appert, observed that food cooked inside a jar did not spoil unless the seals leaked, and developed a method of sealing food in glass jars. (courtesy of Wikipedia)


  3. Sorry Jim, husband (Archon’sDen) provided false info. Apparently, the fish is pollock……….Wikipedia, my bible…….


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