Helfty: Post WWII Parents and Nutrition

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Vicente snacking at the beach after school

New parenting advice is constantly being uncovered.  New discoveries in child development warn against practices and ideas long held to be true by previous generations.  We all want what is healthiest, safest, or best for our child; and new mothers make a habit of latching on to the most current information and running with it.  I haven’t been a mother very long. I have lots to discover.  I am constantly learning, which is something I truly appreciate about motherhood.

I’m within my second year of motherhood and I am already seeing how different parenting philosophies from today are from the generations before me.  Lately, I’ve been bumping heads with my parents, particularly my dad, on nutrition philosophies. My blog readers know that within the past six months, I’ve been working on nourishing my body differently (some days more successfully than others).  As I eat better and feel better, it’s only natural to want the same for my family, most especially, for my son. My parents were raised by people who had emerged from concentration camps to find most of their ranching spaces confiscated for military use.  Their parents, who had formerly subsisted off of small farms, fresh fish, and fruits or vegetables grown close to home, were quickly introduced to military food rations, which included cans of condensed milk, canned meats, navy biscuits, and other food-stuffs that had long shelf lives.  Their ideas of what our children should be eating “to be healthy and strong” are largely shaped by the war experience, which I completely understand.  However, the war ended quite a while ago, and it’s hard to convince them that some of the habits they formed growing up as post-war children could use some “reconsidering.”

When Vicente stayed home with me for his first year, I had the luxury of preparing every meal for him.  He was on a steady diet of green smoothies, fresh fruit, vegetables, home cooked stews or soup,  meals with high quality meat, and very little processed sugars.  When I went back to work, it was necessary for me to enlist the much-appreciated help of “Ray Ray and Papa” (that’s what my son calls my parents).  Ray Ray and Papa rule. This past few months, they’ve been godsends.  When we’re running late for work, Papa is kind enough to give our son a ride to school, and when work keeps us late (which it often does), Ray Ray is sweet enough to pick up our little guy.  In the best interest of our favorite monster, we all agreed to make sure that Vicente continue eating “healthy” when mommy can’t be around.  I thought we were doing really well with this until one day, I realized that my dad’s idea of “healthy,” was very post-WWII. We both thought we were feeding Vicente “healthy” food, but we had very different ideas of what Vicente needed to be “bråbu.” 😛

“Me and Vicente are eating a good breakfast,” my dad proudly announced one morning.  My father suggested I walk next door to partake in this “good breakfast” he was preparing.  When I walked in the door, I found my son happily running around his beloved Papa, who was frying an assortment of canned meats in oil.  Most of the “meat” he was frying really didn’t even need to be fried.  He was just throwing them in oil for tradition’s sake.  He proudly laid out a blanket of paper towels, letting his fried canned meats sit.  Then, he started dropping eggs into the fats and oils of those fried meats.  Then, he chopped more canned meat and fried it with garlic and frozen or canned vegetables to mix with white rice, which he would again fry before plating.  I watched him for a little, wondering if it would be too tairespetu to ask if there was something else for my two-year-old to eat besides, well, a heart attack.

“Dad, is that food for baby too?” I asked gently.

“Yes, it is!  This is for papa and his BOY!” he cheered.  “Why?” he asked, suspiciously.

“Oh well, it’s just, I try to make sure Vicente has a healthy, nutritious breakfast to get him going for the day.”

“But Des, this IS HEALTHY!”  he said, incredulously.  I wish you could have seen my dad’s face. He was truly, sincerely, shocked.  How could anyone call his breakfast, which was prepared with pride and love, “unhealthy?”  He held up the plate, pushed his glasses up, and began pointing, like a science teacher, to the items on the plate.  “That’s carbohydrates; that’s protein; that’s vegetables; and the juice is fruit!” he exclaimed, satisfied.  In that moment, I realized that all those afternoons, when my dad said he and Vicente were eating “good,” my dad had been serving him his version of “healthy.”

I paused, looking at my dad.  His outrage was really funny to me. I realized that he was taught that the food he prepared was a balanced meal.  He believed in the quality of his meal with every fiber of his being.

“Tell me why this is not healthy, Des,” my dad tested.

“Well, there’s a lot of saturated fat and oil in it, dad.  Also, those canned vegetables you’re using have lots of preservatives and salt.  The meats are loaded with sodium and that sausage… that sausage is loaded with nitrates, which don’t help with preventing cancer.”  My dad stared at the plate, scratching his head thoughtfully.

“Cancer and sodium?! But I’ve been eating this for years! I was raised on this!” he exclaimed.  “I know, dad. It’s bad for you.  I keep telling you that, but you never seem to get it.”

“No, Des.  This stuff is only bad if you eat it in excess.  I don’t eat it in excess.”

“How often do you eat it, Dad?”

“Only three times a week.  The boy doesn’t have to eat this every day, just every other day. So what?  You don’t want Vicente to eat my cooking?” he asked, annoyed.

“No, it’s not that!  It’s just, maybe I can bring over some extra stuff and combine the breakfast?”

I ran across the property to my house and pulled out some of the things I usually make for Vicente’s breakfast.  I scrambled a fresh egg, sliced an avocado, and plated a bunch of fruit in front of my son. I took away the canned juice and gave him a cup of water.  My dad stared, confused, as Vicente started reaching for the fruit and eggs.

“You like that, boy?” he asked, a little confused and disgusted. “Des, he’s going to be hungry without something more substantial.  That’s just a snack,” he warned.  “No, dad.  This is a good breakfast for him and he eats it.  He doesn’t need spam and fried rice every morning,” I responded gently, noticing that my dad seemed a little hurt that I basically called his breakfast “cancer on a plate.”  Still unsure, my dad clung to his plate.  “Okay, well Papa is going to eat the breakfast he made and I’ll just try some of yours.”  He sat near my son and scooped his fried rice and fried eggs on to pieces of white bread, which he folded into, what I can only assume was a “fried rice sandwich?”

“You guys are missing out! This is good!  Papa’s breakfast makes you strong! It makes you grow!” he insisted.  He offered Vicente a bit of his fried egg.  Vicente pushed it away, not wanting any. “Okay, let me try yours,” my dad conceded.  He scooped up some of Vicente’s avocado and egg and took a bite, then grabbed some of his fruit.  He chewed thoughtfully.

“This is healthy?” he asked.  “I guess.  It’s probably better for baby in the morning than what you’re eating,” I responded.  I watched my dad take a few bites of Vicente’s plate and alternate them with bites from his plate.  I could tell that through the entire meal, he was thinking. When we were done, my dad laughed a little.  “Laña boy, Papa thought this was healthy,” he admitted.  “So dad, this whole time, when you said you were feeding Vicente ‘helfty,’ was it stuff like this?”

He laughed, “Yes!  I always make sure he has a carbohydrate, a protein, and a vegetable.”  I talked to him about how yes, we do need protein, vegetables, and carbohydrates, but where we get them and their quality plays a big role in determining how “nutritious” they are for us.  KFC chicken, red rice, and coleslaw was a balanced and nutritious meal for my dad.  My parents are so cute, because after that breakfast, they truly did start looking at nutrition for their grandson differently.  I noticed they started buying him more fruits, cooking a little differently, and driving past fast-food places quietly.  They’ve really made a wonderful effort to reconsider their ideas on nutrition.

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Vicente enjoying a well-deserved, very UNHELFTY and sugar-filled, treat at his friend, Keala’s, birthday party. I wish I could be one of those moms that successfully implements the “no junk at all” rule. But I can’t. I’d be a hypocrite. I try to eat healthy, but sometimes, I just NEED a cupcake.

Three of my girlfriends complained about their parents recently to me.  Apparently, quite a few of them were going through this with their post-war Chamoru parents.  One girlfriend, who came home to visit, was horrified to find that her parents were feeding her little brother “buttered canned corn with salt”  as his vegetable serving.  She kept scolding her parents for what they were feeding her brother.  Whenever she complained, they tuned her out and teased her for trying to get them to eat “like a haole.”

I also don’t think canned corn drowned in butter and salt is very nutritious, but the way she went about trying to get her parents to change their ways didn’t seem effective.  I had another girlfriend who came home recently and decided she’d get around it buy filling her parents’ refrigerator with more fruits and vegetables.  I was happy to give her a ride to the grocery store to stock up on some fresh fruits.  She explained to me that, like the other friend, her parents also thought buttered corn in salt was a good way to get your veggies in.  I’m 99% sure that after my preachy friend  left the island, her family returned to their normal eating habits.  I think the girlfriend who left behind healthy food for her family to experiment with might have made a difference.

I think it’s important to remember that they come from a completely different time and place.  Their parents were raising children under very different circumstances.  Their parents were trying to give their children sustenance without the ranches and farms they were used to. They gave their children what they had access to.  You can’t be mad at someone for something they don’t know.  You have to watch the spirit of your criticism when you talk to them about the food choices they are making.  And in all honesty, we have access to fresher foods and information about healthier ways of living because of some of the things they have laid the groundwork for.  The next time you come home and find your well-meaning parents stuffing your kid with oil and canned meat, instead of panicking or getting too bent out of shape about it, just try TALKING to them about it.  Don’t be preachy and don’t scold them (because some of my girlfriends were totally being preachy).   I mean, really, how well do you take to someone coming to your door and just telling you everything you do and believe in is wrong ?  It’s obnoxious!

Share the new information about health and food that your generation is so blessed to have by giving them the opportunity to ask questions and have a dialogue about it.  They’ll probably enjoy talking about what they ate when they were young and why.  They love their grandkids! When they start to make the connection between the diseases plaguing our island’s people, like diabetes, gout, or cancer, they will quickly decide they want to do anything they can to spare their grandkids from these horrible things.  You can share without being disrespectful or unappreciative. It really helps to actually expose them to new ways of cooking and new food items.  Cook breakfast at their house.  Use it as an opportunity to exchange information and revamp recipes.

Recently, my friend, Ursula, developed a recipe for, what she called, “decolonized champaladu.”  It looked delicious and I’m going to ask her permission to post her recipe soon.  I loved it because it was a perfect example of how you can take something that our parents make often, which isn’t very nutritious, and use the new information you’ve had access to in order to make it more nourishing.  What are some popular dishes that you have made “helfty” for your family?

How do your ideas on nutrition differ from those of your parents? How does your family discuss them in productive way?

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2 thoughts on “Helfty: Post WWII Parents and Nutrition

  1. Once an acquaintance, who was a grandmother, complained to me that her daughter in law had freaked out because she gave the little grandson uncooked cake batter with raw eggs in it. I said, as gently as I could, what a shame it was that kids can’t lick the batter any longer because of the risks of salmonella from the raw eggs. She blinked at me a couple of times and said that she had never thought of that. And really, why would she? She was of my mother’s generation, when eggs rarely had salmonella in them and people ate them under-cooked and even raw all the time. It was a big change in thinking for her, but a necessary one. I hope when I have grandkids (my kids are teenagers) that I will be able to keep up and not horrify my kids and their spouses too often!

    • embarrassing confession: I STILL lick the spoon of the cake batter! I live on the edge! ha ha. But you’re right. When I’m older, I’m pretty sure my kid(s) will look at me in horror as I do something!

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