I remember arguing with my nanny and eventually my mother, about finishing the food on my plate. In the first place, my plate was prepared for me. I did not have a say on the quantity of food my nanny used to pile in front of me. We would argue back and forth. Then, I would reluctantly start to eat. On some nights, our parents would be home early enough to join us for dinner. Or, if they were going out for dinner, my father would sometimes sit with us while he waited for my mother to finish dressing up.
My father would weigh in and admonish me that little girls who did not clean up their plates would end up with scarred faces from the ravages of acne and whatever else the disapproving gods dished out.
“Not a single grain of rice should be left on your plate if you want to have porcelain-like skin when you grow up,” my father would tell me.
“I hate the rice, Daddy!” To this, he would just shake his head, look at the nanny, signaling her to take over.
Or, I would be subjected to guilt trips about the millions of starving people in the slums or the rest of the world for that matter.
As young as I was, these sermons always annoyed me to no end. None of it made sense to me. I failed to see how a few mouthfuls of rice would alleviate world hunger. As for my face, well, I was too young to care about my complexion then.
I argued to be allowed to serve myself persistently. By the time I was in grade school, my mother finally relented. I didn’t really need a nanny to follow me around either. I got my homework done before bed. I showered and made sure I was clean, even the back of my ears!
And so it was when we had a daughter, I would come home after a long day at work to a sad face. There she was, sitting in the kitchen in front of her plate. Her lips were slowly drooping to an inverted “U,” quivering. There was the threat of tears welling up on the large almond-shaped eyes. I sidled up beside her and gave her a hug.
“Now what? What’s wrong?” I smiled reassuringly.
“I can’t finish this rice.” She said it slowly, trying to keep herself from crying.
Nanny interjected from behind the sink, “But I put barely half a cup!”
“I ate everything else, mommy!”
“How about just another mouthful. Maybe we can put some sauce on it?” I was trying to coax her.
“But, but, it tastes like nothing, mommy!” And there it was, the real reason!
I admit, I could not argue, really, because I have always had the same abhorrence with rice. For an Asian, that is very unusual. It’s tantamount to the Irish renouncing their beer or the Indians their curry. I wonder, is it, could it possibly be inheritable?
We had resolved that she would get to fill her plate as long as she ate from each food group the prescribed daily allowance.
As parents we try our best to ensure our children receive proper nutrition. However, we should also be mindful that food can be a battleground. It can be weaponized! Any and all dysfunctions stemming from the subtle ins and outs of feeding, eating, and dining can and will result in long-term effects. Think of the perpetually orally fixated schoolmate who always needs to have something in his mouth, whatever he’s doing. Or the coworker who binges on chips and chocolates when she’s late for her deadlines or a breakup. Then she complains to you that she’s fat. The friend who orders triple and quadruple servings of food only to ask for most of it to be packed in take-out boxes. The sibling who bakes and bakes all sorts of goodies, gives it away and enjoys watching you eat her creation, but without eating a bite of it. Then there are the binger/pukers, the anorexics, the picas, and what-have-yous. You get the drift.