Updated: Nov 10, 2020
Hi Amplifiers! I’m back with another post in the You Gotta Eat series. As I shared in my previous post, my grandmother taught me a lot about cooking. She also inadvertently taught me about health and wellness. It was Grandma who introduced me to fresh fruits and vegetables. I enjoyed fresh salads and other produce, usually raw, when I visited her house. When my family dined at a restaurant, I never hesitated to choose an array of fruits and vegetables, ensuring that my plate was full of color. Ironically, despite my grandmother being an amazing cook, mentor of sorts, restaurant manager and consultant to several local restaurants and cafes later in life, her own diet contributed to some serious medical conditions.
My grandmother and the elders in my family ate a diet that consisted of fatty foods, generally high in salt, spicy, sugary and high in cholesterol. Don’t get me wrong, we indulged in some absolutely delicious meals complete with all kinds of entree’s, desserts and drinks. However, looking back, I know now, that eating some of these foods on a daily basis had disastrous effects on the bodies of my loved ones. My elders had grown accustomed to a diet that had been passed down to them for generations. Those before them ate what was either given to them or what they could afford which was usually unhealthy for them.
After years of eating poorly, my grandmother and other older family members began to experience serious health problems. Weight gain, diabetes, heart failure, high blood pressure, stroke and high cholesterol were just a few of the of devastating effects of years and years of poor food consumption. Thankfully my mother, with whom I lived, provided me and my sisters with a decent variety of foods including some healthier options. Because we were four busy women, we had a rotation of meals that were pretty basic such as spaghetti, meatloaf and chicken dinners. We did not buy a lot of snacks as my mother could not afford them. However, we would indulge in the occasional butter cookies, and sugary cereals were a treat any time of the day. Mom did not buy a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables. For the exception of late spring and summer, when she played softball and preferred to have a cooler full of peaches, grapes, cherries and plumbs, we ate canned vegetables and fruit simply because they had a longer shelf life and we could not afford to waste expensive produce. Between Grandma’s fresh produce and fish, our generally, balanced, meals at home, and some discernment of my own, I managed to pick up some decent habits that translated into my eating and cooking routines.
Over the years I tweaked some of my grandmother’s dishes to reflect a healthier lifestyle. Sometimes family members would joke about how healthy I cooked, as if it were a sin to bake instead of fry, eat a meal without meat or use ground turkey instead of ground beef. I didn’t mind, though. I had to do what was best for me.
By no means am I perfect when it comes to planning healthier family meals and snacks. I still enjoy some of those down-home dishes like fried whiting with hush puppies, fried corn, cabbage and sausage and chicken and dumplings. I still savor the delectable desserts, like New York style cheesecake, banana pudding, homemade pound cake and bread pudding, which, by the way, I did not care to eat while growing up, but absolutely enjoy eating it now. However, I try to reserve these dishes for special occasions and holidays or when I’m feeling a little nostalgic.
In her last years my grandmother understood that she had to make some adjustments to her diet. She prepared more of her fresher, leaner dishes like her broccoli and tomato salad, pasta and macaroni salads, and her famous chicken salad. She traded her fried fish and corncakes for a baked piece of fish and a salad, her beans and ham hocks and neckbones and rice for a piece of boneless, skinless chicken and cabbage or collards. Although she was now fighting to preserve her body that had once been so strong, she never lost her grace, her faith and her zeal for cooking up a good meal. It was one of her gifts and she cultivated and shared the gift. Somehow, Grandma knew how to entertain and comfort her family, even, at times, without saying a word. And even when she did speak, and hurt your feelings because you thought your purple, asymmetrical hairstyle and combat boots looked good, but she thought otherwise and didn’t bite her tongue to tell you, before you left her presence, no matter how upset you were, you would get something good to eat because, You Gotta Eat, Right?