Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Girl Who Ate White Food

Arwyn, The Cupcake Kid, 2009. Photo by Bart Heird, Chicago.
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
Once upon a time in Colombia I had a step-daughter who preferred to eat foods that were mostly white. She drank milk and ate quesito, which is a popular semi-soft cheese in Colombia; vanilla ice cream, and other dairy products; arepas, which are a tortilla-like staple of the Colombian diet; white bread; bananas; chicken white meat; potatoes; rice; pasta; mayonnaise; and fish. She wouldn't eat cauliflower because it was obviously from a plant, and plants were to be avoided at all costs. Avoiding plants, in ten-year-old logic, may have been her reason for eating only white food.

Yet she loved ketchup—for its sweetness, I'm sure. In Spanish the phrase for ketchup is salsa de tomate, sauce of tomato or tomato sauce, but not to be confused with the tomato purée that comes in cans and gets used in Italian cooking and meatloaf. Mentally, salsa de tomate serves as an integral word for what we call ketchup. By integral word I mean that we say it without picking it apart into its component parts—we don't hear sauce or tomato, we just hear a word like you hear ketchup.

I tried unsuccessfully for years to persuade my step-daughter to try a slice of tomato, for it seemed to me—tomatoes being so high on the evolutionary scale that they almost talk—if she tried one slice, she'd try another, for who could begin and end the inevitable enchantment of tomatoes in only one bite? This one particular night we were eating some meat that was appropriate for ketchup, so I asked her just from what she thought salsa de tomate was made.I pronounced each part of the world separately: Salsa. De. Tomate. I saw the penny drop in her face as she parsed the phrase... So of course that didn't persuade her to try tomato either, but it certainly dissuaded her from eating ketchup ever again.

One night not much after that I peeled and sliced an eggplant. I dipped each slice in milk and egg then rolled it in corn meal and fried it. Deep-fried corn-meal-crusted things are irresistible to almost anyone, including my step-daughter. I lied and told her they were fish. She ate one. She didn't put ketchup on it, but she did ask for another slice.


I'm delighted to say that the little girl in this story, who is now 21 years old, wrote me an email. I had written to her to ask her about her eating habits and to give her a heads-up, and she got back to me today.

Hello mason.
I'm no longer the petulant child as it was before. I have grown in many aspect and one of them is in the food.

Yes I received the information about the Lovecraft book, but I think for the time being. other readings have to come first. I'm busy finishing the undergraduate and doing yoga then I have little time, perhaps in the future. Thank you

Although in the long run I have contributed little to this girl's upbringing, I am extremely proud of her. On merit she won an all-expense-paid scholarship at a prestigious private university in Medellín, and as you can see in her letter, she is very busy and committed to her studies. Whatever she does, she will no doubt be an outstanding person in her pursuits.

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