The other day I was sitting at dinner and had the truest realization I have had about my parents in a long time. We (as in me and the two of them) are immigrants in this world that we live in. We inhabit the world of the mostly white upper middle class. All three of us have worked to find our place here. We are happy and fulfilled. We’re not sell-outs. We do more than pay lip service to our roots but we will always be non-natives here. We will always understand things just a little bit differently, we will say things differently, we will love things differently.
It is not in our nature to do some of the things we are trying to do. I have tried for years now, at least seven, to eat healthier and to eat local produce. To become a turnip lover and organic beet juicer. But it has never stuck. I’ve tried to make healthy food for our family. I have never ventured too far into Mexican food territory because only someone who has grown up eating La Lupe’s cooking can appreciate the true horror of enchiladas fried in olive oil and made with fat-free cheese or tacos made with high fiber, whole grain tortillas.
The other day my parents came over for dinner. That night I made Lemon Chicken and Orzo soup with a hint of fresh thyme. It was delicious. My dad ate two bowls. I consumed a heaping bowl of it. Then I put the girls to sleep and came back downstairs to find both my parents eating a plate of chicken mole with rice and beans leftover from a dinner my mom made a few days before. I was offended. My delicious soup of which you ate two bowls wasn’t enough to satisfy you? Wasn’t enough to make you full? My first impulse was to give up trying to help my parents eat healthier. They want to. They try to. But they never stick with it longer than a few weeks.
As I was feeling righteously indignant, I felt the pang of hunger in my stomach. I was still hungry, too. Dammit. I really want a plate of mole and rice and beans, too. But on principle I didn’t serve myself.
I’m familiar with that eating cycle, too. I’ll be disciplined enough to cook food like this for a few weeks: crab salad in wonton cups, garden risotto, curry butternut squash soup. But I will hit a point where I am achingly hungry and I almost tackle the lady that sells tamales around our neighborhood when I see her walking toward our house. Because in my gut, I know I am a pilgrim to this locally grown, seasonal produce land. In my veins courses the blood that calls for hydrogenated fats and high fructose corn syrup. Our people have for too long subsisted on this diet. My body yearns for it.
And so it is with almost every part of me that I try to fight back against my instincts. It takes all the strength I can summon not to yell at my kids when they say they don’t like mole, it takes orchestrated body language to show them that I love the sweet potato and apple quinoa I have placed before them, and it takes a herculean effort to not buy the delicious flour tortillas from the Mexican bakery and eat them slathered with butter all day long.
So we beat on, boats against the current of our childhood, of our most primal reactions, of our earliest lessons. And maybe, like my parents, I’ll spend my lifetime eating a bowl of fancy pants soup and then, right before bed, drink charro beans cold out of the fridge. But I think the desire to eat better does in fact mean we’re eating better. And while balancing the lard and the lychees, the cajeta and the kale, the Knorr Suiza and the nutmeg is hard, I think it is good. So I will continue to navigate these waters and try to find a middle ground with some semblance of grace…and possibly a butter mustache.