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Childhood traumas still haunt us

Chocolate can cover a multitude of sins, but it can do nothing to improve canned peas. Or Brussels sprouts. Or liver.

Recently I was thinking about what I call “ick” foods: peanut butter and jelly mixed together; the sight and odor of almost all seafood; my childhood anathema, the hideous lima bean.

Mom would insist we kids eat “just a spoonful” of everything, and guilt us with “the starving children in China who would love to have it.” Pushing pale pasty legumes around my plate, I’d think, “Send ’em; I’ll stamp the envelope.”

It’s a mystery why we react with revulsion to some foods, but curious, I polled friends and acquaintances and asked about their own childhood “ick” foods.

Vegetables topped the list. Most respondents were boomers and older, and we grew up on the mushy, salty, canned variety or those cooked into complete mushy submission. Many of us were adults before we tasted most fresh veggies. Who knew spinach was actually good?

Everyone abhorred lima beans and peas weren’t far behind, especially canned peas – “the WORST!” said Sig. Also deplored were turnips, parsnips, zucchini, okra, artichokes, creamed corn, sauerkraut, eggplant and hominy.

But the most heartfelt veggie rejection went to Brussels sprouts, and this popular view is encapsulated in the photo Richard recently snapped at Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

Casseroles and soups set some stomachs a’churning. Linda hated her mother’s Ring Tum Ditty, a classic Southern dish made with canned tomatoes, onions and cheese (“Kind of pink with red tomato bits and served on toast. Gag!”). My mom’s bean and ham soup was loathsome. Terri gagged on her mother’s favorite childhood dish: stewed tomatoes with crushed saltine crackers (“Just writing it down makes me sick!”). Forced to eat coleslaw by a day care worker, Dana was “spectacularly” sick and avoided creamy dressing for years.

Meats also caused misery: game birds loaded with shot, chipped beef, tough old buffalo, meatloaf, soupy beef hash (“beyond awful!”), lutefisk, sushi, tongue, seafood and oysters (“Their innards are still in ’em!”). My mom fried meat until it achieved lethal weapon status. Some folks sympathized with my dad who, having eaten his fill of it while serving in the Pacific in World War II, vehemently declared, “There’ll be no lamb, ram, sheep or mutton in this house!”

The most passionate denunciations went to organ meats, such as chicken livers, hearts and gizzards. But nothing else in any food category brought on the horrified shudders of liver and onions. “It’s good for you,” declared American moms to their kids desperate to avoid it. “Thank God for ketchup and mustard,” said George. Other victims also slathered on condiments while trying to choke the disgusting dish down, but nothing defeated its vile taste.

Though it was too late for us boomers, organ meat was later declared unhealthy, a satisfying vindication of what we already knew in our guts. Take that, Mom!

Globetrotters brought up Asian delicacies, such as jellyfish, chicken feet (“with the claws still on!”) and insects. The top prize in this category goes to balut (bah-loot), considered an aphrodisiac and hearty snack. Served balut in the Philippines, Rick said, “I couldn’t get the bite down before it was chased up by the previous bite. Ugh!” I’ll spare you the revolting details at breakfast, but you can find it at Wikipedia. The general consensus on questionable Asian dishes was “Better to just eat and not ask.”

You’ll notice that not one person mentioned the horrors of desserts. Desserts don’t need chocolate to improve them, because the best ones are chocolate.

But nothing can erase the memories of liver and Brussels sprouts.


You can reach Deborah Chan at Previous columns are available at columnists.