Bad Childhood Food Memories

Katie Young
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Wednesday - June 16, 2005

My parents tell me that “No” was my favorite word when I was little.

“Katie, it’s time for bed,” my mom would plead.

“No!” I’d scream and run down the hall.

“Katie, we’re going shopping. Please sit in your stroller,” my dad would say.

“No!” I’d giggle and hop away.

I suppose I thought it was funny; I bet my parents wished they had never taught me the word “No.”

Another big thing in our household was requiring me to sit at the dinner table until I finished everything on my plate. Not an unusual request for children, I’m guessing.

This proved an extremely difficult task for me, however, especially during the years when my parents went on the McDougall Diet and I was forced to eat piles of brown rice and barley.

But because of my reputation for screaming “No!” to every request, my parents were especially firm in this rule.

I disliked peas already (thought they tasted pasty) so I swallowed them like pills to be able to join the ranks of other well-behaved eaters (my parents) who planted themselves in front of the living room television after dinner.

One evening, however, I confronted a great obstacle.

“Drink your milk,” my dad encouraged.

“No,” I said.

“Please?” he continued. “You have to drink it all or you can’t leave the table.”

“No,” I said again. “I don’t want to. It tastes funny.”

Thinking I was just being my normal ornery self — a child who took great pleasure just from saying “No” — my parents resolved to remain tough and left me alone at the table with the tall glass of milk in front of me.

I could hear the TV in the living room and my parents laughing at Cliff Huxtable on the Cosby Show.

I stared at the glass of milk as hard as I could, hoping it would disappear. I didn’t move. I didn’t make a sound — not a whimper or a whine for what seemed like an hour.

“Are you drinking the milk yet?” my father yelled from the living room.

“No!” I returned. “And I won’t.”

“Well, then you’ll just have to sit there until you do! Even if you have to sleep there!” Dad threatened.

So I sat, and I sat, and I sat, all alone, until my mom finally came back into the kitchen.

“What’s the problem, Kate?” she asked. “Why are you being so stubborn? If you just drink it, you can come watch TV with us.”

“I can’t!” I screamed. “It’s bad. So baaaaadddddd!”

With that I flopped on the floor and started to cry, unable to maintain my stoic gaze at the pale liquid torture.

My mother picked up the glass and smelled it. She winced a little and took a small sip. Then she knew why I had refused for the better part of an evening to drink the milk.

“Jim!” she yelled to my father. “The milk is spoiled!”

Well, serves me right, I guess, for not being a more agreeable child, but to this day I think my father still feels guilty for making his little girl drink rancid milk.

For me, the incident has meant a lifetime of aversion to the stuff. I’ll dunk my Oreo in it and pour a small amount on my cereal, but consume milk from a glass as a beverage? You can forget about it.

(I also don’t like bread crusts because when I was little my mother told me if I ate them it would make my hair curly. I didn’t want curly hair. To this day, I still peel them off my sandwich.)

I know a lot of people who have strong dislikes for certain foods because of some bad childhood experience or because someone told them a food myth that followed them through adulthood.

My co-worker Melissa can’t even stand the smell of papayas, making her recall her keiki days in Hilo when her grandfather would force her to eat the ripe fruits in mass quantity, stating they were “good for her.”

My friend Tom’s parents owned a lettuce farm when he was growing up in Washington. He saw and ate so much lettuce as a child that, as an adult, he refuses to put anything leafy between his lips.

And speaking of leaves, another person I know gags at the thought of luau leaves, remembering when her mother would force her to eat the unmeaty parts of her lau lau.

Then there was a kid I knew in school who refused to eat bananas because his cousin told him spiders lay their eggs in the banana peel.

It really takes only one bad experience to make you have a strong aversion to something for the rest of your life. So the lesson here may be this: Associations with food can be formed early in life. One traumatic encounter with crusts or tropical fruits could be your last.

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