Horizon at Sandy Point

Friday, August 13, 2010

Eat little, live long!

Hunger is the best sauce!

By the time I knew him, my mother's father was living in one of those modest - but elegantly proportioned - Woodbrook gingerbread houses on French Street, the lower part between Ariapita and Wrightson Road. (My mother would tell us that they had moved there from Methuen Street which she was certain is Naipaul's Miguel Street.) What I remember about the house on French street is how open it was - as a child, I loved its nooks and corners and was intrigued by the understorey, the crawl space between the floor and the ground that seemed just right for little people.

This grandfather - a wizened but sprightly man who allowed small people to jump up and down on his bed, while he was in it! - would always have a treat for us. From out of nowhere he would produce a packet of iced gems, coin sized cookies with a minaret of hard coloured icing. They were made by an English company (Huntley and Palmers I believe) and imported to the colonies. This was the treat, but if there was a meal -  his youngest boys (the adolescent uncles who would play with us) and a daughter with tiny tots were still living with him - everyone shared, no matter how miniscule the portion. Eat little and live long, he would say by way of encouragement for us to eat up, not to waste even tiny morsels in small bowls!

As kids, we would play interminably. Food was furthest from our thoughts. I don't think I ever registered a sensation of hungry until I was a gangly fast-growing teenager.  And even if we had more food on our plates living on the farm, we were expected to finish what was there: Milo and cheese toast or eggs at breakfast; rice and meat and vegetables at lunch ,and noodle soup or bread and something for supper. For school, the midday and evening meals were inter-changed - sandwiches for lunch and the hot meal at supper. Saturdays were special: a feast of Trini street foods made at home, accras and bake; black pudding and hops; souse. Snacks were what we foraged from the trees: mangos ripe or green with pepper and salt; plums; five fingers; guavas with or without worms, tamarind with a sprinkling of pot soda! (People wonder how I can pick a fruit straight off the tree and eat it!)

My other grandfather would cook elaborate meals - a tradition that his son, my father, would carry on - for special occasions. We would wait one, two or more hours past the meal time. "You hungry?" he would ask frequently, gleefully, as he stirred his pot. He would build up the anticipation to our devouring the meal: hoisin-flavoured crispy skinned pork, black mushrooms swimming in a yard fowl stew flavoured with rum and ginger, jumbo shrimps in tomato, wood ears (tree fungus) stir-fried with vegetables, all served on steaming white rice in small bowls and eaten with chopsticks! It's easy to use chopsticks when you are hungry!

Generally,  food was a prized commodity, not to be wasted, not to be indulged in excess. On those occasions when it seemed that the table was too small for the number of dishes, it was always because the whole extended family was gathered. Food in abundance as a tribute to the wealth of family, an extraordinary ritual. How then did we evolve, in one generation - and with smaller families - to expect food everywhere all the time. And the food! Chips, cookies, giant bottles of sweet drinks, fast food everywhere! Is there a way back to eating little and living long? Because surely as the sun comes up, we can eat ourselves to death.

1 comment:

  1. We are (were) the connecting generation between the home cooked, healthy, often home grown food, and the corn curl, chips and fast food generation. We fulfilled the dream our parents had for us, to do better, to be richer, to be freer, and to not be burdened by hard physical work.

    Our parents and their generation, gave us the education that was supposed to free us of the burden and hardships, faced by their generation.

    And we in turn have freed our children of even the smallest household tasks. This wasn't so much intentional, as it was a side effect of our drive to meet the demands of our times, to live up to the expectation of our generation- to do better, to be freer, to pursue careers and meet our every personal need. Not to mention, every personal need of our children as well!

    With all the good that has come with the women's liberation movement, there was a 'trick' involved, that we didn't foresee. And that is that in past generations, one working person, usually the man, could support his family on his wage. Now two adults have to work full time to do the same. (Of course big business has been the one to gain from this).

    This has left most households without anyone at home to see about a garden, or pets or even cooking. Our children have been raised very differently than we were. They have lost the connection, in many cases, between food production, the earth itself, and survival.

    Our generation fell into that trap. Some of us saw it, and tried to do both, which is impossible really, even for super men and women.

    Is there a way back? I think there is, but it involves re-introducing that connection. Children, I have found, are crying out for the experience of having some real responsibilities in the family. They are just as delighted today, by seeing a seed that they have planted, pop up out of the ground, overnight. They love to water and care for these plants, and harvest the food.

    Children today are just as excited by being given real jobs, and having real animals to look after. They love to be given responsibilities in the kitchen- to knead the dough for bread, or to peel the vegetables. But they have to be given the chance to do this, and at a young age, when they are so curious and anxious to help.

    I have always thought that the schools could do much more in this area, than they are at present. Primary schools are the ideal place for these kinds of activities and connections. And the children love it. A school can have a garden. A school can even have pets. A school can delegate little jobs and responsibilities, that children are full of pride to fulfill. And a primary school has the time. Children spend the greatest part of their day at school. Why can't we teach the same subjects that we do now, using these real experiences as the base! I know it can be done, because the students of our school, have now reached University level, and are all very successful in a number of areas, from teaching, nursing, law, dance, drama, music, film making, tennis, swimming. The proof is there to see.

    And, short of that, maybe we, as grandparents, will have this time!