This new health-consciousness, I don’t know. In the old days, you didn’t really know what your body did with what you ate. You thought it rude to inquire, almost. In the old days, if you dropped food on the floor, you’d kiss it up to God and pop it in your mouth anyway.
“You eat a peck of dirt before you die,” my ancient great aunt used to quote from her own childhood, and her faith reassured us: She was born in the 1860s and lived on past the age of Sputnik.
Today there’s no trust of this sort. You simply can’t buy a packaged food item without seeing that list of ingredients on its side. And as for produce, every single apple bears a sticker nowadays; every banana in the bunch.
And food habits in the old days were a different thing.
Say you had a big morning ahead of you.
“Eat a good breakfast!” your folks would boom, and then they’d come at you: with stacks of toast slathered in jelly, pancakes drooling in butter, and eggs fried in the fat that they’d cooked the bacon in.
In my house, the grownups also gnawed the knuckles of the turkey carcasses and sucked the marrow from all the beef bones. We kids were too squeamish for it, but they ate organ parts too: the chicken hearts and the chicken livers. The brains and the stomach lining.
Most Americans ate that way: avidly and a lot.
And even after those first postwar decades, they kept the party going, with fondues and casseroles and dessert every night. Now you’re likelier to see skim lattes and dishes made of tofu, which is light and spongy and like somebody’s brain, pigeon’s more than a cow’s maybe.
Also, people really drank: Highballs. Cocktails. Now it’s more wine and beer, and pregnant women leave the stuff alone entirely.
Back then too, cigarettes were everywhere. Even the TV anchor delivering the news had one, right there in an ashtray. I we never rode the 50 miles to our cousins’ house without being closed up in air made blue by cigarette smoke.
It’s what adults were then: Smokers. Drinkers. Big, big eaters.
You can tell they ate a lot by looking at the snapshots, the men with these peacetime pot bellies which they were wore their belts up over for some reason, giving them all a kind of Oliver Hardy look.
Today, nobody wants a pot belly. Everyone wants to look chiseled and edgy, though few of us do, God knows.
The gym-addicted do, of course. I found myself in a social hug with such a person recently. The blades of her hipbones stabbed my stomach and her pointy chin trowelled into my shoulder. It was like hugging a garden implement.
Yet as a nation we’re growing fatter instead of thinner. They say it’s the fault of the Super-Sized soft drink, 32 ounces of high-fructose corn syrup sold for a song everywhere you turn.
So we miss our old food-treats, but then we go and invent new ones. So what can we conclude here?
That we’re all for improving ourselves, but only a little.
And that we sure like to look on the bright side. In fact I read in a news magazine’s cover story on the Faith of the Nation that according to the poll they were citing, most of us (a) don’t believe in Hell, (b) do most definitely believe in Heaven, and (c) are just sure we’re going there.
Let’s all toast to the optimists then – but let’s hold off on those Belgian waffles too.