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'Tuna casserole that would gag a buzzard'

I've eaten some food eagerly, such as my mom's leg of mutton, and some with a true lack of enthusiasm

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Posted: Wednesday, November 25, 2009 12:00 am

I read an article in the paper this week that suggested we have 46 million Americans these days who don't have enough to eat.

The first time I heard that statement, it was made by President John F. Kennedy, so there have been a lot of Americans who went to bed hungry every night for almost 50 years. The irony of that is the fact I have been going to bed hungry for almost 80 years and nobody told me that was unusual. My mom used to tell people, "Robert was born hungry and he never got over it."

It reminds me of the rich Beverly Hills matron who was walking down Rodeo Drive. She was approached by what we used to call a bum (for there were no homeless in those days). He said, "I haven't had a bite to eat for three days."

To which the lady exclaimed, "God, I wish I had your self-control."

When I was a kid, I had the great good fortune of being born into a family of squareheads. In our branch of the Great Middle North Dakota Squarehead Clan, not one person in the relationship went to bed really hungry, much less starved.

I lived a charmed life. Not only did I have a resourceful father who provided food enough to make the family larder groan, I had a genius cook for a mother.

She could turn limp cabbage into ambrosia for the gods; she could roast a leg of mutton off an old gray-haired goat in such a way you would swear it was the most succulent veal ever presented by Wolfgang Puck in Martha Stewart's TV kitchen.

It was a rare moment in which a member of the Bader clan had anything but praise for the food, either tacitly expressed in gustatory grunting or actually spoken. On really rare occasions, such as when the first Brussels sprouts were served or liver and onions made their maiden appearance, was a mention of an even slightly negative nature ever uttered.

"Yuck, I don't want to eat this. I don't like it," one of us would say.

"Just eat it; there are thousands of kids in China who don't have enough to eat," Mom would say with a look of concern that, in itself, would soothe even a starving beast.

"Name two," I would shoot back.

"Chin and Chew," my mother would instantly retort. "Now eat."

Both my parents had hearty appetites for every dish my mom would cook. (Her mother-in-law wasn't the best cook in the county, so that should explain my dad's appetite.)

Every so often we would be served fun repartee along with something that, even if it had been toxic, we would have loved it because we were laughing so hard we would forget that we coulda croaked from what we were served. Saved me a helluva lot of trouble later in life because I had learned to eat dormitory, fraternity, bachelor apartment and newly-wed prepared food with a gusto that was wholly theatrical.

There are very few newly wedded men in my peer group who didn't learn how to fake a sincere sounding "yum" while eating a tuna casserole that would gag a buzzard, even though it was a featured recipe in Good Housekeeping that month. You know the saying: "Happy wife, happy life."

I ain't casting no aspersions, but there are people in the extended family who are not related to my parents but are from the same peer group that woulda starved to death if their mother had lost her glasses. I know of one lady in particular that had to look in the cook book to learn how to boil water without burning the stove.

Things are different these days. People, even those who know how to cook, have spoiled themselves by eating out. And that often means eating food that is several negative things: not as good as what could be cooked and served at home; not as fresh and nutritious as what could be served at home; and only somewhat of a timesaver, and certainly not as inexpensive as home-cooking.

Years ago, I had a lady patient who stood just a shade over five feet tall but weighed a little over 400 pounds. One day I mustered up the courage to finally confront the elephant in the room (pardon the pun).

I said, "Minnie, the reason your knees are so painful is simply because you eat too much and it is causing the trouble."

She said, "I don't eat hardly nothin'."

Her husband chimed in, "Ask her what she had for lunch."

I asked her.

She said, "Just one little old chicken, that's all."

Bob Bader is a writer and a chiropractor and loves doing both. You can write him at

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