Epiphanies can happen at any life stage. Sure, there’s the highly publicized and humorously presented mid-life crisis. The college dorm aha! moments that resulted in everything from a change in a major to a year long trip around the world. There are the ones that leave the lips after someone had the bright idea to throw a martini party. Some of the most heart warming and memorable moments, however, come from the wide eyes of children. Not only a goldmine for embarrassing photos of mullets and bowl cuts, childhood gives us some sticky lessons and first glimpses of reality.
One of my food epiphanies came to me in kindergarten. I was wearing a white sweater with a cat face on it and purple tights. We were sitting at our desks in those little-people plastic chairs with the little silver screws that always caught your hair when you went to get up. It was hot lunch day, which was a day no one remembered, seeing as kindergarteners keep attention like ice cubes keep heat. That was half the fun though- a seemingly random day where some parents would appear, out of the blue, with hot dogs! Weeks ago, you took the slip home to your parents, and they signed it and selected either 1 or 2 hot dogs. By the time you hit grade 6, pretty much everyone got 2 hot dogs, but in kindergarten that was a far-off dream.
That day, I was sitting beside a boy, who we will call Tom. He and I were musing about how when we get to grade 6, we will be able to order 2 hot dogs on hot lunch day. How awesome would that be? It’s double the hot dog goodness! Then, I realized something that made me almost drop my mustard-swathed hot dog in my purple lap. When you became an adult, you could eat ALL the hot dogs you wanted! You could literally choose to eat hot dogs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I quickly filled Tom in on this realization, and we spent the rest of the lunch hour gleefully working our way up to ordering 100 hot dogs on hot lunch day.
While the fondness for hot dogs wore off (especially when it came to my attention that the reason the hot dogs at home didn’t taste like the ones at school was because I had been unknowingly eating tofu dogs the whole time), the concept that one day I would be able to eat whatever I wanted, stuck with me throughout childhood. It boggled the mind that at some point in my life I would be able to eat whenever and whatever I liked. I couldn’t believe that my parents still ate all their vegetables on their plate, that they had cereal for breakfast instead of bacon and eggs, or that they didn’t eat pizza on days other than Friday. I would fantasize about living in my own apartment (which looked exactly like my room, but appeared to be carpeted entirely with stuffed animals) and eating a full turkey dinner for breakfast, followed by pizza for lunch, 2 butter tarts for snack, and then a massive bowl of seaweed salad for dinner (I went through a seaweed salad phase, I even asked for it for my birthday present).
I’m sure I wasn’t alone in fantasizing about the freedom I would have when I would finally be able to eat as an adult. Kids everywhere, at this moment, are dreaming of the day when they will finally be allowed to paint their bedroom walls with chocolate, or at the very least have pizza on a Tuesday and a Friday in the same week. When you are at the grocery store, pulling out your hair trying to fill your shopping cart with the new years resolutions you already announced to the family, think about the joy and the freedom that food provides. The luck that you have, growing up in a place where you can eat sweet, organic carrots, creamy greek yogurt, spicy thai curries, slow cooked pork, roasted fennel, and grass-fed beef. Eat food that makes you feel good, and enjoy the process of picking it out, smelling it, peeling it, cooking it, and finally eating it. If you “mess up” and pick food outside of your resolutions, you might as well enjoy it. Don’t beat yourself up about it- think about the smile on that 6 year old you’s face if they knew what they would one day be allowed to do.
This new years tribute really has nothing to do with hot dogs. I can’t remember the last time I ate a hot dog, and I won’t be upset if I don’t see a hot dog for some time. It’s not a commentary on the state of school hot lunch days, and there are no politics wrapped up in the bun I ate years ago. I hope that amongst the gym trips, journal entries, and organized chaos, you are able to find joy in the food that you eat. All the best for the new year.