Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"You Don't Eat Green Vegetables for Breakfast? That's Why You're Fat."

As odd as it is that I might be paying more to board with a pair of retired pensioners than to have my own apartment, it is quickly proving itself to be a great investment.

This morning, while stalled for a writing topic, I decided to make myself breakfast. It was the first breakfast I had made after coming home with my haul from the grocery store yesterday, and it had that wonderful, healthy sense of infinite choice you have with stocked cupboards: I could eat any combination of juices, yogurt, breads, cheeses, etc, that I had dutifully stocked away either in the fridge or on one of my (four!) wardrobe shelves. I cut off two healthy portions of fresh French bread purchased from a surprisingly good European bakery down the street, warmed them up, slathered them with generous portions of peanut butter (delicious excess that flouts the meager, butter-type rations we were allotted in our youth), and then covered that deliciousness with a layer of sliced bananas. I then poured myself a glass of (drinkable) yogurt and relished my mature choices: eat your heart out, Total, this was a complete breakfast on a bun.

My roommates-emeritus broke my reverie. “Aunt Li” opened the door a crack and peered in, almost afraid of what was happening in her kitchen.

“You’re cooking breakfast?” She said with a half-smile, amused. She used that sentence as a password, pulling herself into the kitchen.The Chinese word for “cooking” that she used can be translated in a number of ways: making, cooking, preparing. On behalf of myself and of Western culture, I wanted to clear up the ambiguity.

“Well, not making breakfast, just putting together something simple. I usually eat a simple, but wholesome (I was sure to include) breakfast in the morning. This isn’t real cooking.”

“Uncle Shen” followed, boxers and t-shirt, in her wake. Shen is a serious man who makes you think he’s always about to smile – he was smiling now. He has a sort of isosceles triangle-shaped head dotted with tufts of white hair that would typecast him for a Chinese Mad-Hatter. His wife picked up a cucumber with her left hand and a ku gua (a quick google search told me it’s a balsam pear) with her right and continued to lay into my sandwich.

“You don’t eat green vegetables for breakfast?” She said, voice rising, cucumber shaking in disapproval at me like a long, floppy index finger, “You’re going to get fat.”

I wasn’t going to give up. I wasn’t eating a Toaster Strudel here, there was some real nutrition present. “Oh, it’s ok, I usually eat a lot of vegetables for lunch and dinner. Americans normally eat fruits with their breakfast.”

Shen reiterated, “So when do you eat vegetables?”

“For lunch and dinner.”

He seemed satisfied. His wife was not.

“No, that’s not ok. You have to have vegetables in the morning. Is that really all you’re eating?”

“You have to understand,” Shen chimed in, half embarrassed by his wife’s tirade, half serious (so, half smiling), “we’re old. You’re like a child to us.” He opened the pot of porridge that I had unwittingly (and unconsciously) neglected and winced his eyes in a non-verbal sigh of disappointment, as if to say, you could have avoided this whole confrontation if you had just eaten what my wife indiscreetly left for you...Now you’re going to suffer. He grabbed a bowl and began slopping great spoonfuls of slop sloppily.

And so, just as in my childhood, where refusal to take beets, brussel sprouts or other nastiness resulted in a double helping that had to be eaten before you left the table. I went back to my room with a tray laden with two complete breakfasts: my continental breakfast, now cold, lonely, and shamed; and my Chinese breakfast: a raw cucumber and a huge bowl of very tasty, extraordinarily healthy rice porridge cooked with dates, three kinds of beans, and other nutritional things I don’t eat enough of.

It’s a good thing I ate green vegetables this morning, now I won’t get fat.

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