A little over three and a half years ago, I gave up soda. I was in front of the drink dispensers in Berkeley and, when I grabbed a hexagonal cup from the neatly stacked, still-damp tray of upside-down glassware, I saw the taps for iced tea, Coke, Powerade, Minute Maid lemonade and Sprite and felt … nothing. I pulled on the water tap instead. The next meal, I did it again.
There were reasons for my lack of interest: my mother had tried to prevent soda from entering our household. She refilled the Brita water pitcher manically, and supplemented good ol’ water with her own wholesome concoctions: chrysanthemum tea, freshly-ground pomegranate juice (picked right from our backyard) and root vegetable broth. When we refused to drink it, she would carry the bowl to where we were sitting and dangle it in front of our faces, saying, insistently, “Here, it’s good for you.”
I’m aware that all moms have their particular alimentary quirks. My mom is a health fanatic. When I was in high school, she learned about internal salt water baths in one of the nutritional guides she had on permanent loan from the public library. The formula consisted of lukewarm water dashed with non-iodized sea salt. She told my brother and me it was a “salt water flush,” designed to remove plaque and other disease from the walls of our digestive tracts and colons. It tasted like sea water. The solid food she bought was as nutritious. Instead of popcorn, Sour Patch Kids, Spam or soda, the cupboards of our kitchen were filled with dried herbs and ginseng; the counters were stacked with whole-wheat pasta and bread; on the linoleum floor sat bags of farmers-market apples and carrots and bok choy. We had organic everything: honey, dried jujube, cashews, butter and wheat germ.
The curious thing was that, while I occasionally craved (and gave into) sweet or unhealthy food at home, I arrived at Yale not at all tempted by the unhealthy overabundance. The week before I came to college, my mom put me on a raw food diet: beets, carrots, spinach, squash, celery and all the fruit I wanted, blended up three times a day and drunk down. The reinforcement of eating pure, healthy food must have intrinsically changed my taste receptors, because I saw almond cookies and pie and magic bars in the dessert section and felt absolutely no emotional reaction at all.
Mom was worried I was pigging out in college, though, and in the first month of school sent me a care package crammed with vitamins. Since then, every three months, she’s sent me another box. The last shipment contained bottles and bottles of vitamins A, E, D and C, as well as lutein, beta-carotene, black walnut extract, Royal Jelly bee pollen and acidophilus pearls. She supplemented the pills with an email, full of exclamation points and bold typeface. There’s plenty of wisdom: “Protect your eyes from heat — steam from food, drink, sauna. When you open the cover of hot food, turn your head away,” “Never eat vitamin C with sea food,” “Tea is good for men, but do not drink in the afternoon, or else you may not fall asleep at night. For me, one cup of coffee at 2:00 p.m. will keep me awake ’till next morning. Beware.”
A couple days ago, Mom called me. Our conversation started like this:
“Peter? Are you there? Are you OK? What’s going on?”
“Nothing Mom, everything’s fine.”
“Are you sure? What are you doing right now?”
“Make sure you take your vitamins. Should I send you another box?”
“No Mom, I think I have enough.”
“Are you eating well?”
“Um … ”
At this point, I said yes. In reality, I wanted to tell her that I’ve actually been eating cheeseburgers and hot dogs, green chile quesadillas and BBQ pork ribs, Jell-O and refined-wheat bagels. I wanted to tell her that, most days, I forget to take the vitamins that she’s shipped all the way across the country for me. I wanted to tell her I’ve grown tired of the salad bar — and some days, of the dining hall food in general — and wish I could blend raw vegetables instead. But I don’t tell her any of this. Instead, after we finish talking, I put my phone down, grab her latest shipment and open her jar of bee pollen.
Peter Lu is a senior in Berkeley College. His column runs on Thursdays.