“Ramen comes in seventeen different flavors.” I’m really not sure. I needed a fact, and like a standard TV broadcaster or government official, I made it up.
I tell my students how much ramen they’ll eat in life. “You’ll eat it while you work your way up the ladder. You’ll eat it during college. If you go to college you’ll eat it while you pay off your loans. And if you don’t listen to me, you’ll eat it for the rest of your life.”
I’m teaching about economics and success. So far, no one’s revolted. They seem to be interested even though I give them extra reading and tell them they’re going to be eating dried beans and packaged noodles. I promise to give them recipes.
Yesterday, I passed by the bulk boxes of ramen at the store. Fifteen cents a package if you buy them in bulk, but I had a coupon which made them less than ten cents. I’m going to toss ramen to everyone who doesn’t do their homework.
I had a sudden craving for the dried, packaged noodles. I haven’t eaten them in years.
All my old favorites have been ruined by clean eating. I crusade to get rid of boxes, prefab, and bags from my diet. I grew up in the 80’s when Doritos and microwaves were just invented. Packaged foods were status symbols. As time passed, I ate better. I’m a vegetarian and I don’t eat lots of garbage.
Nearly a decade ago during the Great Recession, I decided I’d grow my own food to save some cash. Growing your own food, incidentally, doesn’t save any money, and fighting squirrels for the last tomato’s no fun. Cooking at home is what saves money.
It became my quest to recreate every childhood favorite from scratch with the freshest ingredients possible. Make your own yogurt? Check. Conquer Indian takeout? Check. Before long, my “taste this please” crowd stopped saying the “f” word when I showed up with a test forkful of some cuisine I was trying to recreate so I wouldn’t have to go to the restaurant.
But I missed my childhood favorites–the canned spaghetti rings I ate for two years of grammar school every day straight. The boxed mac and cheese. The sandwich cookies. I decided to give them all a second chance with an open mind. I snuck them in my cart one by one while the other shoppers weren’t looking. I’m the first one to judge someone else’s grocery cart, I fully expect others to do the same.
I cooked up the boxed mac and cheese when no one was home to see, like an alcoholic sneaking a nip. I lifted a bite of the glowing orange noodles to my mouth, waiting for the warmth of childhood to wash over my soul.
It tasted like powdered cheese and butter. I tasted the other memories one by one. The canned spaghetti was sugary tomato sauce with rings of mush and a not-so-faint residue of tin can. I can taste tin can a mile away. The cookies left the slimy feel of hydrogenated oil all over my tongue. These foods were nothing like I remembered.
There is no feeling like the feeling of having all of your childhood memories dashed at once. I wondered, “Are any of my memories real?”
Today, I look around the school cafeteria. Toaster pastry. Packaged quarter-sized “waffle bites” floated in syrup. Tons of plastic-packaged bowls of sugary cereal. Not much clean eating going on here.
I asked my economics students to set long-term goals. A significant amount said “be healthier,” “lose weight,” “get in shape.” I watch what they eat. Captain Crunch isn’t going to be their success coach.
I make a suggestion. “Pack your own breakfast and lunch,” never occurred to them, in much the same way that making business cards never occurred to me when I started leaving the classroom to go out into the real world. A vat of oatmeal or a couple boiled eggs is a simple thing, if not less appealing than consuming Monsters and Pop Tarts for breakfast.
I suppose that’s the same for any habit. Success habits build on each other. As a teacher or parent, I can’t change the bad choices that are available in life. That’s just fighting windmills and I’m too tired to pick up the lance.
But I can reveal the better paths out there, and help kids entertain different thinking. Then suddenly, their minds open and change.
I think about my childhood favorites. I put the memory of mac and cheese, the canned spaghetti, and the sandwich cookies in the food graveyard where they belong. I’m boiling eggs for breakfast, and making some hot chocolate from scratch on the stove for a class I’m rewarding. I’m thinking about my own evolution as a human being, year by year, decade by decade. I pause to note I like the person I’ve become.
I think about my son and all of my students. I wonder when they’ll have those moments in their lives when they’ll stop and do the same.