Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Food Court: Picky Eater

The line moves quickly and in some ways, it's like being in junior high all over again. You hold up your tray and the folks on the other side scoop and dump something from the pot or pan in front of them. You have to tell them "no, I do not want that strange cucumber dish covered in what appears to be white wash." Otherwise, you'll get a spoon of it and will have to wonder what it is you're sort of obliged to eat.

Of course, not everybody feels like I do. I think most do. I think a lot of the people who come to Manna meal are very aware of where they are. Some people get the food, pick at it, but never try it. If they like it, great. If they don't, it goes in the trash and they step back in line for seconds --like this is a Ryan's. But this is not Ryan's. It's not a buffet. It's not even your Mama's house for Sunday brunch. It's charity in a church meeting room.

I take whatever they give me, though I speak up if it's something I don't like: no cucumbers in white stuff, no egg salad -not even at gunpoint, and I don't eat bread or much dessert. I will on days when I sell blood because I need the extra calories.

I don't want to take anything somebody else might want and if I end up taking something I can't stand, I'll get it down. Today, it was yellow squash, cleverly hidden in some kind of egg-cream casserole.

I hate yellow squash.

When I was a kid, my father cultivated this really remarkable garden. We ate from it all summer long and well into the fall. In my mother's basement, there are still jars my mother canned from when I was eleven and twelve, but not everything was to my liking. I remember forcing my way through plates of steamed vegetables, which invariably contained yellow squash. We always had plenty and I hated the smell. I hated the texture and there was never enough salt and pepper to cover the taste or enough milk to wash it down.

I ate it. Funny. It wasn't that bad. I still hate it on principle.

A few of the volunteers and staff are starting to recognize me. When I come through the line, I'm a little picky. My choices are odd and they notice. I'll take the collard greens and the eggplant, but will shake my head when they offer a cookie or rice pudding.

"Maybe a muffin?" I say and the lady laughs. She lifts the pan of cookies and hands me one of the muffins wrapped in plastic underneath.

"You're a pain the ass, you know?" She doesn't mean it.

I nod and smile. I think I am.

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