Columns 2003

Being responsible is our family curse

According to Newsweek Magazine (Oct. 13), in the face of natural disaster Americans stock up on batteries, water and Pop-Tarts.  Yes, Pop-Tarts.  A wholesale club back east noticed a 20% jump in sales of Pop-Tarts right before a hurricane. The theory for the jump is that they are cheap, stay fresh up to a year and are tasty even when not toasted.

The government apparently approves of this because they fit the government requirement to have “high energy, stress/comfort foods” around in case a hurricane is about to blow you to Kansas or a nuclear bomb is threatening to rearrange your landscape.

But, lest we think the government has finally given us carte blanche to enjoy ourselves in what might be the last moments of our lives, nutritionists have weighed in with the statement that since Pop-Tarts are high in sugar, saturated fat and calories, they are “everything we don’t want people to have.” Although the nutrition community concedes that you could survive for months on Pop-Tarts and water, you might (gasp! horror!) gain weight.  Jan Hangen, a nutritionist as Boston’s Children’s Hospital, is quoted as recommending dried fruit, nuts and lean beef jerky instead.

OK, so let me see if I’ve got this straight. I’m in a situation where I might either die or have to survive some emergency condition for months only to finally encounter a nuclear winter.  And there are actually people out there who want me to worry about whether I will emerge from that situation with my svelte figure intact; people who want me to forego my comfort food so I can gnaw on lean beef jerky and dried fruit and nuts for the good of my cholesterol levels.

Excuse me, but are these people crazy?  If I am ever in a situation where I need to hunker down and survive some natural or man made catastrophe for months on end, trust me when I tell you I want all the comfort foods I can get.  Give me Pop-Tarts and Twinkies and Ho Ho’s and Tasty Kakes.  Give me pastas and breads, and sodas full of sugar. Give me chocolate and pizza and throw in a few Mickey D’s. Because should I not survive, I sure as heck don’t want my last meal to be one that was good for me.

I find myself wondering if that nutritionist is a long lost relative from my mother’s side of the family. They would understand and approve of what she was saying. 

I can remember the first time I saw a picture of my great grandmother.  I don’t know her real name. I never met her.  Everyone called her Mama Nina. She is not only not smiling in the few extant pictures we have of her, she is positively scowling. When I pointed this out to one of my uncles, he told me that back then people had nothing to smile about.  That about sums up the darker side of my mother’s family psyche.

This same uncle, when his wife was feeling ill one day and didn’t get out of bed, thought to motivate her by showing up in their bedroom with an iron and a shirt. He informed her he needed his shirt ironed so he could go to work.

He wasn’t trying to be mean. In his world, the greatest motivator of all is that there is a job that needs to be done so you shake off whatever may be bothering you and get on with it.  So my aunt did. But in a rare gesture of defiance, she did not use starch.

My mom’s family would only have healthy food in their emergency bags. And as soon as the mushroom cloud dissipated, they would be up and out of the shelter and wondering why everyone else wasn’t getting back to work too.

My aunt is turning 80 soon and her kids are planning a party for her.  If the past is a clue to the future, the party will consist of a gaggle of somewhat elderly Italians sitting in one room yelling at each other because no one can hear anymore, while all their kids sit in the kitchen and swear they will never get like that.

But I fear my cousins and I have an uphill battle against the genes we’ve inherited – genes that would chose lean beef jerky over Pop-Tarts as a final meal. Genes that would iron a shirt to be worn while testing what’s left of the earth for radiation poisoning.

Bring me a Pop-Tart. Quick. I feel an outbreak of responsible behavior coming on.