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OPINION: Why I eat anything prepared for me

Anyone who knows me at all well will tell you I'm not a picky eater.

If it's food, I'll eat. You won't hear me saying things like, "Ooh, that has onions.'' "Oh, no, I don't eat mushrooms.'' "I hate peas.'' "Wait. Is that iceberg lettuce?" That isn't me, especially not if someone else has prepared the food. Go to the trouble of making a meal so I don't go hungry, and I'll eat what's on my plate. That's how I was raised.

I grew up at a time when adults heaped plates with food and watched to make sure kids ate every last crumb. "There are children starving in China,'' after all. My mom sometimes said that when I was slow to finish something on my plate. I suppose every kid's mom said it sometime. Even as a child, I didn't get the correlation between someone without food somewhere else being a reason for me to eat a whole bunch. Still, I was an enthusiastic eater. I didn't debate the point.

There was this one time, though, the only time I ever said I absolutely would not eat something. It was the time my mom made a dish called "succotash'' and tried to serve it to her family. I was about 6 years old. I can't for the life of me recall what prompted me to draw a bright line at succotash. I'd eaten asparagus and cow tongue and weird soups and plenty of things that might give others pause. Maybe it was nothing more than the strangeness of the name, succotash. It doesn't sound like food, does it? Neither does goulash or kolaches, which I wolfed down without hesitation.

Now, as I wrote this essay, I paused to check Wikipedia for an explanation of succotash. That sometimes-reliable source says the name comes from a Narragansett word "sohquttahhash, which Wikipedia says means "broken corn kernels.'' The source further says succotash "is a food dish consisting primarily of sweet corn with lima beans or other shell beans. Other ingredients may be added, including tomatoes, green or sweet red peppers and okra.''

By the time I staged my short-lived food rebellion, I'd seen and maybe even heard the word succotash, but only in the phrase "suffering succotash,'' which Sylvester the Cat used to exclaim when he was in pursuit of Tweety Bird. Mel Blanc, of course, created the voice of Sylvester, as he did so many other characters in the animated cartoons of the old days.

When I read the ingredients for succotash, it sounded like a dish I'd tolerate, maybe enjoy. What's not to like about corn and lima beans and tomatoes? Peppers, too, sure. Okra? I think I've had that a time or two, maybe in gumbo. An online picture of it looks like something I'm pretty sure I've seen on my plate. My search engine gave me this unsettling topic to click, though: "How do you cook okra without the slime.'' (I didn't call for the click.)

I'm guessing my mom didn't put okra in that succotash she made way back when. Most of our produce came from the garden between the east side of the house and the tree belt. I picked a lot of vegetables out of that garden, and I can't recall any of those things being okra. And it seems unlikely she'd have found it in the produce section at Hank Sattler's store in Reliance. So, maybe, as she sometimes did and my dad nearly always did when he cooked, she substituted something that looked sort of like a picture of okra, or something that had the same color or texture.

I'd like to say I recognized that the succotash my mom served lacked okra and that's why I refused to eat it. That wouldn't be true. I just decided it looked inedible. I sat at the table long after the others had finished, their plates cleaned and cleared, their silverware washed and dried. I sat until bedtime, and I declared victory when I went to my room without supper.

The next day, and every other day after, I ate whatever my mom cooked.

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