July 12, 2017

Improving My Food Choices Was Not Just for Me, but for My Daughter


Every week, Preen tackles motherhood sans the rose-tinted glasses. Our columnists L. JulianoMarla DarwinMonica Eleazar-ManzanoRossana Unson, and Ronna Capili-Bonifacio tell their personal experiences like it is—at times frustrating, oftentimes confusing, but always enlightening.

I was shocked at the apocalyptic implications food had on my life as a new mother. It wasn’t my food per se, but my infant daughter’s. Before I even had some pause after pushing the baby out, I had to deal with breast engorgement and all the pain that came with it, literally and figuratively. Faced with a hungry, wailing baby, I felt like the worst mother in the world when my milk wouldn’t come out.

My fixation over breastfeeding made me crazy and I dug my heels. I saw two lactation consultants (make that three if you consider my breastfeeding advocate friend who also came to my rescue), got used to walking around the apartment shirtless, and embraced new levels of agony that came with a shallow latch. All of this happened in the first week of my becoming a mother.

I was so surprised with the obsession I developed over breastfeeding. In the following months, the obsession with my kid’s nutrition cascaded to pouring over recipes for homemade purees and baby-led weaning tactics. I became the mom who waves off every well-meaning relative’s offers of juice, chocolate, and soda for my daughter. I’ll cave every now and then and give her cookies, but I make sure to hand her something I perceive to be a lesser evil which would be something snobby and more expensive like McVitie’s Digestives. I offer Skyflakes and bananas if I’m dealing with a hunger strike, never sugar, never junk food. She’s never had ice cream and didn’t take a nibble from her first birthday cake.

And I wonder all the time where on earth this mother came from? My diet isn’t the best. I wake up in the middle of the night to eat sugary cereal. I scream and cry for chocolate when I’m hormonal. My idea of eating healthy for myself is substituting white rice for brown while indulging in greasy pork adobo (complete with fat and skin) and eschewing vegetables. The cereal milk and fruity pebbles cake I commissioned for her first birthday? That was for me, yo!

We don’t have to dig deep for psychological truths. The simple answers lie in my fear of my piss poor eating habits passing on to her, wanting more for my kid, and my bourgeoisie ideals of happiness and aspiration.

I’m the daughter of a working mom who didn’t have the time to oversee the stuff I ate in school. My baon was a rotation of luncheon meat, hotdogs, and soggy fried chicken resting in paper towels. It was nitrates, preservatives, and cholesterol galore!

Couple that with my already picky eating habits, I remember a childhood where I was perpetually sick and weak. When I started living with other girls in college, I used my allowance on the finest junk Katipunan Avenue had to offer. In the cafeteria, I survived on a diet of battered chicken drenched in gravy served with unlimited Tang orange juice. After school, I loaded up on beer, burritos, pulutan, and 7-11 meals in a box.

It’s not like I always had awful taste in food. I learned how to use chopsticks when I was five years old in Ramen Tei on Pasay Road. My mom introduced me to Italian food when she brought our family to Italianni’s (the first branch in the old Greenbelt, remember that?) for my seventh birthday. I ate my weight in longganisa and empanada every time we went up to her hometown Vigan every Holy Week. I also grew up going to Baguio every year for my dad’s PMA alumni homecoming and I eagerly looked forward to strawberries and the goodies from Good Shepherd. I had another awakening in high school when I spent two weeks traveling Europe with my mother sampling Italian, Spanish, and French cuisine.

Until I graduated college, I thought of eating nicer, healthier stuff as something you only saved for special occasions. To a very big extent, that’s true. It’s expensive to eat out all the time or to keep a pantry fully stocked with all-natural and whole food. It was very black and white, either/or. When I finally started living on my own, I became more aware of the everyday function of eating. When it was up to me to manage a budget and figure out what to cook/outsource, I finally had full control over my relationship with food. My husband and I spent our burgeoning adulthood trying to accommodate as much pleasurable and healthful food choices into our tight paychecks.

Every parent wishes for their children to have it better than they did. I wish for my daughter not to have the same physical ailments I had as a child. I want her to be energetic and lucid with an ironclad immune system. My heart shatters into a million pieces every time she falls sick and I don’t think it will ever go away. I need her to know the significance of taking care of your body because it goes hand in hand in learning to love yourself. I also want her to learn about other cultures, privilege, and structural inequalities through the food we eat. I believe in food as an intellectual, philosophical, and tactile educational tool.

Most of all, I wish for her to find the story of her life through food. Some of the happiest memories I have with my parents involved intentional acts of eating with me. I can still see my mother taking a halved mango, slicing a grid into it, and turning it inside out for me to enjoy. I can still remember my dad ordering my first serving of churros and instructing me to get a separate cup of Spanish hot chocolate so I can drink as much as I want even when all the churros were gone. Or the time he got all three of us siblings in our pajamas and took us to Haagen Dazs in Glorietta for ice cream in the middle of a raging storm.

It’s so much pressure to put on something like food, something that’s miraculous and mundane all at once. I want my daughter to feel the pleasure of savoring something delicious and comforting after every triumph or tragedy. I want her to experience putting together meals with the people she cares about and then enjoying the finished product over stories and laughter.

I also want her to remember her parents—every piece of mush flung to the floor and us picking it up and plopping it into our mouth, as well as every desperate piece of ourselves we want to leave behind with her.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.


Art by Anfernee Dy

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Related stories:
‘Healthy’ and ‘Fat-Free’ Food Labels Won’t Always Help Your Diet
I Realized Motherhood Is not a Competition
A Cheat Sheet of Spices and Their Health Benefit
Please Don’t Judge Me for How I Breastfeed

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Breastfeeding, culture, diet, Dining Out, food, health, momhood, Motherhood, parenting, Preen, Preen.ph, toddler

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