It's not easy eating green

January 18, 1994|By Kevin Cowherd

As a boy, I was told to eat my vegetables so I would grow up big and strong like my dad, who, if you looked at it clinically, was not especially big or strong but built along the lines of Peter Lorre.

Nevertheless, to make me big and strong, my mother served such things as lima beans, cauliflower, spinach, cabbage, okra and Brussels sprouts at dinner, in the kind of portions normally associated with the Green Bay Packers.

Picking listlessly at, say, an evil-looking mound of beets, I'd think: There is something to be said for growing up small and weak.

Even puny and frail was fine with me, so long as I didn't have to eat that stuff.

The fact that I wasn't wild about vegetables always seemed to astonish my mother, who was such a wild-eyed zealot she could almost convince you that string beans tasted like Hostess Twinkies.

To listen to her, you'd think every other kid in the country was elbowing his 85-year-old grandmother out of the way at dinner and shouting: "Forget it, Granny! I'm getting that last helping of peas. Don't make me break your arm!"

Gradually, like most people, I developed an appreciation for vegetables. And by the age of 18 or so, I could actually look at a steaming hill of lima beans topped with a pat of margarine without feeling the urge to whip the plate at the ceiling.

Now my wife and I have three kids of our own and, like generations of parents before us, we find ourselves fighting the same Vegetable Wars.

Yes, yes, it's a huge surprise, but my kids don't much care for vegetables, either.

In fact, if you were to place a small portion of broccoli in front of each of my kids, each will recoil as if the plate contained the severed head of a groundhog.

"I don't like broccoli," the oldest will say, and this mantra will quickly be chanted by the other two with the same conviction and solemnity.

"I don't like broccoli, I don't like broccoli," -- that's all you hear for the rest of the meal, to the point where you find yourself praying the phone rings and it's some insurance salesman or home contractor offering to build you a deck.

It's funny how these things work, the thick clouds of lunacy that can enshroud a parent's mind.

Often, when we're sitting at the dinner table, my wife will say to the kids: "Eat your vegetables so you grow up big and strong like your dad."

Then the children look over at me and see a tired, puffy man who, more and more, seems to resemble a middle-aged Rod Steiger.

Clearly, looking at me does not serve as an inspiration for them to eat their vegetables.

In fact, it may well have the opposite effect, leading all three to conclude that broccoli may, in fact, lead to more health problems than prolonged exposure to Strontium 90.

If we can take this a step further, I envision a whole lot of problems for you parents who constantly tell your kid, for example: "Eat your vegetables so you grow up big and strong like Michael Jordan."

Mark my words: One day 15 or 20 years from now, there will be a knock on your door and it will be . . . well, let's say it's your son, in this case.

In a voice cracking with emotion, he'll say: "You . . . you told me if I ate my vegetables I'd grow up big and strong like Michael Jordan. Well, I ate my vegetables religiously and as anyone can plainly see, I'm a small roundish man with asthma who looks nothing at all like Michael Jordan, but is instead often likened to a young Charles Durning.

"Mom, I'd say you owe me an explanation."

At this, your face will redden and you'll rush into the other room to collect your thoughts and turn off the game show on TV, the one with Lorena Bobbitt as its host. (Yes, that Lorena Bobbitt. She's become a big star.)

Then you'll put on some coffee and the two of you will sit at the kitchen table, where you'll launch into a halting explanation of why you felt it was so important for a child to eat his vegetables.

You'll toss out statistics provided by the National Institutes of Health, cite studies reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, as well as anecdotal evidence that clearly showed the nutritional value of peas, carrots, corn, etc.

But none of this will impress your kid. He'll sit there puffing on a Marlboro Light, sullen and withdrawn, failing to brighten even when you say: "Besides, you do not look like a young Charles Durning. My God, whatever gave you that idea?!"

But at that point, I'm afraid it'll be a little too late for pep talks.

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