Chasing Childhood through Food

It never ceases to amaze me what happens when walking down the concourse after the plane sets down in my hometown. I devolve into the person I was when I left Texas, much to the chagrin of the person I have become in California. All of the hard-earned years of unlearning and re-learning new habits somehow fall by the wayside as I begin ticking off a long list of restaurants to visit, in trying to reconnect with the hometown of my youth.

And, perhaps as many Twinkie-loving fans are discovering as they partake in a massive purging of convenience stores nationwide for the soon-to-be defunct brand of food-like cakes, you can’t go home again. Taste memories play a pivotal role for me and I would imagine many other people. To revisit the restaurant where you had your first job and try their petite caesar salad or soupe a l’oignon is to try and recapture the memories of working the restaurant line. But there’s something amiss with the flavors- something that the cook and just mixed salad are missing.

And yet, I’m going to say that sometimes what gets me craving- craving?! fast food, processed food, junk food is some sort of chasing after childhood and the flavors that remind me of it. My childhood was full of processed food and I don’t regret that. This was our understanding of how to eat. A lot has since changed. But bad habits creep back in. 

Whenever I indulge these desires, they never turn out well. A number of conversations with friends during Thanksgiving week revealed they wanted to eat less junk food too with one going paleo to avoid it. Recently, on facebook, I stumbled upon a foodie friend who sheepishly admitted her fondness for blue box mac n cheese, saying if she didn’t come forward, her husband would “out” her. I both applauded her for mentioning her occasional penchant for powder cheese and took her words to heart.

It’s a hard thing to divorce your taste memories from childhood memories.

It can be done, of this I am certain and of this I am still trying to extricate the one from the other, but I, an admitted real food advocate, fighter for GMO food labeling and voracious home cook can fall prey to the very things contrary to my adopted eating methodology. For a solid year of going to grief counseling on Wednesdays, my car always found its way to a fast food hamburger stand to order the same exact thing each week. If I took a big step back, I would suggest that the unchanging recipe of that burger, which had somehow remained a salt lick on a bun transported me back to childhood when my loved one was still alive. That sense of consistency and ability to confer memories still gets me in the craw. I arm myself with knowledge and a kitchen full of ingredients to make new memories today. I bring any desire of chasing childhood into that kitchen and sometimes lose my footing or gloriously succeed. That same curiosity I harbored as a child is helping me make different decisions than those of my childhood. I think of my foodie friend, nervous for being outed, nervous for admitting her predilection for occasional processed food and consider my shortcomings. Friends, they are many.

Childhood certainly had its happy moments that I want to remember and remember well. But as an adult, I want to be able to walk in what I know and continue to learn, perhaps being a part of someone else’s journey of discovering there is another way of eating that is both doable and delicious.

How have your eating habits changed since childhood? What kid food memories do you give into?


  1. First of all, you are equally amazing via blog as you are in person! Second, I love this post. I’ve probably read it 100 times but only today have I the courage to accept that this is too my problem. There are simply too many food-childhood connections to mention. I cannot pass up chocolate-hazelnut anything because as soon as I taste that warm, creamy, nutty goodness, thoughts of my beloved Oma flood back into my present and I can almost smell the inside of her sweets cabinet from where all good things hazelnut-chocolate came from. Sadly, I cannot stop at one chocolate-hazelnut anything and all too soon those eating memories turn into real life extra pounds to my present. It sucks. It doesn’t however suck enough to give her up. Memories of my Oma, that is. Is this the only way I remember her? Of course not… But using food to remember, punish and console myself is what I do.

    I hope you’ll follow up this post with suggestions (if there are any) of how we might break this cycle or how at the very least it is that we can stop one hazelnut-chocolate bite from turning into a month-long binge.


    1. If it helps Janet, this is something I struggle with every time I go *home*. I have decided there are parameters within which I can indulge my childhood food memories. If they involve home cooked food or a restaurant experience that is not of the fast variety, then okay, once a year isn’t going to do me in. But if it happens to be processed food or something I can make at home and make better, then unfortunately, that has to go.

      Memories of your Oma and them being tied to Nutella sound like a lovely tribute of one of your magnificent cookie recipes. Perhaps these could even be baked and given to others in her name? That might be a fitting way to both have a cookie and do good in her name? I agree with “using food to remember, punish and console myself is what I do.” See if making a homemade batch of nutella allows you to make new memories of the flavor association, while also reminding you of her.

      You and I talked at length about the idea of childhood and food memories. Let us remember those memories and remember them well, but somehow find the gumption inside to sever the ties to food that no longer serves a purpose in helping us reclaim our loved ones or a well regarded time of our lives. It’s something that I of a highly processed food past have to do for my present and my future. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. xo

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