Tuesday, November 11, 2008

food, glorious food

I found myself telling this story about my mother today. When I was small a marketing campaign on television started for this food product called Kids Cuisine, which was a oven/microwave prepared meal made by the diet mega-company called Lean Cuisine. All I remember about the commercials really are the really excited pandas imploring me to convince my parents to get one for me the next time we were at the grocery store and they were having a bad day. So I did just that, and my mother let me get one that featured chicken nuggets, carrots and peas, and some sort of warm caramel apple nut concoction. I held it, thawing, in my lap while we drove home. The trepidation was incredible. We got home and my mom opened the box and we looked through the clear plastic at my soon-t0-be-unfrozen meal. The ensuing conversation went something like this:

Mom, it's not right.
What do you mean, it's not right?
It doesn't look like the picture-- there's only three nuggets, not four. And they're small.

My mom then taught me my first lesson in activism, albeit rooted in consumerism. We drafted a letter of complaint to Lean Cuisine expressing our epic disappointment and culinary fury. We took a picture of the meal next to the picture on the box. We developed the film the next day and put all the parts of our claim in an envelope and shipped it away. I remember realizing the discrepancy between what happened when my mom got mad at me but still loved me and when my mom got mad at Kid Cuisine and glowered at the frozen food section of the grocery store for years.

My father and I also had a shared experience of outrage with the Burger King in Somerville, NJ. We ordered a burger, asked for it plain, the way prissy 5 year old girls like it, went home and were greeted by chopped onion/pickle/tomato/lettuce/mustard/mayo goulash melting into the bun. This kind of activism was of a different genre-- less pacifist, more riotous. We went back to the Burger King ('we' meaning, my dad driving, and me strapped in a booster seat) and demanded burger justice. We made a big scene about checking the burger for untainted bun, and asked for a kid-size milkshake in repentance.

I guess the reason why these stories are important are because they were small, silly, little moments, but punctuated a childhood of being generally complacent with food and consumerism. They were also bookmarks in the chapter book of how one can act when feeling jilted by people in charge. I never asked for Kid's Cuisine again, I always made sure to be articulate when ordering and describing what I wanted/needed, I knew it was okay to throw a scene sometimes, that pictures and people sometimes lie, and that my parents were teaching me things that had taken them a lifetime to learn.

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