This was a blogpost by Shan Burton. I tweaked some formatting and photos a bit. The original is linked below.


Food and Assumptions...A True Unfettering!

Shan Burton
September 01, 2009

As a child, food was akin to torture, to me. It wasn't that I was especially picky; I wasn't, although there were always those things - cola, mustard, sauerkraut, melons - that I have never wanted to put anywhere near my taste buds.

The food didn't bother me, but the eating did. There were definitely rules about eating in my family, and they weren't up for negotiation. And those rules ran counter to my very nature, which, despite my every effort to comply, too often earned me harsh words and punishment.

These were the rules:

1) Supper is at 6pm. So is the evening news. Mom and Dad will watch the news (all the kids' chairs are positioned in a way that they can't see the TV). There will be no talking during the news; commercials will be used mostly to debate the topics just covered. If parents are feeling particularly magnanimous, and the article was approved, we might get up to watch it from the dining room doorway.

2) Children ate what was served. There were no accommodations made for taste. My spinach-loathing brother suffered on spinach nights. I suffered when there was sauerkraut (often it was cooked with hot dogs or Polish sausage, which spoiled them for my palate, or in a concoction my dad called Bavarian casserole, which had sauerkraut layered with meat and vegetables. I dreaded that!). There was no saying yuck; if I made that mistake, I would be served a double portion. It was simply not acceptable to disrespect the cook.

3) All of the food on my plate was to be consumed. I was to stay at the table until it was gone. If the food got cold, or I was full, it didn't matter. I was still required to eat it. If bedtime came, and the food was still there, it would be put in the refrigerator, and I would face it again in the morning. Tears didn't work. Begging or pleading were pointless. Wasting food was a cardinal offense, and was treated that way!

4) I was not allowed food between meals. Snacks of any kind were a rare treat. Soda was reserved for parties. Candy was for Halloween, Christmas, or my birthday, and even then doled out sparingly. Even fruit was to be consumed only with permission. I was expected to eat at mealtimes, eat what I was given, and not else.

5) A "good breakfast" was to be consumed before school each day. A "good breakfast" was usually a bowl of cereal, a piece of toast, and a small glass of orange juice.

I was not a fast eater, but all the food was to be gone before I got on the bus. Sometimes, I could sneak bits and bites to my younger brother, who always wanted more than he was given. Other times, the "whippin' stick" would be slammed down on the table in front of me, as an incentive to eat. On at least one occasion, I wasn't fast enough, and was spanked with the stick.

6) From the time I was 8, after meals meant doing the dishes with my older sister. She washed, I rinsed in cold running water (using warm or hot was not allowed). Watching TV or playing were only for after the dishes were done.

7) Food was *not* for playing with. It was serious business, to be consumed at the table. There would be no reading at the table, no toys, no singing, no joking around with siblings. There would, however, be relentless quizzing, pitting the other three of us against my older and not academically-inclined brother. There would often be lectures, or yelling, while we sat there, a captive audience, because we were not to leave the table until we were finished and had been excused.

Wow! There was a lot more emotion there than I'd realized. There was also a smothering of my own sense of my personal needs for nutrition, sustenance, and pleasure from my food. It took many years, and many pounds gained, then painstakingly removed, to begin to understand my own relationship with food.

Sadly, I didn't realize just how deeply I had been wounded by this forced battle with food until after I had inflicted milder versions of it on my own children. These included controlling what they ate - lots of vegetables and whole-grains, meals I prepared out of duty, grudgingly, insistence that they try everything, a serious bias against anything my mind labeled as "sweets" or "junk".

Luckily, though, I discovered unschooling, and, as we moved along in our journey toward understanding this incredible new way of living and being with our children, I began to question more and more of the assumptions I'd made about the role of food in all of our lives, and my own need to control what foods my children were allowed to eat, when, and how...

Gradually, we moved away from sitting down to eat at assigned times, and I began serving a lot of monkey platters filled, party-style, with a variety of foods. We began buying more snacks, then allowing the children the freedom to choose some of the items on grocery day. Food began to be served when people were hungry, and as the self-imposed definitions of mealtime faded away, I found the preparations becoming fun...and that was reflected in what we all ate...

I've reclaimed my identity as a grazer, and discovered that my children are, as well. And so our grocery budget is heavy on fresh fruits, finger foods, and easy to prepare items anyone can fix. We indulge in lots of cereal (both with milk and dry as a snack), sandwiches, nuts, and crackers...and treats are no longer the forbidden fruits of life.

All food is energy. Food can be fun. We can play with our food, talk, laugh, read, sing, play, walk away, return, not touch it, devour it all and ask for more...

We have many choices. And each of us, from smallest to largest, has the freedom to make those choices for themselves. The adults in the house are getting a little smaller, these days, and eating huge quantities of melons, oranges, and frozen grapes. One of the children has the same proportions she's always had, but is relieved no one now tries to convince her to eat sauces. She will, however, eat plain or buttered bread and pepper seeds pretty much anytime, and adores oatmeal and whole-grain pancakes. The other child has become somewhat better-padded...and is obviously gearing up, at age 8, for a big prepubescent growth spurt. He loves cheese and cereal, and is perhaps our main consumer of what used to be termed "sweets" (which seems only fair, as he was the one most denied them, before).

Food can be an experiment, a social activity, and even art!

What it never is, anymore, is a battlefield.

May all your meals be joyous ones!

Shannon Burton. Original post is here:
Food and Assumptions...A True Unfettering!.


That post had three comments. I know those commenters, and Shan, personally in real life, and so I'm bringing the notes. They are by Caren Knox, Renee Cabatic, and myself.
dharmamama said...
Oh, I loved the pictures! And the contrast!! yay! for healing done around food, and freedom, and giving the gift of joy to your kids.

Funny enough, I initially mis-typed, "giving the gift of you". I corrected it - but that's true, too, isn't it?

Sandra Dodd said...

My family had harsh rules. Not as bad as yours, though, Shan! Poor little-girl Shan!! (and her siblings)

My younger cousin lived with us and had been neglected until she moved in at seven. She was hungry, but she was NOT allowed to have a second glass of milk at a meal. So because she would (as my mom assured people) "drink it all if I let her" or "fill up on milk," then the rest of us weren't allowed seconds on milk anymore either.

We had a no-singing-at-the-table rule. Why? Because you will choke and die.

I wish your parents and my mom could have seen and been a different way. It would have made our childhoods easier, but it also would have made *their* lives nicer, and made them nicer people.

All people have to do to be nicer is to stop making mean choices. 🙂

Renee Cabatic said...
Awesome post. Love the happy eating pictures.

More about food and eating


"Building an Unschooling Nest"