My history with food goes back to the beginning – well, pre-Meg actually.
It could be a genetic thing. While I never met my eccentric grandfather, William L. Maxson the inventor (with whom I share the middle name of Leslie — perhaps my parents thought it would make me smart like my genius grandfather. Oh well.), it is clear to anyone who sees a picture of him that he loved food. He was no small man. He was known to his family and friends as Tuba. He was an engineer and had hundreds of patents in his name.
One of the most prominent things he invented was frozen food, although he is rarely credited for it. Yes, he not only invented frozen dinners, but he invented the convection oven that cooked them, BEFORE the Birdseye or Swanson dudes.
This obsession, as many of his inventive ideas were categorized, was born during World War II where as a Navy officer he devised many items that helped the Allies win the war. Not all of his inventions had to do with creating ease and comfort, but he felt concern for the service men who had to endure extremely long airplane flights to get overseas (no doubt this was after enduring several himself).
So, Tuba devised a system that would start with frozen meals and thaw as they were cooked relatively quickly in special ovens (the Maxson Whirlwind Oven) on the planes, which would eventually become convection ovens and frozen dinners. Okay, this seems like an embarrassing thing to admit these days (even though most airlines don’t even serve hot food anymore), but back then it was deeply appreciated and welcomed as a wonderful innovation that eventually spread into the civilian world, when Pan Am started serving Maxson Sky Plates in 1944.
My mother also had a love of food and was forever exploring new culinary experiences at our expense. Honestly, as a kid, I much preferred being the grandchild of my grandfather –Tuba’s frozen meals. I was a child of the 60s and an early adopter of the TV dinner as opposed to the sweet breads or other odd and ‘sophisticated’ food my mother might be experimenting with.
[Read: Are you a real foodie?]
Fancy foodie from the start.
I was one of the only 4-year-olds that could go into any upscale French restaurant and order escargot and hot dogs with pride and ignorance as all the adults snickered knowingly.
While they were so impressed with my mature palate, I had no idea what the big deal was – I mean, doesn’t everyone love garlic and melted butter? One of my favorite meals was drop-kicked off its fancy French pedestal when some unsuspecting waiter or waitress let the truth slip. This was my first and perhaps most damaging food trauma and it took me years before I would at least dip my bread into any buttery garlic sauce. I suppose I thought those cute little shells were just a clever way of holding the stuff that held the butter and garlic sauce.
This episode could’ve also provided a clue to my life-long love of condiments and sauces. If it were nutritionally sane and balanced, I would spend the rest of my life dipping breads into various sauces or eating pasta covered in colorful, gooey, cheesy, creamy, buttery sauces.
I am firmly convinced my love of french fries could be attributed in large part to my love of ketchup. In most cases, if there was no ketchup available, I would abandon the french fries. Of course, as a kid I loved fast-food french fries and of course, my informative brother insisted it was because they used rancid lamb fat. Eventually this would help me resist the evil temptation of these little fat sticks.
I had a natural disdain for meat. All I knew was that if I chomped on a piece of fat or grizzle while eating any type of meat, I would gag and nearly throw up. Well, there was that time I DID throw up on my parent’s friend’s lap while eating some type of sausage. It didn’t take much and I hated throwing up, so if something made me gag, it was to be avoided.
Eating chicken off the bone was a terrible experience that I learned to sidestep early as well. My mother had a phobia of choking on a fishbone that she happily shared with me, which turned me off of fish. I tolerated canned tuna fish until my brother ruined that one by telling me too much about how it was made.
My brother, who went into the food service business when I was about 10 years old seemed to take pleasure in bringing home new horror stories about how food was manufactured. I grew up hastily when it came to hot dogs and hamburgers, and what was once an innocent childhood indulgence became an disgusting disappointment to me before I hit puberty. Probably not a bad thing, but at the time, I was regularly ridiculed for my snub of the meaty things.
On the other side of the food group spectrum, I discovered a natural love of nearly all vegetables early on — from the daily cucumber salads to my life-long love affair with shoestring french fries. I didn’t know much about nutritional balance or whole foods as a kid, but I showed early signs of an aptitude for going in that direction.
So, when I began to seriously explore being a vegetarian, vegan and even raw foodie in my early 20s, things started making sense, and another foodie was born.