Welcome to the second installment of Inviting Writing, our new monthly storytelling feature where we welcome food-related submissions from readers. In case you missed the first set, here's how it works: We give you a writing prompt—last month's was "manners"—and then Amanda or I will share a story that relates to both food and the theme of the month. If the prompt brings to mind a true tale from your own life, send it to [email protected] with "Inviting Writing" in the subject line. Be sure to include your full name (feel free to include a link if you have your own blog or website). We'll post the best ones on the blog on subsequent Mondays.
These stories can be funny, sad, strange or just interesting, as long as they're true and have to do with both food and the theme, however you interpret it.
This month's prompt is "Fear." I'll start it off, then it's your turn!
When people talk about childhood comfort foods, they often mention macaroni and cheese or fresh-baked chocolate cookies—what Mom would dish up when they were feeling blue or sick or scared. The love that went into it was as important as the food itself.
Not me. During what may have been the scariest period of my young (and admittedly sheltered) life, the food that gave me solace came in a styrofoam clamshell container, not-so-lovingly prepared by a minimum-wage worker: it was an Egg McMuffin.
The year was 1978, and I was in the middle of first grade. My family had just moved from a small community in a semi-rural suburb of Philadelphia to the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. Until that point I had loved school. My new one, however, was a far cry from the gentle, nurturing place I had come from, where the teacher had spoken in soothing tones and the harshest thing to happen on the playground was getting caught in a game of "London Bridge Is Falling Down."
My new teacher was a gruff New Yorker who raised her voice frequently—even, to my horror, at eager-to-please little me! Scarier still were the other children—streetwise girls who talked tough and shoved each other around. My only "friend" was a girl who joined in bullying me whenever her other playmate was around, digging their nails into my arms to try to make me cry.
Everything was unfamiliar; on the first day in my new class, the "caf monitor" came around to collect "caf money." Having no idea that this was short for cafeteria, I missed my chance to purchase lunch and went without.
Not surprisingly, I often tried to get out of going to school. Every morning I tried to persuade my mother that I was sick. I wasn't exactly lying; I'm sure my anxiety about going to school caused me to feel queasy. Though my mother sympathized, she couldn't allow me to be a first-grade dropout.
So she did the only thing that seemed to work: she bribed me.
If I went to school, she'd say, we could stop at McDonald's for breakfast on the way. For reasons that are hard for me to fathom now, something about the combination of a puck-shaped fried egg, Canadian bacon and American cheese oozing out of an English muffin was impossible for me to resist. It was even worth enduring a day of school for. Maybe it was because McDonald's was familiar from my former home, or because it felt like something special between just my mother and I (my older brother took the bus). Whatever the reason, it worked.
Fortunately, this little deal we negotiated didn't lead me down the path of childhood obesity or interfere with my education. At the end of the school year, my family moved again, this time to a place with less intimidating schools. I once again became a model student, eager to go to class without having to stop at a drive-thru on the way.