No Peas Please

by Debbie Carini


On July 1, the New York Times ran a short piece about President Obama and Jeb Bush sharing a dislike of peas in their guacamole.

I am also not an advocate of peas in food where they shouldn’t be. This includes Chinese fried rice, Spanish rice, pasta salad and now, evidently, guacamole. For that matter, I believe little carrot squares, chopped-up lima beans and random corn kernels should stay in their respective cans or frozen boxes as well.

Perhaps it all stems from my early childhood education at the hands of the Dominican Sisters, not an all-girl group specializing in merengue music, but fully-habited, ruler-wielding nuns.

In those days (the mid-1960s), before the enlightenment of the Vatican II Council changes, a little-understood (by me) rule of my childhood was “no meat on Fridays.” In the unfortunate event that my mother did not make me lunch, which was usually a cream cheese and jelly sandwich, I had to eat in the Sacred Heart School cafeteria.

As we lined up to partake of the mid-day meal, the smell of briny water from tin cans permeated the hallway. Once inside the dining establishment, as billows of steam fogged my glasses and curled my hair, it was a spa-like experience without the pleasing aroma of fragrant oils. Aromatherapy was as distant a concept as child-centered education or the 8-track tape.

The Dickensian atmosphere featured long lines of frightened-looking children (most of us alarmed by the assault on our olfactory systems) and vapor-encased cauldrons.

There were no choices. No one asked what I preferred or if I was allergic to anything. The unsmiling lunch lady handed me a plate of canned vegetables, artfully shaped like a mountain and topped with a small, boiled potato. As a lifelong lover of anything white and starchy, I could manage the tater, but the remaining Matterhorn of mushy, salt-infused tubers and greens was an altogether different matter.

The kinder, older children would try to help, “Just swallow it whole, don’t chew,” or, one of my favorites, “pinch your nose while you eat it.”

Nothing worked, not even the thought of starving babies in impoverished nations abroad. I usually drank my milk and then stuffed the entire, offending mess into the empty carton. Unfortunately, the principal, Sister Frederick, once caught me tossing this food bomb into the trash and invited me to her office where I was strongly encouraged to eat the repackaged mess (which had since reconstituted itself to a solid brick). Needless to say, I’ve buried the memory of what ensued.

In truth, the nuns were probably onto something. We undoubtedly shouldn’t have been eating lunch meats of questionable origin (I mean, what is salami? And don’t even get me started on something my grandmother loved—head cheese—the stained-glass of deli foods). Perhaps if there had been a salad bar, which didn’t start to appear until the early 1970s, I would have developed a fondness for little bits of vegetables sprinkled across my meal.

Instead, I’m the one eating cold fried rice, because it’s taken me five minutes to segregate the chlorided bits of Veg-All to the side of the plate. So I agree with the President and Mr. Bush: please keep the peas from the guacamole. If I wanted to eat healthy, I wouldn’t start with something that needed to be scooped-up with a chip to begin with!


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