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Eat to live or live to eat

Sometimes I think eating is overrated.

We can’t wait to sit down at the table to pig out. When everything’s devoured, we wish we’d left most of it as leftovers for the next meal.

Then tomorrow comes and, again, we can’t wait to sit down at the table to pig out. We’ll never learn.

As I’ve tried to drum into the minds of the younger set, once you reach a certain age, you can eat a pea and it grows in your stomach into a watermelon.

It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that I used to live to eat.

That was back in those halcyon days when I ate like a bird — enough food every day to equal half my weight.

I used to pride myself in how much I could wolf down at one sitting. A certain sister-in-law of mine once stared wide-eyed at a family dinner when I plopped enough mashed potatoes on my plate to ease the Irish famine.

In high school, I would come home late from basketball and baseball practice and clean up the bowls from supper. Mama didn’t have to wrap leftovers to put in the fridge — no sirree.

I remember sitting at my grandmother’s large dining room table when relatives from all over were passing around dish after bowl after platter. I found each item so delectable that soon my plate was overflowing. And I was so little I had to have a pillow to sit on.

I would eat until my stomach felt like it was about to bust. 

Then, miraculously, 30 minutes later, I was ready for more.

During my youth up until my mid-20s, my ability to devour gargantuan amounts of food became legendary. 

I recall a college friend of mine introducing me to a young couple as we sat down at a nice restaurant.

My friend — Mike, you know who you are — told them of my most incredible trait. No, it wasn’t my ability to leap tall buildings at a single bound or to run faster than a speeding locomotive.

Naw, he told them my capacity to consume massive amounts of vittles was practically mythological. It was all I could do to contain my gloating.

I can always credit the fact that I had three brothers and mealtime in our family was survival of the fittest. And you better not be late getting to the table.

But, it wasn’t always that way. You’ll find this difficult to believe, but I had been a picky eater from an early age. 

I remember sitting at the table one Saturday, fussing because what was on my lunch plate looked yucky. 

I’m sure Mama reminded me of all the starving children in China. To which I thought to myself, “So give this to them. They’re welcome to it.”

Then there was that fateful day that may have been the catalyst for my big turnaround.

Mama had filled my plate one afternoon when there was nobody else at the table. When she saw I wasn’t eating like I should, she went for the big guns.

“Clean your plate and you can have dessert,” she said.

“Hmm,” I thought. “Dessert is just a clean plate away.”

Those beans and chopped broccoli and turnip greens sat unappetizingly on my plate. Maybe I had eaten an orange or apple after getting home from school and I just wasn’t that hungry.

Anyway, when Mama left the room I saw my chance. I eased off my chair, grabbed the plate of food, walked it out the backdoor and raked my supper into the ditch beside the driveway.

Now I had my clean plate.

Uh-oh. When I got back inside, Mama was waiting for me.

“Now you can’t have dessert,” she said.

I don’t remember what was for dessert — ice cream or peach cobbler or cake or an apple pie straight from the oven. 

The reason I don’t remember is because I had to go to my room before the delicacy was brought to the table.

That unhappy episode caused a change in my eating habits. I became such a plate-cleaner that little children in China would have looked at me with adoration.

I was transformed from a finicky eater to a gastronome. Eating was no longer a means to dessert. It was its own pleasure.

But now that I have an aging digestive system, I need to find a pill to curb my urge.

Maybe there’s a patch I can wear to remove my desire to overeat.

Hey, they made one for smokers.


Larry Penkava is a writer for Randolph Hub. Contact: 336-302-2189, larrypenkava@gmail.com.