Monday, July 22, 2013

The Donner Party List, and Other Miscellaneous Matters Related to Food

Donner Party Memorial

I've made reference to my Donner Party List before in my blog. The references I've made have been in such context that i really didn't need to explain what was meant by the term. Thus, I've never really discussed anything about it or how it came into existence.

I was born a picky eater. My parents did their best to force preemie formula down my throat as soon as I was strong enough to eat on my own. Preemies are often fed through tubes directly into their stomachs, apparently. At that point, food wasn't much of an issue. I'm convinced now, knowing what I know, that the only reason it wasn't an issue even then was that the tube bypassed my taste buds. If I had been able to taste the liquid taste-equivalent to furniture polish (I'm making a wild assumption, but when formula is bypassing babies' taste buds, much thought cannot be put into how it tastes) that they were inserting through the tube into my stomach, I surely would have found a way with my uncoordinated little hands to pull that tube right out of my stomach.

Once I was home, my parents couldn't get me to drink the formula from my bottle. My Aunt Ilianna, who isn't a relative by marriage or birth but is still my aunt nonetheless, brought the youngest of her four children, five-year-old Timmy, and came to stay with us for about a month. (My mom had done the same for her when she had a preemie and three other children-- one not yet two -- for which to care.)

My Aunt Ilianna is a nurse-practitioner who specializes in neonates. Both she and my father wanted my mother to switch my brother to formula and to nurse me. My mother refused.  My aunt concluded that I didn't like the formula, and that other preemie formula brands were on the market. She went to my  pediatrician's office and got two sample cans each of three other brands of formula designed for preemies.  the second one, while presumably not tasting quite like A & W root beer, was at least not so disgusting that I refused to consume it, although I supposedly drooled out at least as much as I drank.

One night my parents had not been monitoring their supply of my formula, and found that they had run out of the stuff that I would drink. They still had one can of the stuff my aunt picked up at the pediatrician's office that I had tried  and rejected, and two cans of the stuff I had not tried. They decided on the untried brand.  They might just as well have tried to feed me Pine-sol as far as the taste was concerned. They tried the other stuff, but it was no better. if they tried to feed me, I screamed because I hated the formula. If they didn't try to feed me, I screamed because I was hungry. My mother even tried breastfeeding me, but that didn't work either because I didn't quite have the technique down and couldn't manage to get anything. It finally occurred to my father at about 4:00 boil sugar in water and cool it to just above room temperature. I was still a bit reluctant to take it, my mom said, but I eventually must have figured out that it was as good as it was going to get. I drank it and conked out from sheer exhaustion, as did my parents. The next morning my pediatrician sent a nurse over  early with an emergency supply right after my dad called because he knew how tired my parents were.

when it was time to switch form preemie formula, which didn't happen until I was almost six months, my parnts went through the same ordeal of trying one brand after another, only to have me reject it. Though the specific age at whch I spoke my first words is a major source of debate to my parents, it was during this trial-and-error period with formula that I spoke my first words. Somewhere between almost six months and seven months, when mymother reached for a can of SMA brand formula to mix it for me, I said clearly, "No SMA!"  Shocked but still thnking clearly, she carried me over to the pantry and held up different cans.When she got to Gerber, I reached for it, and the decision was made.

I've been picky about everything that went into my mouth since then, and it's been a subject of much dissent since then.  My father was adamant that it was not acceptable for watermelon, bananas, and grapes to be the only fruit or vegetable (all technically fruits and none vegetables,but that was a minor point in the grand scheme of things) that I ate. Even of what I liked, I ate very little. One quarter of a sandwich was more than enough.. I liked peanut butter sandwiches but God forbid anyone put the slightest amount of jelly on my peanut butter sandwich, or even used the same knife to cut my peanut butter sandwich after cutting my brother's peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.

One summer when my brother and I were four, just before kindergarten, our family had driven home from Reno or Tahoe and had stopped at Truckee to view some of the Donner Party exhibits.  All my brother got out of it was that people had been stranded there and were cold and hungry, and that some had starved. I could read considerably better than Matthew, and one of the main reasons for which the Donner Party was known was not lost on me.

Not long after visiting the Donner party exhibits, eggplant was served for dinner.  'I'm not eating this goop!" I announced.

"Yes, you are!" my dad responded.

"Do whatever you want  to me, " I announced, but I'm not eating this eggplant ,(I spoke the word as though merely saying it might make me ill) "and there's nothing you can do that will force me to swallow it. " My father had forced food into my mouth on occasion. "Even if I was in the Donner Party, I wouldn't eat this goop.  I'd eat part of Tamsin Donner's leg before I would eat this garbage."

My parents, thoroughly taken by surprise, burst into laughter.  At that point, the concept of the Donner Party List was born.  I was allowed to name ten foods that I would be allowed to skip whenever they were served. Eggplant was at the very top of the list. It was a constant argument as to whether or not I could replace one Donner Party list item for another, and I  soon decided that ten was too small a number to accommodate my dislikes.  Eventually the list became a big joke, and my parents just tried to get me to eat a reasonably balanced diet and enough to stay alive.

Matthew never needed anything resembling a Donner Party List. If something even looked like food, for the most part, he ate it.  We couldn't even have realistic-looking play food in our Little Tikes kitchen  because it it looked real enough, Matthew would eat it. Once he gnawed his way all the way through a plastic pickle. The only actual food  I recall Matthew turning his nose up at was mushrooms. Once we were served something with truffles at some hoity-toity function we attended with my grandparents, Matthew wouldn't eat those, either. I suppose he had an issue with fungi.

Another member of the family had issues with absolutely no form of food,including fungi. Once when we went to my grandparents' home, they had been out of the country for a month. A carton of cottage cheese had been inadvertently left in the refrigerator. In the time it had been left there, a sizable amount of what was formerly cottage cheese had turned t mold. my Uncle Mahonri, who was also at my grandparents' home, too the cottage cheese container, opened it, and began eating it, mold and all.  My Uncle Michael, who at that time was probably completing his medical internship, saw what my uncle was eating. "Mahonri, you can't eat that!' he exclaimed. ""It's covered in mold."

"Mold isn't anything but penicillin," Mahonri offered by way of explanation. "And penicillin is good for you." He continued to eat away the moldy substance. At this point I could hear what was being said, but couldn't actually see anything.

Uncle Michael sighed as though he didn't know where to begin. "Penicillin is not 'good for you,' he explained to Uncle Mahonri. "It's actually a fairly toxic substance. That's why it works against some illnesses. Sometimes when you're sick, penicillin is the lesser of the two evils as opposed to allowing the illness to ravage your body, but in and of itself, it is not 'good for you.'  And, for that matter, mold is not penicillin.  Penicillin can be made from mold, but mold by itself is not penicillin."

Uncle Mahonri continued to spoon the concoction in his mouth.

My Uncle Steve wandered in and asked what was happening. Uncle Michael filled him in. Uncle Steve, then in his medical residency, said, "Michael, it's not worth your time.  It's just like trying to reason with  that rock out there." Uncle Steve pointed at a mid-sized bolder of granite placed in my grandparents' yard for landscaping purposes.

By this point, I was highly curious as to just what it was Uncle Mahonri was eating.  I crept around the table so I could have a look. I immediately began to gag. My Uncle Steve picked me up and held my head over the sink while I emptied the contents of my stomach, then ran the water and used the nozzle to rinse the sink. Uncle Michael grabbed the moldy cottage cheese container and tossed it into the trash. Mahonri protested, but Uncle Michael told him he couldn't eat food in the presence of a child if it made her sick, and that, for that matter, it practically made him [Uncle Michael] sick.  After I finished throwing up , Uncle Steve gave me a glass of water to rinse my mouth out, wet a cloth and washed my face with it, and put me on a sofa in a nearby room with a trash can next to me just in case it was needed.

The next item that went on my Donner Party List was cottage cheese, and no one complained even though it brought the number of items on my list to eleven.


  1. That's funny. I'm a picky eater too. Or, I was when I was a kid. The one food I can't eat is mushrooms. But there are a lot of other foods I don't like. When I was a baby, I couldn't drink milk because it would make me throw up. Consequently, I was not a milk drinker growing up. I would drink chocolate milk, but not until I was about ten or so.

    I don't like cold cheeses or certain vegetables. As I get older, I get more adventurous, but I was really picky as a kid.

    My dad used to try to force me to eat things, too. One time, in a restaurant, he tried to make me eat sauteed mushrooms and I started screaming. My mom finally told him to leave me alone.

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