A Second Generation Immigrant

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

June 1, 2011

A traditional Yooper pasty (whole and a cross ...

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It was the “Solid Liberal” description that made me connect the dots. I am a fully second generation immigrant. That is, I am only the second generation on father’s side and third on my mother’s to be born in America. My maternal great-grandparents came from Poland. My paternal grandparents came from then Yugoslavia. I grew up fully aware of my central European heritage and celebrating portions of my Polish heritage. I grew up with cultural rivalries and around most people who were in a sense fresh off the boat. In most cultures, food is central, and in Polish culture it’s no different. If you’re reading daily, you’ve noticed that my last two posts have pontificated fad diets, their relevance, and now, how they clash with culture.

I grew up identified as a Polish, Yugoslav Catholic in the Midwest, mostly northern Michigan and then the Lower Peninsula (where trolls live). As a Catholic, Bread and Wine are central to our weekly (and if you attend, daily) masses. Bread is a core part of the Christian faith, a symbol for life itself.I grew up with my grandmother making bread. And later I learned she would make, by hand, upwards of 16 loaves a week! Once I taught myself how to make bread, kneading was instinctive based on what I watched my grandmother do.

Growing up in the Midwest, a “meat and potatoes” diet was core to our being. A meal often looked like this: hunk of meat; starch in the form of potatoes, rice or noodles, and sometimes a combination of; and a green vegetable. IN part this was my mother’s cooking which is layered with the thought that “she can’t cook (I believe this thought to be a cop-out, or in other words, bullshit)”. I grew up in the land of casseroles, Cool Whip, and Smores.

In my 20s, I met people who could cook and helped me expand my food horizons. While I can’t recall any specific polish meals from my childhood, I do know that culture played an important part of how I ate, despite the many boxed foods fed from my mother who insisted she can’t cook. As I broke down those fearful barriers myself, and then I realized I can cook, I was able to take control of my food. What I learned, I learned from books like Diet for a Small Planet and those who I knew in my early to mid 20s. These years shaped how I view food nutrition, but I always pared it back to my growing up years. More specifically, I would compare it to my mother’s growing up years as she ate home-cooked, homegrown meals every day.

My maternal grandmother was a Radical Homemaker before there was a term coined. She is my vision of the 50s housewife, post World War II woman of strength, courage, and tenacity. She is my vision of stability, of home, of community. And, she fed her family a diversified diet of foods that can be grown and preserved in the Upper Peninsula, a climate, I would imagine that is not too different than parts of Poland or Yugoslavia.

While my grandmother has a blend of French and Scottish heritage, she adapted well to feeding my Polish grandfather and the children they had. I imagine she cooked to his liking much like I try to cook to my husband’s liking so that food will get eaten and it won’t be wasted. If she cooked to my grandfather’s liking, perhaps it was similar to my great-grandmother’s cooking, who was from Poland. If it was similar to Polish cooking, perhaps it was similar to centuries of Polish cooking. Bread based, meat diet with vegetables grown in the yard.

Enter our modern world where fad diets suggest no grains, gluten, wheat, corn, sometimes rice, milk, maybe soy. Sometimes its for political reasons. Sometimes its for health concerns. But, how much of it is based on long-term studies, and how does it compare to regional diets that have formed over centuries? What does a no-fat diet look like to the Inuit?

The pediatrician was really trying to say we all have food sensitivities. We all should pay attention to how food affects us, but there are other factors at work that we’re just not sophisticated enough to test. Go back to culture. Go back to your heritage, find out what they ate, and start there.

Now, I wonder what elimination diets would look like if you can identify a strong heritage in your family tree. Would it contain the 14 or 22 most common food sensitive foods? Or, would it embrace pasta?

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