A matter of taste

Back in the Pleistocene geologic era when I served a mission in the Tonga Islands for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Tonga was the pristine islands they try to portray in travel brochures. On Vava’u where I spent the majority of my mission life was simpler, no electricity, no paved roads, one battery powered radio phone to contact the outside world, if the battery was charged.

Our usual diet was generally unadorned root vegetables, or breadfruit, boiled in a pot over an open fire. Occasionally we had fish, and delicious tropical fruit. Our island had no running water. We drank from green coconuts. Now and then I was treated to such entrées as horse, whale, octopus, or a flying marsupial that resembled a bat. It was nourishing food lovingly given. I enjoyed and appreciated it, but it did take me awhile to get accustomed to it.

On the other hand, once when we were on the “big” island (about 15 by 25 miles), missionary teachers at the Church school invited my companion Viliami and me to a festive tasting of a batch of home made root beer they had brewed. Viliami had never tasted root beer, but after my sales pitch he was salivating. His anticipation lasted right up to the first swallow. He gasped, eyed the outside door, swallowed hard, and got it to stay down. He whispered to me, “It tastes like medicine.”

I sipped a swallow. My long term memory brought up picnics, post football practice cool downs, dates at the A and W drive in, delicious root beer floats. I sipped again using my newly developed Tongan taste buds. Viliami was right. I tasted like carbonated paregoric.

The only Tongan equivalent I could think of was a slimy substance out of the ocean swamps called lomu. It was served to me one night during an evening discussion sitting in a circle in a Tongan hut. I had vowed on my mission I would eat what the Tongans ate. Lomu was my only defeat. I swallowed hard three times. Slick as it was it would not budge. My swallowing mechanism refused to put it down and hold it down. I bolted for the doorway, dumped the mess and returned to our discussion. When I pushed aside the mat that served as a door, I was ready to apologize for not appreciating their gift. But they were all whooping and told me, “We don’t like it either.”

Taste is a matter of taste. I know that even better now. One of the joys of life’s mature years is that my body is not the forgiving obedient servant it used to be. The skimpy sleep, fast food, play-through-the-pain days are nostalgia

I used to say unconsciously to my body, “I know this isn’t good for you, but I like it, so deal with it.”

Now my body replies, “Ok, you deal with this,” and sends some message I didn’t want to get. So six years ago I made the decision to get on the same page with my stomach. I promised, “I won’t eat anything that isn’t good for me.”

Whereupon my body agreed to give me the best service its birth date would permit. The beginnings were rocky. For months I avoided certain aisles in the grocery store as a reforming alcoholic would shun a tavern. I hung out with my friends the fruits and vegetables. I substituted almond butter which is alkaline for peanut butter which is more acid. For breakfast I traded ham and eggs for green vegetables and eggs. I went organic as much as possible and added food supplements for those areas where my diet didn’t provide. I drink water like the diet experts always recommended. At first drinking half this much made me feel like the Titanic on her way down. As in Tonga, it took awhile to retrain my taste buds. But I prefer this diet now. . I wouldn’t go back to my old ways even if I could. This for me feels, and tastes much better.

I have made no converts to my enlightened eating habits. . My children and grands don’t believe me. They pity me. Sometimes they say, “Grandpa, can’t you ever break out and eat the good stuff again?”

I say, “This is the good stuff.”

They look at me sadly, thinking, “Poor Grandpa’s off his meds.”

I say, “But that’s a wonderful side effect. I’m not on any meds”

The nearest I have come to persuading anybody is to tell them, “If you ever decide to or have to change your eating habits from the great American diet, take it from me, if you stick with it, you will prefer it.”

They roll their eyes. I say, “Besides, it’s not as bad as lomu.