When I was like, six, maybe seven, I had a friend named Katie. We were super tight, and I played at her house a lot. She lived in a really old, really big character house in one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods, and I loved going over there because it was so big, I felt like I was in a fairytale when I stepped through the front door.
My favourite part of the entire house was this really narrow stairway that went up to a loft/attic that Katie got all to herself as a playroom. All to herself. That lucky bitch.
Anyway, this one day when I was over there, Katie’s mom made us lunch. She made us grilled cheese sandwiches and canned tomato soup.
Now, I know that probably sounds like a pretty “normal” meal, but I never really ate either of those things. I was raised by a mom who is (A) from Mozambique, and (B) a healthy hippie, so canned foods weren’t really on our menu. Neither were things like butter and white bread. I was raised on homemade, wholegrain breads (Seriously, who does that? My mom’s a superhero…), lentils, garlic, olive oil, things like that. Weird things.
SIDENOTE: I’m not saying that to sound superior to anybody. That’s just what we ate. The point is that I had never eaten canned tomato soup.
I looked down at the soup in front of me. It was a weird, overly bright red colour and it smelled really strange, kind of tinny. I honestly wasn’t even sure what to make of it. Katie started eating right away. I felt out of place.
“Eat your lunch.” Her mom looked at me, waiting for me to start. I panicked and decided to try the grilled cheese.
It wasn’t bad, but the butter left a funny taste in my mouth. I tried to focus on the cheese. I was never a big fan of cheese, but I forced myself to enjoy it. Mmm, cheesy. (Ugh, cheesy.) But at least it wasn’t tomato soup, which was all I could think about. Surely if I finished my sandwich, Katie’s mom would be satisfied.
“Eat your soup.”
I looked at her with my big brown eyes – filled with fear, I’m certain – trying to mentally will her to back down. I’ve always been way too nice. I would have never said, “I don’t want to.” I was petrified.
“Eat your soup.”
Katie’s mom was kind of scary to start with. I should have mentioned that. She wasn’t the nicest. And she was blunt (as you can tell).
I scanned the table and found the salt and pepper shakers. I grabbed one on a whim. It was black pepper. I started shaking it furiously into my bowl. Katie looked at me funny.
“You eat pepper on your food?”
I nodded enthusiastically, buying myself time.
“Hey, me too. I want pepper, too! Give it here!”
Katie grabbed the shaker and added pepper to her soup. Within seconds, her mom snatched it away from her.
“Quit it – that’s enough. Finish your lunch, both of you. You’re not leaving this table until your bowls are empty.”
What can I say? I was totally trapped. I wanted to cry. I wanted my mom. I wanted out of that nightmare house.
I choked back the fucking soup and tried to play with Katie afterward, but I was battling an instant tummy ache. I feared I may see that tomato soup again much too soon.
When my mom came to pick me up, I told her the horror story.
“Andrea, why didn’t you just say, ‘No, thank you.’??”
“She made me eat it. Mom, she wouldn’t let me leave until I ate it!”
I probably cried.
To this day, I have never eaten canned tomato soup again. Just the smell of it makes me feel queasy.
Lesson learned: Force me to eat something and I will hate it for the rest of time, because apparently my authority issues are very far-reaching. (Also, I just think canned tomato soup disagrees with me.)
P.S. What’s your childhood “EAT IT!” food horror story? I feel like we all must have one. My mom’s will probably be about this weird condensed milk/Ovaltine thing her parents made her drink all the time, for example. Gag.