Seaweed & Pablum 2016.01.27


"Why don't we eat seaweed anymore?" my wife asked me Saturday night.

That was easy to answer.

"Because it tastes so bad," I told her.

That's not really the best answer. I shouldn't say that kombu and dulse taste bad; it's just a flavor that does not appeal to me at all. It's a taste that reminds me of the ocean—not the wide open expanses of water, but instead the shoreline with rotting fish. Seaweed needs a good disguise for me to ingest it.

This brings back thoughts of when I lived in Portland, Ore., in the mid-1970s and I volunteered at the Montgomery Market food co-op. I remember the day that I made small packets of spices from the large bulk supply in jars. I returned home, blew my nose, and was initially frightened by what appeared on my tissue. There was a wonderful array of colors as turmeric and curry left their mark.

Seaweeds are to be eaten as excellent sources of iodine, if you can find a way to choke them down. I recall buying powdered kelp from the Montgomery Market and then experimenting with ways to get it inside my body. I remember scooping out a little channel in something—maybe a banana—sprinkling kelp into the ditch, adding some honey and going at it. It wasn't enough to do the job, but I did have an adequate supply of iodine before I gave it up.

Colleen asked me the seaweed question after returning home with a book called "How Not to Die." Pick your ailment—lung disease, infections, suicidal depression, iatrogenisis (death by medical treatment)—and the book will offer suggestions, mostly food-related approaches. I expect that a future shopping trip will result in the return of seaweed to our cupboard, along with who-knows-what-else.

I can make fun of my odd food intake because I don't eat a typical American diet. You shouldn't tease me, but I can give myself a hard time. That brings to mind my weakest dietary era—when I left the college dormitory and moved into a house with several other young men who weren't cooks.

I don't know why, but I ate Pablum for breakfast. I don't know if it still exists, but it's described as a soft, bland cereal for infants. Why were college students eating it? The most obvious answer is that it must have been cheap. It was also quick. Pour out some bland flakes, add hot water, and feel like a happy baby. Then off to the 8 o'clock class that you had to sign up for because the 10 a.m. session was already filled.

Someone in the house must have been the Pablum leader. I don't think I came up with that on my own. I can almost remember the taste and it's not a good memory. Today as I think about it, eating Pablum for breakfast seems like a very odd thing to do. I've since graduated to oatmeal and Bob's Red Mill Mighty Tasty Hot Cereal, but there were other eras in between, such as the Grape Nuts times and the Wheat Chex days.

The remainder of my college diet is gone from memory. It's probably when I discovered brown rice and when I started putting peanut butter on apple slices. I don't eat apples that way anymore, although there was a time when I couldn't do otherwise. Now it's that way with bananas.

I don't even recall what it meant to splurge in those days. I don't remember going to a restaurant and there certainly wasn't the array of fast food as there is today in East Lansing. Maybe going out for a good meal meant visiting a house of friends where people knew how to prepare dinner, and, of course, making a trek back home to Morenci.

My housemate John had a version of food heaven that involved going to Dunkin' Donuts and buying a day-old dozen. Or were they a week old? I'm sure there's a reference to that in "How Not to Die."

Somehow my housemates and I all made it through. We learned to do some cooking. Perhaps we came up with a little more cash and learned to shop. We visited friends more often.

There's a lot to say for good eating and the resulting good health—and for a bad diet and illness—but I know that the image of Grandma Green will always return to mind. How not to die? She was a meat and potatoes woman for 103 years.