In India, my mother would have hand fed me vegetables and roti. In Toronto, she worked odd shifts and bought Mr. Noodles by the butt-load. I don’t know what I ate before I was smart enough to use the stove.
Mr. Noodles have a prominent place in my memory. It is the only processed food item that can make me both happy and sad at the same time, and at different places along the space/time continuum. The present me is sad that the old me had to eat them 3-4 times a week, while the past me is perfectly content at slurping away at the MSG-goodness while watching Power Rangers.
Mushroom, oriental, chicken and vegetable-flavoured packages exploded out of our apartment’s cupboards. Oriental was my favourite, although I don’t know why they were called Oriental; they didn’t taste like Chinese food at all. We never bought the beef flavour. Good Hindus don’t eat beef, even the artificial kind.
I would sit in front of the T.V, large Corningware plate in lap and silver fork in hand. I absolutely hated eating them in a bowl; they didn’t cool as quickly, and I couldn’t suck the remaining bits off the edge of the plate. That was my favourite part.
I innocently and obliviously enjoyed the company of Mr. Noodles until the end of high school when I was forced to take a nutrition class in health education. To my horror, I realized that for all these years I wasn’t eating real food. I felt the shameful awareness burn across my face when I thought of all the frozen dinners and canned food that was in my house.
Today, my mother still buys boxes of Noodles when they go on sale and I yell at her every single time.
“Ma! These aren’t good for you!”
“When there’s nothing to eat, then you’ll be happy I bought these.”
“Now they’re just going to sit there and go bad. I guess I’ll have to eat them.”
It takes all my might to try not to eat them. But when I know they are there, sitting on the bottom self, next to the bran cereal and protein powder, they call to me.
Come. Come enjoy us. You can have us in less than 5 minutes with no fuss. We make you happy, you know we do.
I always cave.
I crave them in the middle in the night when I’m verging on sleep and am most vulnerable. All reasoning goes out the window and I stomp myself down to the kitchen, cursing all the while. I am not supposed to be doing this. Mr. Noodles are not part of me anymore, they are something my family has moved past. We have a house and I have an education now. Now I know how to read the non-food ingredients on the back of the package.
I boil water, add the noodles and rip open the seasoning package. I eat. I enjoy them for the moment and I feel guilty (and sick) afterwards.
I used to wash down the salty goodness with a tall glass of milk. Now I’m lactose intolerant and vanilla-flavoured soy milk just doesn’t do the trick. It’s not the same. I know what I didn’t back then, and I have now what I never knew I was missing. And that stupid crinkly package reminds me of it.
When I am by myself and have my own family, things will be different. I won’t allow them anymore, I will never buy them for my children and they won’t have to eat them.
But then I think about it. It sounds like a lot of work to make a home meal three times a day. And shouldn’t every child know some struggle to shape strength? I don’t want to raise children in the suburbs, leaving them behind with their nannies. I don’t want to be responsible for brats who don’t abide by the 10-second rule for how long your food can be on the floor before it’s no longer safe to eat it.
Kids these days are allergic to everything. You know why? Because moms are too afraid to let them eat dirt. I had dirt for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I turned out fine. When I have kids, I’ll just pretend to be poor. I’m sure it will be good for them.
Saaqshi Sharma is a writer and health researcher from Brampton, Ontario. She writes about her experiences growing up as an Indian girl in Toronto, and her struggles to become a competent adult. Her musings can be found at saaqshiwrites.wordpress.com
“Mr. Noodles Was My Babysitter” previously won first place and a $500 prize from Frustrated Writers and was published in their anthology.
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