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Mother’s Day tribute: Finding common ground between a restaurant critic and her non-foodie mom

Not all of our most treasured moments happen at the dinner table, sometimes a ball and a glove is the answer.

The author with her (pregnant) mom and dad in 1984. (Photo courtesy of Stefanie Gans)

My mom is so proud of me.

She often jokes, saying things like, “Where did we get you?” and “You’re speaking another language.”

This would be in response to taking my 3-year-old out to sashimi on a Wednesday night.

My mom is what we’d call an anti-foodie. Not someone who is such a gourmand they hate the plebeian term “foodie,” but someone so uninterested in food she can’t fathom why my dad and I can see each other for a full weekend and discuss nothing but the best way to season and fry chickpeas. (He thinks it’s turmeric, smoked paprika, garlic salt, kosher salt, black pepper and a combination of olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil in a cast-iron pan.)

My mom and dad raised me and my brother and sister in the 1980s and ’90s, decades before food became the cultural currency. We lived in a household built with Aunt Jemima pancakes, Pop-Tarts and Pringles.

While I’ve gone on to base my entire existence around what goes into my mouth, getting paid to eat food, write about food, think about food, basically live a life centered around food, my mom is happy to never think about her next meal. 

We share our lives in ways that have nothing to do with outrageous croissants and jiggly Japanese cheesecake. Though we both find joy in soft pretzels and coffee ice cream.

As a nursery school teacher with a physical education degree, my mom is a natural with children, ready to use her hands as a whistle and jump-start a game filled with running, jumping and laughing.

This spring, at the first birthday party of my friends’ daughter, the older kids started to get a little antsy, and instinctively I made up a game of yoga poses, bending the kids into a Twister-like existence that had them in hysterics.

And I thought, a most unoriginal thought, one that flashes inside the mind of daughters going back millennia: Am I turning into my mother?

My mom, a lifelong jock who still plays on softball and volleyball teams, who would be happy to eat turkey on rye toast every day of her life, did in fact infiltrate my inner core—a subpar childhood soccer player who lives for tracking down the latest international food trends—in ways I’m still discovering.

Where my mom took us to Phillies games, I take my daughters out to eat, plying them with dals, pho and seaweed salad. I don’t know what will happen once they can order for themselves and gain autonomy on where they choose to dine. I’m sure the backlash of a chicken nugget-only life is headed to our table. But I know I’ve given them a base, a head start on being a well-rounded eater.

The lessons are larger than how to tear a piece of injera to pick up tibs. It’s about sitting down and enjoying company around the table, learning about a world larger than home and school, being a decent human in a public place.

By throwing us ground balls in the front yard, quarterbacking games of football in the street and encouraging us to play as many sports as possible, my mom gave us a basis for self-assurance, to learn to get along with teammates, to abide by rules, to lose without throwing a fit.

My mom didn’t teach me the difference between regional ramen broths, but she gave me the confidence to find out for myself. And that’s all you can really ask.

Happy Mother’s Day. Let’s go get some ice cream.

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