Table Warfare

March 14, 2013

It’s hard to cook for people who aren’t interested in eating.

People who aren’t interested in eating make zero sense to me–it’s food! Food is yummy! Food is comfort. Food is home. And yet, there are freakshows humans out there who have no interest in food.

When I was growing up, my parents had these friends–Margaret and Dick–who came for many dinner parties, and without fail, they’d push the food around on their plates, far more focused on their bourbons. I felt so bad for Mama, who’d taken such care and effort with the meal and still made time to put on fresh lipstick (a feat I have yet to accomplish).

I might have understood it if Mama was a dodgy cook, serving up Jell-o molds and casseroles with potato chip topping, but Mama was aces in the kitchen. We’re talking homemade spaghetti and meatballs and big, juicy steaks. Hmph.

Why she continued to cook for those ingrates is beyond me. Well, okay, Dick worked with Daddy so she was sort of stuck with them, but still.  What a chore.

One evening, when Margaret and Dick were in residence, I was eavesdropping reading in an adjoining room and I heard Margaret say, “Oh, Dick and I don’t care about food. We just kind of gag it down.”

Gag it down? Seriously? I mean, I’m the girl who does the yummy dance, so gagging anything except medicine down is foreign to me. Clearly, Margaret and Dick were aliens.

As I was helping my mother clean up after the party, I commented on the oddity of “gag it down.”

“Who says something like that?” I asked.

Mama laughed, bending down to grab a pair of yellow dish gloves. “They’d rather drink than eat. You’ll learn about that later. It’s fine. It’s certainly better than what Grandpa Roll (my dad’s father) did to Helen.”

Now this was a revelation, because Grandma Helen was flat-out, dirt-horrid to Mama her entire life, so to hear Mama defend her in any capacity perked my ears right up. Mama used to joke that it was no coincidence that Grandma Helen died on Halloween; the witches were calling her home.


“What’s worse than gag-it-down?” I asked. “That’s pretty insulting.”

“True,” Mama said crisply, rinsing off a wine glass. “But what he did was just awful.”

I raised an eyebrow. This had to be good.

“Now mind you, Helen didn’t cook all that often–there was always a Schwann’s truck in their driveway–but a few times a week she did, and boy, did it take her forever. Seven hour beef-vegetable soup?” Pfft, she scoffed.

“Still, she did make long-cooked coasts and homemade angel food cake, which take time. If she’d really put some elbow grease into dinner, she’d hope for a compliment or at least a ‘thank you.”

“Well, duh,” I said, placing a pot into a cupboard. If we didn’t say “thank you,” even after a trip to McDonalds, Mama would eat our ears for breakfast.

“He never did, though,” Mama said. “Helen would sit there for the duration of the meal, waiting, and asking questions like, ‘are the potatoes to your liking, dear?’ and he’d just grunt and nod.”

Grunt and nod? Hoo-boy.

“You’d think she’d have learned at some point, but Helen never did–she just couldn’t help it. When the meal was over, she just had to ask, ‘did you enjoy dinner, dear?’ And his response to her was always, ‘Well, I ate it didn’t I?'”

“I ate it?!”  I almost dropped my dish towel, I was so amazed. “She let him get away with that?”  In my head, I was imagining what Mama’d do to Daddy if he ever pulled such a stunt.

I also remembered that after Gramma Helen died, Grampa Roll would wax poetic over a bowl of Raisin Bran, so it just didn’t  make sense.

Mama shrugged. “For some reason, yeah.”  Mama stripped off her dish gloves. “He could be a real ass.”

I vowed then and there never to marry a man who didn’t enjoy food and appreciate the effort and love that goes into preparing it. And I didn’t. My husband is an enthusiastic and grateful eater. As it should be.

But it makes me wonder, that table warfare between my grandparents. What else was going on in that house? How was he astute enough to find the exact place to point his spear? People are such mysteries.

My kids sometimes pull table warfare, but they’re kids. I always anticipate some kind of business from them, especially Miss M., who won’t even consume a sandwich.  But let me tell you, in the years to come, they’re going to learn a thing or two about “toasting the cook.”  Or else.

*Any stories of table warfare you’d like to share with me? I love to hear you talk.

**ps: Additionally, how many of you remember that scene in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing when Fudge goes on hunger strike?  Mr. Hatcher puts up with it for a few days, but then he loses his temper and dumps a bowl of cereal over Fudge’s head, yelling, “Eat it or wear it!”  That’s one of my favorite scenes in the book (only to be outdone by Fudge’s 3rd birthday party).

I have to mention it, because if you haven’t joined us for the Judy Blume Project, I’d like to encourage you to participate. It’s good fun! #ProjectJudyBlume.

pps: My favorite story of table warfare of all time: I knew a girl in college who, as a child a little older than Fudge, stood up at a holiday dinner, pointed to the ham, and belted out this little ditty:

“Hambonehambone, chicken and gravy/Hambonehambone, bald-headed baby/Hambonehambone have you heard?/Mama gave birth to a flying TURD!”

She was sent to her room.

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous March 14, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Oh…don’t even get me started on this one. My 17 year old says thank you every time I prepare a meal. Tuna sandwich or pork roast….the cook is thanked. Joe was also wonderful about my efforts in the kitchen but did most of the cooking :-D Naturally, we thanked him for the meal as well. I feel the same way when we eat out–I always thanked Joe–of-course it was my money too, but he paid the bill, and in my family it’s just the way we do it. I hear women complain all the time on Facebook about not being thanked for dinner or their efforts going unnoticed…I don’t know the bigger picture, but I would get very vocal and unpleasant quick. Currently my son and friends are out dining on Ethiopian Food—no burgers and fries for his group- the–any idea what they are eating?
I haven’t a clue.


TKW March 15, 2013 at 7:12 am


I always thank my husband when we eat out, too. As do the girls. Because eating out is a treat!

Ethiopian food is quite spicy–a variation of a curry–which you scoop up with this yeasty bread called injera. Exotic tastes!


Katybeth March 14, 2013 at 7:29 pm

My whole entire comment just poofed. Gone. Sigh. Ok. The cook must be thanked–always and in my house when Cole was younger one Thank you bite had to be taken of each dish served. Thank you to the cook, thank you to the farmer, thank you to the butcher….If he didn’t like it after one small bite–done without further comment. Ok sometimes I told him he just ate a mama bite and the baby bite on his plate missed his mama terrible. .but not all the time.
Tonight my kid is out dining with his friends on Ethiopian food. No burgers and fries for this group….What does an Ethiopian restaurant serve? I thought it was a country of starving people…what do I know. Enlighten me if you do know…


Pamela March 15, 2013 at 5:41 am

You are such a great writer!! LOVE your 1970s and 1980s details. It’s like in there in your kitchen next to the avocado colored fridge.

Loved the scene in TGGN. Gus walked around for days saying wear it or eat it (we listened to it in the car).


Mary Beth Holcomb March 15, 2013 at 7:52 am

Love this piece. Seriously, we have people we can’t be friends with because they don’t enjoy eating. No onions, no garlic, no WAY! My husband and I often meet for lunch and spend the whole time discussing dinner! And speaking of childhood reading, although I was a terribly picky eater as a kid, I couldn’t get enough of the book “Bread and Jam for Frances”. There was something so visceral and wonderful @ the descriptions of what she and her friends pulled out for school lunch each day: the boiled egg cups and miniature salt shakers, the doilies…ahhh…makes me want to eat just THINKING about it! Thanks for your words. :)


TKW March 16, 2013 at 8:18 am

Mary Beth,

Bread and Jam for Frances was Miss D.’s favorite book as a child. I loved it too–it was only surpassed by my love for Are You My Mother?

I also love the Frances book where it’s Gloria’s birthday and she buys her a Chompo bar and then really wants it for herself. Good stuff!


Pompies March 16, 2013 at 9:13 am

Yes, I immediately thought of Frances! Who can forget Bedtime for Frances as well?!
On a side note the hambone song is LMAO


TKW March 16, 2013 at 10:05 am


I know, right? I think I would have laughed at Hambone, but her mother was NOT amused!


Arnebya March 15, 2013 at 8:40 am

Table warfare: I wouldn’t eat enough as a child (according to my mother.) She claimed I didn’t eat but I did eat. I just ate until I was done which was usually well before all of the food was gone. So aggravated was she by this refusal to consume All The Things that she consulted a doctor who, according to my father, said I would eat when I was hungriER. That as long as I was eating SOMETHING, she shouldn’t worry. She worried. And then she went into straight up You Will Eat Or Else. Her or else? Recording herself saying Eat. Arnebya. Eat. Arnebya. Eat. Arnebya. On a 60-minute tape, 30-minutes per side, that’s all she said: Eat. Arnebya. When the tape was done on one side, she’d come back to the dining room and flip it over, look at my plate, roll her eyes, and press play. I spent lots of time at that table. I never ate another forkful once I said I was done. My oldest sister usually rescued me, but even she sometimes had to wait until I’d fallen asleep. I do not force my children to eat.

Judy Blume project: I am writing.


TKW March 16, 2013 at 8:20 am

Oh my God, that tape must have been so annoying! Your mother’s an evil genius!

Nothing could make me happier than you writing!


Kate March 15, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Biggest dinner table battle of my childhood wasn’t about food. (Though there were epic fish battles, resulting in the drinking of lemon juice straight to wash down the awfulness.) Oh, no. The battle of my early days was about pants. My dad was firmly of the opinion that one must wear pants to the table. I disagreed. I was 2 or 3. What can I say?

And oh my goodness – no thanks for cooking?!? Humbug!


TKW March 16, 2013 at 8:21 am


I do believe I have quite a few pictures of me not wearing pants at that age. Who needs ’em?


Alexandra March 15, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Your writing is a pleasure.

It’s addicting.

I get lost in it and the whole while I’m reading, I’m thinking, “God she is so good.”



TKW March 16, 2013 at 8:22 am


Perfectly Imperfet. xoxo


BigLittleWolf March 15, 2013 at 7:01 pm

I heart this post. I heart this post. I heart this post.

I must say, my ex didn’t have superlatives for my cooking, but he ate heartily (when he was home), he was appreciative, and always said it was delicious. (I’m actually a better cook now.)

I remember one of the first men I dated after divorce. He literally inhaled his food. 5 minutes. I remember thinking – if that’s his approach to food, which should be savored, what’s he going to be like in other “arenas” to be savored?

I decided better to eat solo than to compromise so much pleasure.

(I now enjoy a relationship with a delightful Frenchman who loves to cook, and loves everything I cook. His norm? Linger, savor, delight, praise… every bite… in every “arena.”)


TKW March 16, 2013 at 8:23 am


You make a good point…it probably did cross into other “arenas.”

Frenchman sounds delightful.


idiosyncratic eye March 16, 2013 at 6:00 am

I really don’t get people who don’t ‘do’ food either. It’s just weird. And wrong! ;)


Jennifer March 16, 2013 at 7:02 am

I recall no table warfare at our house. My mom didn’t force me to eat anything she knew I didn’t like. Try it and move on was her philosophy. But this one time my aunt tried to force me to eat fried okra, which let’s face it, okra is plain nasty. I would still be sitting at that table if my mom had not come and rescued me.


TKW March 16, 2013 at 8:26 am


Okra is nasty! Oddly, my husband loves it. But I won’t cook it!


SuziCate March 16, 2013 at 10:03 am

Hubby loves to eat and never fails with compliments or doing the dishes after I’ve done the cooking.
One thing about having sons is they love eating. They’ve always thanked me after every dinner. They still often call to find out what I’m having so they can from in at dinner time! Equally fabulous is they have always dated girls who enjoy food as well!
I’ve always enjoyed cooking for the ones I love. The fact they’re appreciative makes it more worthwhile.


Mr TKW March 16, 2013 at 10:27 am

TKW: “Honey, did you enjoy my post today?”
Me: “I read it, didn’t I?”

Just kidding. Glad you told this story!


Jamie March 16, 2013 at 6:09 pm

I’m fairly certain that the only reason my mother puts up with her dirt-horrid (stealing that) husband (also known as my father) is because of his dining gratitude. Never understood how important the “thank you” was until I started cooking for someone else!


Lisa @ The Meaning of Me March 16, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Lima beans. Lima beans are my table warfare story. I hated them. (Still kinda do, but every now and then I eat them to prove I am the victor in this battle.) My most vivid lima bean memory is ancient…I was about three or four years old. I did not finish my lima beans and my father insisted that I would. I sat and sat and sat at that dining room table all alone until I was certain he would not make me eat those nasty, cold, evil little beans. Finally, he took them away. Success! I went to bed that night certain I was victorious. Until breakfast. Sure enough, there were my beans. I truly do not remember if I ate them or my mother finally intervened and called a truce. That is truly the only warfare story I can think of.

My Husband is, as you said, an enthusiastic and grateful eater. My daughter is as well. There is nothing more wonderful than preparing a meal with love and having that love returned in kind. There is no table warfare here, thank God, except for the occasional battle with the daughter to please focus on her eating and not the ninety-seven other things happening in her head at the moment.


Donna March 16, 2013 at 8:40 pm

My personal demon is the people who say, “we’re not picky eaters.” To me, that means someone who will eat most things. “You don’t have to cook anything special for us – we’re easy to please.” Well, that sounds okay. But then these not-picky eaters go on to say, “we don’t need fancy food.” Uh oh. And the we go on to find out that they pretty much only like steak, mashed potatoes, and green beans. Nothing exotic like broccoli or asparagus. No ethnic food, nothing spicy. And they think they’re not being picky because they only like very plain, ordinary food.

Um, no, if you’re telling me I can’t cook 95% of the things I love, that’s pretty picky.


Tiffany March 18, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Oooh boy…I don’t know how she handled that. I don’t understand people who don’t eat or enjoy food…it’s sooo good. My youngest makes every meal table warfare so….


weesie March 19, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I love that you do the yummy dance, I thought I was the only person who did that and there you are on the other side of the world perfoming the same happy dance! I too am an English teacher. Unfortunatly not in my past but hopefully in my future. I live in Ireland and the recession has hit education really hard here. I graduated in 2009 (as a mature student), worked as a substitute teacher in a few schools but I still have not managed to land a proper job. Still, some people who graduated in the year before me didn’t manage to get any work so I guess that means I have some hope!

I think that people gagging their food down is horrid. You only live once and table fellowship is so important. It’s what makes us friends….. and dinner guests…..or husbands should definatly fall into that cattegory. Life is too short to never stuff a mushroom. Food is sustinance, nurture and love.xx


faemom March 19, 2013 at 11:59 pm

I can’t think of one event. But I’m big on the No-Thank-You bite, and yes, I’ve heard that it makes an issue of food and blah blah blah. But seriously, those boys refused brownies the first time. BROWNIES! I have sat with a boy for hours waiting for the no-thank-you bite. And then that whine of “I’m hungry” like 30 mins later, and I want to scream then-f-ing-eat-your-dinner! Then it’s bread and water. Honestly, I’m trying to be a good enough cook that going out is just an ok thing, not an awesome treat. Which works sometimes.


Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes March 20, 2013 at 6:26 am

Whenever people ask me the secret of our happy marriage I always answer : “I like to cook, he likes to eat.”
How can you not care about food? How how how


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