I believe in the evolution of beets. My grandmother, “Agoo,” was a dietician. We knew that we would have no sodas or junk food when we visited her. Instead, we grumbled our way through split pea soup at dinner and whole wheat pancakes (sans syrup) for breakfast. On car trips with Agoo, we ate at hospitals rather than fast food restaurants; she always adored hospital vegetables.
In one of the only unpleasant memories I have of visiting Agoo, I am eight years old and sitting at her dinner table, long after my cousins and siblings left to play, because I refused to eat the beets on my plate. Placing those repugnant purple plants in my mouth, much less chewing and swallowing them, was a sign of weakness in my battle against all things wholesome. I eventually relented but decided then and there never to like beets.
In high school, my decisions about not eating certain foods became a bit more precarious; I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. During this time, beets contained what I perceived to be enormous amounts of my avowed enemies: carbohydrates and calories. However, having researched eating disorders long before their unfortunate fame, Agoo forced no foods on me. Instead, she sent me cards of encouragement as well as articles and books to my parents. She never expressed disappointment or frustration, even though I was the total opposite of what she had made it her life’s work to promote: good health.
After I reached a healthy weight, I was no longer disgusted by or afraid of beets, but I assumed that I still disliked them. The manager at the restaurant where I worked referred to me as “Beets” for two years because somewhere along the line, I apparently made a face when he chose beets as the vegetable of the day.
Years later, I chose to participate in a community supported agriculture program that supported local farmers. Shares were standardized each week according to whatever was in season. Subsequently, we received approximately 5 pounds of beets each week for two months. Rather than throw them out, I decided to give beets one last chance. Surprisingly, I liked them, just in time.
That summer, my husband and I were married. My grandmother, having been diagnosed with a cancer called multiple myeloma, had chosen our wedding as her final affair. She received her last blood transfusion two days before our wedding and was there to celebrate with us. By the time we got back from our honeymoon, she was in hospice care at home. We planned to travel there for her final hours. Before leaving, I called but did not know what else to say other than “Agoo, I finally like beets!” She laughed and simply said, “I’m so proud, Jenny.” She passed away before we arrived.
While this food was not the basis of our special relationship, it was certainly an aspect that I will remember fondly always, often with teeth stained purple.
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