‘Uh, oh! Spaghettios’

Peter Jackson
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“Eat your darts … um, your
— Chef Boyardee TV advertisement (1974)

I’ve been keeping my head down the past couple of weeks. Just nodding politely and biting my tongue.

Well, on the issue of food, at least.

I love food. It’s written all over my gut. I’ve let myself go, and I’m not proud of it. One of these months, I may even do something about it.

Some might call me a foodie. That means I like to go to restaurants and try new things. I like to try new things in the kitchen, too. (I mean cooking, gutterbrains.)

I like a change. In France this summer, I ate a pigeon. Not straight off the street, mind you.

I will try just about any dish that doesn’t bite back — which unfortunately leaves out a lot of things, since I’m allergic to fin fish and tree nuts.

But I’m not a food snob. I like most comfort foods and some novelty foods. I will occasionally open a box of Kraft Dinner.

And yes, I would not look askance at a bowl of Spaghettios.

Therein lies the conflict.

The Telegram’s Bonnie Belec has been writing an excellent series of articles on the quality of seniors care in St. John’s.

She’s focused mainly on legitimate concerns over staffing levels at Hoyles-Escasoni.

But her investigation was initially sparked when a man whose mother was a resident at Hoyles was dumbfounded to discover, among other things, a bowl of Spaghettios sitting on her meal tray.

Had staff taken leave of their senses? How deep must budget cuts be for them to open a can of this swill and force it on helpless seniors?

Several readers echoed the sentiment, as did a couple of my colleagues.

And that’s when I started feeling, well, a little sheepish.

What is wrong, I thought meekly, with a scattered bit of factory sauce and pasta?

Pretty salty, yes, and not very inspiring. But not exactly a death sentence.

For many of us, that’s what pasta was. It came in a can. Chef Boyardee ravioli was fine dining to me at a certain age. Then we learned that boiling noodles and making your own sauce was even better. Some of us even learned not to rinse the pasta like our parents did.

I think most people, if they were forced to admit it, don’t mind indulging in a little nutritionally challenged nostalgia now and then.

Who doesn’t pop open a scattered tin of Vienna Sausages? Don’t deny it! You can always dip them in expensive mustard if you need to prove your palate has matured.

In any case, it turns out Spaghettios are not an everyday item on the nursing home menu. They may still be ubiquitous in some households — along with fish sticks and oven fries — but Hoyles only offers them as an alternative every two or three weeks. Otherwise, the fare is reasonably nutritious, and always established with the help of qualified dietitians.

The ironic thing about all the fuss is that it’s usually the seniors themselves who demand these deviations from Canada’s Food Guide. And who can blame them? Haven’t they earned the right to revert to their childhood now and then?

In some cases, it’s hard to get those with dementia to eat anything. Spaghettios may not be real food, but it’s not poison either. It fills a hole.

I know some of you health food stalwarts may be appalled. Processed foods never cross your lips. Perhaps you shun grains and white sugar, too.

That’s great. I’m impressed. I like to think I’m pretty attached to healthy choices, too. At the grocery store, I’m usually parked in the produce section when I’m not lingering over lamb chops or stinky cheese.

But please don’t judge me over a harmless bit of canned junk food.

I’m speaking from pasta experience.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s

commentary editor. He also hosts a weekday online forum called Naked Lunch at thetelegram.com, 12:30-1:30 p.m. Email: pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Geographic location: France, Canada

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