The list

Forward Operating Base, Morales-Frazier, Afghanistan - As a child, I swore I would NEVER eat Ramen noodles again. So much for that ...

Forward Operating Base, Morales-Frazier, Afghanistan –
As a child, I swore I would NEVER eat Ramen noodles again. So much for that …

Muna knows about the list. In fact, I think she’s the only one who does (until now.)

My mother knows about the items that are ON the list, but may not realize that a list actually exists.

Taj is fortunate to not have to worry about having a list.

What is the list, you ask?

When I was a child, we didn’t have a lot of money. We weren’t homeless or dirt-poor, but certainly not rich enough to be able to have lots of choices. Not having money means not having many choices about things.

Ever wonder which model car to buy? That’s easy: the cheapest one. Not sure which brand of sneakers to get? Again, the answer is: the one that costs less money.

The same can be said of food. When faced with a decision to buy Cocoa Puffs or the generic black-n-white box that simply said “Cereal” on it, guess which one my mother chose? (By the way, this explains the obesity epidemic in the United States … Did you ever notice that a double-cheese, full-of-fat hamburger, extra-large grease-laden french-fries, and super-sized high-fructose-corn-syrup drink combined costs less than one simple, healthy salad? When faced with a choice between paying $4 to fill your belly, or paying $7 to get a small salad, and still being hungry afterwards, you know which one the poor will choose. I believe the reason that some of us are getting so fat is because we can’t afford to eat healthy. But, that’s another rant for a different blog posting.)

And, so enters the list. The list is made up of foods that I ate as a child. Not just any foods, but specific foods that I didn’t enjoy. It wasn’t always the taste of the food that turned me off of it, but it was the psychological effect of eating the same food, over and over and over again, primarily because we couldn’t afford anything else.

“Hey, you! Darrick! You’re poor … Here, eat this. Sorry, you can’t have THAT food over there … That’s for people who have money.” (No one ever actually SAID this to me, but each time I was presented with an item on the list, I sure heard it.)

As I scrunched up my face upon being presented with an item on the list, I would say to myself: “When I get older, I swear I’m NEVER going to eat this again!” As I began to earn my own money, I stuck to that promise.

So, for your reading enjoyment, the following are just SOME of the items on my list:

1. Ramen noodles (or any variation of. This includes Cup-o’-noodles or Maggie noodles) — It doesn’t matter which brand name. Any “dry-pasta-just-add-water” product is on my list. Sodium, starch, and bad memories … All for under 10 cents a pack!

2. Kool-Aid — (YES, I said it! KOOL-AID is on my list!) I can’t deny that Kool-Aid tastes great. But, let’s face it … It’s the beverage of choice for those who can’t afford healthier drinks like fresh juice. Kool-aid is basically just sugar and flavoring. I swear, when I was a child, I didn’t know that you could actually BUY juice in a grocery store … I thought that if you weren’t drinking water, you were drinking soda pop, or Kool-aid. (Flavor-Aide and other “cheaper” brands also fall into this category.)

3. Tang — It never dissolved in water. It just clumped up in the jar … I had to use a fork to break it up. When I put it in water, it just fell to the bottom, (kinda like Metamucil.) “Drink of the Astronauts” my @ss!

4. Karo corn syrup — I wanted Mrs. Butterworths. I GOT Karo corn syrup … ON PANCAKES. (Do you KNOW how NASTY that is?!?!?) Never again.

5. Hamburger helper — doesn’t really help. This goes for Tuna helper, too.

6. Flavor-Ice — (Yes, I said it! Flavor-Ice.) Like Kool-aid, I can’t deny that Flavor-Ice tastes great. (In fact, I think Flavor-ice actually IS frozen Kool-aid!) But, when I went into the frozen dessert section of the grocery store wanting the Dreyer’s Dulce-de-leche flavor ice cream, or the Klondike Ice Cream sandwiches, I was always rejected. My allowed alternative: Flavor – Ice. (Damn it! Foiled by poverty again!)

7. Bologna, or any other “processed” meat that didn’t specifically name what type of animal it is — I found more uses for the little red plastic ring around bologna than I care to remember. (I wouldn’t have had any problems eating sliced chicken breast, or ham slices.) I’m talkin’ about mystery meats like Vienna Sausages. I do eat hot dogs now-a-days, but that’s ONLY if I can eat them with actual hot dog buns, instead of the butt-ends of sliced bread.

8. Block cheeses (like imitation Velveeta) — The psychological damage that results from eating this goes farther than anyone can imagine. This food item hurt in two ways: A: It was NASTY. It was mostly grease, and didn’t “melt.” When heated it just became transparent, turning your food into an orange, greasy mess. B: It embarrassed you! There were certain blocks of cheese that were only available from your local government food office, or you were only able to buy them if you were receiving government assistance. So, when people saw you with the cheese, they KNEW where you got it from! (Embarrassing!)

9. Pickles — I actually don’t mind the taste of pickles, either. But I remember many days, opening the refrigerator and seeing nothing but a jar of pickle juice, block cheese and an empty pitcher of Kool-aid. Now pickles, olives, or any other food that leaves “juice” in a jar is now on my list.

10. RC Cola — Would it KILL us to have real Pepsi? Just once?!?! (Um, yes, I think it would have, because I never did.)

11. Did I already say Ramen noodles?

12. Carnation canned/evaporated milk — Seriously, have you TRIED eating cereal with canned milk? I’m just sayin’ … really. Although, I would rather have the evaporated milk than corn flakes and water … YES, I’ve had corn flakes and water. Never again, though. (Which reminds me …)

13. Corn flakes — (Or, as known to those who couldn’t AFFORD real Kellog’s corn flakes: “Post Toasties.”)

I could go on and on. I mentioned the list because I was reminded of it when we went back out to FOB Morales-Frazier today. But when we got there, we discovered that the unit that runs the small chow-hall had packed up and left. (Leaving no chow hall to feed the people who remained at the FOB.) This left us with only a couple of choices: go buy pizza at the little pizza place, or, eat an MRE (meal, ready to eat. Military rations.)

If you didn’t bring cash (which I didn’t,) and you didn’t want to eat rations, (which i didn’t,) that left you with only one other option: scrounge around for food. Inside our tent, we stockpile food that nice people like you send to us in care packages. It’s kind of a free-for-all, a box full of goodies that anyone can take from. Sadly, once the original recipient of the package takes all the good stuff out, all that’s left is a lot of foods that most people prefer not to eat (foods that are on my list.)

Not having any cash on hand, and not wanting to open an MRE, I bit the bullet. I opened a package of Ramen noodles, poured some hot water over it, mixed in the “flavor packet” (a.k.a., concentrated salt,) and had at it. Chicken flavor.

This is war, after all …

Instantly, my childhood memories came back, reminding me why I put Ramen on my list in the first place.

I had swore that I would never eat Ramen again. Damn you, Taliban!

Muna knows about the list. In fact, I think she’s the only one who does.

My mother knows about the items that are ON the list, but may not realize that a list actually exists.

Taj is fortunate to not have to worry about having a list.

And for that, I am thankful.

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