In the introduction to my memoir, resilient, I talk about how there’s so often a story behind what people like or don’t like, whether it’s food or colors or flowers or weather or locations or words.
And that’s the thing, really… we all have these stories that make up who we are. What may sound odd on the surface, like my abhorrence of canned peas, suddenly makes so much sense when you have the backstory, the necessary context. When we forget that there is always context we cannot see, we are prone to judgment and dismissiveness. I assure you, though, that with a little more context, judgment transforms into understanding and compassion.
resilient is about the story behind my feelings toward that word. And this is my story about why I don’t like canned peas.
Let me assure you—I’m not a picky eater. I never have been. I’ll eat just about anything, and generally, I’ll like it, too. I don’t recall a time when I was presented with a new dish and I outright refused to try it, with exceptions only for particularly aromatic meat-based dishes since I tend to prefer plant-based foods.
Of course, there’s an exception to my general like of food: I don’t like canned vegetables. It’s not that I dislike vegetables—quite the opposite, in fact. I could eat carrots and green beans and corn and peas every day and not tire of them as long as they’re coming from the produce area or freezer aisle. And canned legumes? Delicious—can’t get enough. But canned vegetables? Nope, uh-uh. Especially peas.
Actually, it’s not even that I dislike them—that’s too benign a word. I despise them. I avoid the canned vegetable aisle at the grocery store entirely if I can, and when I can’t, I ensure I don’t scan the shelves and unintentionally spy a can of peas. When I do—when I even think about them—my chest tightens, my heart speeds up, and I feel a little bit nauseous. It’s not as severe as it used to be, but it still happens.
In the summer of 1992, I turned eight years old. At the time, I had just started living with my younger sister, my biological mom, and her girlfriend—previously, I’d been living elsewhere with just my biological dad. My mom was a severe alcoholic who hadn’t held a job in years, and her girlfriend was also unemployed. For money, we begged in the parking lot of the shopping center next door.
The money was all supposed to be handed over to my mom for her to parse out for necessities, and while I believe she had every intention of doing so, she ended up using all of it to buy vodka instead of food.
Every. Single. Time.
It didn’t take long to realize I’d have to try to hide some of the few coins we received if I wanted my sister and me to eat. I wasn’t always successful in hiding what someone had handed me, but occasionally I’d manage to squirrel away a few coins.
When I could, I’d sneak over to the grocery store we were begging in front of and head straight to the canned vegetable aisle. I’d spend as much time as I needed to read every price label and every sales sign in order to determine what the cheapest can of vegetables was that day, crossing my fingers I had enough to cover both the cost of the can and the sales tax on it. Often, the cheapest cans were peas.
This went on for months until social services intervened, and my sister and I were placed in foster care in the middle of that winter, in a home where we never wanted for food again.
Today, as I’m writing this, I’m thirty-seven years old. It’s been nearly thirty years since the approximately seven months my sister and I had to beg on the streets, but my body reacts more like it was a few weeks ago. My aversion to canned vegetables in general—and canned peas in particular—persists and shows no sign of dissipating anytime soon.
This isn’t my only story, though. I also have a story about my love-hate relationship with fried chicken and watermelon and libraries and Subway. As well as a story about my love of reading and willow trees. My anxiety in crowds of children and my dislike of swings and bees and trailers.
And, of course, the intense dislike I had most of my life for the word “resilient.” That story, though, is a bit longer and a bit more involved, which is why I decided to write a book about it. You’ll understand the root of the likes and dislikes I’ve listed above, as well as receive more context for the experience that led to my antipathy toward canned peas. Finally, you’ll also learn how I was able to mend my relationship with this word that defined my behavior in unhealthy ways for so many years.
Who knows… maybe one day I’ll even be able to eat a side of canned peas.
Katherine Turner is an award-winning author, editor, and a life-long reader and writer. She grew up in foster care from the age of eight and is passionate about improving the world through literature, empathy, and understanding. In addition to writing books, Katherine blogs about mental health, trauma, and ways we can be more compassionate as a society on her website www.kturnerwrites.com. Sign up for her newsletter to stay up to date and get a free copy of her book moments of extraordinary courage.