“Herbie, (aka my grandfather), do you eat brussel sprouts?” I asked him this week as I was trying to combine my “clean” eating style with his how Herbie eats style.
“What do you want with your chicken tonight? How about brown rice pilaf?” I asked.
“Not a big fan of brown rice,” said Herb.
“How about if I make chicken pot pie tonight for dinner?” Thinking this would be a sure way to warm his heart and stomach.
“Not too many carrots,” Herb said.
As I stood there, incredulous at his lack of vegetable consumption separating the carrots out of the frozen pea carrot mix, I thought, who has it right here? By the way, there are way more carrots than peas in a frozen pea carrot mix bag in case you ever find yourself making chicken pot pie for a 102 year old man who requests not too many carrots.Are peas even a vegetable? I thought.
As I made the pie using frozen pie crust and two cans of Campbells Cream of Celery soup, I laughed to myself. My grandfather has eaten more processed food than I have likely eaten in my entire life.
Here is a picture of his pantry and freezer to show some examples.
Pretzels, chips, cookies, crackers, canned soup, muffins, danish, Eggo Waffles, ice cream— it makes my years of Paleo, Whole 30, Vegan, Plant Based, Clean eating turn themselves on their holier than thou head.
Herbie Horowitz is 102. This Saturday will be his 25th leap year alive on this planet. He still takes a receipt home from the grocery store and analyzes it line by line when he gets home to make sure he wasn’t over charged. Herbie will still drive to a gas station further away to save a few cents on a gallon. He was born in 1917 and has lived on a “fixed” income for over thirty seven years.
Organic eggs, milk fruits and vegetables stay right there on the shelves as he makes his way through the aisles of Publix or Costco in favor of what is on sale. “Organic schmanic,” he will say anytime I lug in my $150 of groceries where I barely glanced at a price as I added them to my cart from Whole Foods that make up two bags. “That’s a bunch of crap,” he will say.
He drinks wine every single night and has since I have known him. It used to be a couple glasses of scotch in his “younger years.” He eats Wispread cheese and crackers as an appetizer before dinner to “nosh” along with his two or sometimes three glasses of the red version of “2 buck chuck” that is now six bucks from Trader Joes that he buys by the case and promptly places in the refrigerator, a bottle at a time.
Herb buys whatever deli meat is on sale and eats it with mayonnaise on rye bread along with a nice pile of potato chips topped off with a few cookies for dessert. Pancakes, waffles or danish depending on his mood are part of his daily diet depending on what caregiver cooks up for him based on her ability and his mood. He has trouble sleeping, though I have mentioned that maybe it could be the cup of Tetley caffeinated tea and cookies he has every night before bed. I get the usual response of EHH. Like, what do I know. Touché.
I scratch my head at the irony of it all. In reviewing his daily diet intake with my Aunt today, she reminded me of my other Grandfather who died when he was about 85. He was smoking one of his unfiltered English Oval cigarettes as he did for his entire life when the chest pains started. He called the ambulance, as he put out what would be his last cigarette of his life. My aunt found it that night half smoked in the ashtray where he had left it.
Grandpa Bill used to eat cereal every late morning that my grandmother would put out for him after he would wake up (like around eleven- I guess we could call this early afternoon), pour heavy cream over it and add about a quarter cup of sugar. The white table variety that was a staple on most kitchen tables in most of the twentieth century.
This all makes me go hmmmm. Is it the food we eat? Doesn’t seem to be in these two examples. Is it the exercise we do? Not that either, since neither of them ever had any exercise routine except that of the social variety on walks. Walks that would take no more than thirty minutes, but would turn into three or four hours with all of the stopping and chatting along the way.
About ten years ago, when asked if he had to do anything over again, what would it be, Herb replied, “I would have started at the Y sooner.” He had joined when he was about 80. I am convinced that the- less than twenty- years he spent at the Y could be one of the reasons his heart is still going strong. This and his incredible outlook on life. His approach to people. His notion about doing the right thing, saying what is on his mind (sometimes to a fault on this one) to remembering and constantly connecting with family and friends. All of this seem to be his Herb Horowitz diet for a better life, a well lived life. A long life.
With all of the constant discussion about what we eat, what we should and shouldn’t be adding to our mouths and our bodies, Herb Horowitz breaks every single rule in the 2020 playbook. He watches the news with breakfast, watches the news with dinner. He drinks this weird pink soda water that looks like it has about ten tablespoons of red dye # 3 in it. I am perpetually speechless when I am here visiting filling his fridge with pounds of organic fruits and vegetables and grass fed beef.
The older I get with the delightful privilege of getting to still have my very coherent grandfather around, the more I like to think that health is more about living well, making choices in our mental attitudes, staying calm in the chaos that guides a life without illness and demobilization. At least this is the case for the grandparents I have had and still get to have as I approach my definitive mid fifties.
As we tooled around in the motorized scooter in his new favorite recently opened grocery store, we came upon the oranges native to this neck of the Florida woods and only out for a short spell.
“Grandpa, look, the Honey Bell’s are out!” I exclaimed. Ready to pile some into the bag to bring home.
“Nahh.. I can’t eat those— too much sugar.”
Can’t make it up.