Breakfast of Champions

When you first travel to Israel, one of the first things you are bound to notice at any youth hostel or hotel is the Israeli breakfast.

It can be a bit of a culture shock if you’re used to Lucky Charms or Dunkin Donuts in the morning. On the other hand, if you like vegetables and cheese, you are in heaven, particularly if you are staying at a nice hotel.

When I first traveled to Israel, I was a bagel and cream cheese kinda gal.  Back then (in 1992), bagels existed only on Ben Yehuda street in Jerusalem, and they were as hard as rocks. They sold some mock cream cheese to spread on top, but it wasn’t worth the arm and a leg you’d pay for it — it was basically “g’vina levana” with a sour aftertaste.

Now, it’s easier to find a decent bagel with cream cheese in Israel, if you really want to, but still quite the challenge to find a good Belgian waffle, and impossible to find bacon. Before I made Aliyah I was a waffle and bacon kinda girl.

I know that sounds really unhealthy, but the waffles were organic and gluten free; and the bacon was all natural turkey bacon.

Neither of which you can find in Israel.

I miss my waffles and bacon.

So this morning when I joined two of my Israeli colleagues for breakfast in the lounge of the hotel I’m staying in here in Chicago, I skipped the cornflakes and ran immediately over to the waffle maker.

Within a few minutes I sat down with my freshly made waffle, and gazed lovingly at the plate, “Oh my darling,” I thought with a grin. “How I’ve missed you…”

Yes, I admit it. I made mental love to the hotel waffle.

In that same exact moment, as if reading my mind, my Israeli colleague said out loud, “Wow, do I miss Israel breakfast when I am in the States.”

(Perhaps in the exact same moment I was engaged in sordid thoughts with my waffle, he was longing for a diced cucumber.)

Out loud, he noted how strange it is for him to show up at a breakfast in a hotel and not find a single vegetable. He missed his salads and his cheeses and was not satisfied by the obligatory apple/banana basket and Yoplait. The other colleague of ours, also Israeli, agreed with him.

I also agreed with him, to be honest, but happily continued eating my Belgian waffle, knowing that the waffle was be a rare treat for me.

As much as I miss my waffles, I am proud of the Israeli breakfast. For as much as I complain about how unhealthy I think Israelis can be when it comes to food, I think they do breakfast right. Unfortunately, though, with increasing Western influence (in the form of Nestle Crunch Nougat Rolls cereal), they are on the path to destroying their picture perfect healthy breakfast.

Public service announcements aside, it was of interest to me that these grown men, both in their 40s, who aren’t exactly what I would call “outwardly health-conscious” would long for vegetables in the morning. Without knowing either too well, I would guess that their vegetable cravings were not necessarily connected to how health-minded they are or not.

I think their longing for vegetables is simple conditioning.

Which goes to show that what they say is true: Start a kid off eating the right foods and he will carry those tastes with him his whole life.

I think these two men are used to eating fresh vegetables for breakfast because it’s the cultural norm in Israel. Children grow up in the preschool system being fed a mid-morning meal that consists of cut up salad vegetables, eggs, hummus, and cheese. Hence, those children grow up to be adults used to eating that kind of food for breakfast.

The typical American breakfast I grew up with, on the other hand, was cereal and milk on weekdays, and pancakes on the weekend. My family was your average American family — We were allowed the occasional sugar cereal, but typical stuck to Rice Kripsies and Life cereal (which were actually considered healthy cereals in those days). On the weekend, my dad made pancakes with white buttermilk mix from a package, which we smothered in Aunt Jemima.

I took that early conditioning with me into my life, as well. I still love me a maple smothered carb-filled breakfast. My mind and belly say no, but my taste buds say, yessssss. It’s been hard to re-condition my taste buds to love salad in the morning.

There is a P.R. opportunity for Israel here amongst the chopped vegetables I think.

We should invite Michelle Obama, a great advocate for children’s health, to take a look at how we feed the kids in our daycare system. Vegetables might not lead directly to peace in the Middle East, but feeding our kids veggies from day one is definitely something we can be proud of and rally around.

 

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