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What's for Dinner?

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

I stay in a neighborhood that has a BJ’s Wholesale Club among other grocery stores. This means that I’m constantly bombarded with their ads on Spotify (and No, I won’t take the premium subscription. Nor am I going to get a BJ’s membership. Can’t let the entire Gujju community down).

While I don’t mind being targeted by ads, what I mind in this case is their irritating creative.

The ad has a few kids constantly asking their parents, “What’s for dinner”? The ad, though irritating, does manage to get the desired emotion – Frustration (of a parent with toddlers during the pandemic), which leads to the discovery of the brand. You get the drift.

Desi mom cooking food for the family.
I'm hungry. What's for dinner?

While I’m still not a member of BJ’s nor a parent; this ad (though irritating) did evoke a range of emotions in me. Starting with Irritation, slowly leading up to Nostalgia and eventually a realization of how history repeats itself.

Democracy Lessons as a Kid

When I say nostalgia, it doesn’t mean that I was an irritating kid like the ones in the ad (can’t say the same about my sister though). What I mean is that it brought back memories of my Mom asking us twice a day, “What do you want to eat”? Once for lunch and once for dinner.

This practice, that started when we were kids lasted up until 3 years ago when I finally moved here to the US at the age of 30 (it’s common for kids to stay with their parents in India. We also save a lot of rent). Even now, If I’m visiting, invariably I’ll be asked what I want to eat.

As kids, this question led to genuine discussions around things we loved to eat and the things my Mom was ready to cook within the time frame. Food items were brought up, discussed and shot down with equal gusto. Though in a small way, we understood the meaning of Democracy – People vote for what they’d like to eat and eventually my Mom decided what everyone gets to eat.

Anything's Fine

However, as we grew up and started working, this question seemed quite mundane. We didn’t want to spend much time thinking about what we wanted to eat for dinner. We were financially independent, and we could eat what we wanted, when we wanted. So, when I got a call from my Mom in the middle of a work meeting (that could have been an email), or while writing the said email, I would just pick up and answer, “I don’t know. Anything is fine”.

In our heads, I was trying to be reasonable. I’d learnt from our experience as a kid. It didn’t matter what we said we wanted; she’ll cook what she wants to. At the same time, we didn’t want to burden her with our demands.

We couldn’t be more wrong.

Fast forward to 2020

I’ve moved to the US. My wife and I have a decent schedule in terms of what we eat in our meals. We ordered takeout 2-3 times a week and had leftovers for lunch the next day. We cooked something over the weekend and sometimes that used to last for a few days. When we were bored to cook or order takeout, we ate Maggi.

Life was good (until you know what happened).

The whole world was mostly stuck indoors. Grocery shopping became a thing and so did trends of various (often weird) recipes on the Internet (F**k You Dalgona – my arm still hurts).

Dalgona Coffee, Jar, Straw
F**k You Dalgona Coffee

Takeout was still a thing. But so was paranoia related to the virus. We started cooking every day and more often than not we found ourselves asking each other this question – "What should we eat for dinner?"

Initially it used to be a fun exercise. We’re both foodies and we ended up cooking a plethora of things we craved for. We pretty much followed every Internet trend that came up (once again, f**k you Dalgona).

But, like most things, the initial novelty faded off and soon we reached a point where we both started avoiding this question until late into the evening when it was absolutely necessary to discuss it.

No. of Meals over the years

It has been more than a year since COVID wrecked our lives. Yes, I found my joy of cooking during this year, but I also realized that while cooking brings me joy, the decision of what to cook is absolutely nerve wrecking. For those interested in some numbers, in the last 365 days we must have cooked: (365*2) – (104*2) = 522 meals

Basically, 2 meals a day and subtracting some takeout’s that we ordered over the weekend. I was proud yet surprised after arriving at this number.

And then it struck me.

Why my mom always used to always ask us what we wanted for dinner? It wasn’t because she was giving us a lesson in ‘real’ democracy. It was because she was tired of making that decision – alone; 365*2*30 times (This is a conservative number because she’s still cooking for the rest of my family and she was cooking even before I was born).

What we eventually ate for our meals was basically a product of what groceries were available and what can be conjured up with those resources. It took me 33 years and a pandemic to realize this and that is why I wanted it to share it with everyone.

So, the next time your Mom asks you, “What do you want for dinner”, maybe help her come to a decision instead of dismissing the question with “Anything is fine”.

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