Recently, the obituary of Donald Kendall, founder of PepsiCo caught my eye. Kendall lived to 99 despite the fact he drank Pepsi for breakfast. Judging from his longevity, who woulda thunk it, Pepsi is a health food. This brings me to the point of this blog. (which is not a diatribe on healthy eating.)
When I first met my wife, Sandy, one thing I liked about her besides the fact she was happy, gorgeous, genuine and funny, was that she had the sweetest breath of any girl I’d ever kissed. (I’ll leave it to you to imagine the number of participants in that noble experiment.) I am one of those people who is blessed, or cursed, with an extremely acute sense of smell. One of the odors I particularly dislike is garlic breath. It’s very common these days, maybe because people tend to eat in restaurants and take out a lot. If you ever wonder why restaurant food tastes better than what you cook, it’s because they use a lot of salt, sugar and… garlic. A lot of garlic. I am so sensitive to garlic on a person’s breath that when I had a swimming buddy who was into the supposed health benefits of garlic, it was very difficult to breathe between sets. When I showed up at the Y, as soon as the control door opened to the corridor leading to the locker room, a good hundred feet away, the smell of garlic wafting on the breeze revealed he had already arrived. It’s hopeless to try to mask garlic breath. It gets into your blood stream and is expelled through your lungs. The odor can linger, according to my personal observations, for days after ingestion.
Actually, I enjoy food with garlic in it. But until the advent of masks and social distancing, I used it sparingly. Working in a small office, I imposed a “no garlic policy” on myself on nights before work days so that my patients would not have to shrink from their shrink. If a patient came in with heavy garlic breath, I’d gag through the session and, even if the temperature outside was below zero, I’d open the windows and air out the office before bringing the next person in.
So, you may ask, what does this have to do with Pepsi? The answer lies in the reason for those sweet kisses. Sandy grew up in a white bread American home on a white bread American diet. Like most housewives of her era, my mother-in-law boiled the bejesus out of whatever vegetables didn’t come out of a can. I can’t blame Sandy for not having acquired a taste for them. On top of that, soup, fruit, even spaghetti, was canned and bland. The spice rack consisted of salt and pepper shakers. Sandy never tasted pizza until she attended a birthday party for an Italian girlfriend some time in her teens. It’s an understatement to say she was not too keen on green stuff. One of her favorite childhood memories is of sitting at the dinner table for several hours, staring at her spinach, until her mother backed down from the old “you’re not leaving this table until…” routine.
In college she subsisted on meat and potatoes, cake, chocolate and other similar sources of nourishment. These ensured no offending substances in her system. That was great for our love life, but not so great for her prospects of living a long life. In all fairness, during college she did come to appreciate one food item that contained a modicum of green. The fact that she referred to it as “hearts of roquefort with lettuce dressing,” though, was a Freudian slip that revealed the part of the dish she was actually interested in. So, when we got serious toward the end of college, we made a deal that, seeing I’d like to have her around a long while, she would try to learn to eat better. She did a great job of it, helped along early in our marriage by my skillful hiding of vegetables in her food. She learned to like tomatoes by starting with a razor thin slice slipped into a tuna sandwich. Over time I increased the thickness. Before long she lusted after the wonderful Jersey tomatoes we had access to during those early years in Philly.
Early on, Sandy was so ignorant about cooking that once, when she arrived home from work to the smell of my homemade chicken soup, she looked around, perplexed, and asked, “Where’s the can?” Over the years, she learned to enjoy all kinds of healthy food, though it took her decades to be able to eat most fruits without making her famous “fruit face.”
Okay. But still, what has this to do with Kendall’s choice of breakfast beverage? Well, many decades ago, when she was still in the process of learning to eat real food, Sandy taunted me with a vow that, as revenge for my foisting a healthy diet on her, on her eightieth birthday we would have Coke and Cheese Doodles and they would comprise her entire diet from then until her dying day. At the time it seemed so far off, we could just laugh. But, with luck, and maybe thanks in part to my efforts, that milestone looks like it may well occur. And not so far in the future, either. The problem is, if she wants the longevity of Kendall she’ll need to make some adjustments. Obviously, Kendall would never drink Coke, and, since his company also owned Frito-Lay, Cheese Doodles were out of the question. Only Cheetos would do.
Now Sandy faces a huge dilemma. If she intends to follow the Kendall diet to make it to 99, she’ll have to revise her long anticipated menu. Coke and Cheese Doodles are out. My gal’s going with the healthy stuff. Pepsi and Cheetos.