Little Boy and Fat Man

Steve Russell
6 min readMar 21, 2019

I do not remember ever being admonished by my primary caretakers, my grandparents, to clean my plate. Still, I grew up with the awareness that the important issue was not like or don’t like, but rather have or don’t have. What we had was often whatever the commodities program was distributing.

It’s funny how I remember my childhood diet in like or don’t like terms. Because everything repeated, it seems logical that I would either dislike it all because I got tired of it or like it all because of gustatory nostalgia.

Like most people who grew up with commodities, I loved the cheese. Hard yellow cheese in big bricks with a plain black and white label. I was less excited about a common meat item labeled “pork shoulder” in little white cans. Later, I would come to know it behind a more colorful label as Spam.

I did not like powdered milk and still don’t. I was agnostic as between the butter we got sometimes in the commodities distribution and the margarine we bought at the grocery store. I no longer feel that way, but I can’t say how much of that opinion is taste and how much is the knowledge that margarine is fake butter.

The other grease that came in the white wrappers of the commodities distribution but also in the grocery store was lard, and I can’t imagine what Granma would have done without it. I grew up thinking the verb “to cook” meant “to fry.”

Granma kept a big old Folger’s coffee can on the stove to contain the leftover grease from whatever she was cooking. The grease might have been lard or bacon fat, but it stayed in that can until it was — in contemporary language — recycled.

I had none of the knowledge I would later acquire from dietitians and I would not have known how to count calories or carbohydrates…but suppose I had known? Our food supply was what it was and choices were limited.

In addition to the commodities, we had a big garden. Every year, my grandparents would hire somebody to plow the vacant lot next door. We grew lettuce and tomatoes and bell peppers as well as the Three Sisters — corn, beans, and squash. The onions came up every year without being planted. We usually produced enough green beans that my grandmother would put them up in sealed glass jars to be unsealed in the winter, along with pears from the tree in the back yard and peaches bought from farmers who would sell bushel baskets door to door in season.

Steve Russell

Enrolled Cherokee, 9th grade dropout, retired judge, associate professor emeritus, and (so far) cancer survivor. Memoir: Lighting the Fire (Miniver Press 2020)