I will never forget that I had to choose between ham and cheese

I used to be a picky boy. I gave hard times to my mom. Many times she “had to” cook for me something else than for herself and my dad. And she did it again and again.

I had the impression that she cooked well. Now that I cook a lot, I know it. I understand that she was great in preparing tasty food from cheap ingredients.

While our lunches used to be varied, I don’t remember the same way to our breakfasts and dinners. At our table, lunch was the most important meal, it was the hot dish. In the morning, and in the evening we used to eat cold cuts, cheese, bread and some veggies.

Let’s be more specific. The cheese was a semi-soft one with French origins, which gives 70% of the Hungarian cheese consumption. The cold cuts were mostly salami, ham or a cheaper processed meat, called parizer depending on how things went. For bakery we had rolls, because my father received them from the kitchen of the hospital where he used to work as a driver. And for a vegetable it depended on the season, but in Hungary, we eat a lot of yellow peppers, which we call TV pepper. Funny thing is that many people don’t even know what TV stands for. No, it’s not for the box with pictures and sounds in it, but it stands for to “tölteni való” — to be stuffed.

TV pepper — to be stuffed

In short, we ate kind of the same sandwiches every morning and evening. I brought some of these sandwiches to the school too. In those, I always had salami and/or cheese because those didn’t go sour in a couple of hours.

As I already said, I used to be a picky boy. Sometimes I didn’t like ham. Sometimes I didn’t like the parizer. But other times I loved the very same things. There was one stable point tough, I always liked cheese, I still do. No wonder, I ended up in France!

I didn’t like that much parizer for quite a while, but sometimes I didn’t have a choice. We were not in our best years when my father’s spinal hernia and other chronic illnesses were getting worse. My mother’s small business of making compositions of dried flowers was on the decline and we were just a few years after some important austerity measures getting infamous as the Bokros package were introduced. We didn’t eat ham or salami, there was parizer in the fridge. Still, we had enough to eat, we didn’t starve. It was just crappy. So I kept eating cheese.

On a weekend I went with some friends’ family to a nearby lake to fish and to swim. As I couldn’t swim well and as it was a mine pit lake I was mostly fishing or just hanging around next to the water. I received a roll with parizer in it. As I was a shy boy I’m not sure if I said that I didn’t like it, but it is sure that it was written on my face.

The friend of my father was a funny guy who could always appear to be very convincing — at least for children. Just by talking and joking he made me like parizer. I don’t know how he did it, because even know, far from being picky, I think it’s one of the worst products of the meat industry.One of the things I work for and learn for is to avoid any such lies and decision

Parizer — one of the cheapest cold cuts

From that on I ate parizer again. Sometimes combined with cheese.

In the second half of 1998, important changes were going on in our family. My brother was due by May 1999. We were living in a two-room flat (not two-bedroom) and my parents wanted a separate room for both of the children — and for themselves by the way. While it was a nice and respectable idea, they didn’t have the money.

So they ended up with a popular idea for those in short of money. Let’s build a new floor on the top of my grandparents’ house.

One day, my mother sit down with me. She wanted to speak about money. She told me that we didn’t have much and surely I would want an own room both for me and for my brother. As no good comes without sacrifices, I also had to make my own little sacrifice. I had to choose between meat and cheese in my sandwiches. Budgetary cut on the very low level. I understood and I made no problem out of it.

Does it matter in the end? I guess no. But I still remember.

Even if I live a good life and I have no financial problems — as I keep my needs realistic to my possibilities — I shall never forget where I come from. I know that now we are fine and most probably our situation will continue to evolve due to the mindset we have with my wife. But I also have to keep in mind that if something hits in and our situation degrades, it will still be just fine.

In the end, for me, it was between parzier and cheese. For others, it’s between a Mercedes and a Ford. Yet for others, it’s between shoes and some dry bread.

You always have to make a choice and on an individual level poverty starts when you experience medium- or long-term degradation in your circumstances.

Of course, what you feel is quite subjective. You can alter your perception in a way that even small is a lot. It’s good and useful to a certain point. But beyond that, it’s just a lie.

Nothing is black and white, but I know one thing for sure. I never want to tell my family that they should choose between parizer and cheese.