“You’re such a picky eater,” My parents used to tell me. Now I say “don’t be so picky” when my mom refuses having kale in a salad or whispers that my dad only eats certain vegetables. As I’ve grown-up I’ve come to notice that being a picky eater is the norm rather than the minority. We gravitate, consciously or unconsciously, towards the same flavors and dishes, declaring ourselves a connoisseur of that experience.
Veganism has challenged all that I know about food and flavors, even inspiring a craving for the new and unknown. In December I visited LA, eager to try one of its many vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants. A family friend and her boyfriend were recommended Café Gratitude, and I’d also heard wonderful reviews from Instagram’s vegan community. When I scanned the menu I felt a nudge of disappointment: Buddha bowls, sandwiches and salads, and veganfied American classics, such as potatoes and gravy. The disappointment wasn’t due to bad food (the food was amazing, and I was grateful to experience it) but in my familiarity and ability to make most dishes myself.
What intrigued me more was our appetizer: cauliflower “buffalo wings.” I had never tried “buffalo wings” (aside from the flavored pretzel bites at grocery stores), and I don’t often cook with cauliflower. The flavors were new (and delicious), and the experience taught me more about vegan cuisine.
Food is a necessity to life, but it is also a learning experience and memory. Certain smells and tastes take us back to our childhood, certain dishes remind us of friends or past lovers, and certain jars of goop stir up uncomfortable or disgusting memories…… both pickiness and distaste for a certain food is based on negative memories.
One day in kindergarten my friends and I claimed a table and began opening our lunches. The girl across from me held a sandwich and peeled it apart slowly, which sounded like a sponge being squished in mayonnaise (another jar of goop I’m realizing I have problems with). I looked away, and when I looked back she was licking Nutella off half of the disjointed sandwich. I completely forgot about this until years later, when I decided I did not and never would like Nutella or even its logo and color scheme.
While I don’t credit the Nutella incident for my overall pickiness as a child and teenager, I believe that my pickiness came from similar moments where I felt disgust towards foods. Another example was when my mom used to eat spoonfuls of peanut butter and leave the jar open in the kitchen, allowing the smell to stick in the air. After finishing a jar she’d leave it soaking in the sink, and again the smell stuck in the air and now soggy globs of peanut butter clogged the sink.
Unlike Nutella, however, I gave peanut butter another chance when my friend asked me to bake peanut butter cookies for her birthday. The cookies were… delicious! Then I tried peanut butter brownies, peanut butter energy bars, and peanut butter bundt cakes, all of which were delicious, and finally forgave peanut butter.
Pickiness is understandable, especially when food costs are rising and we don’t want to waste time and money on yucky meals. Yet trying new foods can even lead to life-changing experiences.
I owe my ex-boyfriend a cartoonishly long list of thank yous for the positive impacts he had on me, such as our promise to try new things. During a visit to Spokane’s Riverfront Park, we found an Ethiopian restaurant named Queen of Sheba. I was skeptical about trying it, so we ventured to a couple more places before my boyfriend admitted that he really wanted to eat there. I had established my comfort zone but stepped out for him (with some skepticism). We ended up enjoying the food and experience very much… even though we didn’t eat our leftovers the next morning.
When I moved to Spokane half a year later, now a somewhat experienced vegan, I recalled that Queen of Sheba offered vegan food and went with a friend. The vegan food was even better than the meat dishes, and my love for Ethiopian food bloomed. When my mom’s friend visited, I ethusiacally suggested dining at Queen of Sheba. This is when I ran into pickiness. I found their skepticism and uncertainty frustrating until remembering how I’d felt my first time eating here. Yet we all enjoyed the meal, and I’d even persuaded them to try vegan dishes. 😀
Being comfortable with being uncomfortable is a skill that gets easier with practice. That’s how I feel in culinary arts and am working to feel in other areas of my life, such as volunteer opportunities and social situations. What helps is when someone else encourages that first step. In my case it was my ex-boyfriend, who encouraged us to try Ethiopian food and to eventually go vegan. Since then I’ve shared the experience of vegan food with friends and family; including my friend who, unknowingly, convinced me to try peanut butter cookies.
Being the main cook of my household, my parents have to eat whatever I’m making, or they’re left to fend for themselves (entailing frozen pizzas or microwave vegetarian dinners (they do try)). At the start of 2017 my mom would raise an eyebrow and chuckle at my excitement over making injera, Ethiopian flatbread; now when I explain that the smell in the pantry is from a flour mixture fermenting and growing yeast, she cheers (okay, well, she also asked why it has to be in the pantry). My cooking has guided them out of their comfort zones enough times that even after seeing an unsightly bowl of teff flour that’s fermented for five days, they’ll try the end result. I admire that.
One way out of the comfort zone this year could be cooking or ordering a new dish. While it might be uncomfortable when the server sets that mysterious plate down on the table, the bite that glitters on the tongue and in the eyes is worth experiencing. And maybe it will be the start of many more new and worthwhile experiences this year, food-related or not.
Maybe 2018 will be my year to make and experience Nutella.
Or maybe it won’t be. Not knowing what is to come is part of the adventure.
Are there any dishes you’d like to try this year? Or any out-of-the-comfort-zone activities you’d like to do? Tell me in the comments below! I’d love to hear. ❤
Author’s Note: I don’t “hate” Nutella. I believe hate is too strong of an emotion that most things in life do not deserve, but “I Strongly Dislike Nutella” isn’t as catchy of a title.