Gateway Vegetables: My Story As A Born Again Foodie

by | Jun 20, 2011

Photo by woodleywonderworks

Cheryl-Ann Roberge lives in Seattle and enjoys dining with strangers at restaurant bars, yoga and sea salt caramels. Follow her on Twitter @Pigeon_Feather.

Gateway Vegetables: My Story As A Born Again Foodie

by Cheryl-Ann Roberge

If you had told teenage me that she would one day be a vegetable lover, spice fanatic and adventurous eater, she would have sent her canned ravioli flying towards your face.

My name is Cheryl-Ann Roberge, I reside in Seattle and I am a born again foodie. This is my story.

The nineties were an underwhelming time in my food life. Eggs were one of the few things I enjoyed eating that didn’t come from a box or can. Even at a young age I tried to pick all of the oregano out of my spaghetti. I hated fruit and veggies. I tolerated apples and canned vegetables when required.

At age seventeen, I proudly declared that I would never learn how to cook and that I would live solely on canned ravioli.

It was simple: I didn’t like anything that had real flavor.

Epiphany

Two years into my “adult life” I was existing on of a steady diet of Easy Mac and cafeteria food.

Vegetables were the most difficult for me. But ironically, veggies were also the key that would open the doors to foods I would never have been interested in otherwise.

I went on about my business of eating meat with noodles or meat with rice or meat with bread and I was pretty happy with the rotation. I worked in the dorm cafeteria circuit at the university I attended in Milwaukee, WI and I liked telling people I was a lunch lady.

On a hot July day, my world was changed. A special picnic for new student prospects was being served outdoors and I was staffed to work. The picnic served food much different from the typical cafeteria fare. After the new students had been served, the cafeteria workers breaked for a meal together. I loaded my plate with a burger and whichever pasta salad I knew I wouldn’t eat much of.

I made my way to the grill and found it covered with a vegetable medley that I’d never seen served before. I kept walking. Mike the chef called me back and stuck veggie-filled tongs towards me. “I don’t do veggies, Mike.”

“These are different,” he explained. He was excited that he’d been allowed to make food he thought tasted good. Mike had once opened his own restaurant, but failed and ended up as a chef at the cafeteria where creativity was always superseded by budget. This was his banner day.

I declined once more before he gave the overhaul speech that broke me down. He lowered juicy, grill-marked asparagus, onion, zucchini and squash onto my plate as I shot him a look of disinterest. The veggies were cooked very simply: tossed with oil, salt and pepper and flung onto the grill. I’d never had something like this before.

I didn’t come away with a huge affinity for onions that time, but I had my first ever delightful experience with something I’d always found disgusting. I suddenly loved squash and zucchini, and thought asparagus was okay too.

Mike told me that I’d made his day. I raved for a week. My whole idea of food turned upside down, and it was just the beginning of a ten year revolution.

I’ve since learned to like onions, spinach, fish, shellfish, beets and strawberries. After discovering sushi, wasabi became my gateway into loving spicy food, which I’d never been able to tolerate.

My journey hasn’t ended. Last fall I took my first trip to Italy where I discovered cantaloupe served alongside dinner entrees. I had always been lukewarm about the fruit, but something about having light, juicy melon after a slice of delicious lasagna made me appreciate its sweetness in a way I never had. Now my least favorite fruit salad element has become a favorite.

It is difficult to express to you just how surprising and lovely these realizations can be. I live for them, and I try every new food I can. I plea bargain with other picky eaters I meet. I pester them to try new things. I invite them over for dinner and try to introduce them to something they’d never try.

Why should you try and try again?

As children, most of us are naturally adverse to beer, coffee and wine. A sip might be granted by a grandpa wearing a grin, which of course is followed by a grimace from the grandchild.

So how do most of us end up liking all three beverages despite the horrible trials we go through?

Practice, exposure and repetition are the keys to comfort. I expanded my taste in music the same way. I started listening to any music I could get my hands on and, as with food, I started having mini music epiphanies too.

Consider this: Why did most of us enjoy listening to the radio when we were children? We knew the songs and they were comforting, like canned ravioli.

How do country music haters end up enjoying Neko Case or Ryan Adams? It’s fresh and it didn’t come out of a can. You get the point.

A Simple Request

As a born again foodie I sit here in Seattle writing to you, Picky Eater. I’m late to work, because I care that much about your palate. I want you too to discover the pleasure of new foods. It has changed my life and given me unforgettable experiences with old friends and new.

As a bonus, it’s easier to get out and exercise because I’m not so weighed down by the processed junk food that I used to love. And my waistline is trim now.

Change your ways for those last two reasons if you must, but try new foods because they will eventually taste good and the rest will follow. Just don’t expect it all to happen over night.

What’s your gateway veggie?

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13 Responses to “Gateway Vegetables: My Story As A Born Again Foodie”

  1. I once read that your taste buds change every 7 years. Whther it’s true or not, I am a believer! Until just a few years ago I wouldn’t touch a salad unless it was covered in ranch (the full-fat variety, of course). Now I find myself craving things like raw zucchini sticks, avocados, and butternut squash.

  2. Amanda says:

    I love this article! I have to say asparagus was my gateway veggie as well. Once I discovered that veggies taste good when they aren’t boiled to death, I have loved them every since. My mother had a way of cooking everything till it tasted so bland and was so flimsy, I never wanted to go near them. But then I started cooking for myself and trying new things, eating what others made, and low and behold I love a lot of things I used to hate. Brussel sprouts for a big eww on most people’s plates. I even like sushi! Who would’ve guessed?

    Now when I go home to visit, my mom always asks me to make my tilapia and spinach meal which everyone loves. Even dad who says he hates spinach!

  3. Karen says:

    I loved this sharing post, I think my gateway veg was artichokes. My rode to real food was because of an intolerance to foods. I only wish I had known about continuing to offer new foods to kids when mine were small. All I can do now is help them with their kids when they come!

    Thanks, Karen

  4. Dana says:

    I grew up in the South where veggies are cooked until they might as well have come out of a can. While this process usually involves a lot of butter, there were so many vegetables that I was convinced that I hated until someone just lightly cooked some squash in olive oil and salt and pepper. I’ve never turned back. Now, whenever I go home and my mom cooks vegetables, I take some out of the pan for myself way before she’s done cooking!

  5. Chris says:

    I still struggle to eat fruits and vegetables. I was never forced to as a child so I stayed in my comfort zone all throughout my teenage years. Now 21 and working full time (at least until the end of the summer) I am trying to branch out and change my palate more. A friend had me recently try tomatoes she had cooked in a dish and it turned my stomach because of the texture (I believe). The same thing happened when I tried baby carrots! I even had put ranch dressing on them, but the texture still makes my stomach turn. I don’t know if it is a mental block or something else, but it is frustrating when I want to improve my eating habits and can not find a way to do so.

  6. Clem says:

    My gateway veggies would probably be cauliflower. Butternut squash would be part of the party, as would avo’s. The ones that I only discovered a love for much later though, are spinach, asparagus and broccoli (weird, considering the cauli-love)

  7. Kristen says:

    This is true for me too. Pretty much the only things I hated as a child and still hate now are hot dogs and milk, and I think I can do without. ;)

  8. Alessandri says:

    I love this article! At the beginning of this year I was also quite narrow-minded about fruit and veg. I’d explore most other foods, and already had a love for seafood, sushi, shellfish, etc. What changed me is moving in with my friend who absolutely LOVES veggies… Oh, and let’s not forget, it’s a lot cheaper to live off fruit & veg (Well, in South Africa it is…) Anyway, he started making loads of salads and made veggies with every meal… I’m now in love! I used to have a sweet tooth, but now I find myself turning down the chocolates and treats and asking for more salad. Zucchini? AMAZING!

    A lot of my friends hate going out with me, I don’t take no for an answer and always make sure they try something new. Life’s definitely more colourful now :-)

    Okay, that’s my rant – Done :)

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