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
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.
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Mike had once opened his own restaurant, but failed and ended up as a chef at the cafeteria where creativity was always superseded by budget.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?