The Picky Eater
When I think about my eating habits as a child, I feel a lot of sympathy towards my Mom.
I was a ‘meat and potata’ girl through and through. I was happy to eat chicken, beef, ham or turkey (un-marinated) with a side of potatoes every day of the week. When the vegetable area of the food pyramid was approached, I was only interested in raw ‘baby’ carrots. If they were cooked, you could not get them anywhere near my mouth. My sister on the other hand was the exact opposite. She would eat absolutely any vegetable but if you tried to get her to eat any form of meat, she would not touch it.
My poor Mom tried everything to get me to eat what she cooked. She tried making me sit at the table until I ate the food in front of me. I was patient. She tried bribing with desserts and treats. I wasn’t interested. She tried sending me to my room without any supper. I was never very hungry. In fact, I was an underweight child so she was concerned to leave with without food for long. In the end she made a variety of dishes to satisfy everyone’s dinner wishes. I don’t know how she did it, but I certainly never gave her enough credit.
When I went away to university, my eating habits remained unchanged. My parents decided to purchase a food plan for my first year of university. It was very kind of them, however, my small university had limited choices. After a month or two of Subway sandwiches, pizza and the odd chicken dinner (if I made it in time), I was forced to experiment a little bit. I started with salads mixed with pasta and the odd stir-fry, without onions and peppers. I discovered that cooked vegetables weren’t so terrible after all. When I decided to cook at home, I even tried making my own stir-fry with vegetables. I was changing. For the remaining 4 years of University I opted not to get a food plan, I truly missed cooking my own meals and was tired of my minimal menu at Nipissing University. Salads became a popular meal choice, and not always mixed with pasta. Cooked vegetables were sometimes beside my meat and potatoes. Something was happening, slowly.
In my last year of university, I was given the opportunity to fly to China to complete a teaching practicum with 19 other students. I was unsure if this was something I should consider, as I had never been much of a traveler. My Dad encouraged me to apply and when I was accepted he shared my excitement in the adventure I had ahead of myself. I think my Mom just shared my anxieties. I am so appreciative of my Dad’s encouragement because that trip changed who I am today and it changed the plan I had created for myself and my future. While in China, I was forced to eat some interesting things or go hungry. I couldn’t starve myself for one month, so I forced myself to experiment and stomach things I wish I hadn’t. I surprised myself. Mushrooms were tasty. Ginger was delicious. Pork hooves were disgusting. Maybe that wasn’t a surprise. Red bean buns were amazing and I discovered that there were more fruits than just apples, bananas and berries. I tried seafood for the first time and loved it. I was approached with deep-fried crickets and beetles but I thought that I had stretched my palette enough for one trip.
I came home with first tea ever purchased and a new appreciation for food, as long as it had meat in every dish, it could have as many different vegetables as the chef wanted. Well, with a few limitations of course.
After my China adventure, I was hooked. After only three and a half months of being home, I accepted a job and flew to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I could not resist array of culinary delights that were hidden within the maze of alleyways. Despite a few bouts of food poisoning, I fell in love with the freshness of Vietnamese cuisine. I cooked at home no more than 5 times during my entire year in Vietnam.
The Road Block
As one would expect eating at the not-so-clean ‘restaurants’ in Ho Chi Minh city, I did have some lovely worm friends decide to join in the digesting party happening in my stomach. Thanks to the flooding of contaminated water, I also had some parasites join in on the party too. Clearly this caused some problems in my eating habits. After a series of insanely strong antibiotics, we managed to kill most of the little creatures in me, leaving some serious damage to my intestinal tract and stomach. There were so many foods that caused extreme pain. Meat, being the worst culprit. For almost a year I gave up eating meat and started taking some natural healing supplements. After over a year my stomach started to accept most foods so I began to reintroduce meat. Chicken was really the farthest I could push it until I had discomfort.
I started to think about why I ate meat. I liked the taste but I hated the feeling that I had afterwards. I loved to barbeque but I hated handling raw meat. I was surrounded by a lot of vegetarians at my school in Shanghai and I thought back to how well I felt when I was not eating meat. I wanted that feeling to return. I went back to removing meat from my diet and I was astonished by how quickly my discomfort disappeared. I was shocked by the energy I had found. I couldn’t believe how my body had changed. I felt healthy. I felt happy. After taking meat out of my diet, I was given a book called, “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer. I was horrified by my ignorance towards the journey meat went through to get to my table. I knew meat came from animals but I had never made the emotional connection. I didn’t take time to think how the animals were treated before they became my dinner. I didn’t understand the environmental impact my choices were making. This book was a slap in the face. I needed more information. I continued to read various pieces of literature and watch documentaries describing food’s journey. It has made me change other aspects of my diet as well but most of all it has convinced me that there is no reason for me to have meat in my diet.
Passing on Knowledge
I find it disheartening that it wasn’t until I was 25 years old, did I begin to understand where my food comes from. It infuriated me that I was not given the opportunity to learn about this in school. As a teacher, I make a point to have opportunities for children to inquire and discuss the journey their food takes to get to their lunch boxes and tables. I talk openly about my decision to be a vegetarian. This year I have other students and parents who are vegetarians and vegans as well. I am not looking to convince children to make the same choice I did, but I want them to have the knowledge to make their own informed food choices.