One thing has remained consistent throughout my life, and that is a special connection to food.
Wondering where it came from, I’m drawn to one of my earliest experiences as a child. I was in 3rd grade, about 7 years old, living in Tucson, Arizona. I had just lost my adopted brother of 2 years old to brain cancer. I was very young at the time, and can only recall flashes of memories here and there; from the day he dumped spaghetti and sauce all over his head, and I burst out laughing, spraying milk all over the dinner table, to the day I was playing Donkey Kong on my Atari game system when I got the news that my brother wouldn’t be coming home from the hospital. It was a difficult time for my family, but we all pulled close together and somehow miraculously made it through. We all had our own coping mechanisms. I don’t remember mine clearly, but after an explanation from my mother, it all comes into focus pretty clearly. She reminded me that I began to take on a new role in the family.
At just 7 years old, I began to work in the family kitchen, cooking small meals here and there for everyone.
I didn’t have many skills back then, but my mother is a wonderful cook, and she was always ready to teach me something new. The kitchen was a magical place where we all came together and we all had something to contribute. My father would lead the charge in making homemade spaghetti and sausage. We would each man a station when it came time to make homemade tortillas. Then of course there was the special treat that only came around every once in a while…the cheesecake.
It wasn’t long before I got a little older and began experimenting on my own. I even met one of my best friends in fifth grade who shared a passion for cooking the way that I did. We experimented with ribs, BBQ sauces, Alfredo sauces and omelets at midnight. Before long we had grown up, and were still cooking together. Only at this point in our lives we were drawn to the power of the rum cake.
A little rum for you, a little rum for me!
About this same time we were making our way through college, my friend a nutrition major, and I an engineering major. I had been a soccer player since I was a kid and so I decided to join the Arizona State University soccer team. It was incredibly competitive and quite physically demanding. I made the team as a freshman, and was eager to prove my abilities and myself. I decided that in order to perform at a new level, I needed to change my habits. For the first time in my life, I seriously considered what I was putting in my body, and what it needed to perform at its peak. I cut back on the processed foods and ate a lot of rice, frozen peas/corn, homemade bean burritos and when I needed to carb-load, I turned to a classic Alfredo recipe, which consisted of pasta, raw egg, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Yup, I was on a super-fuel diet! …Or so I thought. Admittedly, this wasn’t what I should have been eating necessarily, but it was a significant change from the diet I had grown up with, and most importantly it allowed me to begin questioning what I was eating versus what was considered “normal”.
For many years I found myself creating odd diets, based on the information that I had been gathering.
I got creative and started to make new things. I was even working at a pizza restaurant for several years where I had access to equipment and all kinds of food. “Creation Wednesdays” became a weekly tradition where imagination, hunger and just the right spices would come together creating many memorable nights (don’t even ask about the 15 foot long bread stick!). It was during this time that I met an adorable young woman who had just been whisked from the beaches of Guam, by a typhoon, to the safe sandy desert of Arizona. We spent a lot of time together and fell in love immediately. She would stay with me at the restaurant while I washed dishes, counted money and closed up shop. It was evident from the start that we loved to cook together. One of the first nights I spent meeting her family was at their house. Krystal and I made an Italian feast of Fettuccini Alfredo, salad and homemade bread. We worked so well together, spinning that dance that only her and I can do in the kitchen. It was beautiful. Six months later, Krystal moved in with me and the little tiny kitchen we shared was ours
We could cook whatever we wanted.
We had a hot plate, and a toaster oven. Eventually we upgraded to a microwave as well. It wasn’t the easiest environment to cook in, but our motto was “We make things work!” and boy did we. To this day, I still can’t figure out how we hosted dinner parties for our families. Somehow it all worked, and we figured it out together. At some point along the way, one of our favorite things to eat was freshly cut vegetables with ranch dip. I think part of it had to do with the fact that the meal required no cooking equipment, aside from a knife and a cutting board. What we didn’t realize at the time is that we were beginning to understand, and truly appreciate vegetarianism. Now, as good as ranch and veggies can be, one can only eat that so long. Eventually we had to branch out, but not turn back. We felt we were on a new path and had a desire to explore it further. Eventually we discovered hummus and other kinds of dips and veggies. We were still eating meat here and there too, but our tastes were definitely changing, and our knowledge of food and where it came from was growing as well.
In the blink of an eye, four years had gone by.
We married and moved to a new house with a fully equipped kitchen (yay!). By this time we were really growing and coming into our own. We questioned everything…Where is our food coming from? What are all of those crazy ingredients on the back of the food labels? What is a vegan? How are animals processed into food? Why does the media tell me to drink so much milk?… There were so many questions, and so much to learn. The more we dug, the more we discovered that there is this network of people who were asking the same types of questions, and not only that, but there are people out there doing research and building evidence that proves we are right to question everything. Ever so quickly, the “truths” that I had been raised to believe came tumbling down around me like rows and rows of dominos. I finally felt awake and able to see clearly. There was one large question looming…
Why can’t everyone else see this?
Why is the truth so buried and suppressed? It didn’t take long before the answer to that question became evident as well. The answer is simple. Money and greed. Upon coming to this realization, there was a fire and a passion lit inside of me. I felt like the victim of some cruel and unrelenting prank. I wanted the world to see what I had seen, and to understand that our system is broken.
Our system IS broken, but unfortunately it’s covered up by technology and fallacies spread by the media.
Even deeper than that, it’s covered up by years and years of misinformation, that leads the average American to believe that something like a vegan diet is completely insane and will ultimately lead to malnutrition. Luckily there is a movement brewing and new truths are starting to spread. My desire is to be an active part of this movement. I want to share what I have read and learned. I want to introduce my vegetarian cooking to the masses and help people see that there is a different way. Our food can be fresh, whole and come from local sources. Not only that, but it can be completely vegan/vegetarian and still be exciting and flavorful! Although at times I am frustrated, I am ultimately excited for the future of America and what it has to learn. Most importantly, I can’t wait to do my part! It’s an exciting time for food and a pivotal moment for the future of our species. Be open to new views and be open to new foods. It’s all I ask. You never know what path it will lead you to.