My vegetarianism stints throughout junior high and high school never really lasted long and when they did I often cheated. The thing is that despite growing up around food and to a certain extent, farming, I really knew very little about preparing food well.
My sister, Andrea, recently said to me that she never could understand why anyone would want to be a vegetarian until she started learning how to prepare good food. When you grow up eating vegetables that are frozen or canned and then microwaved, it’s pretty easy to see why.
Processed food was a huge staple of my family’s diet. I don’t blame my parents for this at all. I know that they did the best they could with the knowledge they had and the resources they had to work with. If you’ve seen Food Inc., you know all about how basically junk food is subsidised by our government. Hamburger Helper is cheap and easy to prepare. So please don’t judge my parents for “ruining” what was mainly grass-fed beef with these meals in a box.
When my parents split up, maintaining the ranch became pretty much impossible. So we moved and my dad got a Costco membership. Enter in even more processed food. We still consumed large amounts of meat that we bought in bulk there, but this was accompanied by the same staples. He also started getting a lot of pre-prepared meals there like the skillet meal in a bag types, frozen lasagna, pasta to be topped with sauces from a jar, chicken pot pies, Hot Pockets, and other things that he knew would be easy for my sisters and I to prepare on our own.
Cable television had always been seen as somewhat of a necessity in our home growing up. I don’t even really remember a time when we didn’t have it. In some ways though, I say thank God for cable television because that is how and where I learned to cook. Watching Emeril started out as a fun thing to do with my dad. For the first time I realized, “Whoa, cooking can be so much fun and so interesting. It doesn’t have to be this awful hard chore.” When they added the Food Network to our channel lineup I was so excited. I quickly had several favorites shows.
Soon after that something just snapped in me and I knew that I could not stand to eat another pot pie or Hot Pocket ever again (OK, well lets be honest here I did when I was desperate and there was nothing else to eat in the house, but still). I remember one day I just got online and started printing off recipe after recipe that I wanted to try on little notecards to fill the little recipe box I purchased at the drugstore that was around the corner (which sits to this day in my kitchen). Some of my recipes were total flops. For instance, the first time I tried to make alfredo sauce I burned the rue three times (darn old electric stove!) before giving up and making a box of Pasta Roni instead. Other things were really good though, like after one of my dad’s annual fishing trips when I made a seared tuna steak topped with a mixture of tomatoes, garlic and olives in a white wine sauce.
Processed food didn’t just go away though. Even though I knew freshly prepared food was fairly easy to make and tasted better, I still ate fast food and convenience food when I got too busy or when I was just tired and didn’t feel like cooking. Plus, my sisters were often very critical of my food or because of being guinea pigs were afraid to try new things I would make in case it was a flop.
Then, I married Stephen who basically grew up the same way I did eating lots of processed food and veggies prepared the same microwaved way. It took me a long time to convince him that veggies could be good because of this. In our first apartment, we had the pot pies and Hot Pockets right there in the freezer to be had when I was too busy with school to cook or nights when we had church activities immediately after work/school and no time to cook. We ate a lot of fast food too. Some of it was better than others, but a lot of it was the really cheap gross stuff like McDonalds and Taco Bell.
However, it was a “fast food” trip to Jamba Juice on my way to school one morning that would completely change my life with regards to food. In addition to their smoothies, Jamba usually has a shelf or two of other items available including biking apparel, juicers (of course), blenders, cookbooks and other literature that fit with the Jamba lifestyle. While waiting in line to place my order for a smoothie in the late fall of 2003, I decided to pick up a couple books, they were Consumer Joe (very funny, but not the life changing one) and Fast Food Nation.