The Reluctant Foodie by Heather Orton

My foray into the food world was a resistant one. Neither of my parents came from families that had a passion for cooking and that apathy was passed down to me. We ate when we were hungry and since cooking wasn’t highly valued, we ate for convenience. Mind you, we didn’t eat out - that was special for Sundays after church. We ate at home. The fridge was filled with luncheon meats, cheese, and other prepared foods you could quickly throw in the oven. I remember eating together when I was little, but when I was older we mostly fended for ourselves which meant we rarely ate together. When we did sit down and have a meal together (usually at one of the grandparents during the holidays) it felt stuffy and formal. I couldn’t wait for it to be over. And since none of us really enjoyed cooking, making a meal for the holidays felt like a chore, an obligation. My sister and my dad inparticular couldn’t understand why we didn’t just order a pizza and have done with it. But my grandparents hung to the tradition of eating together and so we went along with it.

Growing up with my mom was fun. She loved learning and was always devising fun ways for us to learn. When we studied geology she’d take us out into the desert of California at the break of dawn to hunt for rocks, when we were learning about the planets she turned our hallway into a solar system. We painted styrofoam balls to look like the planets and hung them from the ceiling. It didn’t seem to matter what we were learning about she made it interesting and fun. My junior year of High School, she became obsessed with mangosteen juice and decided to sell it at our local farmer’s market. That year, every Saturday morning she’d pack the bottles of juice in her car and spend the day selling her wares at the market. It was hard to resist buying juice from my mom. She was so enthusiastic about the health benefits and taste of her juice you couldn’t resist. And my mom couldn’t resist the farmer’s market. My mom loved talking to customers about her juice, but it grated against her curious nature to not be able to explore the market. Eventually she convinced a friend to work the stall every other Saturday.

Wisdom begins in wonder.
— Socrates

So on the Saturday’s my mom wasn’t working, we’d head to the farmer’s market early before the rush and wander up and down the aisles, relishing every sensory experience. And trust me, farmer’s markets are saturated with them - vegetables and fruits in all shapes and sizes, strings of hot peppers and garlic hanging from the rafters vendor tents, samples of camembert and brie paired with homemade jam, piping hot breakfast burritos with homemade tortillas, agua fresca, and fresh cactus was heaven. But the best part was talking to the people. The farmers and vendors loved what they did and their enthusiasm was contagious and we’d drink it up. We learned all about when it was best to harvest onions, the right time to plant rhubarb, why it soil fertility is crucial, and how to use the natural yeasts in the air to bake bread.

We’d come home practically bursting with ideas! Our house turned into a mecca for cooking, baking, and agricultural experiments. Containers housing bacterial cultures at various stages of fermentation covered nearly every horizontal service in our tiny kitchen. It quickly became necessary to construct floor-to-ceiling shelves in our hallway to store the mountains of books on gardening, urban farming, nutrition, and cooking my mom collected. Our favorite thing to do was to buy the strangest looking vegetable at the market, learn how best to prepare it, and come home and try it. Sometimes we’d cringe at the thought of consuming something with a weird texture, other times after the first hesitating bite, we’d exclaim with delight how amazing an ugly little root tasted before gobbling the rest down.

Those afternoons spent with my mom at the market made the world of food real to me. Its easy to be disinterested when you eat commercial food from a can or when you have only a vague idea of where your food comes from. Listening to the farmers and those involved in working hard to grow our food introduced me to a beautiful world we’re all intricately a part of but one I’d been a passive participant in at best. It was a while before sitting down for a meal or cooking really became part of my life, sometimes it’s still a struggle - old habits die hard after all. But those conversations sparked a realization in me that food and our choices regarding food were important. (Food is an essential part of life after all.) And that wasn’t something I was going to miss out on.