My husband and I were running errands last weekend and listening to the oldies station on the radio. I’ve been listening to the oldies station for my entire life, and so has he. The music that our parents danced to in their teens and twenties made a big impression on the kinds of songs that resonate with us. David wondered, “If we hadn’t grown up listening to our parents play this music, would we still enjoy it so much? Do you think musical tastes are inherent or learned?”
If you turn on the radio in any big city, you’ll come across a variety of tunes – klezmer music, mariachi, songs from Bollywood, hardcore rap, twangy country classics… Each one has its own flavor, and for the people who grew up listening to those sounds, they probably feel like a taste of home. In some way, they capture an essence of time and place.
But even after we’ve been imprinted with affection for music that is familiar, so can we make new discoveries and be influenced by outside appreciation. The first time my friend played Tom Jones’ Delilah for me, it didn’t wow me. Then one day I got it – all of the kitsch and bombastic melodrama hit me in a way that made me suddenly appreciate it like she did. Now I’ve seen him in concert twice. My husband introduced me to The White Stripes, and I introduced him to Ludacris and Dar Williams. Together we discovered Girlyman, Scissor Sisters, and Greg Laswell.
Similarly, the food we grew up eating feels natural and normal. It’s the neutral setting. (There’s a reason that I’ve made a veganized version of taco pizza and double decker tacos. It’s food that transports me to my youth.) However, there’s so much more to discover outside of what was served at our childhood tables. I tried hummus and Indian food for the first time at 18. When I was 24 I had my first taste of fried plantains. I didn’t have a bite of dolmas until I was 27. At 30 I tasted tempeh. I devoured Ethiopian food at 31, which was also the year I was introduced to kale. When I was 35 I bit into a squash blossom for the first time.
There’s a continuum, of course, and some of these things weren’t love at first bite. Now I adore kale raw and massaged, baked into chips, and sautéed with lemon and garlic. But like Tom Jones’ Delilah, the first few bites met a lukewarm reception.
They say that it takes children being exposed to a food on average 10 to 12 times before they’ll eat it on their own. I don’t think that adults are that far off where their palates are concerned. I’ve known grown adults who wouldn’t try guacamole because it’s green, hummus because it’s made with beans, or french fries because they were from a vegan restaurant. (Although this person would eat french fries from other places…)
Actually, that can be a strange and interesting thing about being vegan. Many people assume that when you quit eating animals, their milk, and their eggs, that it would be limiting. They envision a life of lack. It’s all side dishes and no entrees. It’s the bun without the dog. As I’ve written about many times on my blog, that has been the exact opposite of my experience these last 7 years as a vegetarian (and 5 of those vegan). Instead of it narrowing my view, eating a diet of plant foods has expanded it ten fold. Each season brings new food discoveries.
In fact, it can really turn impressions of limits on its ear when I see how some people who aren’t vegan impose their own limits of what they will and won’t eat, often turning their noses up at plant based foods. Sometimes it’s people who won’t venture out of their favorite American standards to try Thai, Ethiopian, Indian, Greek, or other new-to-them cuisines. Other times people will refuse to eat at vegetarian restaurants because there’s “nothing there they can eat.” (Of course, the whole point is that there’s something everyone can eat there – for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Unless they have an ethical dilemma with broccoli, per say, we should be fine.) They view veganism as limiting and then limit themselves.
Just because we didn’t eat a dish at our childhood table doesn’t make it unworthy. My mom still makes the best mashed potatoes of anyone anywhere (even better now than before because she uses plant-based milk and butter instead of animal-based). And when I hear Paul McCartney sing “Let It Be,” of course I have to sing along. But if we decide that we can’t like anything that we didn’t know about at 17 then not only do we miss out on cashew kale smoothies, we also miss out on the Flight of the Conchords too… And friends, that’s not good for anyone.