Expand Your Palate: Don’t Be Afraid to Try Something New

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.

Congratulations to Caitlin at The Vegan Chickpea for winning the Olive Pit Pottery giveaway!  Thanks to everyone who entered!


  1. I couldn’t agree more. Veganism has had the exact same effect on me and I think the variety in my diet has increased 10-fold! I’m so grateful I discovered veganism at a fairly young age- 3 years ago when I was just 20, so I didn’t have to spend any more years missing out on all the amazing food discoveries I’ve made :)

    Your comparison with music is interesting- I guess the tendency is to stick with what we know, but if we don’t try new things, we’ll never know what’s out there. I didn’t grow up with much music influence from home so I didn’t have familiar artists or genres and just explored for myself- in some ways I imagine this is much more freeing..

    • Love this comment, Emma – “I’m so grateful I discovered veganism at a fairly young age… so I didn’t have to spend any more years missing out on all the amazing food discoveries I’ve made.”

      Yes! When I was first thinking about going vegetarian, I worried about all of the foods I’d be giving up. Of course, that was all I knew, and so it seemed like a sacrifice. I wondered if I’d regret it years later, knowing I never had some of my old favorites again. Instead the only regret I have is that I didn’t go vegetarian or vegan EARLIER. If I’d known how many wonderful foods I was going to discover and how good I would feel living this compassionate lifestyle, I couldn’t have gone vegan fast enough!

  2. what a beautiful post! (Delilah really is an incredible song!)

    And you’ve summed up everything I think about veganism in the last few paragraphs. People only think about what we don’t eat, not all the wonderful, wonderful things we do. I’ve never cooked so much interesting food as I have since I went vegan.

    I was always fairly adventurous with food beforehand, but normally eating Thai or Japanese or what have you meant eating out, and now I’ve learnt to make all that fun stuff at home too. And sure, British food is not hugely vegan friendly, but if there’s anything I really crave, I just make up a vegan version!

    • That’s so great, Joey! It is a surprising truth that by omitting animal products a person would gain more variety, and yet that seems to be the experience again and again. It wasn’t until I had to really learn how to cook and started shopping mostly in the produce section of a grocery store that I gained a real knowledge and appreciation of cooking.

  3. I have never been as adventurous or as healthy as since I became vegan just on 15 years ago. Life is full of interesting possibilities and growing our own veggies allows us to dabble in the unusual and customise our diet to what we want to eat and to try. I love the ethos in this post :)

  4. I am absolutely sure that I am experiencing a much wider variety of foods as a vegan than as a carnivore. I also cook sooooo much more; in fact, something totally different almost every night. I love your beautifully written post, but Tom Jones’ “Delilah?” Really? I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on that one!

    • Yes, I definitely cook much more too! Some of it is a matter of practicality since there aren’t as many vegan options in my small town, but mostly it’s that I have fallen in love with cooking. It’s great to be able to make food that is specific to your tastes and preferences. Plus, there are so many amazing vegan cookbooks to explore! Going vegan has been an education in spices and produce!

      Well, if you ever get a chance to see Tom Jones in concert, maybe it would change your mind. His over-the-top personality and charm is a hoot. Plus, where else can you see a bunch of 70-year-olds throwing their granny panties on stage? (True story.)

  5. Yes, yes, yes. We should never stop growing and exploring and expanding our horizons to include new ideas. And, being vegan expands food choices and creativity exponentially, especially if we are willing to include foods from other cultures in our diet. I just recently tried Burmese tofu!

    • I love this comment, Andrea! It’s surprising how there’s always something new to try – whether it be produce that’s suddenly appearing at the farmers market or an ethnic dish that you’ve never sampled.

      I’ve got to try this Burmese tofu! Kittee has also fallen for it recently, as you know. Did you use a specific recipe or purchase it already made?

  6. I’ve known grown adults who wouldn’t try…french fries because they were from a vegan restaurant. (Although this person would eat french fries from other places…)

    I just have to say it. That is absurd! And I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t know of similar absurdities myself. A vegan friend of mine made a ton of various, gorgeous, delicious vegan cupcakes from Isa’s “Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World” for her vegan daughter’s wedding last year. They were incredible – beautiful works of art that went beyond scrumptious! She brought several of them to work to share, and her boss refused to even taste one (just as she has refused to taste anything my friend has ever made and brought to work since going vegan 5 years ago), despite everyone else hoovering them up and complimenting them around mouthfuls of cupcake. Seriously, I don’t get it. Are people afraid they might actually LIKE the food, rather than that they won’t?? WHY, oh WHY?

    I agree with all your observations and opinions and share many of your experiences, as well those of your commenters. In 12½ years of being vegan I’m certain I’ve tried more new foods and cuisines than I had in all the 38 years that came before. I’ve not only tried and enjoyed new foods like kale, hummus, jackfruit, sushi, seitan, nut milks, groats, quinoa, tempeh, various sea veggies, “nooch,” edamame, star fruit, several varieties of rice, hemp goodies, baba ganouj, chia seeds, etc – I’ve given several foods I didn’t like in childhood another try and found I now like them. Several vegan friends convinced me to give Brussels sprouts another chance and Andrea herself talked me into giving beets another whirl, and I’m glad they did! :-) I’ve also tried Vietnamese, Tibetan, Thai, Argentinian, Columbian, and a wide variety of Indian cuisine since going vegan, with Ethiopian and Jamaican high on my Bucket List of ethnic foods yet to sample.

    It really is a shame when we refuse to even set a toe outside our comfort zone. The world becomes a very small, limited and uninteresting place indeed. And being “afraid” of plant foods while thoughtlessly consuming unhealthy animal-based and processed foods is nothing if not ironic!

    Thanks for a great post – now if you don’t mind I’ll just help myself to a couple of those fries while I go check out some of that music, because while I think I have a pretty wide and eclectic taste in tunes myself, I have never heard of any of them! (Well, I’ve heard of Tom Jones since Mom used to play his records – but can’t recall “Delilah”).

    By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask you – this wonderful quote of yours, “From the outside, veganism looks like limits. From the inside, freedom.” Did you come up with that? Because it’s brilliant – and it goes so well with this post!

    • I know! I thought I’d seen it all until I was at lunch with a person who was famished but refused to eat fries because they were from a vegan restaurant. This person self-describes as pretty much enjoying burgers and pizza, and so as you can imagine, it makes dining out together a challenge! Although, I’m sure to hear them tell it, I’m the picky one since I don’t eat meat. I really think the problem is that some people think if it’s vegan then it’s automatically “weird,” not realizing that they’re accidentally eating vegan food all the time (as I talked about in my most recent post).

      Hearing about all of the foods and cuisines you’ve tried in the years since you’ve been vegan is the epitome of the secret of a plant based diet. People think it will be limiting when in fact, it is expansive. Before I was vegan, I just didn’t have any idea about all of the foods I was somehow missing. Before I had a reason to sample the things you mentioned like jackfruit, tempeh, kale, and quinoa, I didn’t even know that I was missing out on them!

      “And being ‘afraid’ of plant foods while thoughtlessly consuming unhealthy animal-based and processed foods is nothing if not ironic!” Definitely ironic since oftentimes the very people who pooh-pooh the idea of reading labels on things like Hostess cupcakes and Doritos are the very ones who are the most suspicious of the ingredients in vegan cake or cookies. It makes me think, “If you don’t care about the beef fat in your Suzy Q’s, why should you care about vegetable oil in your cookies?”

      Thank you, yes, I did come up with the quote, “From the outside, veganism looks like limits. From the inside, freedom.” And you’re right, it goes along perfectly with this post! Good catch!

      • I always enjoy reading your replies to everyone. :-)

        Definitely ironic since oftentimes the very people who pooh-pooh the idea of reading labels on things like Hostess cupcakes and Doritos are the very ones who are the most suspicious of the ingredients in vegan cake or cookies. It makes me think, “If you don’t care about the beef fat in your Suzy Q’s, why should you care about vegetable oil in your cookies?”

        GREAT point! I hadn’t thought of it this way, but you are so right! It’s amazing how the human brain works. (Or doesn’t work, as the case may be!)

        Kudos to you, that is a great quote that should be emblazoned everywhere. :-)

  7. Oh wait, I do know of Dar Williams, at least – I fell in love with “The Christians & the Pagans” years ago. :-)

    • Oh, yes, that’s a good one! I always play it at Christmas. It’s so festive and mood lifting. If you like Dar Williams, then you should definitely check out Girlyman and the Jason Spooner Band. They all have a similar vibe.

      (This is probably my favorite Girlyman tune: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Stj0_ztehPU)

      • That’s a sweet song!

        I liked Girlyman and the Scissor Sisters best of the ones you listed that I was able to listen to samplings of (Greg Laswell and Flight of the Conchords remain). Also, I recognized “Dehlila” when I heard it. A blast from the past for sure!

        • Cool! I’m glad you enjoyed them. When my friend played Deliliah for me all of those years ago, I thought, “The What’s New Pussycat guy? Seriously?” But since then, he’s totally grown on me. And in concert he’s so over-the-top like a strutting rooster.

  8. This is such a great post. It’s a comparison I never would’ve thought of myself, and I will certainly be bringing it up the next time I find myself in a vegan discussion (i.e. my next family gathering. 😉 ).

    We have so much in common- I too grew up listening to the oldies station and they are still my favorite songs to this day. I got really into the grunge scene in highschool (I couldn’t help it- it was the 90’s), as well as hip-hop (I got excited when you said “Ludacris”), but my favorite radio station now is an oldies hip-hop station- the best hip-hop from the 80’s, 90’s, and early 00’s. And of course, I love The Flight of the Conchords too. :-)

    • Thank you, Kristy! Yay, another Ludacris fan! I don’t listen to him as much as I did, say, ten years ago. However, I still have a soft spot for him. For a long time my favorite song to karaoke was Roll Out (My Business). Let’s just say, that was not the tune people in karaoke bars were expecting me to sing, which got a hilarious reaction. I saw Ludacris in concert at the House of Blues, and that was a fun show.

      The Flight of the Conchords are the best! I keep hoping that they’ll make a Flight of the Conchords movie. I respect their decision to end their TV show on a good note (no pun intended), but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like MORE!

    • Argh, 80’s music is what I listened to in college (class of ’84). Is it really considered “oldies” music by you young whippersnappers?? (hobbling off to read my latest mail from AARP now!) :-)~

      • Ha! Don’t blame me and Kristy! That’s where they put 80’s music on the radio now. For me, when I think of oldies, I’m imagining music of the 50’s and 60’s.

  9. All so true! And I think that’s why I’m such a fan of veganizing my old childhood dishes!

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