I think I am a picky eater.
I normally say that I can eat anything besides my usual reservations against mustard, pickles (I can almost hear the discontent from like half of the people reading this—sorry), olives, salt and vinegar chips, oysters and other things within these similar categories. But now that I have transitioned into a vegetarian diet, I realize that many of my prior daily dishes consisted of foods with animal products as the main ingredient—primarily chicken, steak, pork, fish and shrimp.
As someone of Mexican heritage, I am constantly exposed to meat through the various dishes that are part of my culture’s cuisine. Christmas calls for warm tamales filled with pork in red sauce, and for New Year’s, my mother makes enchiladas con pollo. For my father’s birthday, my mother makes him mole, and for mine, she makes my favorite, a nice bowl of pozole.
However, earlier this year I had a sudden urge to change my dietary choices. I cannot exactly place why I specifically chose to try a vegetarian diet other than the fact that one day I found myself at the dining hall avoiding meat for the sake of eating “healthier”, given that chicken tenders and burgers are not necessarily the most nutrient-rich foods. Yet, one of the things I have learned since the beginning of my journey is that for someone who is used to being able to choose from a wide array of foods, my choices have been very limited since there are certain vegetables and meat substitutes that I have not acquired a taste for.
For example, my current choice of salad is lettuce, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and shredded carrot; sometimes I add an egg, but I don’t necessarily love it on salads. I do not even like dressing. In terms of protein, eggs, beans and sometimes soy are my staples. Before beginning a vegetarian diet, I would already have plain sandwiches consisting of turkey, pepper jack cheese, lettuce and jalapeños. Now, I feel slightly embarrassed when I order sandwiches with only cheese, lettuce and jalapeños, especially when the person making my order keeps asking if I am sure that is all I want. Potatoes (of all kinds) are the real staples in my shift into vegetarian habits. But besides these simple food combinations, there is not much more that I enjoy. I am still warming up to the concept of black bean burgers.
As someone who still relies on the dining hall for meals, I do appreciate that there are options for vegetarian and vegan diets, although it is interesting to note how centric their cuisine is around animal products. Additionally, by choosing to cut out meat products abruptly from my diet, I currently find it difficult to imagine cutting out dairy products given that many of the meat-free foods that I eat now have some form of cheese as part of it (i.e., sandwiches and quesadillas) or dairy in general (i.e., yogurt, sour cream, ice cream, and milk). Given the options in the dining halls, eggs are still my main protein choice. Yet, I am interested in expanding more on the possible vegetarian options that I currently have not been able to access. I was once skeptical about my ability to maintain a vegetarian diet given my heritage, but now I recognize that I do not have to give up my culture to enjoy a meal. There are already many ways I can imagine modifying certain meals. For example, I can enjoy the taste of pozole’s other ingredients even without pork.
I know I still have more to learn. While I have learned that I may be a picky eater as a vegetarian, I am excited to continue venturing on this journey by learning what available food combinations I can enjoy outside the restrictions of the dining hall and by learning how to modify all of my favorite foods into a vegetarian version.