Nolan Reardon is a native of Los Angeles and a student at West Los Angeles College. Although Nolan is currently undecided about his major, he is committed to improving his writing and maintaining a good GPA so that he can fulfill his plans to transfer to a four-year university. ________________________________________________
To eat is to live, and to live well is desirous. The topic of cuisine hits home with me as my attention and appreciation for it is sharp. Food is something I like to learn about and healthy food choice is something I implement daily. Food’s role in the human body is critical and unavoidable yet overlooked by many people. In America, we are fortunate to have vendors and restaurants line streets, as well as grocery stores ranging from Food for Less to Whole Foods that provide provisions for millions, a privilege often taken for granted. My experience with cuisine has changed through the years, from thriving on junk food in my youth to my more recent awareness of the importance of quality food and its impact on the body. My ever-evolving palate, and increasingly diverse experiences with food, lead me to investigate my diet, while I simultaneously began to take interest in nutrition and expanding as a cook.
Growing up, I would eat whatever I wanted. Soda? “Okay.” Potato chips? “Yes, please.” It would seem the only nourishment requirements for a kid is candy and possibly water, taken in reluctantly. Hot Cheetos, Kool-Aid gummies, pizza, and Lucky Charms were staples of my diet for the majority of my adolescence. My body managed to function, despite the unhealthy food—one of the benefits of youth. My young digestive tract must have been made of steel. I stayed somewhat healthy; I was always skateboarding and active so gaining weight was never an issue because I burned through the calories. That being said, it does not by any means, reflect a healthy lifestyle that would be desirable to most. As a kid I could get away with eating junk, but as I grew older my body became less accommodating.
Raised in South Los Angeles, I was exposed to a culture of food that was different from that of my white family’s. Hispanic culture played a big role in shaping my taste buds as I grew fond of all things spicy. Those habits are evident today with certain meals, but some things I just can’t eat anymore for my stomach’s sake. Among my favorite snacks—in a diet consisting of mainly snacks—were “Hot Cheetos.” Being introduced to this manufactured food at a young age created an obsession with all things spicy. At first, I could only eat a couple chips before running for a glass of water. Only 99 cents from the local mini-mart—I was fulfilled, and only suffered minor agony, but it was worth it. I remember in middle school, these local kids would make and distribute this candy called “Kool Aid Gummies,” a mixture of gummy bears which were drenched in Kool-Aid and sugar, then wrapped in little bags and circulated through the student populace. Again, only one dollar, and often available in the middle of science class. “Why not?” I thought, “I’m hungry.” Being a kid was great. No worries about diets, just pure hedonism.
These days, I’m a still a simpleton when it comes to culinary workings and authenticity isn’t a defining factor for the food I cook. Denisse Chavez’s attitude in “Life and Death on the Avocado Trail” differs from mine in that regard. Best-selling author Chris Crowley writes about Chavez’s determination for authenticity, “Chavez was willing to traverse a distance one-third the length of the North America continent, despite the violence in Northern Mexico, because of her profound love for her culture.” My family isn’t involved in cooking to the extent of Ms. Chavez, but we still try to learn recipes and prepare decent meals. Growing older and more conscious of my food choices, I realize my cooking tends to be basic and isn’t super flavorful. Crowley comments on Chavez’s background, observing that she “hails from a lineage of proud cooks, grandmothers who never stopped doing things the old way.” Tradition can spawn a sense of obligation for greatness. Food has never been as important to my family as it is to hers, yet I still take notes from my mother’s recipes and I attempt to emulate them. My mother, in contrast to the tastes I developed as a youth, is interested in nutritious food—regardless of flavor or enjoyment.
Alongside my personal development in tastes and food preferences, my parents have begun implementing a healthier approach to the way they eat  . Recently, my parents started a vegan diet and the food cooked in the house is actually pretty good. With recipes acquired from the internet, my mom began experimenting, and after a few renderings of certain meals, she’s distinguished the good from the bad... If the first time a recipe is missing something, like a certain spice or flavor, then alterations are made. Many of the dishes she has made have been simple, but to me, the quality has been on par with some vegan restaurants. Trial and error, dedication, and planning are important for making good meals and this is also a key principle in Denisse Chavez’s food business.
Denisse Chavez comes from a rich culinary background—_the quality of food is very important to her culture. Crowley writes that she comes from a background of “experienced and knowledgeable chefs”; lending to her an understanding of what is required to produce quality authentic Mexican food, for example how ingredients can make or break a dish. This approach to cooking differs from that of my family. I come from a white/Canadian/Indian background, and have no real culinary traditions; no great culinary legacy. My mom and I cook daily but unlike Chavez, we approach the work with a more laid back and easy-going outlook. My mom is a great cook and I learn things here and there in the kitchen, but I don’t make cooking a priority; although, when I discover a recipe that appeals to me and which excite my taste buds, I will make an effort to cook admirably.
Of course, what I determine to be admirable has evolved along with my personal opinions and ideals. Within the last year, I have found myself in a dilemma about eating meat. The problems I face surrounding meat are more dietary than ethical, and began after I had jaw surgery. was placed on a strictly liquid diet for a number of weeks after a major jaw surgery, and therefore my food choices were limited, with the majority of my food blended and then drank. After a month or so, I slowly began to chew again, but was limited only to very soft foods. The intake of meat, once a staple in my diet, had to be stopped completely because I couldn’t physically chew it. The texture was too tough for my recovering jaw to handle. After about three months of no meat I could confidently state that I did not miss it one bit and that my body felt better than it had in a while, and I noticed I had more energy and focus. Prior to surgery, meat was essential to my diet. I was under the assumption that I needed animal protein to survive, but after the surgery, I found myself in a quandary about whether to eat meat, since I no longer desired it or felt it a crucial factor to maintaining health . Eventually though, I was hit with a craving for meat, subdued by a steak’s tender and juicy sensations, and meat slowly entered back into my life; however, it’s no longer a staple of my diet and I take a more conscientious approach when eating chicken, fish and beef. Eve Andrews hints at this idea in her piece “Why Does Eating Meat Have To Be Manly?” when she suggests that there can be a mental conflict with eating meat, whether it’s ethical, influenced by negative stigma, or individual dietary restrictions; Andrews asserts that “health carries all kinds of complexities.” Although many opinions surround dietary choices these days, I have ultimately learned that it’s important to eat what I find appropriate for my own bodily needs.
Today, with mixed information about health, personal ideals, and cultural perception of diet, an internal dispute arises within me regarding cuisine indulgences, but what remains is that food plays a crucial role in maintaining a human’s body and is something that everyone engages in. Cooking can be fun, and eating should be enjoyable as well. Some days I’ll eat chicken and some days, I won’t. For me, meat is not so much a necessity in my diet but rather, a luxury, similar to Camas Davis suggestion that we should “eat better meat, and less of it”. I’ve learned to balance my diet, and prepare and eat what I enjoy, and enjoy what I prepare and eat. And every once and a while, I’ll even go for a bag of Hot Cheetos.