“Kids, come downstairs. I made dinner.” I shakily make my way downstairs. The odor hits me before I even enter the kitchen. It is so pungent I stop dead in my tracks. My friends leap into their seats and dig in, but I am hesitant to sit down. I look in the bowl, and I see my adversary: tuna mac. The mother looks at me expectantly, wondering why I’m not eating. In an attempt to be polite, I muster all the courage I have and dip my spoon into the colorless meal. My taste buds are screaming in terror, and I’m struggling to choke back a gag. I’m exerting an uncanny amount of energy trying to even bite the spoon, but to no avail. I excuse myself to the bathroom and wash my mouth out, reflecting on why I’m such a wimp and why I have such an intense fear of trying new foods.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been uncomfortable eating anything I hadn’t eaten before. Foods as simple as celery or cucumbers, despite their lack of flavor, sent me running in the opposite direction. My entire diet consisted of macaroni and cheese, bread, mashed potatoes, and chicken nuggets. I learned little tricks to get away with sticking to what I knew; I would feed the dog broccoli under the table, or put cherry tomatoes in my pockets until I could throw them in the bushes outside my house. My schemes simply fed my lack of adventure, my fear of the unknown.
At fifteen, I continued to eat off the kids’ menu, to the embarrassment of my mother. At family gatherings, I watched my family roll their eyes as I try to convince the waitress that yes, I am a very large twelve-year-old. My mother would turn to me and quietly say, “There won’t be a kids’ menu in Costa Rica.” One of my biggest concerns when signing up for the class trip to Costa Rica was the food options.
When we first arrived in San Jose, our first meal was arroz y frijoles, or rice and beans. I took my seat where the meal was already laid out. I stared uncertainly at my meal and mixed up the food, hoping the rice would disguise the strange texture of the beans. I closed my eyes, pinched my nose, scooped a small bite into my mouth. In a very anti-climactic manner, I realized that the rice and beans had a simple but fulfilling taste. The combination of the crunchy beans with the grainy rice was surprisingly pleasing, and I even returned to the buffet for seconds. I thrived the rest of my trip exploring the palette of Costa Rica, including platanos maduros and el casado.
I translated this new principle into my life back home by joining the fencing team. I was always reluctant to join because indoor track was comfortable and easy; anyone can run but not everyone has the finesse and dexterity to attack someone else with a weapon. My junior year, after my trip to Costa Rica, I realized if I could break a lifelong habit of avoiding foods I was unfamiliar with, I could learn something new. I learned the basic maneuvers of handling a weapon and eventually began to fence varsity. I won third place in the State Novice Tournament and was Rookie of the Year for my team. I no longer shy away from opportunities that intimidate me, like running for president of the Interact club, or joining the Young Democrats organization in my community. My success taught me that just because something is unfamiliar, does not mean that I should be scared of it; it should excite me because I could learn something new about myself.