It is 8 p.m. on a weeknight.
I am six years old, and my family room is engulfed by the booming voice of Emeril Lagasse, who was probably conversing about whatever food he had prepared that episode with another celebrity guest on his show Emeril Live.
I am engrossed in the spectacle that the Food Network was serving me that day, yet I am unable to remember anything past Lagasse’s energy all these years later.
It is the summer of 2007 and I am eight years old.
I am sitting in the movie theater to watch Disney and Pixar’s new film Ratatouille, which is named after the French vegetable dish of the same name, despite the main character coincidentally being a rat.
The main takeaway from Ratatouille, other than being a film that is filled with both joy and some sorrow, is that anyone can cook — even a rat who most people would relegate to the sewers rather than the kitchen of a Michelin Star rated restaurant.
While Ratatouille did not hold that much emotional weight to me at 8 years old, I grew to genuinely take inspiration and enjoyment from it, aside from the multitude of memes circulating on the Internet.
I soon would deeply appreciate the sentiment of “anyone can cook” that Remy the rat would carry with him as he cooked his way into the heart of the food critic, Anton Ego.
It is August 2019. I am 20 years old, and I am moving into my off-campus apartment.
In the midst of packing up goods for my room, I decided to become vegetarian again.
Being vegetarian was a long-held goal of mine that began one day when I was 13 years old. I had an epiphany during the school day and had come home to tell my mother I was no longer going to eat meat.
After all, I never enjoyed the taste of meat, so why should I continue to eat it?
She reluctantly prepared vegetarian delicacies, but this did not last longer than a day or two.
“Oh well,” I thought to myself. “Maybe I will be able to be vegetarian again when I move away from home for college.”
And five years later, I would do just that. Only to falter and begin eating meat, on and off for the next two years.
When I was moving off campus, I figured it was the best time to alter my eating habits.
After all, I would have to cook for myself most days. What could be easier than that to keep up with vegetarianism?
I had started to look more into the environmental and ethical impacts that vegetarianism has on society, so this was a bit of an incentive for me, too.
One problem arose as I began to adapt to making my own meals — I had hardly cooked on my own before.
My prior experience only reduced to cooking in middle school home economics class and assisting my parents when they made meals for family get togethers. If you needed a quesadilla or a tray of chocolate chip cookies made from scratch, I could deliver for sure.
Other than these instances, I hadn’t a clue how to start.
Sure, I knew food quite a bit from eating it and viewing cooking programs on Food Network, but this knowledge often does not translate well to actually making dishes when one doesn’t have the technical skills.
Regardless of how much I wished they could physically help me, chefs like Rachael Ray and Jacques Pépin were nowhere to be found as I scrambled to make something palatable.
I was alone on this endeavor, it seemed.
But I would make do and make something that I could consume, even if it wasn’t extravagant.
I flavored my dishes with copious amounts of crushed red pepper flakes and anointed some with Trader Joes’ Everything But The Bagel seasoning, always trying to suss out what worked and what didn’t.
As I continued to learn and play, I have kept Remy’s mantra in my head and have begun to make it my own.
And this inspiration, although seemingly silly, has seemed to do the trick.
I was even able to successfully make some vegetarian empanadas completely from scratch that would be enjoyed by some of my friends and fellow Brown and White editors.
When I moved back home during the lockdown in March, I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to keep up with my vegetarianism. My family all ate meat, as I had grown up doing.
But as time went on and I got my hands dirty in our kitchen, my fears were alleviated.
While my specialty is still marinating and roasting vegetables, I have been able to make curries, stir fries and sweets, as well as adding some new life to prepared foods or leftovers.
I have been able to scramble some eggs, something I would never eat when I was much younger, and eat them with potatoes or in a breakfast wrap of sorts.
Learning how to properly cook while keeping up with a diet I wasn’t used to has helped me learn that this, all together, is a process.
If there are times when I slip up and eat something that isn’t vegetarian, or if I burn my food — both of which have occurred a few times — I don’t need to chastise myself.
It is OK not to be perfect at cooking or being plant-based, it is all about living in a way that is comfortable and one that you are content with.
To the seasoned chef, these things may not seem like much. These feats may seem like child’s play.
But for someone who is picking up the wooden spoon from the spoon rest, it is a good start.
And for now, I think that is enough.
Emily Thampoe is a Community Engagement Editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]