The people you love shouldnt try to change you. They should just take you on a 6 month road trip around the US, have you meet random people from the internet who kill things at a swamp in the middle of the night, have you sit on the back of a golf cart with a man wielding a .22 looking for iguanas, have you sleep in a cave/bomb shelter 12 miles down a canyon in Utah, have you go at least 5 weeks without doing laundry, and have you stay in a different bed each night (one which has bed bugs). That will change you.

It wasnt Daniel’s intention, but thats what happened when he helped to show me the world within our country. We came back a few days ago from the road — weary, worn, and happy. Minneapolis has changed a bit since we left and so have we. Truthfully, I dont think it would have been possible to stay the same.

1. I no longer gag when I see a bug during mealtime. Because Ive now eaten a bug. Specifically, a humongous waterbug with a million legs, protruding eyeballs, tentacles, and wings. It was boiled and then sauteed. And as a vegetarian I wouldnt have touched it. But when our gracious host filleted the large bird-of-an-insect, the smell of pear jollyrancher filled the room. And I knew I had to try. Surprisingly, it tasted just as it smelled: Essences of fruit and saltiness with a touch of, you guessed it, chicken.

2. I no longer eat (as much) junk food. As a former junk food aficionado, this is a major feat. I realized how out of touch I was when I lost at a game of “guess the candy bar” at a baby shower the other day. Imagine my embarrassment. Its a huge change, and one Im pretty proud of. And it came down to this:  After seeing all the good, real food out there — after tasting an apricot fresh from the tree in California, and a real heirloom tomato in Illinois, the massed produced, artificially flavored crap just doesn’t cut it. Dont get me wrong, I would never turn down a box of hot tamales. But I am not as into the other stuff as I used to be. And if we’re going to have full disclosure…candy, and pop has started to make me feel a little sick when I eat it. Apparently, my body was trying to clue me in.

3. I am gravely out of shape. Which Ive kind of always realized, but just didnt have the interest. But after spending 6 months either in a car or hunched over a computer, and then trying to do something athletic (say, go for a hike up a mountain) you really get in touch with your weaknesses. I plan to do something about it.

4. Im realizing that everyone has a story, and they want to tell you about it if youre willing to listen. We’ve met people from all walks of life: refugees, farmers, businessmen, fishermen, big name chefs and unknown home cooks living off the grid. They’ve taken the time to sit with us and tell us about where they came from, what they struggle with, who they really are. I cant describe how lucky I feel for the access we’ve had: Over tea in the morning at the Apostolic family’s home in Ohio, or over steak served on paper plates in front of the TV in Mississippi. I found myself stopping and trying to take in how everything looked and felt: every smell, every decoration on the wall, every sound. I didnt want to forget that moment and how very fortunate I was to be there.

When I got home last week, I already had a package of homemade dried peaches and homemade spicy mustard from our friends in Ohio (who you may remember from Episode 74: God’s Country). And just yesterday, they invited us to their daughter’s wedding in January. We’re trying to figure out a way to make it. I had a postcard from our new friend in San Antonio (who stepped in to take pictures of hunting feral pigs when I couldnt bare it). I had a text message from Squirrel (the catfish noodler in Episode 56: Hand Grabbin) welcoming me back to Minnesota and saying he wishes he could see snow and get to go skiing. They’re my new friends. Before I may have said they were unlikely friends. Maybe because we’ve grown up in completely different worlds. But we’re not so different.

5. Im trying to try things.  Daniel and I spent 21,000 miles sitting within a foot of each other in the car. Surprisingly, we got along pretty well.  In fact, our only point of contention was over my picky (some may instead say “sophisticated”) palate. Daniel insisted that I was an asshole for turning down food instead of trying to appreciate it. I thought he was a jerk for making me feel badly of being a supertaster, and therefore not enjoying all the flavors. We went back and forth for probably 18,000 miles, until one day, he made a good point: There is an incredible variety of flavors in the world, and maybe a part of living life fully is trying to taste each one and be awed by the fact that somehow this flavor came to be. That “fishy” taste that I stay away from — isnt it fascinating that the ocean creates this salty, sensation that you cant find anywhere else. Beets — earthy and unappealing, but try to appreciate that something or someone created that flavor that tastes just like the earth. On this trip, I tried clams, oysters and mussels for the first time. Im trying to eat a little bit of beets everytime they are offered to me. And when I have an aversive reaction to something, I try to instead taste it fully and think about why it’s different, and why it is amazing that such a thing exists.

6. I look at food differently. After meeting the people who cherish the food they have — the farmers who will cut a bruised spot out of an apple and eat the rest. The dumpster diver who uses everything he finds (cans, juices, gifts) because he doesnt want to waste. The immigrant laborers who are breaking their backs and making nothing to bring the majority of our produce to the grocery stores…you appreciate more what you have. And after seeing the disregard for life (whether it be bycatch, or human rights) you start to re-evaluate what’s important, and what you want to support.  The tough thing is no one is perfect. So where do you draw the line?

We’ve seen a lot in the past 6 months. And as my mom commented after reading the article on our tomato industry… “after seeing the truth, you can never not see it again“. You just have to figure out what that truth means to you. That’s what Im trying to do now. I dont want to revert back to when I didnt care, or when I didnt see these truths. I want to remember all of these friends, all of these experiences, and keep learning.

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