Justin Winokur '18 
Stowe High School, Stowe, Vermont

Food for Thought

The memory of my first McDonald’s hamburger is still fresh in my mind. I can easily recall the way that the acidic pickles overpowered my senses, how their pungent fragrance wafted through my car and invaded my clothes. I can feel the soggy buns disintegrating atop my tongue, so unlike any other bread I have ever had, and the meager patty crumbling between my teeth. These flavors and textures are memorable because they were novel, because I was not raised on such hamburgers but tried one for the first time during a recent family car ride home from Canada. My parents were puzzled by my desire to consume a food that they had always regarded as taboo. My rationale was this: I do not eat the hamburger because it might be delicious or good for me. I eat it to learn about the world.

I was an intensely curious child. My parents did their best to fuel the flames of my natural desire to learn because, as a homeschooler, I did not have the strict schedule and resources of my public-school-going peers. In order for homeschooling to work I had to be self-motivated. My school days became about the things I wanted to learn, about the books I wanted to read and the pictures I wanted to draw. With no television, I was forced to use my imagination for entertainment. I wrote stories, visited science museums, had pretend sword fights in the woods with my friends, and learned how to play the cello. My Dad taught me to make music with a guitar and a piano, my mom taught me how to use pencils to turn three dimensions into two, I taught myself how to see meaning in poems and literature, and I learned my math facts by playing games with my family. I joined an alternative education community to study Japanese and writing. At times I took trips to art classes and yoga studios, or went to my Dad’s office and browsed law books while simultaneously growing tomatoes on his windowsills. Not once did I have to sacrifice my natural curiosity to finish my homework or stay up late to write an essay. I had freedom to educate myself and explore my mind.

My time was spent with other homeschoolers and their parents, a band of intellectuals, artists, business people, and activists. Together we took classes and talked politics, organized talent shows and had tremendous potlucks. Our dinners were not host to greasy fast food hamburgers and sugary sodas, but “weird hippy food”: salads from our backyards, vegetarian lasagna, poultry and beef raised by our neighbors, homemade this-and-that, organic everything. It was a delicious, comforting, tremendous part of my life that taught me how to value the Earth and the products of its soil. I was connected to my meals and aware of their journey to my table. To me, that was the way food should be. Yet the curiosity that I had freely nurtured screamed within me, “what else is there?” What, if this is the way food should be, could draw so many people to food so different?

I consumed the hamburger because that question consumed me. My curiosity to understand the other side of the argument and to see life from a different perspective overpowered my boundaries, for some things cannot be judged without first being experienced. The world is a massive place full of diversity and variety, and I did not want to limit myself by knowing just a part of it. I wanted to try that unfamiliar hamburger to perceive the world from a new angle, just as I wanted to attend public school and discover what was beyond my small, earthy, homeschooling community. I was taught to be curious, and that curiosity would not – will not – allow me to see life through a single lens.