I am just back from a motoring vacation with my college roommate Julie, down through the Shenandoah, Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains with extra stops in Asheville and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. As a sign of a good vacation, I successfully left my work responsibilities and chronic nutritional thoughts behind. I mainly needed to be concerned about not feeding the bears in exchange for them not feeding upon me. We were blessed with an unfettered and peaceful journey. Our path was not heavily trodden while we were there, and seeing relatively few people I did not have to stop and consider how and what they were all eating. Personally, I was being nourished with a lot of fresh air, incredibly beautiful scenery and the contents of our coolers–plus the loving offerings of our hosts along the way.
Often when I am trying to be “off duty”, like a NYC taxi cab, someone or something stops me and commands or demands my food or feeding attention. Like recently, when I went to volunteer at an early morning shift during the fund drive of my local public radio station. I had been positioned at my phone station for no more than seven minutes, when the lovely octogenarian volunteer seated to my right, leaned over to inform me that there was an obesity problem in this country. As evidence of this, he pointed out to me a large-bodied woman seated across the room. I would ordinarily still be asleep, but here I was explaining kindly that you cannot superimpose a societal condition or criticism upon an individual. One must be careful to not make assumptions about another’s corporeal experience. Thankfully, I did not have to reveal my identity as a heavily dilemma-ed nutritionist. He understood my point and graciously thanked me for this broader and more sympathetic understanding.
But, on this trip, I avoided such common encounters. If I had ventured out a little differently in search of southern hospitality I probably would have had some interesting observations and conversations. Under different circumstances I would have been open to considering the trip more of an anthropological study in regard to cuisine and culture, but not this time. The only incursion into my personal space was when omnipresent McDonald’s once again found me–even far from home. (see Morose Meals and Human Bites). This time they taunted me with a billboard of gargantuan iced drinks in bright colors with the words “Global Chilling”. I swallowed my disgust, feigned benign disinterest and sped by.
I will say, that food-wise, one of the main intentions of my trip was to visit the city of Asheville. About twenty years ago, in an issue of the magazine Vegetarian Times, I read an article describing Asheville as one of the top vegetarian-oriented places in the country. Against a backdrop of the mountains and art deco architecture, the photos of this beautiful city enchanted me. Though the food culture in this country has changed radically since that time, and natural food and vegetarian options are available in many, even unexpected locations, I still considered Asheville a sort of mecca that I needed to make a pilgrimage to.
Though my time in Asheville was very short, I walked its grounds, smelled its aromas, and ate of its bounty. I even gave my leftovers to a street kid who asked me if I had any food to offer as I walked by clutching the compostable to-go container. I was really reluctant because it was the best tofu enchilada with mole and black beans that I had ever had. After a quick internal struggle, my vegetarian heart fluttered and I gave that baby over. As promised, the city was overflowing with quinoa, tempeh, seitan, shiitake mushrooms, jicama, and locally sourced herbal blends.
It had been recommended to me to eat at a restaurant called the Laughing Seed Cafe. Some details of time, place and meeting a friend shifted my loci a few blocks over which resulted in us eating at a relatively new restaurant called Boca, which was wonderfully delicious. But, I was able to see the Laughing Seed, which describes itself as ‘Revolutionary Vegetarian’ and to get a copy of its Take-Out Menu.
Now, back home, I am curled up on my couch with the menu. Each of its many offerings sings to my soul as does the small print explanation of its name. Apparently, legend has it, that the Indonesian Laughing Seed plant was sacred to the people of the Spice Islands. When eaten, the people were intoxicated with laughter and were able to speak with the gods. This wondrous food satisfied the appetite, creating a sense of fullness and well-being which lasted for many days.
We did not enter a highway rest stop with its fast-food offerings until the very end of our trip just after we crossed back into the Empire State. After being accosted by the blasting of the hand dryers in the bathroom, I stood amidst the throngs waiting in line at the various concessions. Back in my jurisdiction, I was apparently back on duty. I watched the people rush by with their coffee drinks, fries, candies, and hamburgers. I don’t really go back to work till tomorrow, so I will leave this just as an observation.
I just wanted to welcome myself back since I have been gone for a little while. I hope y’all have had a nice holiday weekend.
In health, Elyn
Haiku: The Farmer’s Market/Each egg at the dairy stand/A different color by Enki