It is Vegan Week in my anachronistic village. Almost a year ago, when I first began to dispense my little stories about food and eating, I was about to join with a few neighbors in adhering to a foodscape that did not include any animal products for one week. To celebrate this intention, we were to share dinners–with a different person hosting each evening.
This idea had sprung from the fruitful minds of two of my neighbors–extraordinary women though just ordinary carnivores. One beautiful, sunny summer day, Carrie and Sharon had taken a day trip to the Culinary Institute of America, where it just so happened that in the bookstore, or perhaps more aptly, cookstore, of all things mind you, it was a vegan cookbook that caught their eye and nipped them in the tongue. The drive home stirred up their giddy excitement of deciding to live in the colorful, ingredient-rich world of the herbivore–for a week. They laid out the table and one night invited me–the vegetarian next door–over for a beautiful and delicious repast.
We all live within the confines of some dietary codex whether we are conscious of it or not and we get quite cozy there. My own vegetarian diet has certainly lost some of its philosophical punch throughout the decades that I have been living it and my food choices can be mundane. So, even though I have many days where my eating may be vegan, when the opportunity arose to be part of the spontaneously conceived next seasonal Vegan Week, I chose to participate.
Our little neighborhood group now has a few Vegan Weeks under our belts. We stroll leisurely over to each other’s homes, sit and relax, eat amazing food, discover nuances and ingredients that a truly vegan dietary requires, hear how badly someone is dreaming of a big, juicy burger and home we go–with no dishes to do. We once shared a vegan picnic at our local performing arts venue.
I realize that for the meat-eaters in the group, going vegan is a big and abrupt change–and they have all been really good egg-replacement-products about it. They have to plan all their meals differently, buy some special ingredients and do without that big chunk of flesh on their plate. By week’s end, they begin to feel the effects of the dietary change usually in a positive way. They seem to appreciate the change though admit that it is not easy.
However, even for me, for whom the omission and inclusion of these foods are not as extreme, the very act of dietary consciousness applied to each bite is profound. Ordinarily, one does not experience this, unless related to a religious ritual like Lent, Ramadan, keeping Kosher or fasting. Or, when going on a diet. Personally, this week brings up a lot for me to think about.
To begin with, it heightens my vegetarian consciousness. It makes me think about my relationship with the animal world as it relates to the procurement or processing of eggs, dairy, and even honey. How many big resources of the animal kingdom does it take to bring me the little gifts my vegetarian choices allow?
It then makes me wonder about choosing to eat for health, kindness, philosophy or sustainability; and the difference between feeding my mind, my taste buds or my body. Is there compatibility or dissonance between these concepts? Though I am a very happy plant-eater, I must see if my body feels it needs some of the energy provided by animal food; and, I have to decide if I am comfortable with some of the substitution processed foods sometimes used in a vegan diet.
Lastly, it makes me very mindful of the fact, that every day as a nutritionist, I am asking each and every client who sits before me, to make a commitment to some form of conscious dietary change–and usually, not just for a week, but possibly for the rest of their lives. As Vegan Week was approaching I was doing a lot of doubting. I’d had a lot going on lately and was not sure that I had it in me to pull up the resources I would need to get it together for hosting, extra cooking, special shopping–let alone the sacrifice and consciousness required. This made me appreciate that this is the same resistance that even just the thought of scheduling an appointment with a nutritionist raises.
Interestingly, last November, just after my first Vegan Week, Carrie and I went to see the film, May I Be Frank, about a guy from Brooklyn, whose life is changed when he accidentally steps into a raw food, vegan cafe called Cafe Gratitude in San Francisco. I wrote about this in Meditation v. Medication. A few months later, Carrie was in San Francisco. She ate at the restaurant, texted me a photo of her gorgeous meal and came home with a copy of the cafe’s beautiful cookbook, I Am Grateful.
As my resolve to do the week was weak, I curled up with my now own copy of the cookbook for some culinary inspiration–much like I had done with Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and shared in So, What’s the Dilemma? The story of this film, the restaurant, the cookbook and the people behind it, Terces and Matthew Englehart is quite remarkable and I invite you to get a glimpse or a taste of what they present as a possibility for both eating and living. As the restaurant’s name suggests, gratitude is the foundation of their purpose. Each recipe is named with some affirming attribute like I am Ravishing, I am Whole, and I am Courageous.
Thus informed, I planned my menu which included the cafe’s I Am Giving Marinated Kale Salad and was on my way. I am glad to have the question of what am I grateful for placed before me right now. At this moment, I am grateful for all who share their stories with me and who are open to some dietary consciousness change; of incredible food and the creative people who know what to make with it; and, for my charming neighbors for choosing a culinary theme that includes and nourishes me on many levels.
Is there any particular diet or food change you would like to consider being conscious of making now? Would you like to know what we ate this week? What are you grateful for?
In health, Elyn
My plate Haiku
Food made joyfully
As a gift of time and self
Feeds body and soul
– Anne Marie