For the entire two weeks before the Vegans were to dine at my table, they haunted me. I would see that particular reservation taunting me with the ominous label ‘VEGAN’ scrawled alongside it in red, underlined, a box drawn around it. Somehow it struck a kind of terror in me. How was it possible to cook a breakfast without so much as a single egg? It appeared to require some sort of magic that I did not possess. The children’s story, ‘Stone Soup’, flashed through my mind more than once; that actually seemed like the kind of thing they might be able to eat. Maybe I could convince them to have lunch instead… then I’d have something to make them. As it was, even one breakfast seemed daunting and this couple (plus one vegan toddler) were staying for two! It may as well have been a hundred. I went through my many personal recipes and my extensive collection of cookbooks and, even with this veritable library. the pickings were slim. Eventually I came up with a stuffed apple using soy spread instead of butter and stuffing it with various nuts, raisins, dried fruit and cinnamon mixed into a vegan granola that I made from scratch. Day One taken care of! Next!
On day two I hit Whole Foods. I reminded myself of my father for whom the grocery store was an all day affair involving extensive reading and computation. Not once did he just ‘put something in the cart’. Unlike me, however, he was not looking for purity of ingredients but for volume: what costed least with the most in it. On this day I take three times as long as I have ever taken in any grocery store. I study every ingredient on every box in the frozen food aisle that even moderately hints at being vegan breakfast food. Finally I come across vegan waffles. Fabricating a berry compote in my head, I came up with recipe Number Two. A bonus of this visit to ‘market’ is my discovery of Vegan Sugar. The bag gives no hint as to what makes it vegan so I buy it – not so much to serve it to the guests (although that, too, was in the game plan) – but as a reminder to ask these folks , “What’s the deal with the vegan sugar.?”
The next morning, over a delicious waffle breakfast that had both grownups and toddler asking for seconds, I asked about the sugar. It seemed slightly moister, less granular than the non-vegan sugar I normally put on the table. Apparently the process by which regular sugar is made more crystalline uses bone. Yes, bone. I guess that would be an animal product. Who knew? We spend the rest of breakfast talking about all the most disgusting aspects of dairy. Growth hormones were mentioned. Disease was mentioned . The word ‘pus’ comes into the conversation. Milk was starting to sound like a really bad idea. Now these were nice people with an adorable child. But I was relieved when they left. The pressure was just too great. I wasn’t sure I had another vegan meal in me.
And then there’s Raw…
And that brings me back to Alisa, who, out of nowhere, walked into my life… all energy and enthusiasm, all Raw. Making ‘vegan’ look easy. And there’s that word: RAW – something about it didn’t sound right. Something about it sounded uncomfortable. I mean, what would one be able to eat? I envisioned bowls of salad lined up into infinity, into the Rest Of One’s Natural Life. No croutons. No tuna fish.. Now I have always loved salad more than the average person but honestly, there is a concept known as ‘too much of a good thing’. This seemed to fit the criteria.
“What about snacks?”, I asked, “ Cookies? Chips? Chocolate?”
“Oh”, Alisa said, “ I love chocolate!”
I scratched my head at the newsflash that chocolate existed ‘in the raw’. As did tortilla chips. And cookies. And even a kind of bread. There is an irony in that, the week I met Alisa, I was in the process of reading a book subtitled, “How Cooking Made Us Human” – and then here I was talking to someone who didn’t cook at all. Who didn’t believe you needed to cook. What did that make her?
It’s interesting: people really have a problem with ‘Raw’. Never mind that our not-so-distant-ancestors were foragers and would have eaten an entirely raw diet consisting of fruits, plants, nuts and maybe the occasional scavenged squirrel – those guys were ‘apes’ after all, right? This entire concept has now become too abstract to even conceive of, let alone embrace. We don’t have to forage to feed ourselves – that’s what Whole Foods is for! Our food is supplied to us! Unlike our ancestors, most of us barely have a relationship with our food beyond the chewing and swallowing – which we seem to do damn well. Half the women I know (never mind the men) never ever cook their own meals from scratch. They buy a finished product and microwave it; they order out. They even Super-size. It feels a little uncomfortable to realize sometimes that man is the ultimate domesticated animal; someone else takes care of us right down to the processing and packaging of what goes into our mouths. By the time most of our food makes its way to our plates it’s not really fresh anymore and chemicals of some nature seem to piggyback on practically everything. Yet this has somehow become acceptable. Expected.
And yet RAW sounds weird. Like some discipline practiced by an alien life form. Alisa looked human. Except… she kind of glowed. Apparently that’s a by-product of a healthy diet: Glowing.
As I embraced raw living myself, it dawned on me that one of the most daunting things about going raw for most people is the whole perceived do-it-yourself aspect of it. We don’t really like doing things ourselves. It’s a little different now; you can actually go into some stores and find pre-packaged kale chips, flax crackers, raw chocolate and other varied snacks –but at that time the pickin’s were so slim it was barely worth considering. This meant that if your cravings strayed further than simple fruits, vegetables or raw nuts, you had to make it yourself. There was no grabbing something and sticking it in the microwave .Heating things to temperatures of no higher than 118 degrees Fahrenheit takes attention and consideration – or a dehydrator; it takes time. It’s ironic that what seems like it should be the simplest diet of all should often seems so complicated. Honestly, its not. It’s completely basic. We’ve just ‘civilized’ ourselves right out of our connection with the all the most simple foods that come straight from the earth. Believe it or not, there are kids out there who don’t even know that peaches grow on trees; they think it all comes from the grocery store.
I can tell you now: going raw is as hard as you make it… just like everything else. There are a lot of people who go whole hog with the dehydrator buzzing round the clock but years of food preparation has taught me that fantastic raw meals are accessible, quick and easy. Like everything, all you need to do is start somewhere. And there’s no reason to set yourself up for a fall by demanding All Raw from yourself; start simple. Baby steps. More Raw. How hard is it to eat fruit for breakfast? Or power up with a green juice or smoothie? That’s a 2 minute blender buzz away. How hard is it to have a big, beautiful salad for lunch or before your evening meal? Start there. Simple. No stress.
And tomorrow? Tomorrow is another day.