On vegans

I made vegan spice cake* yesterday, because I was attending a dinner party where vegans would be present and I wanted to bring a dessert-like item which would be friendly to all. As I was mixing, I thought about my vegan years, and the way people interact with “unusual” foods.

My conversion to veganism came at the end of summer, on a warm afternoon while I was questing in a friend’s fridge for food. I had been musing over it for some time, and had been vegetarian for several years. But something changed in me as I rooted around in the fridge seeking something to turn into food.

It happened when I opened the cheese drawer, because in a fit of inspiration I decided I could make quesdillas with the slightly curling tortillas on the middle shelf, the questionable tomato in the crisper, the onion on the counter, and the withering jalepeno I saw behind the mustard. I spied a packet of cheese and I went for it. As I picked it up, it squelched faintly in my hand and emitted a sigh, along with a puff of mold.

I dropped the cheese on the floor and slammed the door of the fridge shut.

“I’m vegan,” I announced.

“Oh, cool,” a voice from the living room said.

“No, really,” I said. “I’m vegan. Right now. This is it. Let’s go eat some carrots.”

I started out a self righteous vegan, preaching my dietary ways to the world around me. Luckily I got over it.

I was a good vegan. I love cooking and I love food and I made some amazing vegan food with great friends–I still make a lot of the same dishes today. I learned all sorts of vegan tricks, traveled successfully, and generally had a good time. Being vegan taught me innovation with food–I really can make food out of nothing because my vegan trained eyes will find treasures in a cupboard that appears to look bare. I’ve been known to whip up food for four out of an apparently empty kitchen. I keep a formidable spice library–it helps.

I was vegan for all sorts of reasons. Ease, because most of my friends were and cooking for everyone was a bitch. Ethically, I didn’t feel that eating animals was inherently wrong but I didn’t like the way in which animal products were raised, harvested, and processed. It was cheap. And it tasted good. Vegan food can be good. Delicious, even. Some of the finest meals I’ve ever had, actually, were pure vegan.

My conversion back to omnivorism happened just as suddenly. I always promised myself as a vegetarian and later as a vegan that if I wanted something, I would eat it. I believe that if my body is desiring something that it’s probably lacking in some nutrition, flavour, or experience, and I’m not going to deny it. Instant gratification is rare in life–I figure I should grab it while I can.

It was a cold and rainy spring and I had been invited out to dinner with old friends. As we came through the door, our nostrils filled with the smells of amazing food roasting slowly, and we had much conversation and toured the garden and went riding and then settled down for our meal. I had been vegan for a good five years at this point, but apparently these friends missed the memo.

Dinner, it turned out, was roast boar, the fruits of a recent hunting expedition, served with potatoes and vegetables and wild mushrooms and salad and other fantastic things. The aromas filled my nose. The host began to carve and serve. The one friend who knew looked at me, eyebrow akimbo. My eyes watered from the scents.

I accepted my plate, said grace, and dove in. I take my duties as a guest very seriously.

It was one of the most heavenly meals I had ever eaten. My body was tired from being outdoors, and the flesh melted in my mouth, seasoned with viciously hot German mustard. The potatoes were crumbly and filled with meaty juices, the mushrooms a dainty counterpoint. It was like God had descended into my mouth for a visit.

For dinner there were pies and ice cream, and I demanded seconds.

I went home and was violently, fantastically ill.

But it was worth every bite.

I’ve never met a plate I didn’t like, and I’m glad I had my experience with veganism. It allows me to be a more successful and flexible cook, in my opinion. Who knows–maybe some day I’ll go back. I live a fairly meat free existance as it is, because affordable humane meat is a difficult thing to find, and likewise with dairy.

Being adaptable as a diner and a cook never hurt someone, and I’m always game to try something at least once. So the next time someone offers you vegan food, or gluten free cake, or a catered raw meal–why not give it a shot? You don’t have to convert or anything…you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the food.

*Dairy-Free Spice Cake (adapted from the New Joy of Cooking)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Sift together into a large bowl:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 Tablespoon powdered ginger
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
(adjust spicing to taste–I freehanded and these are estimates)
1 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt

Combine and add:
1 cup Oregon Chai Cider (or some other form of spiced cider, or water, if you can’t find cider)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon white (or rice) vinegar
2 tsp vanilla

Stir until smooth. Scrape batter into a pan (8×8″) or into cupcake molds (I like cupcakes). Bake until a toothpick (or dagger) inserted into the center comes out clean (25-30 minutes). Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack.

Serve plain, dusted with powdered sugar, or an icing of your choice. I did powdered sugar.

[spice cake]