Saturday, November 17, 2012

Going (Vegan) Native

Let's get this out of the way: The term "going native" at its origin is patronizing, Eurocentric, and... well, kind of offensive. But it's also the only term I can think of that represents the idea of adaptations to a lifestyle different than one's early indoctrination becoming ingrained to the point of feeling more natural than the lifestyle into which one was raised. So for lack of a better term (and feel free to suggest one for my future use)...

I've gone native.

Here's the thing. For me and the majority of vegans in the U.S., we're raised in a highly carnistic culture. The lifestyle ingrained in us from youth revolves around the unhealthy, unkind foods that we vegans give up. Think of any culture-specific activities in the U.S., and chances are they involve carnism. Independence Day? (Or Memorial Day, or Labor Day?) Hamburgers, hot dogs and apple pie with ice cream on top. Super Bowl party? Hot wings or chili con carne. Thanksgiving? Yeah.

Of course, it's not just meat and dairy. Sugar, fried food, high sodium foods, chemical-laden pre-packaged foods are all part of our daily lives, and we're indoctrinated to think of them as culturally necessary. We can't conceive of going to a movie without popcorn slathered in chemical-based "butter" flavor or a big box of sugary candy. When we need a bite in a hurry, we run through the closest fast food drive-thru. It's normal to toss in a bag of chips and a Twinkie with your child's sandwich when you pack them a lunch. And a day without soda? When does that get fun?

When you go vegan, that thinking doesn't magically disappear. I can't count the number of times in the first few years of being vegan that I was running late for work and just thought, "Well, I'll grab breakfast on the way to work," not even remembering that fast-food vegan breakfasts are not a thing that exists. Or the number of times my eyes ran down the snack foods lining the checkout in my local grocery store, thinking I'd find some little treat to impulse buy.

Even when I got over that, I still had the subtle "vegetables are a chore to eat, unless they're deep fried" mindset. Not that I didn't like veg, but if you gave me a choice between carrot sticks or salt-and-vinegar potato chips as a snack, I wouldn't think twice about grabbing the chips. Chips are "fun" food; vegetables are "health" food.

Here's what happened today: I went to the farmer's market and bought my fruit and veg for the week. I stopped at their little vegan cafe counter and bought some raw zucchini chips and a chocolate mint brownie. Not having had lunch, on the drive home I pulled out the chips and brownie. And ignored them.

Without thinking about it, I stuck my hand in the big bag of fresh spinach and chomped on a leaf. Then another. Then another, like it was a bag of potato chips in the 'old days.' By the time I got home, I'd eaten half the bag.

When I realized what I'd done, I was pretty shocked. Right at hand, I'd had seasoned 'chips' (even if they were healthy dehydrated ones instead of fried carbs). I'd had a sweet chocolate-y brownie (even if it was a raw, natural one). I'd had fruit, for cryin' out loud! And yet I subconsciously chose to eat a leafy green veggie in its utterly unadorned state - no salt, no oil, no tangy salad dressing.

At the point when your subconscious bucks that lifetime of indoctrination and chooses your new way of thinking, then you've officially gone native, right? As far as I'm concerned, today is a milestone - the official end of my transition from carnist to vegan.

Feel free to congratulate me!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Vegan on the Road: Green Wave Cafe, Plantation, Fla.

Today, "Vegan on the Road" refers to my local roads. About 20 minutes from my house is a raw vegan cafe that everyone raves about. Together with my friend Connie, I set off to see if it lived up to the hype. (Here's a spoiler: it absolutely does.)

The Green Wave Cafe in Plantation, Fla. is an unassuming little restaurant in a sleepy little strip mall. With only five tables and a few seats at the counter, its appearance doesn't really hint at how beloved it is by the local vegan and healthy eating community. However, from friends vegan and non-, I've heard nothing but praise.

The staff were friendly and welcoming when I arrived, and took the time to explain the cuisine - raw except the soup, soy-free except tamari, and all vegan. The menu features all familiar foods raw-veganized: nachos, pizza, burgers, spaghetti, brownies, ice cream, cheesecake. It was tough to decide what to try!

Our entrees, at $14 per, came with either soup or salad, but we decided to go with the whole raw experience. The salad was extremely generous - probably twice the size I'm used to getting as a starter in a typical restaurant. It was filled with more than just greens, too - peppers, sprouts, carrots, cabbage, cucumbers.

The menu features several homemade dressings. I tried the red pepper dill - which was so creamy and flavorful, but without being overpowering.

Next, the entrees. Connie opted for the "cheese" burger, while I had the open-faced hummus sandwich. Once the food got to the table, looking so appetizing, I asked her to split half and half.

The "cheese" burger was a raw vegan patty with a mushroom flavor. The texture was actually more burger-like than any veggie burger I've had. The cheese sauce had just a touch of spice to it. But the real star on the plate is the raw onion bread. Delicious!

The hummus was made from fresh sprouts and topped with lettuce, tomato, avocado, and alfalfa served on that delicious onion bread. The only thing missing was a hint of acid, which I resolved with a squeeze of fresh lemon. This was light but so filling.

I initially passed on dessert, but then I remembered my friend Nicki highly recommended the ice cream. I couldn't resist giving it a try. Connie ordered coffee ice cream and I ordered chocolate.

If we'd known how large the servings were (they were about 8 oz, for a mere $4) we would've split one. Even though I could only finish half, I'm secretly glad we didn't share, since it meant getting my first taste of coffee ice cream in over three years. (I'm glad I didn't order it myself because, as absolutely delicious as it was, I would've had a heart attack; I'm caffeine-free and the servings are huge.)

In the last few years, I've tried three or four brands of vegan ice cream, and many are good. But I can't say I've had a single one that captured the flavor and texture of ice cream as well as this. I actually was on the verge of questioning the server to make sure it really was dairy-free when I realized how ridiculous that would be to ask in an all-vegan restaurant. As I dawdled over it and it began to warm, the texture on the edges became a little bit like a mousse, but when frozen, it was indistinguishable from dairy ice cream.

Let's be frank, eighteen dollars for lunch is 20 - 30% more than you'd pay for a sit-down meal at a non-vegan restaurant. As a person on a budget, it's not something I'm going to do every day. But on the other hand, the food at Green Wave Cafe - fresh, organic, packed with nutrients unharmed by the cooking process - is without question the healthiest restaurant food you'll ever have. Amazingly, it's some of the tastiest too.