The V Word

You know.  It ends with “egan.”

For the better part of the last five and a half years, I have eschewed food and beverages made from animal flesh or secretions. In addition, over the past year I have almost entirely eliminated products containing animal-derived ingredients (as well as harmful chemicals such as parabens and phthalates) from my collection of cosmetics, personal hygiene products, and cleaning supplies. I’m now turning my attention to the materials from which my clothing and accessories are made, with the goal of gradually eliminating and replacing items in my wardrobe with cruelty-free alternatives.

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My choice to do these things is rooted in many deeply personal reasons, some of which include my personal health, the health of our planet, and our global society’s treatment of our fellow creatures and human beings.  I am happy and healthy, and entirely comfortable and satisfied with my choices.  However, I rarely talk about them (outside of the blog, of course), even with family or people I consider close friends.

And I hardly EVER use the V word.

Why not?  There are several reasons, but the main one is that I don’t really think people typically know what it means.  Even those who self-identify as “vegan” sometimes don’t know what it really means.  And in general, I don’t like using labels.

sheep

I read an interesting post on Happy Herbivore a week or two ago about the difference between the terms “vegan” and “plant-based.”  Read it here.  The distinction between the terms is not really something I had ever thought about, but it does make sense.  In the context of the HH article, I suppose “vegan” is the better term to describe me, as I do apply my ethics in other realms of my life outside of diet, and I do enjoy Oreos and other foods that are “vegan” but not really “plant-based.”  This fun bit of self-reflection, however, doesn’t do much to make me more comfortable with using the word.

Being married to an omnivore, I go out to eat at a lot of non-vegan establishments.  We try to choose places that have good options for both of us.  I’ve become a master of studying menus ahead of time to assess whether there are things I can eat or at least customize with relative ease.

Nevertheless, when ordering at a restaurant, I prefer to use a benign query about a particular entree (e.g., “Does the sauce contain dairy?”) than to ask, “Is this dish vegan?” or, “What vegan options do you have?”  I certainly never lead off with, “I’m vegan.  Can you bring me something with no dairy/cheese/butter?”  I know there are many vegans who would disagree with my prevarication, and while I recognize that dining-out situations represent something of a teachable moment, I’d rather just do what I need to do to assure myself that my meal comports with my ethics/diet and avoid getting into a discussion with a server who either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care.

lisa

All that being said, my general discomfort with the V word is greatly alleviated when someone I’m ordering from brings it up on their own.  As lame as it sounds, it’s a huge relief and something of a joy to me when this happens!

Last week, I was in Boloco, one of my favorite Boston-area establishments due to its varied menu, plethora of vegan options, and for actually knowing how to cook and season tofu.  I noticed that they had a couple of new menu items, one of them being the Jaffa Falafel burrito (falafel, roasted jalapeno hummus, romaine, cucumber, tomato, cilantro, green garbanzo beans, and lemon tahini sauce).  Knowing that some people don’t know the difference between tahini and tzatziki, however, I double-checked at the counter, “Does the tahini sauce contain dairy?”  “No,” replied the employee, “the Falafel is entirely vegan.”

Say what?!? I loved that she knew that.  I loved that she came right out and said it.

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The falafel wasn’t bad either!

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Green chickpeas.  How I love them.

Bottom line: this small thing made me smile and inspired me to write this post.  While I realize that the majority of restaurants aren’t going to become 100% (or, let’s be honest, even 5%) cruelty-free anytime soon, I really do appreciate when places take the time to train their employees to understand and accommodate customers with diets that are restricted by ethics, religion, or allergies.  Boloco is great about this.  Frankly, I wish more places were.

Vegan on the Cape

I hope everyone had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!  Especially all of the folks who traveled to Portland, Oregon for Vida Vegan Con.  It’s hard to express how jealous I am, especially after catching up on ~100 recap blog posts about all of the great food and great personalities that were there.  I want to go so badly!!!  Not because I’m some great blogger, but I feel like I could learn a TON from all the other bloggers who are so much more prolific and talented than I.

So then I got to thinking that if it were held on the East Coast next year I would try really hard to go.  And that of course led to, “Well, obviously they would have it in New York or D.C. or even Asheville.  Definitely not Boston though.  This place sucks for vegans.”

That kind of thinking isn’t constructive, of course, and moreover it’s not entirely true.  There are some solid veg and veg-friendly establishments in and around Boston, including some newcomers (like the Walnut Grille in Newton).  I can’t overlook these, especially considering that I provide information about them right on my own blog.

But there’s also the all-too-familiar experience of perusing scores of online menus only to find that these are virtually identical at 98% of establishments (read: steak tips, fish and chips, wings, chicken parm, burger, buffalo burger, bacon cheeseburger, onion-rings-plus-some-other-fried-crap-on-a-burger).  [This is obviously an exaggeration, but not by much.]  Your luck typically will not improve the further you travel outside the city.  This is what makes me feel like my city could never measure up to places like Portland.

What’s with all the doom and gloom?

Basically I’m just setting up for the upswing, which is a big reveal about all of the wonderful vegan food I accidentally found this past weekend…ON CAPE COD!

It started on Friday when H and I sought out a lunch spot in Hyannis after spending some time in the JFK Museum and Cape Cod Baseball League Hall of Fame.  Directly across the street is a place called Schooner’s.  They had a nice and really affordable lunch menu so we went right in.  I got the Falafel appetizer and it was gigantic!  And quite tasty.  The tahini sauce was particularly delightful, and the salad was nice and fresh.

Schooner's Falafel

Now, I know that an omni place having a falafel or hummus appetizer isn’t exactly earth-shattering.  But as I had expected a very seafood-heavy menu I was impressed not only with the availability of veggie options but by the quality with which I was rewarded.

After we ate lunch, we walked around town a little and discovered that there is actually a vegetarian/vegan cafe called Green Lotus right on Main Street!  Apparently it just opened on March 29, 2013!  My dumb ass of course hadn’t bothered checking HappyCow because I just assumed that there wouldn’t be any veggie establishments.  You see what happens when you assume?!

Anyway, I couldn’t not give them some business, so I got Vegan Chowder to take out.

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It was sort of weird, but oddly tasty. Creamy and rich without being heavy.  It had giant chunks of oyster mushrooms to mimic clams, which I found highly amusing.  Apparently they have entered it in Chowderfest this year, which is a bold and wonderful thing for them to do.

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Green Lotus also had an awesome-looking sandwich menu and there is no doubt that I will go back to try it.  I really hope this place takes off!!!

The biggest surprise of all came on Sunday afternoon.  After H and I went for a long bike ride through Chatham and Harwich, we were starving and stopped at a place we know in South Chatham called the Box Office Cafe.  We had only ever been in once before late at night but their outstanding beer selection made an impression.  I knew it was mainly a pizza place so I figured I’d order some cheeseless and go from there.

So here’s how it went down.  H and I sit at the bar.  I open the menu to the “create-your-own” pizza area and something immediately jumps out at me: “Substitute Daiya – $3.”  I exclaim, “You guys have Daiya?!”  The bartender says, “Oh yeah, we have a whole vegan menu!  Look on the next page.”  I die.

I ended up ordering the vegan Alexander the Great, which is essentially a buffalo chicken sandwich.

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This sandwich was spicy and delightful.  There is nothing else to say.  Next time I want to try the True Romance!

And, while I have really and truly been trying (and largely, outside of the holiday weekend, succeeding!) to eat clean, whole foods, knowing that this place is an option for me going forward is absolutely wonderful.  It’s like Peace o’ Pie never closed but just did like other Bostonians do and retired and moved across the Sagamore bridge.

So, in closing, I offer that 1) it was a splendid Memorial Day weekend, and 2) Boston and/or Cape Cod & the Islands (already a key vacation destination for folks all over the world) would be a wonderful place to hold a vegan blogging conference.  Just sayin’…

P.S. – Totally unrelated but I can’t get enough of this:

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Sabra Greek Olive hummus.  I can’t even.