Saturday, May 14, 2011
Vacation in Wonderland
Growing up in Portland instills certain absolutes in your psyche – small business is preferable, recycling is the law, coffee is no laughing matter, local is best and berries rule. I’ve felt alien-esque in cities where I’ve asked about coffee shops and was directed to 7-11. While starting two small businesses in Delaware, friends would often look at me and say “how can you just start doing that?” In the airport in Dallas, I asked to recycle my juice bottle and suddenly no one could speak English – just lots of shrugging. I’m OK with looking a little loony and I’m proud of the things that Portland gave me as a kid. For this trip, I was SO EXCITED to see what Portland would hold for me as a vegetarian.
(BF Renee at Farmers Market!) Portland really is an alternate universe in regards to vegetarian and vegan living. There are farmers markets and food co-ops sprinkled all throughout the city, bike lanes take precedence over car lanes, almost all cups and straws are recycled and completely biodegradable. There must be at least 500 food trucks in the city, many serving veg cuisine or at least making some offering in that direction. Going to breakfast is a total Portland thing – the likes of which I’ve never seen in any other city. Even greasy spoons offer a tofu scramble and lots of fresh vegetables. There are several strictly vegetarian fine dining restaurants – can I tell you how happy it makes me? My BF Googled Vegetarian Breakfast + her zip code and over 30 restaurants magically appeared. Essentially, vegetarian and vegan options live side by side and equal to meat serving establishments, making it easier and normal for meat eaters to lessen their intake without feeling like they’re stepping into Granolaville.
Make no mistake – Portland is not representative of Oregon as a whole. I’ve heard it said “There’s the State of Portland and the State of Oregon”. Our trip to the coast was chock full o’ some of the largest, most unhealthy and saddest looking people I’ve ever seen. In fact, this was my first trip home to the States since giving up the animals and I was shocked by the state of things. At one restaurant, I watched a couple chew consistently for almost 90 minutes. I have no idea how all of that food fits inside of a human being. Another gal put back an entire sourdough bread bowl full of clam chowder with an extra order of shrimp dumped on the top. Even the bread bowl was gone when she stood up to leave. Where did it go? When a busload of kids was dropped off near our beach hotel and almost all of them were overweight and smoking, my jaw dropped. I realized in these moments how dire the health situation is in America. How do we fix it? Is it hopeless?
Rays of light emerged at some of the most unlikely places. At the Au Bon Pain at the Dallas airport I found a delicious veggie burger with roasted red pepper spread and garlic aioli and two vegetarian soup options. At a dive called The Underground in Yachats, I was pleasantly surprised to find a tempeh burger with fresh avocado. At the strip mall down the street from my brother’s house I found a vegan café called Sweet Lemon. I ate there a few times and the proprietors remembered my name every time. The restaurant was busy each time and while I waited for my takeout, I heard numerous customers comment that they “aren’t vegan or anything but this food is delicious”. Smiling on the inside, I thanked the owners for being in business and spreading compassion. I was thrilled to no end that my dad’s wife and one of her daughters had gone vegetarian in the past few months, making their home a soft and abundant place to land. The greatest ray of light shone upon arriving at my brother’s house and seeing the care my beautiful sister-in-law took in creating a whole tray of vegan enchiladas just for me. That’s love.
During my trip I rocked chickpea French fries, tofu curry bowls, vegetarian pho, five kinds of vegan cheese, pounds of Kale in every conceivable form, vegan chorizo, pesto pizzas with fresh spinach and artichoke hearts, black bean & brown rice bowls with little swimming pools of homemade hot sauce, tofu scrambles with spinach and double avocado served with spelt toast smothered in pear chai jam, lemon ricotta pancakes with warm marion berry compote, and an amazing mushroom masala heaped over crispy tofu and mashed cauliflower served alongside sweet potato fritters. And I can’t forget the berries – pints and pints of perfect berries – for $2.99. Happy happy girl!
It is easy to feel hopeless on this road. While I believe that each meal makes a difference, it all feels irrelevant as we drive through miles and miles and miles of dairy and pig farms. My choices feel obsolete when sitting in restaurants where everyone is overweight and mindlessly consuming piles of food – almost entirely made of animals. Hope is precious. Seeing my home city grow, experiment and succeed with plant-based living gives me just the thread of hope I need. Thank you Portland for showing me that it is possible and happening and that I am far from alone!