Thursday, January 20, 2011

What kind of veghead are you?

There are at last count three vegetarians in my local family. We're not too spread out right now (in Buffalo, Amherst & Kenmore) but interestingly, each of us has lived in another state or country at some point-- unlike the balance of my immediate fam and their own fams. I think that speaks to the questing nature of the average veghead here. You have to be ready to explore a little bit, just to survive in wing city.

Then again, something about WNY, beyond family ties, brings you back. It's the wealth of diversity in the food & the seasons, it's the artisitic vibe, the relatively cheap cost of living. It's neighborhoods made out of mostly houses with sidewalks people actually use. It's Hertel Avenue and The Broadway Market and Elmwood and UB's South Campus area and Black Rock & Riverside and the Fillmore area and Parkside & the Delaware & Cazenovia Parks and places I don't even know; yet. Who needs to be an adventurer when you can get a different style of pizza from a different pizzeria delivered everyday for two weeks if you want without repeating? This is a great place to be a food lover, no matter what you crave, just about.

My niece loves Japanese and Thai food, Vietnamese food; she makes it herself more often than not, and believe me, her recipe for soy caramel is to die for. My older sister goes in for baked mac-n-cheese, grilling, and comfort type foods. I do soups, salads, breads, Mediterraean food, baked pastas, burrito bars, sloppy lentil sandwiches, gourmet stuff when I can, new stuff all the time.

We all get together, 12 of us or more that are local here and that can make it, most Monday nights, for what we call Family Dinner. It's a big group to feed, so the host (a revolving honor) decides the main, and what else they'll make, and each of the other family units pitch in, bringing the wine, salad or the bread; my Mom, luckily for us all, often does the dessert. (She's an ever-evolving rock your socks off baker). It's a vegetarian meal 98% of the time, and veg based the rest.

Over the last three years of my particpation in this ritual, which is pretty close in effect to my childhood dinner memories, I've seen the differences in how my sister, my niece & I express our veg-ness. We're lucky to have a family that has learned to appreciate our foodways, I think, but then there used to be 5 veggies, not 3. Another sister, another niece, both have gone through changes in life & love that took them back to meat, but they still cook for us gladly and well.

My niece L. has been vegetarian her whole life, and she is completely relaxed in her attitudes because of that. But she still doesn't eat as wide a range of veg as me. She's a student of international cuisine, a burgeoning foodie and a damn good cook, and someday there won't be any vegetable she hates. Maybe.

My sister is more strident than L. or I, though she's mellowed in her approach. Possibly because none of us feels embattled in our little circle, and that helps-- true support, instead of lip-service tolerance, is a subtle source of strength. And we all know however widespread vegetarianism really is, a large part of our county here views us as weirdos for not crunching bones and tearing flesh.

I just like to feed people, try new things, and serve a meal that makes everybody happier and feeling good in all ways possible through the plate. I've never gone around talking about Vegism much, but I have changed a few people's minds about how we eat by feeding them. That's my way, and it's not the only way at all. I came to this through health needs first, and have grown into the wider set of reasons gradually. My approach to vegetarianism comes secondary to my whole food philosophy: boiled down, it's Pleasure and Nurture. I love that I get to feed my big family nutritious, interesting food that they openly appreciate. It's a kick you can't really get if you don't cook.

This coming Monday, we're hosting; I'll be doing a baked potato bar, with several toppings and a veg side or salad. It's going to be festive, I hope, in the middle of our coldest snowiest part of the year. A little spot of warmth. And I don't have to argue about the food or the political/spiritual ideas behind it, just cook and share and enjoy. Lucky me.
What kind of veghead are you, and who has your back? Anybody? I hope so.

BTW, I'd love to hear about your favorite vegetarian meals and foods, whether you're veghead or not. And how your path of eating is progressing. Keep warm, & thanks for reading.

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