Sunday, December 22, 2013

Everything in America comes with cheese

... even, sometimes, when you explicitly ask if that thing has anything else on or with it, besides the listed ingredients.  Apparently, cheese is not a thing, it is a given.

I went home for Thanksgiving this year.  It was beautiful and frantic and jam-packed with people-seeing and food-eating, as well as boyfriend-introducing (mine; everyone else has husbands, come on!), and it was also my first time back in the States as a vegan.

(By the way, I'm going to breeze right past my normal paragraph of the flaky, manifold reasons I haven't written in so long, so feel free to insert your favorite excuses here!)

As I mentioned in a previous post, I gave up dairy completely about a year and a half ago, and I gave up all the other animal-y stuff earlier this year... minus a brief lapse when I was filming in Algeria and newly vegan and bad at planning.  Okay, and before that when I started dating my boyfriend and to trick him into eventually becoming vegan with me, I ate some burgers in his presence.  That's a lie.  Having never been a big meat eater, I suddenly had a couple of burger cravings when I gave it all up.  So yeah, I ate one or two.  Not in one sitting.  But not anymore!  And now he -- who used to routinely eat several chicken breasts and a steak in a single 12-hour period -- is vegetarian and mostly vegan too. And we say "Ugh, gross," together when we see commercials featuring meat counters and Christmas roasts.  Awwww!

Due to my awesome planning and/or impromtu, jet-lagged cook-a-thon, Thanksgiving was the least challenging food day of my trip home.  I made this beauty (click pic below for amazing PPK recipe), as well as a gluten-free nut roast, sweet potato bread, coconut pie, pumpkin pie, and non-butter versions of the usual TG staples: stuffing and mashed potatoes.

Seitan Roast Stuffed With Shiitakes and Leeks, pic by Isa Chandra
Am I bragging?  A little bit.  I made a lot of delicious food.  (I could not have done any of it without Isa Chandra, whose website I plugged above, and whose new book we just bought.  You should too.) When it came to grotesque overeating, including feelings of ecstasy (so much food!), panic (oh god, so much food!), desperation (must... eat... all... the food...), and finally overwhelming lethargy and immobility (whyyyyyyyyyyy), I was not going to be excluded.  I had to make sure there was enough to share, but also to ensure my eventual surrender to the couch.

Special thanks to my dad for stocking his kitchen with vegan goodies and fully turning it over to me for two days of prep, my mom for hosting an awesome Thanksgiving meal (traditional jigsaw puzzle included), and my sister for only getting a little bit cranky with me right at the end of a three-hour stretch of sharing my mom's kitchen whilst I did my "last minute" prep, which ended up being a lot more comprehensive than expected and very much in her way.

Thanksgiving was a success!  I had leftovers for almost a week; the boyfriend, having arrived the night before, survived the firestorm that was meeting lots of strangers and being force-fed portions even larger than the already extra-large American standard on 8 hours of jet lag; we completed not one but two 500-piece jigsaw puzzles.  Nobody was mean or weird about the vegan thing.

I guess if I had spent the entirety of my vacation cooking for myself, I wouldn't have run into any problems, but I took a couple of days out of the kitchen when we went up to Seattle to visit friends.  (I was not in any way confined to or trapped in the kitchen, I just really like cooking.  It makes me feel in control.  That's normal, right?)

Becoming a vegan in London was pretty easy.  I had already overcome the cheese cravings (cheese is addictive, no joke), and that was by biggest hurdle.  Some cupboard staples were pesky to find at first, but once I found which stores stocked them, I was set.  The rest was mostly reading the ingredients listed on the back of food every time, deciding I probably shouldn't be buying things with so many ingredients anyway, and obsessively schooling myself in the art of baking without eggs.

I've always assumed, nay, gloated that America (at least in the big, lefty cities) is a good five to ten years ahead of the UK when it comes to the availability of organic/gf/vegan foods.  All that bragging came to bite me in the ass.

Before hitting Seattle or even the suburban town I grew up in, I experienced one of the worst vegan food deserts I've experienced yet: the airport.  Specifically, the Vancouver airport.  Vancouver!  Canada!  Isn't it supposed to be a bastion of liberalism and the promise of what American could be if only it tried?  The only suitable food I could find on my 4-hour layover was a pack of potato chips and a container of pre-chopped carrots, celery, cauliflower and broccoli, sans the ranch dip it was accompanied by.  From Cinnabon/Burger King.  Airports are the worst. 

I expected more from Seattle.  I understand that most restaurants are not vegan (though we did go to a particularly delicious one with my step-bro and his hubby called Plum Bistro), but I guess I thought I wouldn't have to do as much explaining and qualifying with my food orders. 

We went out to eat twice with the friends we were staying with: once for breakfast (favourite meal) and once for a late afternoon session of drinks and Dominion-indoctrination.  Oh my god, have you played Dominion?  You need to. 

I usually specifically ask about dairy, I don't know why I didn't in these cases.  Maybe I was feeling some renewed anxiety about asking lots of "fussy" questions in a different environment.  Damn it, I'm totally becoming English, all reserved and overly apologetic.  In the first instance, I ordered and potato-y, vegatable-y breakfast with a side of black beans.  Exercising caution, I asked if the beans were cooked in anything (i.e. butter), or if they're just plain.  I was assured they were plain.  When they arrived, they were covered in cheese.

Similarly, a platter of pita and dips ordered later in the day for our game marathon -- all non-dairy, based on their menu description -- was delivered with cheese crumbled all over the top.  I sent my orders back rather sheepishly each time, but why?  I had no reason to be embarrassed.  I was going by the information provided, not the secret law of cheese, which is that it is everywhere.  

The ubiquity of dairy aside, going home for Thanksgiving was totally worth it.  It remains my favourite holiday.  I wish it wasn't founded in hypocrisy and offensive cartoons featuring mice pilgrims and mice Native Americans getting along despite their cultural differences.

I'm glad we have it, though.  I'm glad I have a family who celebrates it so openly and generously.  I'm glad my English boyfriend got to experience it for the first time in a real, live, American home.  I'm thankful for Thanksgiving.

No comments:

Post a Comment