What happens when we make food choices that votes for the things we believe in, rather than against the things to which we object?
It's no secret that I'm a fussy eater. When friends invite me for dinner, they'll call ahead with the proposed menu so I can tell them what I will and won't eat. When my husband shops for groceries, he does so in fear. He unpacks them cautiously (often after I've left the room), knowing that despite his careful studying, at least one item is likely to break some fine-print rule.
The pickiness began when I was a child. From ages three to five I would drink nothing but Ocean Spray cranberry apple juice; then one day, for reasons unknown even to me, I declared Ocean Spray cranberry apple juice undrinkable, and never touched it again. But the first time I made a food choice for reasons other than personal taste, I was thirteen. At a friend's house I watched Faces of Death, first in the series of documentaries (banned in many countries), which were comprised of footage showing real deaths of all kinds. The slaughterhouse scene did it for me. The next day, I became a vegetarian.
Shortly thereafter my conscience began to nag. Why had I forsaken only meat, when Diet for a New America and other such books made clear the violence done to dairy cows and laying hens? I soon gave up eggs, but for my high school cafeteria's insensitivity to such considerations I could only bide my time until graduation, when I would cross also cheese, milk, and all their derivatives off my list.
My best friend and I did it together, and as such spent the entire summer after high school excitedly experimenting with almond milk, soy cheese, and ice cream made from rice. When we drove cross-country to begin college, it took only a few truck stop meals for us to realize the trip would mean a diet of baked potatoes and/or French fries. Even this did not dampen our optimism. With visions of a guidebook for road-tripping vegans, we took exacting notes about which establishments carried precious items like dairy-free margarine and actual green salad. Diligent researchers that we were, when halfway through the trip we learned that whey is a common ingredient in bread, we thereafter asked each waitress if we could read the ingredients on the side of her kitchen's bread bag.
By my second year of college, my commitment remained robust but my optimism had given way to the often grim gastronomy of such a diet. When I traveled to Germany to visit a friend for Christmas, I packed four sticks of vegan-sanctioned margarine and carried them everywhere in my handbag. At each restaurant table I would slip a log into my lap, slice it behind the veil of a tablecloth, and slip a pat onto my plate without a waiter's ever noticing. It didn't exactly save my meals of otherwise tasteless, dry starches, but at least it lubricated them.
Back home, I had conquered the challenge of a vegan diet. I cooked nearly all my own meals, and had specialties like lasagna with ricotta made from tofu and a chocolate chip cookie recipe based in maple syrup and (of course) margarine. I even mastered a chocolate cake that, in the absence of eggs, rose from the combination of baking soda and vinegar. Being a vegan had become easy, at least when I stayed home.
Then I met Jim McGinn.
Jim was a farmer of the new, organic variety, who had gone back to school to study literature and environmental science while getting his vegetable farm up and running. When I threw a potluck one night and served as the centerpiece my tofu-ricotta lasagna, he asked me if I had ever thought about where its tomatoes and red peppers came from in the middle of winter.
I knew Safeway was not the answer, so I stayed silent as Jim enlightened me as to why one (namely he) should not buy warm-weather fruits during cold-weather seasons; why one might choose things theretofore unknown to me—kale, chard, rutabagas—grown locally, rather than buy food imported from Mexico and Chile.
He was right. It was solid logic, even if it was tough to swallow. After we talked, my lasagna's bright colors seemed garish against the winter night. While I was not drawn to the dull looking kale-barley concoction that Jim had contributed, shortly thereafter, I became a local-, organic-, seasonal-eating vegan. My conscience wouldn't have it any other way.