It’s vegan potluck night! A night I had been simultaneously looking forward to and dreading. Looking forward to because it is a great opportunity to expose myself to others on the same nutritional path, as well as being an interesting opportunity to be inspired by new meal ideas and recipes. Dreading because this vegan potluck is sponsored by a Meet-Up group, and I do not know a soul. Unable to find a veg- friendly pal who is free to join me, I will have to go it alone. But duty calls! I have a blog to write after all!
Before departing with my impressive bowl of sweet and spicy Asian broccoli slaw, my contribution for the evening, I wish that driverless cars were already a commonality. Guess who would be having a glass of wine en route to the
As circumstance have it, I head off to the horse property and home of Patricia, our very gracious host, alone and without a glass of merlot. This somewhat reminds me of a blind date, but I put the nerves aside and suck it up. As I arrive at the beautiful venue in East Mesa, Patricia has the majority of early-arriving guests on a tour of her horse property, so I head into the kitchen to drop off my salad. I round the corner to the kitchen and see an extremely long table already loaded down with culinary delights. There is an array of beautiful and colorful salads, vegetable dishes, fancy rice and pasta options, hummus, sweet potato fritters, lentil “meatballs”, mashed potatoes, raw chocolate cake, vegan chocolate cake, and a few other desserts I can’t discern. The counter top has similar dishes, plus a large pot of veggie chili on the stove, accompanied by some type of mushroom soup. It is very lovely! I am impressed. This group of vegans don’t take their food lightly! It appears everyone spent the afternoon chopping up green, orange, red, and yellow gifts of nature. The only store-bought item is a bag of pita chips. Well done, vegan potluck group. Well done!
Now for the bad news. Once the party starts and the line forms for the buffet, a very unhappy realization strikes. I am not hungry. I am not hungry, and there is the most magnificent food before my eyes! Grrrrr....I think back to the numerous tastings I had to do while throwing together my spicy and sweet Asian slaw and curse the fact it had taken numerous attempts to get it just right. Numerous attempts meant numerous spoonfuls in my tummy. Now what? Clearly, the purpose here is to eat, yet the thought of force feeding myself is not appealing.
I decide the least I can do is act like I am eating. I don't want to waste a plateful of food, so I grab a bowl and fill it with the delicious smelling chili on the stove. There. Now I can fit in. Absent the wine I would have had while riding in my driverless car, I am certainly not as charming. But I didn’t come here to talk stand around holding chili by myself. I make a beeline to the friendliest face I can find. Here I met Janine.
Janine and her husband Tom are new and aspiring vegans. They have been married for 27 years, and a year ago made the shift to plant-based eating. I hear Tom agreeing with a fellow potluck goer that the body changes when you turn 50, and I surmise this may have been a driving force in their decision to leave animal products in the dust. He says making the shift towards vegan eating is one of the best things they have done. Although they still dabble with dairy here and there- they are progressing quite well with their diet. Janine can’t quite give up the cream for her morning coffee, and the couple has had a tradition of Friday pizza for the last several years, so they indulge here and there. They are at the potluck to meet others on this journey. Tom says besides his wife, he has no one else to talk to about this lifestyle choice. I can sense his passion for the topic and his need to share his ideals with others of the same mindset. As I learn Tom's parents are angry with them for not eating animal flesh, and Janine's sister thinks they joined a cult (say what?!), I give a prayer of silent thanks that my family is not made up of close-minded, defensive people.
Anyway, Tom and Janine are cool and fun, and definitely committed.
From there we meet Steve. Steve is a tall and athletic-looking man, middle-aged, and he is the leader of the vegan meet-up group. He is also a member of a raw food group in Phoenix. No kidding, this guy eats raw – all the time! Steve has arrived with a giant red bowl filled with what looks like quinoa. Hmmm...I wonder, why is he bringing quinoa – a cooked grain? It turns out it was not quinoa, but cauliflower “rice”. He approaches us with a mountain of it on his plate, and I am intrigued. Cauliflower rice? I somehow had finished the chili, and I really could not imagine not giving this vegetable dish a shot! Okay, I decide I can make room for cauliflower. New bowl. This time loaded with this strange new food. It has chopped peppers, tomatoes, cilantro – and there is a tinge of green...and it tastes....FABULOUS! Holy cow, this may be one of the best bites of food I have had in a long time. Who needs rice or quinoa when you can have cauliflower rice?! Maybe these raw food people are on to something. I just need some recipes and a food processor and I may be on my way!
I don't have the opportunity to ask Steve, but later I read about him on the meet-up site. He has been vegan since 1985 – long before vegan was even remotely a trend. He writes that he read the book Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Nutrition, but Were Afraid to Ask- and the next day he was vegan. It was an overnight change and it has stuck. Fascinating....how some of us take years to transition and others just make the choice and BAM! It's done.
Also in the lineup of attendees are Anot and Michael. Anot has been a non-meat eater since she was four, as her father was vegetarian. Not quite a full-fledged vegan, she admits shyly she eats eggs. Her husband, Michael, is on a plant-based, but sometimes eats fish. Patricia, our darling host, became a vegetarian when she was 14 years old, after her unsavory (my adjective) uncle decided it would be entertaining to film the slaughter of the cow he planned on serving for their Christmas meal. Her stomach flipped halfway through the video he showed the family that evening, and she was done with meat for life. (Oh, the stories!) She does, however, drink milk. Thomas, her friend, and co-host, was not vegan at all – but he did make one heck of a pot of chili! There are approximately 40 people at this dinner, varying in ages from one to over 60. It is a diverse mix – not only in age, but in race, and social circles. It is noisy and lively, and I wish I had the pleasure of meeting everyone in attendance.
All in all, it is an engaging evening. As I make the long drive home from the East valley, it seems eating plant-based, vegan, vegetarian, raw, pescatarian, etc is an individual choice and an individual transition. Everyone has their own motivations and they pursue the diet that works for them. This is not a one-size-fits all scenario and no one appears to be “perfect”. But it is clear these people care about their health, care about compassionate eating, and are doing what works for them; now. Now is the optimum word. Nothing stays the same. There was a time I thought I couldn't live without cheese, and it wasn't all that long ago. We are growing, evolving, and learning. As Byron Katie, one of my favorite spiritual teachers says, “When the mind is open, the heart is open.” If we loosen our grasp on shoulds and shouldn'ts and embrace the opportunity to explore new ideas and new concepts- not only in our diet but in our lives as a whole...well, imagine the possibilities.
Cheers to Your Health!