Chef’s Challenge

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Chef’s Challenge

One of my favorite things about Mexico is the food. Grocery shopping in Mexico is a vegan’s delight. Such a vast array of fruits and vegetables. The sights and sounds and smells at the large mercado in San Miguel delight all the senses. I love to cook whenever we are here, because the choices are so varied and so many things are available. As to restaurant meals here, I can usually make it work. I have learned enough Spanish to negotiate my needs to waiters and I find they are almost always eager to please. Many restaurants here get it with vegetarians and have something on the menu that can work. Good cooking is a large part of the culture here, and the presentations are very artful.

But there are several really good chefs, right in Nashville. We have an explosion of new restaurants now, as much a sign of a recovering economy as of the anticipated growth of our city. I love to go out to eat, but I have a love-hate relationship with going out to eat. I love the atmosphere of a well-designed restaurant. I seriously enjoy sitting at a table with friends, and the intimacy of dining in a romantic setting with Fred. I love an interesting glass of wine. But as to food, I am usually happy if there is just something on the menu I can eat. When I find a restaurant that has even one entree that works for me I am ecstatic.
Having been vegetarian for the past 45 years, I made the choice about three years ago to switch to vegan. There are lots of reasons for doing this. The obvious one is compassion. I thought I had that one covered by being vegetarian. I never worried very much about dairy products, especially with the availability of “organic” dairy, which seemed to mean that all the cows were frolicking about in daisy fields, with the kindly farmers skipping over to the barn at milking time for a little fellowship with “Old Bossy.” A couple of things happened to raise my consciousness in this area. I got into Jivamukti yoga, and went to a workshop with David Life and Sharon Gannon. Both are vegan evangelists. Some of the things David said really stayed with me, but I was able to shut it off until I read “Skinny Bitch,” a book that very graphically talks about what eating dairy really means.
And the truth is, honestly, the main reason I switched to vegan was because I saw a photo of myself 25 pounds ago and it was not a pretty sight. I was advised by someone I trusted to simply give up wheat and dairy. I did, and while I’d still like to drop the famous “five more pounds,” maintaining this weight loss has been fairly easy. Since making this change, my cooking at home has greatly improved. I’ve gotten much more creative, and Fred seems perfectly happy with the meals we have. It’s restaurants where I have my problems.
Interestingly enough, most of the good chefs can whip up a wonderful vegan meal if called upon to do so. Just last week we went to a snazzy new place that has all of Nashville’s high -end eaters all abuzz. When I read the menu online, it seemed that each dish was a trip to the barnyard, so I called to see if something could be done for me. I was assured that there wouldn’t be a problem, and there wasn’t. My meal was creative, delicious, and had all my carnivorous friends eyeing my plate with lust in their hearts while they sat and scooped the insides out of very large bones.
And now I’ll get to my point: these chefs are perfectly capable of creating beautiful food that would benefit their customers, the planet, and all living creatures. With the respect they have from the dining community they could educate and facilitate positive changes. All I would suggest is that they use their skills to have at least one serious vegan starter and entree, (and ok, dessert), that is not just a “green salad”, “vegetable plate”, and “sorbet”. I am talking about vegan dishes that are as well-thought out as anything else on the menu.
And then, promote these choices. I am sure many of their customers would still choose to gnaw on a bone, or eat a pig’s ear (or whatever). But, some would be curious to have a little green adventure. And the vegans out there would be very, very happy.

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