Staight Talk from a Comfort Foodie: World Peace Through Vegetarianism

I became a vegetarian in the early 80's. The Czech refugee I had lived with forbade any meat products from entering the little hovel we called home. I didn't own a car then, and only traveled as far as my Raleigh three-speed English racer could take me. On Fridays that was to the home of a well-respected psychotherapist whose house I cleaned. When my chores were finished I'd welcome myself to her stocked pantry, and indulge on a simply prepared can of Star-Kist. I had to time that lunch well enough in advance of my homecoming as not to carry any lingering fish on my breath, otherwise I might not hear the end of a long speech about how Krishna may have incarnated into that same tuna that I had so ravenously devoured.

At nineteen years old, my relationship skills were practically non-existent. We argued about everything and nothing at all. I would storm out of the cabin and head to the deli in the center of town, the one with the huge loaves of European style bread in the front window. The ticket was always the same: turkey piled high on raisin-pumpernickel with Russian dressing, and a can on Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray tonic on the side. There was a hidden spot behind one of the galleries where a stream ran, and I could sit in silence while I mulled over the thought of living alone. Each stolen bite of that sandwich brought me closer to a sense of myself ? reminding me of all the cold-cut meals I had consumed as a child. When the last crumb was finished, and I had licked the last drop of dressing from my fingers, I would go back to the place I called home, knowing full well that it would just be a matter of days before I returned to the same spot.

Preparing dinner, in those years, wasn't a simple as braking open a bag, or defrosting a pot pie. We had no freezer compartment in the four foot high GE that was packed with containers and bags from the food co-op. A big bag of carrots for juicing was always on the bottom shelf, and bags of exotic flours stuffed the middle ones. We did eat well, though. Every night there was a variation on a tofu dish with fresh vegetables from our garden. I became quite proficient at cooking with soybean curd, and one year entered the local tofu cook-off. My non-fish version of Gefilte, aptly named Gefilte-Fu took first prize and brought home Mollie Katzden's bible to vegetarianism ? The Moosewood Cookbook. Oh, how I adored that book! Twenty-five years later, its soy sauce stained pages crammed with additional index cards with recipes like lentil loaf and mock salmon salad still sits on my bookshelf.

We lived a simple life with four dogs, a cat, and a semi-permanent resident who slept in his old VW bus. I can't tell you his name ? because he didn't go by one. "No Name" was the moniker that some folks referred to him. I just called him Doctor, bestowing the title half out of respect for his age, which was somewhere around middle age, and half because of my perception of his spiritual knowledge. He viewed himself as a Yogi-celibate, and living a life of renunciation. His constant presence in our 200 square foot cabin, though, was a blessing and a curse. At best he was a mentor who challenged the presumptions of my middle-class upbringing, and at worst, a drain on my food stamp allotment.

There was no door on the bathroom. In fact, the toilet and bathtub were in the kitchen. So I learned quickly how to shed excess modesty ? or did my business when the cabin was vacant. "Doctor" likened himself to Richard Alpert, who through education and doses of LSD, had had a spiritual awakening, and as a phoenix rising from the ashes of his former self, emerged as Ram Das. We dosed ourselves many times in those years with the psychedelic sacrament and each trip had a meaningful lesson. The long hours of meditation and mind expanding thought were always followed by a broth of root vegetables, which I had prepared the previous night.

The Doctor and I once hitchhiked together to a Rainbow Family Gathering in the Blue Hill Mountains of West Virginia. We each ran around naked for a week, were fed curried goulash by the Hare Krishna Kitchen, and played drums until the early morning hours. I learned how to make whole wheat japatis from The Sufi Kitchen, and took instruction on meditating with a pyramid on top of my head. I saw the Doctor get in the sack one night with a young hippie girl. After that my impressions of him were never quite the same. I packed up my sleeping bag and hitched home to Woodstock alone.

The T-shirt that I wore till it was thread bare and read "World Peace through Vegetarianism" has long since become a canvas for someone's art project. My kids most requested meal is meatloaf, and my partner will only consume tofu when it is camouflaged with other vegetables in Asian hot and sour soup. I still go to the health food store and buy marinated tofu salad, but it's the one container that could sit in the fridge without the risk of being ransacked as a midnight munchie by my carnivorous family.

Lentil Loaf

1 cup green lentils ½ cup barley 4 cup water 1 teaspoon sea salt 1 cup bread crumbs or cracker crumbs 1 clove garlic, minced 1 medium onion, minced 1 rib celery, sliced thinly 2 eggs, beaten ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg

Directions:

1. Add lentils and barley to boiling salted water. Allow to boil for a minute, then reduce heat and simmer with a lid ajar for about 40 minutes or until most of the water is absorbed. Remove from heat.

2. Add bread or cracker crumbs along with remaining ingredients and mix well.

3. Place mixture in a well oiled 9x5x3 inch loaf pan.

4. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 35 minutes.

5. Allow to cool for 15-20 minutes before inverting over a platter to serve.

Serves six to eight.

Marti Ladd is the cookbook author and food product designer of "The Recipe Company". See her media kit at http://www.martiladd.com or visit her virtual coobook store at http://www.ecookbookstore.com

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