Monday, January 2, 2012

A Vegan Epiphany

Hello, again, dear readers, and Happy New Year! To celebrate the occasion, I want to renew my vow of total degustatory honesty, and share the tale of my recent vegan epiphany.

I’ve been vegan for a year and a half now, and it has been the most rewarding decision I’ve ever made. That doesn’t mean, though, that I never wax nostalgic about my former eating life. For me, that longing tends to converge on one food, lasagna. Lasagna is the food my great-grandmother prepared and lovingly packaged into individual servings for my mom when she was pregnant with me. Lasagna is the food I requested for special occasions as a kid. Lasagna is the first dish I made all by myself in my own kitchen in college. And lasagna is the food I most frequently sought out and delighted in during my year in Italy.  So, over these past eighteen months, lasagna has been the food that calls to me most deeply.

After discussing this with my mom, she suggested that I eat lasagna and see how it tasted. She had had a similar experience with cheese pizza six months after she became vegan. She was convinced that the lasagna would not live up to my taste memory. I wasn’t so sure.

On Friday night, I decided to go to my favorite Italian restaurant, and order the layers of pasta, bolognese, and b├ęchamel that I’d been lusting after. My feelings were all over the place. I was excited about eating my favorite food after so long, but I also felt guilty about falling off the vegan wagon. The lasagna arrived and it looked so...dead. It was brown and beige and messy. In contrast, my sister’s capellini pomodoro was a bright, fiery red accented with fresh basil. But, still, I didn’t love lasagna for its looks; it’s what’s on the inside that really counts. And I was still convinced that my first bite would be accompanied by an angelic choir.

The lasagna of my dreams...?
It wasn’t. It tasted like nothing. It was quite possibly the blandest thing I’ve ever eaten. I couldn’t even taste the tomatoes and garlic and fresh herbs; they had been muted by a blanket of meat and cheese. I tasted my sister’s pasta, wondering if it, too, was missing that pop of flavor I had been looking for. It tasted amazing, tangy from the tomatoes and garlic, fresh and alive from the whole basil leaves. I went back to my lasagna, sure that it had been too hot, that I'd burned my tongue. Again, it tasted like nothing. I went back for a few more bites, and I was consistently underwhelmed. In the end, the lasagna got pushed to the edge of the table, and I ordered another plate of capellini pomodoro.

Before I licked the plate clean.
Since then, I’ve encountered other foods that look and smell delicious, but now I know, they don’t taste like anything. After my experiment, I feel reassured in my veganism, even more convinced that this lifestyle is far more about gain than about restriction. This shift in my tastes has not been immediate, but it is extraordinary, and I can only hope it gets better with time.

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