I will always remember my very first meal on my very first day of culinary school. I was a peon, a newbie. So, when an upperclassman put a plate of sweetbreads down in front of me, I didn't dare let the welling up surge of fear show on my face. I was so grateful with a "Nelson Longbottom" look-alike sais to someone, "Ewwww, what is this?" It was promptly explained to him that he would be enjoying veal sweetbreads, aka a baby cow's thymus gland! This didn't look like sweetbreads, I thought. See, my field experience before college came in the form of a local restaurant popular for it's Sunday brunch and basket of banana pecan muffins, chocolate pumpkin bread and apple cinnamon scones listed on the menu as "Assorted Sweetbreads". Ok, be a big girl, culinary school...sweetbreads. Yum! I dug my fork in like a classic firstborn eager to please and swallowed hard on my first bite. As I lowered my eyes to my plate to sample again this strange and deliciously silky new food, I caught the eye of a girl across from me. She inquired about vegetarian selections for our first lunch seeing as she was a practicing Vegan.She was swiftly informed that for the sake of her very expensive education, she better eat up. Her kind , in other words, were, um, frowned upon in our industry. Our eyes met and , I looked away ,quickly, not wanting to be in any way associated with such a culinary troublemaker.
I had remembered that day many times. The awe of being in the magestic Great Hall of the Culinary Institute of America. The new world of French table service and exquisite world class cuisine. The smell of proofing croissants and wood-fired ovens wafting through the air welcoming me to my new home. The vegan girl, however, I didn't recall. I had forgotten her pained look and then her quick resolve. I forgot how struck I was by her powerful belief in her convictions. No, I hadn't thought of her in over a decade, not until a conversation with a wonderful friend shoved her to the front of my memory.
My friend Michele is a vegan, In fact, as of yesterday, she was thinking about trying an all raw diet....very Demi I encouraged her. She and I have a wonderful, effortless friendship. She is the daughter of a restauranteur and had worked in my field since she was eleven. She and her husband share my love of great restaurants and red wine. We have so many culinary similarities, that I'm sure she was afraid I'd judge her if she told me how deeply convicted she is by her drastic food choices. So, for many years, she adjusted to our meat loving world by ordering seafood when we went out, but as our friendship grew, she finally felt comfortable telling me just how "green" she really was. She explained that she is so often ridiculed by people for being a vegan that she just doesn't mention it. Yikes, here was this wonderful woman who I love being persecuted for something she really believed in. Oh, wait, been there, persecuted that. Crap.
I don't know where that girl from CIA is. I looked for her on Facebook. No luck. I can't undo the group judgefest that I helped thrust on her, but if she could hear me say it now, I'm really sorry. I'm sorry that I was so desperate to just fit in that I left her all alone. I'm sorry that at 18 she had the moral fiber to stand up for something she really believed in. And I'm sorry that Michele still faces those carnivorous bullies today. See, I may be a card- carrying- hunter- for a- husband- meat- eater, but I love people more than food, and I love someone who believes in something with their whole heart, mind and body. I hope that we can make it easier to be a lacto-ovo or reformed or hard core or whatever kind of vegetarian someone choses to be. I want to see more restaurants offering more choices for people who dare to live a meat free life. Ya know, now that I mentioned it, I think a black bean quesadilla with a Roasted Corn and red onion salsa sounds like a perfect special for me to run tomorrow. What do you think?
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