Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Vegetarian's Tale, Part I - Europe

Don and I spent thirty years of our lives without a bite of meat.  We decided to go veg on New Year's Day, 1977.  We were in France at the time, Nice or Paris, I don't remember off the top of my head, but it was one of the big fancy cities.  We had been inching toward vegetarianism for a couple of years.  I hadn't cooked meat at home for a long time, but we still ate it when we went out.  We had been in Europe for several months at the time, and though Don had wanted to take the final step much earlier, we found that traveling around in various countries where neither of us were fluent in the language made things difficult.

Besides, it was 1977, and it wasn't as easy to be a vegetarian back in them thar days, especially when you couldn't make yourself understood.  After January 1, we gave it the old college try, though.  We remained in Europe for another six months, subsisting on salads, eggs, bread, cheese, and yogurt.  Fortunately, all of above listed edibles were easier to find than they would have been in the states back then, and all were well made and delicious.  

We had an apartment in a little town in the south of France called Cagnes sur Mer.  It was no problem to find fresh veggies and artisan breads and cheeses at he local market.  We went shopping every day, just like the French did.  When we traveled, we discovered all sorts of regional meatless delights.  Nobody can make an omelet like the French.  And every morning, no matter where we were in France, we ate freshly baked croissants with butter and apricot jam with cafe au lait for breakfast at the local boulangerie.   Apricot reminds me of France to this day. It was in Cagnes sur Mer that I first saw Yoplait and Nutella (Smurfs and those enormous right angle building cranes, too, but that's another story.)

London was a snap.  First of all, it was full of Indian vegetarian restaurants.  We found one close to the B&B we liked to stay in, and ate there several times, setting our mouths on fire and sweating off two or three pounds per meal.  London was also graced with a chain of vegetarian whole food  cafeterias called Cranks.  I know you've heard tales of English cooking, Dear Readers, and that reputation paired with the usual idea of cafeteria food didn't bode well for the quality of Cranks.  But I'm here to tell you that it was spectacular.  I haven't been to London in a long time, so I don't know if Cranks is still in business, but if it is, and you find yourself in London, it's worth the trip no matter how carnivorous you are.  Of course, there's no place like England for breakfast.  We always stayed in B&Bs, and all we had to do was hold the bangers to end up with a giant veg meal that would hold us until tea time - fried eggs, fried tomatoes, baked beans (yes, I know, but at the time we hadn't thought about the pork in baked beans.  We had a lot to learn), cold toast as hard as a shingle, cornflakes, and orange marmalade.  If apricot is France, cornflakes and shingle-toast with orange marmalade is England.

The Germanic countries were a bit more difficult, at least in 1977.  My German was pretty good at the time, and I could ask about ingredients and read menus, but the Germans were rather meaty.  We had one memorable meal in Heidelberg that consisted of four kinds of sauerkraut and a side of boiled potatoes.   Italy was no problem if you didn't mind eating pasta marinara, bread and olive oil, and a big old salad for every meal, which I didn't.  In Greece, we lived on Greek salads, which weren't like the Greek salads you get over here.  For one thing, they didn't have lettuce.  A Greek Greek salad consists of cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, and feta cheese tossed in olive oil and herbs.  Big bowl of tzatziki on the side.  No matter where we were, for breakfast we ate hard boiled eggs, fresh bread, butter, and honey.  Lots of tapas in Spain, and oddly, a lot of Chinese food.

So our first foray into committed vegetarianism was exciting and satisfying. We were young and idealistic and full of grand ideas about compassionate and healthy eating.  The problems began when we finally came home in July of that year and discovered that it wasn't always going to be that easy.

Next week - You Mean I Can't Eat Jello Any More?

p.s. I just looked up Crank's and I discover that there is only one location left in England, in Devonshire.


Vicki Delany said...

For dinner tonight I am having corn on the cob, lettuce with homemade dressing and toast. Perfection. I've been collecting cherry tomatoes from the garden for tomatoes and feta cheese on pasta tomorrow. Am I not a vegetarian, I wonder, because in Canada in the winter it's just easier to eat meat?

Donis Casey said...

You need that fat and protein to keep you warm up there in the frozen North, Vicki.

You have just given me the menu for supper tomorrow, however. I haven't had corn on the cob in weeks.

Vicki Delany said...

No need for extra fat here, Donis. Right now the farm stands and backyard gardens are overflowing with wonderful things to eat. So easy to be a vegetarian. By mid-January, not so much. The farmer beside my house has planted 20 acres of beans. He said I can help myself - I am now busy shelling.

Donis Casey said...

OMG, you lucky creature! We have backwards growing seasons here in the desert. We can't really grow much in the summer because it's too hot, but fall thru spring are fantastic. Sadly, there is no season just right for tomatoes - they are very hard to grow here.

Marian Allen said...

We had corn on the cob tonight, and fresh-baked bread and cheese ravioli (store-bought). I made spaghetti sauce for the first time, and we were very pleased with the result.

It wasn't a proper Meatless Monday, though. We had mushroom/cheese omelet for breakfast, but I had leftover prime rib for lunch. Does it count if it's left over?

Dana Fredsti said...

YUM!!!! Wow, I am not a vegetarian, but the meals you describe are pretty droolable...