Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Post-Thanksgiving Potluck Feast

There’s a vegan Meetup group here in Pittsburgh, and this past Sunday they had a little post-Thanksgiving potluck feast, held at the First Methodist church on the Bloomfield edge of Shadyside.  I hadn't been to a Meetup-organized event before and it seemed like, Hey!  Vegan potluck!  Each of those two words are great, but put together, they're pretty much the best thing in the history of the universe.

A lot of the time, I make cookies for potlucks because, to me, the easiest thing to do is bake cookies.  My kitchen is stocked, so I can choose from any number of cookie recipes to whip up quickly without going shopping.  For some reason, though, I didn't want to do that this time because I find that desserts are often overrepresented at potlucks.  Instead, I whipped up the simplest mac and nutritional yeast-cheese recipe ever, which is the Mac and Sleaze from 500 Vegan Recipes.  It's uber-simple, and it's one of those things I always have all the ingredients on hand if I want to whip it up in a snap, and I think it tastes good.  Plus, I find that vegans tend to appreciate homemade vegan mac and cheeze, even if it's not a fancy one made from raw cashews.  You can find the very simple recipe here.
What's weird, though, is that this time, there weren't many desserts, and cookies would have been perfect. A couple of the baked items were not even vegan.  All kinds of people get invited to these things, and many of them are older vegetarians who truly did not really know what "vegan" meant.  On the Facebook page for the event earlier in the day, there were some people posting things like, "Is sushi vegetarian (enough)? Some of the pieces have crab I think" and "I'll fix some muffins and bring them but I'm afraid they will be vegetarian rather then [sic] vegan as all of my recipes call for eggs" and "Just a question, is [sic] mozeralla [sic] cheese fall under vegan?" And these were the nice folks who thought to bring their questions to Facebook and let us explain how they can make their food vegan!  I know for a fact that the man who asked about mozzarella cheese ended up getting Daiya and making truly amazing enchiladas. The man who posted about the muffins bought some Ener-G Egg Replacer and used that.  Still, there were other confused people who didn't make it to Facebook, and someone brought a cake labeled "dairy free," which I knew really meant "this contains eggs."  Someone else brought a store-bought pie in a box.  I checked out the ingredients printed on the side and guess what.  Milk.  I'm positive that quite a few vegans accidentally ate animal products, tripped up at a vegan Meetup event of all places.   Not the end of the world, but I find it annoying.

There WAS a system to label things, but almost no one actually did it, and also, it was assumed that everything at least would be vegan; there was no sticker to indicate the use of animal products.

There were a bunch of cool people there and I met some folks I liked a lot!  But it was also kind-of hippie-dippy for my tastes.  Man, I feel guilty writing that.  I know that many people who I respect immensely and who have a seemingly-limitless capacity for empathy and compassion are people who also hold beliefs that I would describe as "spirtism," which is a word I made up (although it does actually mean something else already) to describe when people believe in all kinds of unprovable stuff relating to the spirit or soul and cosmic connections and so forth.  

Before we were allowed to eat, the young adults who ran the event had us stand around and join hands and they read a boring poem.  It was made extra-boring by the fact that I couldn't hear most of it, as it was being read quietly across the circle from me.  The whole thing felt pointless and like it took a long time and like the food was getting colder and, also, it felt like I'd been forced to pray at a friend's house before dinner, except it took longer and I couldn't even hear it.  Yes, I was very hungry, so it might have felt longer than it was.  Maybe only other diabetics will understand this, but if you allow your blood sugar to drop in anticipation of an expected meal but the meal is withheld for over an hour after that, it makes you so hungry you're ready to knock people over to get to food. 
The poem said stuff about, like, "Grandmother moon" and other things where nature was your family, and, look.  I understand what people are getting at with this stuff.  The moon IS amazing.  Science and nature gets me all hot and bothered, believe me.  If it had been a poem about how, when the moon is not full, we're able to look at the sky and observe the shadow of everyone in the entire world, that would have gotten my "happy to be part of everything" juices flowing!  Think about it: everything we've ever encountered in our entire lives, everything we've ever known to exist in the history of Earth, we can just look at the moon and see the shadow of it all.  That's magnificent!  It's beautiful!  But calling the moon my grandmother, I don't know.  It doesn't do much for me.  And then they had us do a series of "Om"s.  Ummm, cool?
To each his or her own, I truly mean that.  Oms don't do it for me, at least not currently.  But lemme at that food!

Yeah, NOW we're talking!  Food!  Grumble grumble, it would have been better if we'd eaten it while it was warm, grumble grumble.  It's possible that I might have pushed a little to be one of the first up, but I swear, my blood sugar made me do it.

I can't really tell you what everything pictured above was, but I'll be happy to show you more pictures of it, which I took before we ate and these bowls of food just sat around, peering lustily at me.
Cranberry salad?  Don't mind if I do!

There were a number of curries and I don't remember which was the really good one, but it's possible that this was it.

 Some kind of a pasta/vegan cheese/nut/greens thing.  I don't remember if it tasted good or not, but I do remember eagerly shoving it into my face.

What's this?  No idea.  I don't think I managed to ever get this item onto my plate.

There was a lot more food I never got to take pictures of.  They also had So Delicious brand coconut milk beverage in eggnog flavor and chocolate flavor.  I have no eggnog experience, so I tasted it and decided to combine it with the chocolate one.  I, for one, would call that combination a delicious holiday drink!

All in all, people were very kind and friendly, many folks who are not used to cooking vegan dishes had a reason to try their hand at some vegan cooking, and I ate a heck of a lot more food than I did on Thanksgiving.  I hope that my complaining about hippie-dippiness hasn't hurt anyone's feelings.  Especially since, you know, the hippie-dippy people there were, well, actually hippies.  There's nothing wrong with that.

They seem pretty content making these plant structures.  Hanging out.  I think I saw a lot of the people who were at this event at Occupy Pittsburgh.  That's good, someone had to camp out in front the of the banks here during the Occupy protests.  I'm glad they were willing to do it, that takes a serious, principled commitment.

Spirit bless us, one and all!


  1. Really, my comment should be a long string of snorts, laughs, and grins, but I'll try to use a few words, too. I get super annoyed when people bring non-vegan things to vegan events, but I try to be understanding and encouraging so they can learn what vegan means, for next time. I love when I don't have to ask what's in everything before taking some. As for group blessings, I prefer to avoid them. I especially don't like to hold people's hands just before I eat. :D

    1. Andrea, the worst part was that this man I was holding hands with made MY hand reek of cigarettes! When I realized that, I departed from the circle and took those pictures. I'm such a rebel.

  2. Lol...! Good article, Melissa. Glad you got a picture of my markers (next to the "gluten-free" label card). Those were my favorite markers. Alas, I'll never see them again...

    Anyway, I thought I might mention the symbolism of the moon. It's not just some coincidental feel-good thing. But the moon and sun have deep historic meanings in most cultures around the world. The sun tends to carry a masculine quality, while the moon a feminine quality. These symbols appear to this day even in modern-day languages, even though people don't realize it anymore. (It's no accident that the words sun and son are so close! Jesus is called the "son" and has a birthday near the winter solstice - the day the earth starts to get brighter from the sun. Just a few examples...)

    To understand it you have to kind of "squint your eyes" and be able to see it from an abstract archetypal perspective, not so literally. There are advantages of honoring such symbols that appear on emotional and physical/biological levels, in addition to the spiritual.

    It would take me an entire book to describe all the deep meanings and their tangible effects. But perhaps I'll start there...

    1. Oh no, you didn't get your markers back? I didn't get my serving spoon back, but I guess that's OK.

      Yeah, I'm totally aware of the symbolism of the moon, but to me, that IS just feel-good posturing. It's not that I'm too dim or uneducated to understand the (quite elementary) symbolism of the moon and sun. It's just that it doesn't do much for me. It doesn't get me interested, excited, or make me feel connected with the Earth or with other people. On the contrary, it's so old hat that it's boring. I mean, Stephen, like I said, to each his or her own, so you can certainly find moon symbolism to be interesting, but it's not for me. I'd rather talk about the things that really ARE incredible about the moon, not just symbolically significant to people who are more interested in symbols. In other words, you can get down with abstract archetypes, but I'll get down with tides. It's sort of the difference between loving to read Carl Sagan (me) and loving to read about tarot cards (more your kinda thing). Agree to disagree?

  3. I read both. I come from a skeptic point of view as well.

    If you like science then I imagine you'd probably like psychology or sociology too, right? Human behavior can be looked at in terms of hormones releasing and learned behaviors from childhood. Those are things that affect us all and can be looked at through the lens of science, and can be looked at through other domains as well. An example of another domain might be spirituality. Spirituality would have it's own constructs and ways to understand things. Each of those domains has it's own relevance. And sometimes people focus on one domain only, or sometimes people focus on several different domains. The purpose of each domain allows us to organize the information we're exposed to in the world. When a person focuses on a single domain they get one aspect of that information, but they may be losing part of the big picture.

    Mainstream science hasn't spent a lot of time studying the sun and moon beyond measuring their properties, their impacts on gravity, etc. However, the moon and sun affect our culture in profound ways beyond those measurements. Those old stories may seem feel-good. But much of how we live today was originally based on those old stories. Our modern religions, the modern way we produce our food, the modern way our society is structured including the way we interact and treat each other are all related to those old stories.

    This is hard to sum up in a single blog comment just as it is hard to sum up in a single tea/soup session at the beehive. ;-D Let me put this out there for you, though: The sun and moon can also represent "good" and "evil". Ever see people using those terms in our society?

    The most important point I guess I'd like to make here is that those old symbols and the stories that our (modern-day) culture tell about them still exist, even if we forget where they originally came from. Those stories are so deeply embedded that we consider them "normal".

    I'm comfortable discussing this topic from different domains. So I neither agree nor disagree.

    1. Stephen, I support you being interested in whatever interest you. I just have a different set of interests.


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