Notes from a Virgin Vegan: a four-part series

As a mother of a toddler and a practicing yogi, I have been thinking a lot lately about my family’s diet. First of all, you should know that not only am I a virgin vegan, but I am also a stranger to the kitchen. I know how to work our Keurig coffee maker, toast bread, make tuna salad and peanut butter and jelly, and that’s about the extent of it.

I think my kitchen phobia stems from a combination of an intense desire to be a feminist who wouldn’t be relegated to kitchen duty and my extreme disdain for uncooked meat. I also grew up with a mother whose joyful refrain was that the best thing she knew how to make was reservations.

Luckily, my husband does know how to cook, but he’s a meat-and-potatoes chef. I want to get more healthy vegetable entrees into our diet and to raise my daughter with a respect for food and an understanding of where the things she eats come from. I have also wondered if my fear of raw meat is really just masking my desire to refrain from meat-eating entirely.

This began to click when local artist and vegan chef Vicki Chelf gave a speech at my toastmaster’s club about her book, Vicki’s Vegan Kitchen: Eating with Sanity, Compassion and Taste. I was very intrigued. Vicki talked about the fact that Madison Avenue has done a number on all of us, convincing us that cooking was too difficult for working families and that eating out, ordering in, or eating prepared foods was the path to an easier, more fruitful life. In fact, she says, just the opposite is so.

Vicki said that cooking is easy and she works to demystify the process. She also said that we replenish and nourish ourselves with food, and therefore we should take greater care in making sure we know what we are eating. According to Vicki, no restaurant chef is able to prepare food as much to our own unique tastes as we can for ourselves.

The best part of Vicki’s speech was when she told us that she was 60. Mouths were agape, and you could hear a pin drop. We all sat a little straighter in our chairs (Vicki has perfect posture too) and paid rapt attention to this healthy dynamo.

So, when we at This Week in Sarasota made July our “staycation” month, I decided it was about time that I fell in love with the least-visited room in my house. What better staycation than to learn to appreciate local food cooked in my very own kitchen?

 Thankfully, Vicki was up to the challenge of working with this vegan virgin, and I am having a ball with her! We are cooking in her midcentury modern home graced with her artwork, much of which is food-related. And then, when we are done cooking, we share a meal. I am learning so much from this very wise woman.

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