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Monday, March 07, 2005

Salad Days

When I was 19 or 20, I converted to vegetarianism. This conversion happened on a weekend trip up to Washington DC in what was to be a "Punk Percussion Protest" at the Supreme Court, complete with a free concert featuring Fugazi and Bikini Kill. Nothing particularly convinced me to become veg, except for the fact that it was just "punk". In that scene that strived to break from normality, being a veg was as normal as circle As (anarchism) and circle Es (equality).

My conversion wasn't particularly hard, since at the time I didn't have many happy food memories of meat. As soon as I returned to the house I shared in Tampa, Florida, I felt like a changed person. Actually, judging from my hairstyle, I was (think: self-imposed male pattern baldness).


I remember vividly, standing in my kitchen, a sink full of moldy dishes and dishwater (I think months had passed since they were done) listening to Fugazi and opening my first package of tofu. I cut it into chunks, and piece by piece ate it raw, believing this is what vegetarians do. Repulsed, my foray into the meatless unknown began as I became what is commonly known as a junk food vegetarian. In fact, you see them all over the place. I see them all the time at Rainbow Grocery and Whole Paycheck. They are the folks who keep the evil-incarnate Tofu Pups from disappearing into the hellish abyss they crawled out of.

During the infancy of my junk food vegetarianism, I practically lived in the Taco Bell drive-thru, bringing home bags full of bean and cheese burritos. After leaving Ybor City on a Greyhound bus with $200 in my pocket, I came to live with other veggies in North Oakland. From punk house to house, every veggie household had its own specialty. The Pill Hill house was a total Ramen totalitarian state. When I lived with squatters/travelers in the basement of some kid's parents house, the specialty was green split pea mush with lots of cumin, made in a plug-in wok. When living with them, I was introduced to what I call my "punk rock sandwich", a combination of avocado, almond nut butter, cream cheese, and alfalfa sprouts in between 3-seed bread. I still serve this as an appetizer at parties, and while most folks at first think it sounds disgusting, almost all change their mind after one or two bites. When I lived as a student in a martial arts dojo, the speciality was mounds of spaghetti in a "sauce" of nutritional yeast and soy sauce. A real treat in those days was "Soy Dream" ice cream.

Citizen Fish at the Hofbrau, now Luka's Taproom, in Oakland. Photo by Murray Bowles.

As I moved into South Berkeley, my appetite was appeased with Food Not Bombs (aka the Punk Rock Soup Kitchen) mystery vegetable stews and rice chaos, while sublementing my diet with the fabulous creation known as the Mission burrito, "Super Vegetarian". One recipe from those days I wish I still had was a mushroom tofu pie that, despite initially sounding bad, was pretty dang good.

Skip ahead a decade. I eat meat and I'm unemployed after being laid off twice in the same year. I spend several days a week at the UN Plaza and Ferry Building farmer's markets. I've been converted again, only this time it's to the Alice Waters/buy local/eat seasonal school of thought. Again I'm forced into new terrain as my first taste of bitter melon is as revolting as my first taste of tofu. But, still I trudge through. Luckily, I trudge through with some minor success. It's at this point that I began to value the salad spinner I had bought for Bruce 5 years earlier.

A lot of bizarre food combinations, indicative of California Cuisine, have been brought to fruition with the help of that spinner. The strainer part of the salad spinner was invaluable when lye-curing olives. Shortly after that, I was washing arugula in the spinner, and as if by instinct, I picked up the strainer basket, dumped the water out of the spinner, replaced the strainer basket into the spinner, and spun the arugula dry. At this moment, I had one of those moments of clarity, the kind that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck; when you feel as if one of those cartoonish light bulbs suddenly appears above your head.

Without missing a beat, I suddenly blurt out "What would I ever do without a salad spinner!" It was an ecstatic moment of crystal clarity, like instant enlightenment. And while I've had these outbursts over a few other things, never has a salad spinner or any other kitchen gadget been at the center. It's these sudden outbursts that I believe causes the neighbors on one side of our building to look at us strange and avoid eye contact. That's ok, because I've smelled their cooking, mmm-kay (head rolling side to side). Get where I'm coming from?

Keeping in tune with my unshakable love of punk music, the spinner makes its own loud noises, somewhat resembling a motorcycle engine. And what better symbolism of "the pit" than your salad greens moshing around inside of that spinner harder than a bunch of straight edgers at a Youth of Today reunion. And I love the feeling of accomplishment you get after spinning some greens and seeing that tablespoon of liquid puddle in the bottom of the container.

You know, it's the small things in life, right!



Blogger drbiggles said...

Eeek !!! Vegetarian punks ?!?! You're scaring me. I ain't never heard of such a thing. 7-11 Green burritos & whatever alcohol we could either steal or get someone older to buy for us, that's all I can remember. Not that I remember a heck of a lot. It just don't sound right. I only know one punk anymore, Dave from No Kill I (Star Trek Punk Band). But he's taken off with a 40 year old Italian 250 CC bike to ride the world. He's about 35 or so and still dyes his hair that black/blue. Where was I? Oh yeah, I had a horrible lunch.


2:18 PM  

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