If you’ve followed the recent flurry of activity on my Facebook account and Twitter feed, you’ll know full well that for the past four days I’ve reveled in the sheer joy inspired by the southern hippie hub of Austin, Texas. Three years ago, my best friend of eleven years relocated from Madison to Austin (much to my obvious and immense dismay), and I finally found the time and resources to complete the halfway-cross-country trek and visit my dearest Ashley. The trip, however, not only constituted a long-awaited and quite heartfelt reunion, but also a veritable festival of impressive vegan eats, a peek into one of the most extensive food truck cultures in the nation, an almost comical abundance of vintage/thrift shops, and a 75° escape from the brisk New York weather.
To the Vassar students who wrinkled their noses and inquired accusatorily, “Why are you going down south for spring break?”, unaware of Austin’s intensely liberal, progressive atmosphere, I silently pitied their geographical ignorance before calmly reciting this analogy: Austin is to the southern United States as Madison is to Wisconsin; both serve as open-minded oases in conservative deserts. Indeed, Austin holds a number of hip titles, including live music capital of the world; #1 city in the U.S. to live, work, and make movies; #7 of America’s best hipster neighborhoods; #2 best city for young adults; and (most importantly) #8 of America’s top vegetarian cities, as ranked by number of vegetarian restaurants. Boasting four all-vegan food trucks, four all–vegan bakeries, two vegan catering/delivery services, the infamous vegan queso company Food for Lovers, and a 90% save-rate of animals in shelters, Austin offers one heck of a cruelty-free scene that even those harboring the most ardent aversion to southern culture won’t want to miss.
I arrived at the Austin-Bergstrom Internation Airport at 4:40 pm on Saturday afternoon—perfect timing to shower my best friend with love and hugs, acquaint myself with her apartment, and semi-unpack before experiencing my first taste (pun oh-so intended) of Austin’s vegan culture at Whole Foods’ flagship market. With 30 years of history, 80,000 square feet, a rooftop patio, a bike-repair center, and nearly every health-food product known to humankind, this Whole Foods reduced me to a incoherent maniac exclaiming gleefully at every bottle of locally brewed kombucha, superfood-infused granola, and raw chocolate bar I discovered. You can imagine my absolute explosion of excitement when I spotted the 100% vegan, largely raw deli counter flanked by the produce and bulk sections, at which I picked up a glorious dinner of avocado-massaged kale salad, creamy chickpea salad with cashew mayonnaise and celery, and cinnamon-dusted butternut squash slices.
After preparing for the days ahead by purchasing four bottles of kombucha, four green smoothies from the juice bar, and a bag of astoundingly delicious raw granola called Hemp and Green Superfood Cereal, I accompanied Ashley up to the roof to share a lovely meal, a slice of raw blueberry cheesecake from Earth Cafe (which left Ashley, who previously harbored a rather negative view of vegan desserts, absolutely emphatic about animal-product-free sweet treats), and a flood of intriguing conversation by which to catch up on the current events of each others’ lives.
Ashley and I decided to enjoy the rest of the balmy evening by walking back to her apartment via one of Austin’s lively main drags of Congress Avenue. Loaded with cafes, food truck gathering spots, and vintage stores, Congress Ave immediately endeared me to the city and ensured our return to the street the following day. That night, however, my travel fatigue kicked in and prompted an early bedtime for Ashley and I, after which I dreamed of the many vegan noms and adventures soon to ensue.
Until next time, Ali.