Last weekend, instead of taking the train into New York City to see my beloved mother (and now fellow vegan!), I invited her up to Poughkeepsie in honor of Vassar’s annual spring Families Weekend. While we did not engage in any of the (thrilling, I’m sure) planned campus activities, my mother and I enjoyed ourselves immensely by paying a visit to the adorable gem of a town known as New Paltz. A mere 30-minute drive from Poughkeepsie, New Paltz functions essentially as a much more thriving, hipper city than the 18th most miserable city in America that Vassar calls home (sigh). In keeping with the town’s hip young atmosphere, New Paltz boasts an all-vegan cafe, a vegan fair-trade chocolate shop, a quaint health foods co-op, plenty of vegan items on many restaurant menus, and a grand slew of unique handmade jewelry stores, clothing boutiques, and antique shops. Needless to say, I wholeheartedly wish that I could gather up the Vassar campus and relocate it to New Paltz, but as that seems rather impossible, I’ll settle for weekend visits to the happy little town.
Upon first arriving in New Paltz, my mother and I sought lunch at a traditional Japanese restaraunt called Gomen Kudasai. The noodle shop features an entire vegan menu, as well as plenty of gluten-free items, including mung bean thread and yam noodles. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the chance to experience the full extent of Gomen Kudasai’s offerings, as the restaurant only offered their brunch menu during our visit. Regardless, my mother and I found plenty of vegan options, as specially denoted by helpful symbols on the menu. We began our meal with a complimentary bowl of always-satisfying salted edamame, followed by a simple and elegant triangular prism of brown rice and seaweed known as onigiri. For her entree, my mother opted for a stir-fry of udon noodles, chewy browned tofu, and succulent vegetables in a delightful gingery sauce. As for myself, I ordered an incredibly comforting bowl of kaki ten soup with gluten-free noodles, which comprised of slippery, chewy, semi-transparent noodles and crispy shredded veggies in an unctuous umami broth. All of Gomen Kudasai’s fare tasted fresh, simple, and quite thoughtfully prepared, though it did verge on the overly salty side.
After contentedly filling ourselves with noodles and other Japanese goodies, my mother and I set out on the gorgeously sunny day to explore the town of New Paltz. Our ventures brought us first to the much-acclaimed Lagusta’s Luscious—a vegan artisanal chocolate shop with a commitment to social justice, environmentalism, and animal rights. Indeed, the lovely and hugely talented ladies at Lagusta’s source all of their ingredients from small farms and producers in and around New Paltz, package all of their chocolates in 100% post-consumer recycled paper boxes and packing materials, use only fairly traded chocolate certified not produced with child/slave labor, and often donate to various worthy causes including animal sanctuaries and feminist organizations. The shop’s proprietor, Lagusta Yearwood, also just contributed an insightful and inspiring essay to the Defiant Daughters anthology entitled “Eat Chocolate, Have Faith in Women,” which she read at the book’s launch at Bluestockings Bookstore in NYC, where I had the honor of meeting and chatting with her.
Greeted by my favorite professor’s wife, who works at Lagusta’s Luscious and refers to me as her “vegan sister,” my mother and I gazed in awe at the tantalizing and uniquely flavored chocolate truffles and bars lining the blue-and-brown walls of the tiny shop. Yearning to spoil me after not seeing me since spring break (that’s my mother for ya), my mother eagerly gifted me an eight-piece box of assorted chocolate truffles, a smoky corn-on-the-cob chocolate bar, and a block of Lagusta’s housemade chickpea-kidney bean tempeh (I know, right?). From the glass-plated truffle case, I chose to include in my assorted chocolate box a Rosemary Sea Salt Caramel, a Sea Salt Shiitake Truffle, a Caramelized Onion and Chipotle Truffle, a Coriander-Beet Truffle, a Fennel-Apple Truffle, a Grapefruit Cream, a Macadamia Maui Vanilla Cream with Chamomile, and a Raspberry Balsamic Truffle. Um, can you say heaven on earth?
After bading goodbye to Lagusta’s rather magical shop, my mother and I meandered around New Paltz for the better part of the afternoon, peeking inside and browsing nearly every quaint little storefront in the small town, including a shop called Scarborough Fair that specialized in artisan infused oils and vinegars. There, my mother insisted upon buying me a 4-oz bottle each of avocado oil and pomegranate balsamic vinegar (hey, I’m not complaining), but they also boasted other intriguing varieties like porcini mushroom extra virgin olive oil and fig balsamic vinegar. I hope to experiment with the avocado oil and pomegranate balsamic to produce a couple winning recipes for the blog in the near future, so keep an eye out for those.
Our wandering also brought my mother and me to Inquiring Minds—an independent bookstore that, incidentally, will host a reading by three contributors to the Defiant Daughters anthology, including Lagusta Yearwood herself, this Saturday at 7pm (stop by if you’re in the area!). Inside the bookstore, I excitedly discovered an entire display table devoted to vegan cookbooks and animal rights literature, including the cult classic The Sexual Politics of Meat by vegan pioneer Carol Adams. With her feminist background and newfound veganism, my mother immediately became enthralled with the book’s cover and premise. After purchasing the book, my mother and I agreed that I would read it first while at Vassar, hand it off to her when she comes to help me relocate to D.C. for the summer, and discuss the book’s still groundbreaking ideas once we had both finished reading it. I can’t wait to start paging through the book that has enlightened so many individuals to the unavoidable intersections of veganism and feminism.
I planned on accompanying my mother back to New York City to spend Sunday with both of my parents, so before departing from New Paltz, my mother and I picked up a dinner to enjoy on the train ride home at organic and local vegan deli, bakery, juice & smoothie bar Karma Road. Though I didn’t obtain photos of the actual food that my mother and I ordered (snapping pictures on moving trains does not translate to quality photography), I did document the deli case, which boasted gluten-free veggie burgers, coleslaw, kale pizza with Daiya cheese, mixed vegetable curry, braised greens, and spelt sweet potato biscuits among other offerings. For our to-go dinners, my mother ordered a hummus wrap and a small portion of coleslaw from the deli case, while I chose the Karma Combo salad—kale, sunflower sprouts, carrot, celery, tomato, and roasted peppers in a tahini dressing—accompanied by two logs of hearty and sweet apple juice-glazed tempeh. Followed by a piece each of my smoky corn-on-the-cob chocolate bar, our meal from Karma Road provided immense satisfaction on the train ride to NYC.
As my mother and I strolled around New Paltz, we discussed the pervasive feeling of great clarity achieved after adopting a vegan lifestyle, the abhorrently corrupt nature of the meat-industrial complex and food corporations, and cruelty-free cosmetic brands. I never could have fathomed that my own mother of all people would find herself caught up in the same issues that I hold near and dear to my heart, and feel so unbelievably greatful to now call my mother an ally in the vegan movement. To those individuals feeling frustrated with their own family members who haven’t yet found their vegan calling, I’d encourage you not to lose hope, to always speak to those family members with patience, kindness, and compassion, and to continue to embody your own values in your everyday life. Even if your loved ones don’t adopt a vegan lifestyle in this lifetime, you can rest confident that you at least shifted their consciousness, if just a smidgen, to a more compassionate mode of existence. At the end of the day, I’d call that successful advocacy.
Until next time, Ali.