Veggies (a lot of them) in El Paso
Only in Texas would it take a full day of flight travel, including a layover, to get from the central to the western part of the state. El Paso. It’s a town so dry that an 8-mile run in the morning sun leaves you free of sweat. It’s a town so dry that the river separating the United States from Juarez, Mexico, is now a strip of brown dust dividing cities so different that one has one of the highest murder rates in the world while the other has one of the lowest (although I gather car theft is a big problem in El Paso). It’s kind of a strangely cool border town, marked by dramatic contrasts between a pancaked desert landscape stuffed with 800,000 people running into the Franklin Mountains, the valleys of which are covered in spiky desert flora and rattlesnakes.
But perhaps El Paso’s sweetest secret is its Vegetarian Society—one that’s two decades old and still thriving. I spoke last night to about 75 people—prepared all week for it. What stood out more than anything was the generational diversity represented. After the talk I got questions from folks of all ages–from college students to senior citizens. In addition to the generational diversity there was also dietary diversity. I wasn’t really sure what people were eating.
“We don’t quiz each other on our diets,” my host and President Liz Walsh (vegan) told me, but it was evident that vegans were probably a minority while vegetarians and meat eaters were, in whatever proportion, the majority. This was good. I found myself enjoying the experience more, knowing I wasn’t preaching to the converted. My message of compassion for animals and food reform was, as a result, (perhaps?) sparking new thought. (In case you care, Steve Best wasn’t there—he evidently stopped showing up at the society’s events years ago but seems to be missed very much. I certainly would have liked to have met him.
My talk came after dinner, which was prepared by Michael Ross, chef at El Paso’s Opus World Bistro. The restaurant isn’t vegan, or even vegetarian, but Ross has learned to cooked superb vegan meals for the vegan portion of his menu. Items of note included dolmas, tabouleh, a lemon-kale soup, and delicious little lentil cakes.
Before heading to the airport this morning (where I’m now writing), I had a truly lovely brunch at Richard and Sukie Sargeant’s house (Richard and Sukie founded the El Paso Vegetarian Society). Their house is set on several acres and harbors rescue chickens, a rescue goat, a couple of dogs and more than a couple of cats, every vegetarian cookbook ever written, and an experimental veganic farm that spans the Texas/New Mexico border. Watermelon and cantaloupe seeds are in the ground now. Fingers are crossed.
It was a memorable experience to pull into this beautiful ranch house on the border, in the midst of land that had been, over the years, turned to dust by overgrazing, and pull up behind a car with a Texas plate that read “VEGAN-1.” The brunch itself was outrageously good—beans, homemade salsa, a potato casserole, amazing tofu scramble, watermelon, roasted jalepenos with peanut butter (good!), fresh orange juice, and kick-ass coffee. Oh, and a great cinnamon bun. You eat this way and you think “nobody would miss animals if they could eat such food.”)
I’ll be honest: these events—the speaking and the socializing— once frustrated me a little. I’ve never felt great about public speaking (being more at home behind a computer), the travel gets old, and it always sucks up writing time. But last night after my talk, while sipping a stout beer and adding notes to my journal, it occurred to me how deeply gratifying it can be to come out of the cave, as it were, and interact socially with people, really good people, who are working in quiet and often unappreciated ways to make the world a better place for animals.
It was a simple but reassuring thought, nourished by a ton of great food.