Veggies (a lot of them) in El Paso

» May 5th, 2013

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.




6 Responses to Veggies (a lot of them) in El Paso

  1. John T. Maher says:

    Steve is the best exponent of his own views but is on the record as emphasizing an active political struggle against animal instrumentality over merely believing practicing veganism by itself is enough to acquit oneself of moral responsibility concerning animals. I suspect Steve would encourage those aspects of Eating Plants, as I do, which choose engagement and confrontation with those who exploit animals.

  2. Elaine Livesey-Fassel says:

    How refreshing to read some good and positive news in a media landscape now so rife with hell and misery on too many fronts! Every day, we who care, fight in various ways -letters/emails/protests/contributions et al.,-to help make this magnificent planet a better world for animals ( and attempt to do the same for our own darned species!), and often feel so inept or helpless in the face of so much cruelty and indifference, so while your daily blogs do inform and enlighten as to the nature of that cruelty, they do as today giving us a glimmer of inspiration. Thank you for this – we need it! Good to know your voyage into that strange land was not for naught!

  3. Bonnie says:

    I loved reading this. For me, a humble Canuck, Texas seems like a mythical place and I’m fascinated by it, totally fascinated. Your description of the food is making my mouth water. I’m going to now google “potato casserole” because that just sounds too amazing.

  4. Jackson Gorski says:

    Hey Professor, long time since we’ve spoken but I still keep up with your blog! I’m from El Paso, I spent my first 18 years there before moving to school in San Marcos. I still don’t miss the city much but your story certainly made me pause to take a moment to reflect and consider the small, hidden wonders in a place like El Paso. I’m glad you enjoyed your time out there. For better or worse, El Paso certainly is a unique place.

    • James says:

      Good to hear from you Jackson. How’s law school?

      • Jackson Gorski says:

        I’m in my last year and currently studying for finals. I’m anxious to be finished with school but not looking forward to the bar exam at all. I’ll make more of an effort to keep in touch with you. I still remember our conversations, those were good times.

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