I Just Daiya-d in Your Arms Tonight

This week, my friend Chris invited me out to dinner celebrate his 26th birthday.  Of course I agreed immediately, because food was involved (and because Chris rules).  When he told me he wanted to go to Blackbird, a vegan pizza place in Philly, I raced to my laptop and simultaneously checked their website and their Yelp! reviews.  Yelpers, even omnivorous ones, gushed about how great the place was, and Blackbird’s menu and photos were tantalizing to say the least.  I had my meal picked out days in advance, even going so far as to leave the Blackbird tab open in my browser so I could repeatedly look at pictures of their pizza throughout the week (I have fat habits.  So what?  Who cares?).

Finally, Friday night rolled around.  After a harrowing 30 minutes trying to find parking within walking distance of 6th street, we finally found ourselves at the counter at Blackbird.  My plan was to order the vegan cheesesteak and a couple of slices.  Pressing my nose to the sneeze guard, I was disappointed to see that the only slices available were plain “cheese,” pepperoni (I won’t put anymore “animal products” in “quotation marks” for readability) and Nacho (cheddar, avocado, caramelized onions, and jalapenos).  I sidled up to the slick-haired hipster at the register and ordered the cheesesteak.  “Sorry,” he said.  “We’re out of rolls.”  Out of rolls?!  I groaned audibly, because why bother hiding my disappointment?  They didn’t even bother having rolls.  It was the beginning of a terrible meal, but unaware of this, I sucked it up and ordered a slice each of Nacho and pepperoni.

Gene and I sat down with Chris and his friends, who, we found out, had already been waiting half an hour for their pizza.  How does it take half an hour to get a pizza delivered to a TABLE?  Their conspicuously empty plates taunted them, a reminder of their lengthy wait and lack of food.

Chris drums his fingers, impatiently awaiting his terrible birthday pizza.

Five minutes later, our slices arrived, accompanied with the promise of everyone else’s pie soon to come.  Gene and I sheepishly began eating, but come on–we weren’t going to let ours get cold in the name of politeness!  Anyone who would ask you to wait to eat is NOT a real friend.

I went straight for the Nacho slice.  Since it was steaming hot, I pulled off a bubble of crust and shoved it into my mouth.  I have to admit, that first bite was great.  Blackbird does a mean crust, and this particular piece had caramelized onion clinging to it.  In the words of the sexy Ina Garten, how bad could that be?  Crispy on the outside and tender and fluffy on the inside, this crust was the bomb.  I usually hate any crust that I can’t basically see through, but somehow “fluffy” worked here.  By the time I had finished savoring this bite, I was ready for disappointment.  I took my first real bite of the now cool-enough-to-eat pizza and was greeted with a mouthful of warm, gummy vegan cheese.  Daiya, in case you’re unfamiliar, is (sadly) the holy grail of vegan cheese, because it melts well and doesn’t make your mouth itch when you eat it.  To be fair, I’m fine with Daiya–in moderation.  I’ve even made pizzas with it before.  But Blackbird goes overboard, topping their pizzas with at least a pound per slice, hand to god.  The Daiya overwhelmed the toppings and got stuck in my teeth.  If this weren’t bad enough, the pizza just lacked toppings, and those that were there were poorly executed.  Cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, avocado, and jalapenos–sounds like a great combination, right?  I’ve already addressed the cheese issue. The caramelized onions and jalapenos were perfect, but there were like, THREE OF EACH.  What?!  I needed something, anything, to get rid of the taste of the Daiya, and they gave me almost nothing.  To top it all off (no pun intended), the thin slivers of avocado that were actually on the pizza were overcooked.  Do you know what happens when you overcook avocado?  It tastes like wet dog, that’s what.

Crappy McGrosspizza

After choking down the majority of the Nacho slice, I moved on to pepperoni.  This piece was also smothered in way too much Daiya, this time of the mozzarella variety, so I pulled off a piece of seitan pepperoni in order to actually taste it.  Now, I don’t just hate.  I also congratulate, and I’d like to congratulate Blackbird on their skill with seitan.  This was the best veggie pepperoni I’ve ever tasted.  Unfortunately, it only made me regret not getting to taste their seitan cheesesteak, which probably would have appeased some of my disappointment in the meal overall.  As I had deduced from its appearance, the pepperoni pizza was also covered in enough fake cheese to render it inedible.  Being the trouper I am, I still ate a decent portion of the gluey slice.

The pizza for people who hate pizza. And themselves.

When all was said and done, I still had a lot of pizza left on my plate.  For me, this is really indicative of a terrible meal.  Although I have good taste, I’m not terribly picky and I have an iron stomach.  If I’m hungry and I paid for it, I’m going to eat it, unless it is disgusting.  Infer from my leftovers what you will.

I couldn’t force myself to put this anywhere near my mouth.

On Lapsed Veganism

I love food.

I love eating it, I love smelling it, I love looking at it, I love thinking about it.

I love food.

I spend countless hours combing food blogs, salivating over porny pictures of cheeseburgers and pho.  For cooking inspiration, I pore over menus of restaurants I’ve never visited.  Food, for me, is the ultimate conversation piece; no other topic provokes such passion and animation from me.  Why, then, did I choose to become vegan four months ago?  It’s a question I grapple with every day.

OK, I know why I went vegan.  Eating animals, tasty as they may be, made me sad.  Factory farming is inarguably loathsome, cruel, and disgusting.  I reached a point where having flesh in my mouth was no longer enjoyable, but a reminder of my own participation in a horrifying practice.  I spat out a piece of leftover turkey the day after Thanksgiving and pledged to give it up, all of it.  And I’ve been happy with my choice.  Mostly.

Of course I’m pleased to be taking a stance, however small, against something I feel a visceral objection to.  I love to cook, so I certainly haven’t been deprived of delicious food.  And yet, something is missing.

First, I truly do love food.  All of it.  I don’t remember my first date with my ex-boyfriend, but I do remember the salmon tartare amuse bouche and lavender creme brulee we ate on a trip to New York.  Reuniting with my current boyfriend was made all the more special over pork rillettes slathered on a crusty baguette, followed by the butteriest, most sumptuous ribeye I’ve ever put in my mouth.  I find a great meal so pleasurable on such a fundamental level that I’m deeply troubled by the thought of never experiencing it again.

Yes, I take food that seriously.

Second, there is truly something to be said for breaking bread with people you love.  I enjoy dining alone, but there is nothing like sharing amazing food with your friends.  Last weekend, my friend Jen came to visit for a day.  We went out to dinner and shared a vegan appetizer (luckily there is a decent vegan-friendly restaurant nearby), but after that, there was no swapping.  I miss that!  Moreover, I hate the fact that I’m so limited about where I can eat.  We went to the same restaurant for brunch the next morning, and while it was a blast, I seriously lamented the fact that I wasn’t eating a Texas toast cheesesteak and hash browns at the Waffle House.

This is why I struggle.

Food–meat and cheese included–is a huge, undeniable part of my identity.  It is pleasure, passion, self-expression, and a way of bonding.  I still struggle with the cruelty behind eating animal products and supporting the system which produces them, but I also struggle with the connections I’ve lost (to my friends, to myself) because I’ve eschewed these things.

I haven’t eaten animal products in four months.

I’m having a cheese pizza for dinner tonight.