Eating Frenchly

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It’s been about half a year now since I left the world of publishing. In the weeks before my official departure, I kept getting asked one question more than any other: will you miss it?

It was hard to say. On the one hand, of course I would. Editing isn’t just something I did for a year or two, to bide my time. It was a career I took seriously, and it was only at the very end that I realized my heart was being tugged in another direction. Even then, any friend of mine would have told you that they expected me to be an editor forever: I’d been saying I would be one since college, and I’d gone after every advancement at FSG with tenacity.

By the time left, I was ready to go. In fact, I felt pretty happy about the timing of my decision. I didn’t put it off long enough to feel as though I’d wasted time, but I also worked in publishing for enough years to feel that I’d had a rich and fulfilling experience. I knew there would be no “what ifs.” My heart had been wrapped up in health care since I started counseling, and I was excited—if daunted—by the choice to pursue a post-bacc.

So in the months after I quit, I actually felt at peace with it all, and didn’t find myself missing my old life, or the old work, too badly. Anyway, calculus and editing have things in common: both involve solving puzzles, which is a game I like.

By April, though, I realized that leaving FSG was a little bit like a breakup. It took a few months for me to realize just how much I missed it. Not the work, but the people. I always tell aspiring young editors that publishing offers many gifts—intellectual stimulation, the chance to connect with beloved authors, the chance to live and breathe books—but the best thing it offers are its people. The men and women who work in publishing are, in my experience, some of the smartest and funniest around. The publishing community is a joy to be a part of, and now that I’m resting on its periphery, I miss it very much.

Lucky for me, I got to enjoy a special “au revoir” (French for “don’t stay in DC forever, Gena,” according to one friend) dinner. And the table was populated by some of my favorite faces from the world of letters, including my friend Jon-Jon, whose new memoir publishes this week (as a sidenote, his book talks quite a bit about men and eating disorders, which is a topic that needs to be written of more).

The setting was Le Cercle Rouge, a French café downtown:

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I was pretty thrilled to be surrounded by such great people:

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Now, I’ll admit it: I thought that, because I was dining at a French spot, this would turn into a nice long post about how sometimes life as a vegan means eating a plate of frisee for dinner, and realizing that life is about more than just food. As my friend Lorin warned me, “It could be like trying to order a martini in a French restaurant. You’re always like, ‘Thanks for making the effort!’ and in your heart you’re like: ‘You people make the greatest cheeses in the world–what don’t you understand about cold gin?’”

But in spite of the fact that I had to call ahead and explain that beurre is not vegan, I actually had a terrific meal. Our waitress was gracious and accommodating, and she brought me a heaping plate (big portions! yes!) of mesclun salad and sautéed haricots verts, mushrooms, broccolini, and carrots. Not too garlicky, not too oily, fresh, crispy, and basically delicious:

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Our waitress apologized for the simplicity, but I quickly told her that, mais non, this is precisely how I love to eat! The whole thing was a reminder that vegan dining at even the most traditional of restaurants is getting easier and easier.

Had my meal been paltry, it still would have been true that nights like this one are about good company, good conversation, and good spirits; if food is stellar, that’s great, but if it’s not, it doesn’t dampen the experience. But fortunately for me, the food was great, and I’m thankful to Cercle Rouge for being so open to a herbivorous diner.

This morning, my friend Jim emailed me and asked, “Was it a nice experience to see some of your
favorite publishing people sitting near you, eating Frenchly?”

It sure was.


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  1. This post is so encouraging; as a vegan-in-transformation, I tend to stay away from restaurant dining that implies heavy animal food consumption and French restaurants usually fall into that category. Its awesome that you were able to procure a tasty meal that met your vegan ideals and I love that you brought awareness to the true focus of social dining – to be social and soak up the good company around you 🙂

  2. The people make the job for sure. The best job is miserable with horribly people and the worst job is survivable with amazing people. 🙂

  3. french food happens to be my fave (even though i cannot enjoy a crusty piece of bread) i’m glad they were able to accommodate you too!

  4. Thanks for pointing out that eating french doesn’t mean starving. I managed to go to France for a few weeks and eat all vegan and gluten-free on top of that and got along fine. A lot of people use France as an excuse to ditch the vegan diet.

    Hmm, I hope you are not as Averie said feeling like you’ve made the wrong choice. We need you in the medical field! Keep at it girl!

  5. I love this retrospective, so real that with space you recognize the ‘breakup’ element of leaving editing. I have some envy for your experience of the heartland of publishing in NY, having been always on the periphery myself. But as a person who’s lived in lots of different places, I definitely recommend moving away from your homespot (if only for a time)–great broadening. However, in all my moves, I’ve lost the opportunity to be close to dear and wonderful people and it’s sad: but the truth is that in every new place, I’ve made new friends too–not many, but enough.

    Calculus and editing being similar–that’s a neat observation. And of course, your friendships will continue and evolve. I love friendships where you can not see one another for years and then pick up as if no time had past.

    Love that you got a good dinner Frenchly! And I’d love to know more about your friend’s memoir–a title?

  6. I know this is horrible, but I didn’t even realize you’d left publishing! Oops! Somehow, I missed that. But it’s great that you’ve followed your heart. As an editor at a newspaper, I understand the love for editing the written word.

  7. “The publishing community is a joy to be a part of, and now that I’m resting on its periphery, I miss it very much.”

    Oh Gena…I am sorry. Given that you just posted about your grades not being what you had hoped given ALL the effort that you put into your schoolwork and studies, AND now that you’re moving from your beloved NYC, AND now this about missing your old publishing community…I am feeling, sensing, like you’re probably wondering “what have I gotten myself into” type situation.

    You seem to be very resolute in your convictions about your MD program, and that’s awesome, and it’s amazing that you’re doing it…but I think it’s only natural along the way to have these, hmmm, should I have done this? moments. Not even saying you’re having one, but reading between the lines, all I can do is wish you the very best, tell you that you’re doing an amazing thing, and wish you peace and success with it all, however it all ends up….all that matters is that you’re happy.

    And I’m so happy for you that you had not only a good meal, but time with friends. Food comes and goes, friends and close relationships are where it’s at. For me at least.

    Hang in there!!!

  8. Hurrah for a wonderful, affection-filled send-off! Today of all days I applaud what this restaurant cooked up for you, because I was at an all-day meeting today where I had specified vegan as my dietary requirement. There was nothing at morning or afternoon tea, not even fruit. At lunch, I got a plate with a bed of lettuce the size of my palm with sime tomato, cucumber, and capsicum on top. No dressing.

    I almost felt sorrier for the “gluten free” meal though, which was a smaller serve of the same salad and two slices of shiny deli ham.

  9. Haha Gena this cracked me up with the thought that this would be a post about how meals out are for friendships and relationships, not just the food etc etc. I have definitely told myself that countless times and it most certainly is true but it’s so much more fun when the food is wonderful too. Ah, you crack me up girl 😉 xo

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