Food with Friends.
September 16, 2010

I spend a lot of time dining with non-vegans. At bottom, this is a fact I’m deeply grateful for. All of the people in my life (with one or two exceptions) are not only supportive of my veganism, but enthusiastic about it as well. My mom, my friends, my coworkers: they enjoy talking to me about veganism, trying vegan restaurants with me, and asking me about my motives in a kind, curious way. I often have the pleasure of taking loved ones to vegan restaurants and watching as they discover fine vegan dining, and it’s a task I embrace with relish.

Sometimes, though, the experience of dining with a non-vegan can be a little stressful. Because it’s important to me that my dining companions enjoy their meals, I do tend to get a little type-A about offering menu recommendations, and I sometimes find that I’m anxious throughout the meal. What if they don’t like their food? What if they assume that all vegan food is, therefore, unfulfilling? Is it all my fault for picking the wrong restaurant?

For this reason, I breathe a sigh of relief on nights when I can dine with a fellow vegan or rawbie. Take my dinner on Tuesday night. I met up at one of my favorite vegan restaurants, Caravan of Dreams, with a friend who eats a whole lot like I do:

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That’s my good friend Brendan, who’s work you’re all pretty familiar with by now. I’ve blogged enthusiastically about Brendan’s work before, as well as his incredible Vega line of foods. To this day, he’s the writer whose work I most frequently recommend to clients—especially clients who are interested in athletic performance with plant based foods. Brendan is smart, intensely well educated about nutrition, passionate, yet balanced, and driven. He practices what he preaches, and he’s a living breathing embodiment of what this lifestyle has to offer. (Sadly, I cannot say that honestly about all—or even most—of the health leaders I meet.)

Caravan was Brendan’s suggestion, and it suited me fine. It’s a perfect restaurant for the semi-raw: all of the food is simple, fresh, and the menu is about half-raw, half cooked—all vegan, of course! It’s also cozy, unassuming, and reasonably priced. I’m a big fan.

Brendan and I both arrived with appetites, so we dug right into the hummus and sprouted grain wrap appetizer (live hummus and flax chips were on the menu, but we both agreed that almond hummus and flax chips can be a little too heavy for our tastes).

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Delicious!

Brendan and I have similar tastes (and his appetite is almost as big as mine) so I wasn’t surprised that we chose the same two dishes as our entrees. We both ordered raw sandwiches and big salads. Brendan went for the sprout sandwich (pumpkin seed butter, sunflower seed bread, sprouts, tomato, dulse), and I went for the avocado sandwich (aioli, pesto, sunflower bread, lemon basil dressing). And we both ordered big salads with avocado and Thai dressing. Observe the mountains of green:

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As you can see, the sandwich was really just a cracker with a topping, buried underneath raw veggies. And guess what? That’s precisely what I wanted. This is why I love Caravan: it’s a Gena approach to food! The only downside was that, when the food arrived, it looked a lot like Brendan had gotten the avocado sandwich, and I’d gotten the sprouts. Both of our waiters insisted this wasn’t so, but halfway through the meal, it was very clear that Brendan was indeed eating my food, and I his. No biggie. When you have friends who eat the way you do, it’s easy enough to swap plates!

It’s a joy to take non-vegans to vegan restaurants—for example, when I took Chloe and Knud to Millennium, and they loved it. But it’s also such a tremendous relief to eat one’s own kind of food with someone else who you can count on to enjoy its simplicity every bit as much as you do. Thanks for the company, B!

Nary a day later, I got to see Brendan in his professional capacity as a speaker and green eating advocate. He had a speaking engagement at the James Beard house: a great opportunity, we both agreed, because this is typically a clubhouse for “foodies.” If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the disdain that “foodies” and gourmands fling at vegans—as if we can’t be a part of their elite club because we refuse to ooh and ahh over foie gras or find ourselves enticed by Julia Child’s coq au vin. Well, times are changing, and the gatekeepers of fine cooking are learning to think more progressively about green food. Brendan was a part of their new series on eco- and health conscious dining, and they couldn’t have hoped for a better advocate.

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This was actually the first time I’d seen Brendan speak publicly, and I was so impressed by how succinctly and well he offered up a huge amount of knowledge in a short time. He was direct, funny, accessible, and he spoke with conviction. With vegan ambassadors like this, I don’t doubt we’ll only continue to share our lifestyle with even the most difficult to reach audiences.

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It didn’t hurt that there were Vega snacks being served in abundance at the event. If you’re not interested in vegan snacking after a vibrancy bar, you have a problem.

The more Brendan and I speak about our goals—as vegans, as eco-conscious eaters, and as people who are a part of the health community—the more I realize how touched he is by a unique kind of ambition and passion. He’s done a lot for athletes and new vegans already, but he’s now poised to do much broader, deeper work, and I’m excited to watch him do it.

On that note, I want to share this article. That Hugh Jackman is turning to Brendan for inspiration is, naturally, a wonderful thing. But I was pretty shocked and dismayed by the ignorance (and INSANITY) of the commentary. You needn’t scroll through all of the toxic remarks, but do take a look at the piece—as well as this one, mentioned second from the top, and written by my friend Kevin. I love that more and more athletes and high achievers are seeing what plant based foods can do for them, for animals, and for our world!

xo

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    34 Comments
  1. I’m late commenting on this entry, but wanted to join in with the expressions of Brendan-envy. I love him and his Thrive books. His recipes for sports drinks, recovery drinks, and related foods have really helped my training (working toward my first marathon next month!). I’d love it if he came to speak in Albany–maybe at next years Albany Vegetarian Network Expo. We’ve had luminaries such as T. Colin Campbell and Caldwell Esselstyn as speakers–Brendan would be a welcome addition. 🙂

  2. i love that they chose brendan to speak at the james beard house. after reading his books, i can safely say id gladly have him speak on behalf of the vegan community. theres definitely a stigma among chefs/restauranteurs/etc that vegans cant truly be members of the foodies club needs to be removed. if anyone can convince them its you two – the dream team (veg/raw power couple?). ok, off to read those links…should i brace myself to be infuriated?

  3. Great commentary. I love Brendan’s work and your blog. I’m not vegan but love that Vega offers a more natural option for athletes. I am so bummed I missed the Beard House talk, are there other events in this series still to come?

  4. omg a dinner date with Brendan,??? I’d die! He’s such an inspiration to me! His books are EXCELLENT, and he’s an amazing athlete. I can only assume he’s great in person as well! You are both doing such great things for the eating world-thank you! ps caravan is delectable. need to go again soon!

  5. I bought Brendan Braziers “The Thrive Diet” after reading an interview you had with him on this blog. It has openend my eyes in so many ways.Esp. in ways of understanding stress, but also learning to think about the functionality of food as well. Thank you Gena for introducing me to his work, and thank you for all the great posts you write that is so inspiring and including. <3

  6. I am so excited to read this post. I have seen Vega products in the store, but I have never taken much time to sort through them or even go into power meal replacements ect. Now that I have went to the Vega website from your post, I love the background story and I love the concept of knowing I can now have a great meal replacement when I am on the go. I cant wait to try the products. 🙂

  7. Brendan is awesome! His original book “Thrive” changed the way I looked at food forever and brought me to a plant-based diet. I saw that article in the Globe too – but not the comments. Oh, well, what can you do.

  8. Those salads are beautiful! I should start including more pretty garnishes like that for my food.
    Before this post, I had never heard the term “rawbie.” You learn something new every day!

  9. I love Caravan of Dreams! I was thinking you would too with their huge salad portions. I love having a pal who eats the same and isn’t afraid of salad. I am very grateful I live with one.

    I need to read more of Brendan’s work. I have been deterred a bit because I am not really an athlete. But I have heard good things about his recipe too.

  10. I like that your friends article mentions Tony Gonzales, who the vegan diet did NOT work for, and openly claims this but is usually referred to by journalists simply as someone who made the transition to veganism. I was vegan for a year plus, often high raw, and it simply isn’t right for my body. I was careful to get the right amounts of protein, B12, calcium, etc, but I suffered a variety of health ailments from yellowing skin to parethesia and intense brain fog. I enjoyed the vegan food much better than I’ve ever liked meat or more traditional American dishes, really representing the first time in my life I EVER truly enjoyed food, and it’s so rare to see representations of failed journeys into veganism online or in print that it never occurred to me that my health problems could be the result of my diet. A trip to the doctor’s office revealed low levels of many crucial vitamins — while it works for many, veganism was simply not sustainable for me. Which, truly, is disappointing, but I now incorporate a good mix of vegan and non-vegan dishes into my menus. I love the promo veganism is getting on the web, and think it’s a great option for many people, but I also like the admission that it isn’t a cure-all, and like any diet, it’s not for every body.

  11. lucky you, getting to dine with brendan! i agree that it is always a little bit extra special to eat with someone who has a similar palate (or in your case, i guess that would be lifestyle!). especially when they share. 🙂

    i read those comments when you tweeted that article yesterday. people really never fail to surprise me with their complete absurdity.

  12. Gena,
    Your dynamo bud Brendan will speak only blocks away at the neighborhood Dallas Whole Foods on Tues., Sept. 21. How excellent is that!

    From the WF site:
    “Thrive Seminar, Book Signing with Brendan Brazier

    Tuesday, September 21st
    6:00pm | Details

    Brendan Brazier is an Ironman Triathlete and one of only a few professional athletes in the world whose diet is 100% plant based!

    Brendan’s seminar will be based on his new book Thrive Fitness: The Vegan-based Training Program, an easy-to-apply system for everyone. Brendan shares his groundbreaking approach to fitness and how you can gain maximum results in minimal time.”

  13. Thanks for the link to the article – great to see veganism portrayed positively in the media, but yeah some of the comments just make you shake your head. Scary how many very, very ignorant surround us, not just on the food topic, but just in general too!

  14. Whoa, Brendan’s hot! I agree, he’s really motivational, I love -so- much that he applies science and research to his nutritional recommendations. None of this froo-froo “listen to the harmony of the WORLD and embrace your chakras!” stuff.

    Because I’m pretty into weightlifting, I find performance nutrition a super interesting topic.

    But anyway, lovely dinner! Pumpkin seed butter sounds awesome!

  15. Brendan is such an inspiration and I love his work. I’m thrilled to see a smart, healthy guy staying fit as a full time vegan!! I’m also thrilled to see Hollywood asking for help from Brendan!

  16. I would love to see Brendan speak some day, you should drop a hint that he needs to come down to Georgia!

  17. Um.. swoon!!! (Am I aloud to say that being a pregnant married old lady?)..lol! 🙂 Looks like a great time, everything looks delicious! I really love Caravan and have only been once..sadface! Need to go back soon!!! XO

  18. the food looks divine! i would totally eat there. guess what…i’ve had foie gras and i almost puked. i’m a paleo eater (no grains/nightshades/dairy) but seriously the food looks phenom! the only thing holding me back from trying some vega products is the price. i supplement with chia smoothies or jarrow hemp protein powder and it’s just so much cheaper. i can’t find sample packs in my local stores 🙁 maybe if i’m on a trip somewhere near a WF they will have em, they look tasty!

  19. YUM YUM YUM! As always your food looks delicious. You are so lucky to live in the culinary capital of the world. There aren’t ANY decent restaurants around here, vegan or otherwise. You are very lucky, indeed! I think I would have ordered the same thing as you, we both are avocado lovers.

    And….your buddy Brendan is adorable. I love his book and his outlook on life and fitness. I’m glad you are having fun together. 🙂

  20. What a sweet post! He’s lucky to have a friend like you. And Caravan of Dreams is next on my list of places to go…also with the only vegan-friendly person I know! I stress out WAY too much to find places I can go with non-vegan friends.

  21. I’d love to try Caravan of Dreams! There are so many awesome vegan restaurants in this city, and I’ve only tried a handful of them. I need to work on that!

    I read Thrive earlier in the summer and found it very interesting…I’m glad that there’s an advocate for vegan athletes out there!

  22. Love Brendan!! So cool you guys got to go out to eat…and the food looks amazing. And yes it is great when you friends eat like you, haha.

    I have had a chance to hear Brendan speak and he is great. I was always amazed how calm he was even after silly and hard questions. SO great that he got to speak at the James Beard house.

    Off to check those articles…as you know we love when athletes look more into plant based food!!! YAY

  23. Thanks for sharing! I passed along the article re Brendan to my bodybuilding, personal training brother. I also wanted to say, as a (not snobby) foodie who is not vegan, my palate finds a lot of pleasure in plant-based, high raw food – it’s food in it’s simplest form, which is PERFECT!

  24. Ahhh, dinner with a celebrity!! 🙂

    I think it’s great that he spoke at the James Beard house– you’re SO right– I hate the negative attitude that so many foodies have towards vegans and vegetarians. I’m sorry– I can’t love amazing food because I refuse to eat animal flesh?

  25. I wish I had so many supportive friends curious about the way I eat and willing to try it (and I’m not even vegan!). You are even luckier to have friends who share your eating habits. The food looks delicious!

  26. I can’t believe you had a one-on-one dinner with Brendan! Some girls have all the luck! Wow, how amazing!!!!!!!

    And pretty cool that you two were chummy enough to swap meals midway thru when you realized the error, despite them saying no. That’s a no way/huh? but moving on…

    Love all the links you just gave and I will hopefully find a few minutes to get lost with those.

    When I was living in AZ Brendan was on a speaking circuit but I wasn’t able to make it to any of his locations, however, I am a total fan of his books, and recipes, and his message is so powerful.

    And I am jealz of your dinner 🙂