Life as a vegan. I can’t comprehend it. Life as a raw vegan I comprehend even less. But I’m game to try, at least for one meal, so there I was at the Ecopolitan in Minneapolis which serves nothing but raw vegan meals. The 4-year-old restaurant is in an old house—quaint, wood floors and original woodwork. The culture there, as you might imagine, is one of health, and there are a number of health-oriented products for sale. There was a variety of people streaming in and out, the granola, dreadlocked grunge-clothed 20-somethings you would expect, but also the suburban fed folks and hipsters of all ages.
Having never tried a vegan meal, let alone a raw vegan meal, I asked my server for some recommendations. For starters, there was the herbed tomato bisque, which was—and I must admit I was surprised—delicious. Thick and rich with flavor, the bisque was a blended concoction of tomatoes (of course) with garlic and onion, avocado, celery, olive oil, strawberries and red bell peppers. The only downside was occasionally chewing on a wad of basil and parsley, cueing memories of my brief experimentation with Red Man chewing tobacco in high school.
My entrée was called “strawberry marinara,” which was zucchini ribbons (representing pasta) topped with sun-dried tomato, strawberry sauce, walnuts, red onion and olives on balsamic spinach. It was one of the prettiest dishes I’ve seen. And the taste? For the first few bites, tasty. But digging further into the zucchini and munching away, I began to think of the experience as exerting. Still, for a meal constructed only with raw plants, it was impressive, and I stuffed myself as full as I could, thinking I’d be hungry again in about an hour (I was wrong, it was an hour and-a-half). None of that is a complaint, mind you, but it did get me thinking about why we go to restaurants.
What dawned on me as I ruminated (literally) was that, although I was seated in a restaurant, there was one very distinct restaurant quality that was missing: the welcoming odor of a “cooking” kitchen. And what came out of the kitchen and hit my table was beautiful and tasty to start, but bite after bite of my entrée became more of a chore than a joy. And raw crunching vegetables as an entrée? Health benefits aside, “succulent” is not a word I can imagine using when writing about this food.
Eating really does come down to choice, and not only with what you like and don’t like. There is also eating for sensation, for pleasure, for companionship and unity—for all the reasons that have nothing to do with politics. And then there is the other choice.
My feeling is this: Yes, everyone could do with a less red meat, processed foods, and we should all have a better understanding of our food, from DNA to the grocery store shelf. Personally, I’ve taken to shopping for organic/naturally-raised food wherever I can find it. We can all make sensible choices to reduce waste, insure more humane treatment of animals, and reduce the junk that accumulates in our intestines. But having sat with a huge Polish family (and other ethnic groups) for traditional meals, I couldn’t imagine picking through the items to find only vegetables untainted by the juice from a perogi. That, I think, is rude behavior.
But that’s not saying that’s what the folks at Ecopolitan are about. And, would I eat at Ecopolitan again? Yes. For the tomato bisque and some roughage before heading to Leaning Tower of Pizza down the street.