I am an urban vegan. I love the glossy pages of Vogue, even though I won't purchase the leather shoes and bags I see there, and being reminded that the fur trade even exists breaks my heart. It simply feels right to me to blend the glittery delights of New York City with a largely raw vegan diet -- with the soul-deep conviction that animals are not ours to eat, wear, exploit or experiment on. I sincerely believe that I'm meant to discover God, truth and how to be of service each day, right here on the magical island of Manhattan.
Like so many others for over 400 years, I am an immigrant -- not from Holland or England, Germany or Ireland, China or Pakistan, but from Kansas City. I write books and wanted to be where the publishers are, and the media, and that wealth of literary history alive today in the Algonquin Round Table and the Chelsea Hotel. But, truth be told, I was also drawn here by the grassy aroma of East Village juice bars and the heady fragrance of Bergdorf's perfume counter -- olfactory contradictions perhaps, but each enticing in its own way. This city, I believed, would accommodate all my aspects: my love of fashion and my PETA membership, the mutts and the Met, a desire to set the world on fire as a writer and speaker, juxtaposed with the prayer I learned in my first yoga class.
"May all that has life be freed from suffering."
I have found, after almost a decade, that this place does look after my motley facets, dependably and elegantly. It's not a panacea -- seeing those carriage horses out in traffic in every kind of weather makes me angry and miserable all at once -- but as planet Earth goes, New York is pretty terrific. When I wake up each morning and raise the shades, I experience the daily realization: I'm still here. "If you can make it here, you'll make it anywhere," Liza sang to me full-blast from the boom box the morning I left Kansas City. Lifting the blinds one more time tells me that I have made it -- for another 24 hours anyhow.
Not long after I arrived here, I had a midday chiropractic appointment near Grand Central. Famished at 2 p.m. when I left the doctor's office, I figured I'd settle for French fries or some other less-than-lofty food court fare at the terminal. When I found a pizza stand there that offered a "Mother Earth" slice -- whole-wheat crust, tomato sauce and tons of veggies. "Vegan," the sign said. I almost got teary. It was as if New York was telling me: "I've seen it all, kid. There's no religion or culture or language or cuisine I haven't been able to deal with. Taking care of you will be a piece a cake -- in your case, without eggs."
Even the street vendors catch on. During a fundraising walk for Farm Sanctuary (an idyllic home upstate for some of the most abused animals once destined for a dinner plate), a purveyor of scarves and shawls called out, "Genuine pashminas, the real thing, only $10." But after reading the signs carried by scores of potential customers, he changed his pitch: "Fake pashminas, just $10. No animal was harmed."
I love how relatively effortless it is to be myself here, my whole self. Back in the Midwest, shopping for non-leather shoes meant mail-order and PayLess. But on the Lower East Side there's an entire store, MooShoes, with vegan footwear, bags, wallets, and belts, and a bevy of rescued cats lounging about and adding ambiance. Babycakes, a vegan bakery, is around the corner; and at Teany, a cafe nearby, I can indulge in the Anglophile's favorite, afternoon tea, and have the option of every scone, pastry and crustless sandwich being free of animal products.
Of course there is tantalizing plant-based cuisine all over the place. Downtown mostly, but Uptown, too. Candle 79 and Cafe Blossom are upscale date spots; Peacefood Cafe and Raw Soul offer satisfying food in casual settings. I'd grown so accustomed to the near ubiquity of vegan fare that I was embarrassed several months ago when I ordered chocolate mousse and realized halfway through: "Wait a minute. This place doesn't make theirs with tofu." My lunch companion marveled at my "willpower" for being able to walk away from an only partially eaten dessert, while I was lamenting a foolish mistake. It was a reminder that I may never be a "perfect" vegan or, for that matter, a perfect New Yorker.
The two pair beautifully, however, imperfections and all. In hiking around town, I revel in the metropolitan fauna -- pigeons, squirrels, great bunches of dogs on pack walks with their nannies. I relish the plethora of farmers' markets, and the way fresh flowers and spring greens and Jersey tomatoes look like art again a backdrop of asphalt and concrete, stone and steel. On my monthly trip to the Westerly, a natural foods store in Midtown with narrow aisles and intuitive shelving, I celebrate this independent retailer and all those still surviving. And I feel smug that the Westerly's prices are so decent, the savings pays for my taxi back to Harlem.
I also find here the blessing of community. I connect with my tribe of different-drummer diners through events like Vegan Drinks (once a month, Downtown), somebody's book signing or somebody else's benefit, and meetings of the Sustainable Leadership Council where people in the vegan and animal advocacy network get together to share resources. These colleagues inspire me. They're dedicated to the max. And a handful of them read Vogue.
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