comforts, confessions

it recently occurred to me that it's been quite some time since i was vegan. my first brush with dairy after nearly 3 years of cheat-free, rather blissful veganism, transpired in the warm, swank dining room of the wondrous Zahav, when I impulsively forked a tiny bite of soft sheep's milk cheese into my mouth. i told myself that it was kind of a special occasion, and didn't feel too guilty or weird.

that was back in 2009, when we still lived in our big, bustling house in west philly. for the next few months, random encounters with animal products followed, though i stuck firmly to the diet i'd chosen on a day-to-day basis. the times when i relented were sometimes wonderful (a dollop of fresh whipped cream on a 4th of july blueberry cobbler will remain in my memory for the rest of my life), and sometimes awkward and regret-filled (day-old mozzarella panini hurriedly consumed in the cramped office of the cafe where i worked at the time). it wasn't until sister Lauren started working the cheese counter at diBruno Brothers that i realized that i was ready to re-enter a state of mind where the occasional egg or wedge of cheese should not make my heart feel like shit. it didn't mean that i didn't care about animals, or the environment, or my own health. as an emerging adult, i felt i could hold onto my beliefs while re-exploring a significant culinary genre that i'd been keeping the lid on. and for the most part, i'm proud to say, i haven't gone totally nuts with the dairy, and still have a big, fuzzy place in my heart for completely vegan snacks and meals.

but, when the world feels harsh, or bed calls from the moment you leave it, or you spend the afternoon at work fighting off loneliness or some unnamed, mild despair, there can be true comfort in the products of animals. last week, i had just that sort of day, and found myself walking through the city twilight and right into the doors of diBruno brothers, the mothership of my acquaintance with fine, fine cheeses. there, my sweet friend and smiling cheese monger Rich sold me a small piece of an italian cheese he'd brined in beer and aged in-house. on my way to the counter, i couldn't help but scoop up a few olives from their sturdy barrel, and a slim baguette from its low basket. an idea was forming in my head, and i was already breathing a bit easier. i listened to a podcast from the Moth on the walk back to my house, letting the anxiety of the day go, knowing that these newly acquired snacks, little soul bandages of comfort, were jostling around in my bag.

home in the kitchen, i made quick work of plating the cheese, olives and slices of bread. a glass of malbec in a juice glass set up on the dining room table, and i sat down in complete silence to this unfussy cheese plate for one.

i ate slowly, with the true pleasure of knowing that this was all mine. cheese plates are often social affairs: your party hunched over the table with rounded knives drawn, comparing little bits of this or that, goat or cow, cracker or bread, lavender honey or fruited compote. but this was altogether different. this was a solo moment - in fact, a rather grown up moment, as i saw it- where i had been feeling down and knew myself well enough to seek out this simple remedy. the cheese was sweet, soft, rich, and just a little dank; not too challenging but not boring in the least. tallegio-esque, but with a different edge of intensity. as i quietly consumed it, i just started to feel really good. and though the me of four years ago would probably take offense to this statement, i felt it strong in that moment: dairy is a comfort. whether due to some biological reasons i know not of, or the more obvious connection to our first meals as humans and the physical bond to our mothers, it soothes in ways that sometimes friendly words or acts of kindness cannot.

sometimes i think this blog needs a new name (man, but i don't want to give up our logo! i love that thing!). lauren and i have bandied about a few ideas, but nothing seems quite right. i'm sure the answer is out there somewhere, but until we stumble across it thanks for putting up with the unarguable contradiction of a "vegan" blog whose authors swoon over water buffalo cheese...



Sarah C said...

You may get flak, so I want to be the first to comment. NO BIG DEAL. Seriously, so many seemingly-hardcore vegans have gone back to dairy (and I too eat dairy again after a year or two of not doing so) that I'm tempted to say that strict veganism isn't really a "natural" or easily sustainable diet. I know that we can get all our nutrients from plant food alone, but dairy is like you said, comforting and enjoyable. I try to eat only organic dairy (and I'd do local if I lived in a place where that was possible). Good luck to you in the blog's future.

Emily said...

Sarah C - thanks for your sweet words. most reasonable people in my life (vegans and otherwise) were super supportive of the diet change, which really did feel right. diets are such a heightened intersection of personal & political, right? what we want vs. what we need. i really appreciate your honesty and kindness! xo.

larry everett said...

Hey Emily... no big deal. Same boat. I'm eating eggs and pizza with real cheese for the first time in FOREVER! It's kinda nice, but I feel the "guilt." Most mature people know that diet is largely personal and as long as we are honest it is all good.

karinalane said...

ahh that looks a million times better than "les Nibblies"