By Zuzana Kepplova
Meeting a vegan in the early nineties in Central Europe was an event comparable to a solar eclipse. I had the honor to meet one in person while taking part in an organized trip to the Baltic Republics. Fellow trip takers were so stunned by the presence of a vegan on the bus that they would stand in line at the bus alley to talk to her. They would share their food with the vegan and watch her eat it. The nights spent camping by the Baltic Sea were cold and the vegan refused to eat cooked food. So, people would bring her cups of wine, warmed up with their own hands. The vegan was permanently drunk. And constantly cold. Everyone was ultra protective of her. She was so pale and pure that one glass of wine was enough to make her drunk. Like a hermaphrodite in ancient Rome, she was special.
When the bus made a shopping stop, the mothers would send their kids to go check what the vegan was getting. The kids would run up to the vegan girl and more or less discretely inspect her shopping basket. Before anybody was allowed to touch their food, the parents would discuss whether this or that would be good for the vegan. The kids were sent to the vegan with small samples of food. Often, she would decline with a mild hand gesture and the kid would run back to inform the family that the vegan only wants nuts and wine.
The vegan had allergies to certain types of nuts. While our bus was passing by the beautiful white sand beaches of Riga, the adults were whispering the names of forbidden nuts. The fathers would write them down into their leather-bound notepads and the mothers would memorize their names. When by the fireplace, only the strongest young people with perfect teeth could sit around the vegan while she was telling the tale of her life. She was a second-generation vegan in the then Czechoslovakia. Something that was nearly unheard of. The menopausical women fainted and the people with high blood pressure were asked to leave and not listen from their tents. The kids were sound asleep by then and there was a changing guard making sure that they would leave their tents only when they urgently needed to use the toilette.
This is the moment when I would like to proudly announce that I was a personal friend of the vegan. I was near her when she ate and I assisted with the bottle opening. However, I remember only very little because the vegan was kind enough to share her wine with me. Those were very merry times.
Now, I would like to ask all the menopausical women to sit down and breathe evenly. Please, make sure there is no one with high blood pressure around or let them continue only at their own risk. Because the secret of the vegan’s shopping basket follows. It was full of the food the others would only touch after dinner was finished and the menopausical women made sure that everyone had at least three pieces of cake. The basket was full of FRUIT and NUTS; something that the mothers would encourage their children to throw to birds in zoos. And men were allowed to touch it only when soaked in alcohol. I remember an old history teacher mentioning that humanoids ate fruit and nuts. He then wiped his thick-framed glasses and took out a schnitzel out of his lunch box.
I will be completely honest with you. I, the personal friend of the second-generation vegan, tasted some of her food. Under the influence of alcohol, deep in the forests of Estonia, while the moon was the only light, I had a bit of dried fruit and unsalted nuts. I do not want to speak about it anymore. Sometimes, when I bake and use these ingredients, I think of her ghostly cold white hands. We shared a tent during that trip. She was talking to me freely, addressing any topic without restrictions. I would listen carefully and make extra effort to assure that my response would amuse her. I barely slept to make sure her blanket is in place…
An average looking man in jogging wear enters a café in the Village and ask for a vegan coffee. The man gets exactly the same paper cup of regular drip no milk just like me, only I wasn’t seeking attention by calling it vegan. People in this city have no shame at all. At parties, people approach me casually claiming they are vegans, munching on nuts and sipping regular coffee. They say, in a loud unpleasant voice: “I cannot eat muffins! There’s milk and eggs in muffins. I’m a vegan!” And other people join: “I’m a vegan, too!” “Me too, I’m a vegan!” The room is often full of them. They inspect the muffins, spill milk into the sink and aggressively exchange recipes. “Who brought the muffins?”, they shout unanimously.
Let this be the moment of truth. I baked the muffins. I used two large non-organic eggs and a cup of watery milk. The recipe is freely available on the Internet. You have to type non-vegan food into Google. I had to close the curtains while baking them. I went to a special non-vegan grocery store open only every other Sunday. And if you want to buy me a drink, get me an eggnog or a White Russian, please. I’ll be your personal friend. For this trip.
Zuzana Kepplova is a Fulbright Visiting Researcher at SUNY, Stony Brook. She is doing her PhD. thesis about the ’90s club scene in Bratislava, Slovakia. She has a collection of short stories about the Slovak young immigrant wave coming out this year. She is still hesitant about the title. Currently, she loves living in Bushwick, using Laundromat, listening to the street Latino music and eating non-vegan food in local diners.