Retro Vegan: The Way It used to Be (Part 1)
A young vegan in 1997.
The majority of my vegan years went down in the pre-internet days. And yet I managed to find sustenance. As “vegan” becomes more and more mainstream through the years, I thought it apt to take a look back. This is Retro Vegan, Part 1.
I think a lot of vegan start off not eating well. Take my meals of Wendy’s fries with a side of a baked potato. (No joke.) When so much of your meal is animally derived, sides became main courses. But you live then learn, and not the other way around. After the “sides as a main” phase came terribly processed substitutions. Deli slices were the early fixes I remember. But then came texturized soy proteins… what I not-so lovingly called “science meat.” These were the times frozen reheated meat substitute restaurants seemed like good options.In those days (I guess I am at 2003/2004 already), I would go nuts for Soul Kofa, a Brooklyn-based pop-up/catering company that is all-vegan.
I mean, look! It looks just like chicken! And that’s what vegans want, right? Ok, not really. Some do–but I don’t. But then sometimes I do. I bought this recently because I am guilty of food nostalgia pangs on occasion. And because growth, in its most palpable form, is notched on the scorecard when one revisits bygones. While the old vegan in me would love these drumbsticks, the current vegan resented its ingredients simply reading “soy bean tofu” when it had so much processing done to it. I couldn’t finish one. But I am a certain type of vegan. And that’s how much things have evolved: there are a bunch of different types of vegans.
A nostalgic vegan food post would be nothing without a post about Dojo, the Asian-inspired bare bones eatery that lived on St. Marks Place since 1970. St. Marks Place is a street in the East Village of Manhattan that used to be, for lack of a more articulate term, cool. Before NYU students and chain stores cramped its style, rendering it indistinguishable from the place that meant so much to me when I was an alienated teenager. The Soy Burger Dinner. The carrot-ginger dressing. Trying an avocado for the first time. Sitting outside in the summer with a big, purple Kim’s Underground bag stuffed with LPs sticking to the side of my shin. I’ll never forget the Dojo, where I began to love food.
After hearing that Dojo’s West Village location (the one still standing) was soon closing its doors due exorbitant rent, a group of old hats sat down to try the Soy Burger Dinner once again. The dish, which originated in 1974, consists of their soy burger, brown rice and a side salad–all of which tastes delicious drenched in their carrot-ginger dressing.
Lifethyme on 6th avenue has been around for 20 years. When there was not a lot of vegan cake options (and when I didn’t bake) back in the early 2000’s, I ventured here often for the bakery in the back. They had a vanilla strawberry shortcake that was my favorite because it wasn’t a chocolate cake. Veganized chocolate cake was more widely available back then, and although Lifethyme’s vanilla had a brown, healthful hue, I greatly appreciated a vegan vanilla option. The old hats visited Lifethyme to peruse their now wide expanse of vegan baked (and raw) treats. I opted for the strawberry red velvet roll on the far left.
And then there’s the oldest of my early vegan options: a big plate of french fries. Still one of my favorites.