It's been quite the week in post-hurricane NYC: at my place we've played halfway home to many stranded out-of-town friends, and we've watched local friends twist in the wind over 2½-hour-long commutes into the city. But before all this mayhem, I had a grand blogging plan surrounding my latest trip: less than a week ago I was in Amsterdam as an American vegan ambassador on a five-day food-centric trip coordinated by the amazing American Book Center
, the stylish Hotel V
, and the Dutch Cookbook Awards
featured as part of Dutch Design Week.
This is the second time in two years I've had the immense pleasure of stepping beyond U.S. boarders to get a taste of veganism outside of North America. Ethnic cooking at home is my specialty, but it's another thing entirely when I get the chance to see what's cooking in the rest of the world. While I believe we have the widest options here in the States, we have much to learn looking beyond our borders and across the oceans.
The first vegetarian restaurant I ever went to was in Venezuela in the mid-80s, long before I'd find one near my childhood home in Connecticut. I've been to Toronto once a year for four years (as speaker at their vast and impressive Vegetarian Food Fest) and strongly believe that Toronto will soon rival NYC's vigorous vegan food culture in a few years (The Hogtown Vegan introduced me to the closest I'll ever get to "chicken" and waffles). And less than two years ago I presented at Vegan Paris Day, a bustling event luring thousands in a city that worships foie gras, cheese, and butter. The world is getting hungrier for vegan cuisine!
I was eager to get an insider's view of foodie Amsterdam. This was not my first trip to the tulip kingdom: over 10 years ago I camped out with friends of friends in a tiny apartment deep in the red-light district. It was the perfect vacation for young punks, revolving mainly around cheap beer, falafel, and wandering through the clouds of ogling tourists looking for typical Amsterdam hijinks. This second time, a decade older, I returned to represent American veganism with a new book
, some recipes, and a lecture or two. But far more exciting than coffee shops and dodgy-looking pizza, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet people really doing something in European veg-friendly food culture.
I met a woman who's made the leap from fashion designer to one-woman vegetarian restaurant, an Italian vegetarian Michelin star chef, a gusty U.K. author and blogger spreading the word about underground farmer's markets and DIY secret supper clubs, and a Dutch vegan chef and author infiltrating hip eateries with a killer veggie burger crafted from seaweed (tucked into a crusty bun tinted olive with more seaweed). These are just a few of the fascinating folks that are shaping the world of meatless (or less-meat) cuisine in Europe.
The vegetarian and vegan locals confessed to me during my stay that veggie cuisine is still relatively unknown and considered "fringe." Having battled this for decades here in the U.S., it's sometimes easy for me to forget the inroads that vegan cuisine, the cuisine I've invested a lot of myself into, has made in many urban locations. In a Tampa latte joint I tucked into vegan pumpkin cake, I dined in a new vegan restaurant in Madison last summer, and I'm excited to check out all the new hot vegan eats when I travel to Atlanta next week for their first ever vegetarian food fest.
Having seen where it's come from, I'm pretty excited to see where vegan cuisine will make headway next across the planet. Vegan food is going places... and I hope to follow it!