***I’ve Moved! Come visit me at my new site, http://www.eatingappalachia.com. Please update your RSS feeds accordingly!**
I’ve been dreading this post for a few months now, putting it off for weeks, trying to figure out the best way to approach it. There’s one thing you need to know about me that I haven’t really talked about much on this blog–I have a huge guilt complex. And writing this post makes me feel guilty, makes me feel like I’m letting you down. But I’m not and I’m going to focus on that. I hope, after you read this, that you’ll be comfortable sticking around, being in my blog family–you all mean the world to me and are the only reason why I come back here day after day and make crazy new delicious creations and write about them. So if you don’t mind, grab a cup of coffee or tea or a beer and hear me out. Then let’s see where we can go from here.
My infamous mountain dew raspberry ice cream filled cupcakes, c. 2007
Three years ago, on July 7, 2007, I decided to become a vegan. I was a college student living in Atlanta at the time, and after having been a vegetarian since January 1, 2007, I decided to take the plunge into veganism. My friends Kyle and Rachael played an influential role in my decision, if only because I cooked for them on a regular basis and learned, through trial and error, how easy it was to live a vegan lifestyle.
My reasons for being a vegetarian and then a vegan were purely focused on environmental sustainability. While many vegans focus on animal rights and ethics, as well as sustainability, animal rights, to me, has always meant the right for the animal to be the animal–which also means, given the right environment (one of love, care, lots of open space to run and play around in, plenty of grass and bugs and natural things to eat, etc.), that I believe it’s ok to eat meat. HOWEVER, living in a major metropolitan city like Atlanta, eating meat is not sustainable. In order to buy pastured, grass-fed, organic, cared-for meat, it has to be driven in from 100+ miles away. Additionally it’s ridiculously expensive. As far as dairy and eggs go, again, not sustainable. While urban chickens have become the rage recently, I still know relatively few people in Atlanta with chickens. Eggs and dairy from the farms in rural Georgia travel around 100 miles to reach the city–a petroleum tag I can’t get behind. And again, “local” eggs and dairy products were extraordinarily expensive. Even if I could support the distance for “local” meat, eggs, and dairy, I couldn’t support myself while purchasing them as a student. So, for me, and as I advocate to this day, for everyone in major cities, being anything other than a vegan is unsustainable. (If you’re looking for why the meat, dairy, and egg industry is unsustainable, just read The Omnivore’s Delemma or watch Food Inc., both are accessible formats through which to learn more about the American food/factory farm system).
at the East Atlanta farmers market
Through being a vegan and through this blog, which has been around for 3.5 years now, I’ve met amazing people, both in real life and through the internet. I’ve learned oodles of things about food and cooking that I never would have–who knew that brussels sprouts & eggplant are two of my favorite vegetables? Or that fermenting and canning and making my own sauces isn’t all that hard? Or that a blog community like the vegan blog community could be so strong and so supportive? Things have been changing though, and that’s why I’m writing this.
Almost 1 year ago on August 15, 2009, I moved to Roanoke, Virginia, a small city in the southwestern corner of Virginia. Roanoke is nestled in the Appalachian mountains and is surrounded by a plethora of small, family-run, organic farms. Immediately I found the Grandin Village farmers market in my neighborhood and every Saturday morning, rain or shine, hung-over or not, I walked the three blocks to market and fell in love with and brought home some of the most interesting, varied, and fantastically delicious produce. As I got to know the farmers, every eggplant, every pepper, and every mushroom meant more than ever before and my cooking took off, with me exploring new recipes and techniques. I even led two food demonstrations on vegan and gluten-free Thanksgiving food, was featured live on the WDBJ morning show, and have become known as the local vegan foodista.
The reason why I moved to Virginia, however, was to start my MFA in creative writing, poetry, at Hollins University. Shortly after starting the program, though, I became dissatisfied, even depressed, with the academic situation. I attended a prestigious research university for undergrad, took 24 credit hours of PhD courses while an undergrad, and wrote an approximately 100 page thesis. I’m used to being challenged, to working hard, and to being around a supportive academic community. Hollins, to me, isn’t that kind of place. While I do understand that it’s the right place for many graduate students and writers, it isn’t for me. I began to hate writing, to hate poetry, and to hate everything related to my field of study. Roanoke, as a place, was perfect, but my program was not.
view from McAfee’s Knob, VA
So in October 2009 I hatched a plan–to write about food. After all, aren’t I obsessed with it? Isn’t food all I live, eat, breathe? But what to write about, what kind of project? On the plane ride back from Houston I figured it out–Appalachian food. But not just Appalachian food, the new Appalachian cuisine. What is Appalachian food today? Surely it’s the traditional dishes, but surely it’s something new too–something driven by younger people moving back into the area, moving back to start or work on the family farm, defining a new generation of regional cuisine. So that’s when it started, my project, my goal to learn everything I could about contemporary Appalachian food.
First portion of meat eaten since 2006–cured ham
Part of the project included me being willing to eat the food. Appalachian food isn’t traditionally vegan–it’s nowhere near vegan. It’s lard and pork and organ meat. It’s everything veganism isn’t. So, while conducting my first interview and research, I ate meat–pork, to be exact.
At the trout farm
A few months later, in January, I was given the opportunity to learn how to fly fish, kill and clean a trout, and then cook it. Again, as part of my research, I did just that–caught my first fish, cleaned it, and then ate it.
And during all this time, I was still a vegan at home. No meat, no dairy, no eggs. Sometime during late winter, however, I decided to reintroduce eggs to my diet–but only because I knew who was raising the chickens who gave me the eggs, only because I knew that the farm was small-scale, sustainable, and cared deeply about the layers.
Then, a few months ago, the owner of Big Pine Trout Farm, the place where I learned how to fish, approached me and asked if I wanted work for him as a chef preparing locally-sourced foods for the farmers market. I took him up on the offer and that’s the job I’ve been hinting about, I’m a chef of sorts, making local food convenient.
Gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free Mountain Medley Pie
Our weekly offerings include my Mountain Medley Vegetable Pie–a quiche-like egg pie that uses local wheat flour, local eggs, local produce, and local butter and cream (soon, hopefully, local cheese, but that’s been hard to find). I’m also making a gluten-free version for several people, something that’s super exciting and fits my philosophy of feeding everyone well. I also make a smoked trout pate out of in-house mayonnaise, smoked trout, and local and organic herbs and a trout-a-fish spread which is like tuna fish but make from trout.
Recent canning adventures (L-R): Blackberry Red Wine Sauce, Roasted Beet & Apple Puree, Savory Cherry Sauce, Blackberry Chili Syrup
We’ve also started prepping for the autumn and winter months, canning everything from a version of Heidi’s Blackberry Chili Syrup to a savory cherry sauce to brandied plums and kimchi. The roasted beet and apple puree is one of my favorites–if only for the fact that I hate beets, but I love the bright purple puree. I’ve even canned and frozen 34 quarts of cauliflower soup. Heavens, that’s a lot of soup I’ll have you know.
L-R: Trout farm; Sweet Corn Chowder with Basil Oil; Cornbread Panzanella Salad; Heirloom Tomato & Goat Cheese Tart; Pecan Crusted Trout served over Lemon Basil Israeli Cous Cous, Summer Vegetable Medley, Citrus Bearnaise; Deconstructed Blackberry-Peach Cobbler
I’ve even had the chance to cook a 5 course dinner. Something I’m not sure I ever want to do again without a sous chef, but damn, am I proud of that meal.
So it’s complicated, dear readers–my food life, I mean. At home, I eat eggs now, but you’ll never find dairy or meat in my house. Not that I won’t eat it if offered it in someone’s home or during book research, but I don’t crave meat or dairy, vegetables are what I love. However, I do plan on building a chicken coop soon and raising my own layers. I do plan on moving (in the not-so-far-off-future, I hope) to a homestead where I can raise goats and ducks and chickens and sheep. And I do plan on learning how to butcher the animals I raise. I do plan on eating them. Not very vegan of me, I suppose, but something that I believe in wholeheartedly. Something that is, in my opinion, 100% natural and sustainable. Something that fits my ethics and my beliefs about this beautiful world we live in.
North Creek, Virginia
So I’m switching blogs. I don’t feel that Cupcake Punk expresses who I am anymore–I don’t really make cupcakes anymore and I’m not very punk-ish these days. I am obsessed with farming and local food and the incredible region I live in. Eating Appalachia will still focus on vegan food–after all, it’s what I cook for myself most of the time, it’s what I advocate since most everyone doesn’t live in a region like mine, and it’s what I love. Love. I love vegan food. But I’m also going to write about my adventures with homesteading, my adventures traveling around Appalachia learning about the food. I’m going to write about what jazzes me, what keeps me going. I’m going to write about my job some. I want to share this part of my life with you. And I want you to continue to share your lives with me.
My life is crazy now–my job has taken over and I’m learning to say no, to cut back and focus on what I need to. But blogging is an important part of my life, and part of the reason I haven’t been around much is because I knew I needed to write this post, to explain where I’ve been and why I haven’t been around much.
So come on over, check out my new home, Eating Appalachia, and tell me what you think. I know you probably have questions or you may want to talk to me about my decisions–I welcome your feedback. Please, however, respect me and my decisions in the same way that I respect you and yours. I know that my decisions might not be all-around popular, but this is who I am and I hope my new blog is a positive experience for everyone.
So here it goes. I wrote the post. I’m a little terrified. But I think it’s going to be all-good. After all, life is pretty darn good no matter what.