For the past eleven months, I have been an American expat living in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. I also happen to be a fledgling vegetarian, which is virtually impossible in this new Bolivian world of mine. Why? Bolivians love their meat…love it. So much that last week when I ordered my Eggs Benedict sin carne (without meat), it still arrived with a large tocino (bacon) strip across the top. Apparently, in Bolivia, a bacon strip doesn’t qualify as meat.
Because of situation such as these, I have fallen off the vegetarian wagon a time or two. Actually, I have fallen off so many times that my fellow vegetarian friends have started calling me a ‘part time’ vegetarian. It is due to this shaming that I have set out during my six weeks off from the American school where I work to detox from the bad habits I have fallen into while living in Santa Cruz. Don’t get me wrong, I have had a great time, but it is time to back off the drinking, the smoking and the carnage of which I have sometimes (often) participated in while learning this new world of mine. Yes, it is time for a mini-rehab and Cusco was my first stop to begin this journey.
Thus, it was a pleasure today to happen upon a vegan restaurant in the San Blas neighborhood of Cusco called Green Point. Green Point was opened a couple of months ago by chief Fabricio Durand Salas and his former-Portuguese teacher girlfriend now magnificent hostess, Daniele Vieira Cardoso.
Upon arrival, I could feel the love. The entrance included an organic market that included some of the healthiest carrots I have ever seen as well as stunning eggplants. I instantly got the urge to cook these things, but since I don’t know how to cook right now, I decided to see how this restaurant dealt with these vegetable gems, so I headed further into the womb of the Green Tomb.
There I was greeted by Daniele (Dani) who handed me a menu of some of the most delicious sounding food I could imagine. Pumpkin creams to samosas veganas to Andean potatoes with chili sauce to vegan sushi to fondue de chocolate y frutas mixtas. It took 10 minutes just to make up my mind what to order in this setting. Finally, I decided upon the Sopa de Quinua, Raviolis stuffed with pumpkin, vegan cheese and tomato sauce and Chocolate Caliente con mas leche de almedras (Hot chocolate with almond milk).
After my order was placed, I took a minute to read the menu a bit further. What I found was this restaurant was on a mission. The front page of the menu starts with the statement that this restaurant is Fabricio and Dani’s dream “for peace in this world full of suffering and pain, we have faith that this small step we will teacher and show the truth about our little brothers ANIMALS. Our fight is full of love and hope, begins by providing forms and ways of finding food choices without products from animal origin and in the same way helping organic farmers creating new sources of markets.”
This mission touched my heart because for four years I lived with my boyfriend who suffered from terminal brain cancer and the further we went into this battle, the further I saw the role that food played a part in our well-being and time and time again in my research to keep him well, I ran into the truism…eating animal products should really be avoided especially products provided to us by companies such as Monsanto and the like because these companies are playing a direct role in the cancer epidemic that is sweeping the globe…an epidemic that currently strikes 1 out of 3 people globally and will strike 1 out of 2 people by the year 2020 if the international community does not change their ways.
Furthermore, it struck my interest in Eastern thought which began years ago when I read an opening line from Gandhi saying that what we put into our mouths is what will come out of our mouths and since I have a big and divisive mouth at times, I have often remembered what Gandhi said and wished that someday I could live a life free of eating meat or any of its by-products. I am not there yet, but this meal I had at Green Point inspired me to make that goal sooner than later.
The first item to arrive was the Chocolate Caliente con mas leche de almedras (Hot chocolate with almond milk). It was served with the chocolate melted in the coffee cup, the almond milk served in a little pourer and a canister of natural sugar. This presentation gave me the opportunity to make the hot chocolate the way I wanted it; I got to sweeten my own drink and it was outstanding.
Next arrived the Quinoa Soup. This is a staple in Bolivian and Peruvian diet and I have had it many times in the past year. However, this particular Quinoa Soup was the best I have had yet. Why? Because I could taste the freshness; I could taste the quinoa springing to life with its little root that gives it life. I liked it so much that I took 15 minutes to eat it…Dani kept checking on me to see if I had finished and I kept telling her just a few more minutes.
Finally, I was done and the main course arrived, Raviolis stuffed with pumpkin, vegan cheese and tomato sauce. When Dani placed it in front of me, she explained that the cheese that garnished it was chestnut cheese. I felt so lucky to ever taste such a cheese. The rest of the dish? Muy rico…delicious as they say in the States. Again, I took my own sweet time savoring every bite because as I said, I don’t know how to cook right now and I didn’t know when I would have such a wonderful meal again. Dani checked on me a few times before I finally let her take my plate.
Then, it was time to pay the bill, which came out to roughly $15 dollars. $15 dollars for a five star meal? Another reason I have grown to love Cusco. As I paid the bill, I began talking to Fabricio and Dani. I asked them how long they had been opened and they said for only a few months. They went on to explain that they had been living in Capetown South Africa where Fabricio was an up and coming chef at some five star places when one night him and Dani started watching some videos about the food we eat on this Earth. These videos were “The Best Speech You Will Ever Hear” by Gary Yourofsky (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=es6U00LMmC4) and Earthlings (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19eBAfUFK3E )…When Fabricio mentioned the latter video Dani shuddered with horror and whispered to me that she couldn’t finish it; it was that terrifying. These videos changed the course of Fabricio and Dani’s life and within a year, they left their comfortable life in Capetown to risk it all by opening up their own vegan restaurant here in Cusco. I told them what deep respect I had for them and I told them of my interest in organic living since being exposed to the cancer that goes with living the other way…they both agreed and said they want to help change this paradigm and they want to do it with love. I couldn’t help but be inspired and when I left after my lunch, one more time I got the feeling that I am not alone on this quest for better living…thank you, Fabricio and Dani for a wonderful meal and for further helping me see the connection humans play with the rest of Earth…may we work to change our ways and may we do it with love.