On Sunday, January 17th, I (Hilary) had the pleasure of spending the day at one of my favorite local cultural spaces, La Galera Teatro, owned and run by the illustrious chef, actor & director extraordinaire, René Lobo. This time, however, I wasn’t there to sample René’s delicious vegetarian paninis or enjoy an original theatrical production; instead, I gathered with nearly 20 other curious food fans for a workshop on vegan cooking and practice by Attilio Altieri, an Italian ex-pat and vegan evangelist visiting from Guatemala.
The group was surprisingly diverse, thanks likely to the relatively accessible fee ($15) and less exclusive location. My husband and I joined young Italians, local bohemians, middle-aged parents with their young children and militant vegans in the small, cozy Galera kitchen. The strong attendance and palpable enthusiasm of the group bodes well for the future of alternative eating in San Salvador, and it made for a fun, collaborative and relaxed atmosphere.
Attilio began with a compelling introduction on the ethical, ecological and health reasons for choosing a a vegan lifestyle. He referred to veganism as a “practice” or a verb, rather than a state of being–that is, one “practices veganism” or “eats vegan” rather than one “is vegan.” Here’s Attilio in his own words, summarizing his motivation for sharing his practice:
“I started eating vegan after being vegetarian for a period of three years. And I started to deepen [my understanding] of meat production, how the animals are treated, the slavery, the exploitation that takes place on cow, pig, chicken farms. So I was searching for a path of nonviolence. I was looking for a less violent way to feed myself, trying to make the process of daily eating not require the killing of animals, nor exploiting them nor reducing them to slavery. So in order to be more coherent with that, the only solution was to eliminate any animal derived products, right, not just meat, fish and pork, but also eggs, dairy, cheese. So that’s how I started to eat vegan nine years ago. I had a couple vegetarian pauses, but now it’s been several years that I eat vegan. The idea with the workshops is to promote this practice, to make it known, and also to do a more interesting job, I mean, not to become a slave to some industry like many employees do, but rather to do something positive that gives me satisfaction and that also can help people to eat better, to know more about their health, and also the planet. To reduce the weight of the environmental impact of our food consumption. We always have to eat every day, but at least [vegan eating] is less of a blow to the planet than meat production. Because I’ve seen deforestation everywhere: in Guatemala, in Nicaragua, in Brazil there are a ton of places that are no longer jungle, but instead plain pastures or grain fields for cattle feed. So you see the impact on the environment, even though in the city you don’t realize it, it’s there. So [it’s about] having an impact, and I try to do it this way.”
We proceeded to spend the next four hours preparing our vegan lunch (click the links for Attilio’s recipes): lentil hamburger patties, pasta with tomato gratinado, green smoothies (pineapple, ginger & spinach) and chocolate cookies for dessert. He provided all of the ingredients, and punctured the production with a series of recommendations and explanations regarding the use and choices of wheat flour (beware false “whole wheat” claims), cooking oils (seek out those with little to no saturated fats, use as little as possible), sugars (use panela) and more. Attilio proved a gracious and patient teacher–which is more than I can say for myself; by the time we sat down to lunch it was nearly 2:00PM, and my stomach had taken over most of my rational capacities.
I admit that I was disappointed with the yield of all our labor, which turned out to be a small scoop of pasta, two tiny lentil patties, three bite-sized cookies and half a glass of green smoothie. To Attilio’s credit, he also threw together a small salad and a lemonade to supplement the meal.
But while our portions were less than satisfying, the company more than compensated. And Attilio’s recipes are certainly worth recommending: While I was less than impressed with the pasta and green smoothie, the fried lentil patties were outstanding, with a satisfying crunchy texture and complex, savory flavor; the chocolate cookies, too, were smooth and creamy and not too sweet, just right. All told, it was a pleasant way to spend a Sunday, and I hope that it’s success spurs La Galera to continue to promote earth&body-friendly eating with such enjoyable and social activities.