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Ground of Restraint

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November 29, 2010

Trista Cornelius, Contributing Writer

Many years ago, I read an article by Barbara Kingsolver that has stuck with me ever since. The article was mostly about eating local foods and the satisfaction that comes from providing for one’s self and family/friends. However, near the end of the article, Kingsolver tells a story about her grandfather who grew up in Kentucky and tasted oyster soup and oranges only once a year.

During his childhood, a train came through town delivering oranges and oysters from the coast each winter. Decades later, Kingsolver recalls her grandfather on Christmas day. While "endless desires burgeoned around everyone else," her grandfather wanted only two things--a bowl of oyster soup and an orange. She says that the "depth of his pleasure" in that one meal was so tangible that it filled her with "wonder at how deeply fulfillment can blossom from a cultivated ground of restraint."

Cultivating a ground of restraint. I loved this idea and envied the grandfather’s deep fulfillment and his singular desire.

Name a season, and I can think of foods that grow locally during that time. "June" conjures green peas and strawberries, for example; however, June is not the only time of year I eat these things. Say "Thanksgiving," and I think cranberries, and although November might be the only time I eat fresh cranberries, I eat dried ones, juiced ones, and occasionally canned ones at any other time of the year.

I want a flavor, an experience, to anticipate all year long. I tried cultivating all kinds of special traditions and "restraints," but forgot them within minutes of imagining them--hot chocolate only on New Year’s morning (ha!), chocolate cake only on my birthday (double ha!), and so forth.

Strangely enough, I see now that my vegan lifestyle has started to solve the problem for me. Removing animal-based foods from traditional celebration dinners (turkey at Thanksgiving, for example), motivated me to explore alternatives. Those alternatives are slowly becoming my new traditions:

Vegan shortbread cookies and mini vanilla cupcakes for my husband’s birthday; pumpkin pie and pudding for the winter holidays; and Seitan Jambalaya on New Year’s Eve.

Two years ago, on a cold, dark February night, I discovered pomelos, enormous, thick-skinned, grapefruit-like things. Their soft citrus sweetness cured a longing I had for fresh berries that were still months in coming. Realizing that pomelos grow in southeastern Asia and travel far, I limited myself to eating only two or three (the price per pound helps me stay strict about this). Happily, I notice pomelos are not available year-round in the grocery store unlike oranges or lemons. February is my only chance. Now, during the bleak end of winter, I anticipate a burst of sun and brightness on two or three February nights.

Because of this restraint, I am starting to find the deep satisfaction (and exciting anticipation) that Kingsolver describes her grandfather savoring, and I look forward to other treats my vegan life will hold in store for me only once or twice each year.

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