Last week I saw a vegan play. Yes, you read that correctly! Ayinde Howell, renowned vegan chef and founder of ieatgrass.com, brought his one-man improvisational musical dramedy My Meatless Life to the Hideout Theatre in Austin, Texas. My Meatless Life describes Ayinde’s vegan upbringing, his experiences as an entrepreneur and chef, and his journey to find himself.
The play begins before Ayinde is born and continues through major points in his life. His mother and father became vegan before he was born and raised him and his siblings to be vegan as well. This caused them to be alienated from the rest of their family and to be seen as outsiders in their community in Washington. Ayinde was an entrepreneur starting at a young age and he came by it honestly–his family owned and operated a convenience store where they sold, among other things, the “best chicken in town.” They didn’t even eat chicken but knew they needed to cater to their clientele! Ayinde later opened up a vegan sandwich shop in Seattle which was met with skepticism–it was the 1980s after all and veganism was still very unfamiliar to most Americans–but he has since become a well-known vegan chef. (And an actor to boot.)
In what was my favorite aspect of the performance, Ayinde actually cooked for us on stage! First he served up some black truffle and shiitake chowder which was delicious. Then came a fennel palate-cleanser, and finally his delicious mac and yease. For the uninitiated, mac and cheese is the mythical unicorn of the vegan world. I have searched high and low for a good vegan mac and cheese recipe and Ayinde’s mac and yease is as close to perfection as it gets. Unfortunately he didn’t give us the recipe! We also received goody bags with stickers from local vegan-friendly shops, soda, and snack bars from Bearded Brothers, which was a fun bonus.
While undoubtedly fun (a musical comedy with live cooking demo and sampling?! Come on!), My Meatless Life isn’t lacking in grit, delving into the rise of the crack epidemic, the corruption of the record industry, and the highs and lows of romantic relationships. After all, what shapes us the most is usually the difficult, dark parts of life. In a play that is ultimately about finding oneself, the character of Ayinde’s grandfather played a key role. An elderly figure full of axioms (and who always wanted to offer baby Ayinde a piece of chicken, much to his mother’s chagrin!), his grandfather served as the locus of much of the play’s message: nobody is going to give you what you want, and you have to work for it. And in order to be true to yourself, you have to do what feels right to you.
So much of our lives are spent trying to please others at the expense of our own values or happiness that I think it can be easy to lose sight of oneself and one’s own goals. Now, this doesn’t mean that altruism is wasted. I firmly believe in karma and the golden rule and that it’s important to live compassionately. But I also think that it’s important to be true to oneself. My Meatless Life illustrates this idea eloquently and in one delicious package.
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