Sunday, July 06, 2008

institutional to transcendent: vegan in the heartland pt. 2 (kansas city)

this was the one of the pieces of "art" in my hotel room in Kansas City...

As some of you know, I have been an AP art history reader for 3 years now. I greatly enjoy reading the ever-increasing numbers of exams, and having a chance to hang out with fellow art historians for a week. For the last two years, I have gone to New Jersey for this assignment. However this year, they moved us to Kansas City.

As I hopped on the train for the 4-hour trip from St. Louis, I was excited to get a chance to visit a new city, and I eventually ended up much to love in a city known for its BBQ and steak.

First, work food:

When I showed up, I found this sign in the vegetarian food line at the ballroom of the Kansas City convention center. I was relieved that there was a dedicated section for veg. food- but I soon found out why the sign was there. According to my colleagues, the food at the convention center was so bad that people were flocking to the vegetarian food, thus causing the food to run out before actual vegetarians had gotten their meals!

How bad could the food be? Well, let's just say it was... institutional. The above image is a collection of some of my breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. As you can see, it wasn't too difficult to eat vegan, and by the end of the week, there were even some pleasant surprises (tofu! tacos! beans!). I also noticed some signs saying "brown rice available for vegans." Which, great, I love brown rice, but did I miss the memo that said that only vegans could eat it? (You guys already know how I feel about needless food segregation and weird definitions of veganism.) The food was honestly not that bad, but very bland and extremely repetitive. (Especially since I'd been spoiled for good fresh veg. food in New Jersey, as you can see in this post from last year.) By the third day, the thought of veggie sausage for breakfast again was enough to make me ill. As you can see in the mosaic, by the end of the week (top photos) I had resorted to drinking soda with my meals just to settle my stomach, and I (like many other readers) started skipping dinner.

Here is a shot of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, a giant and wonderful museum that I happily got to visit a couple of times while in K.C.

Still Life No. 24 by Tom Wesselmann, 1962, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Here is a work of art by Tom Wesselmann that speaks to some of our worst fears about American food- packaged, processed, and bland. After a few days on my institutional diet, this piece really made me think. It's funny how distorted the promise of plenitude has become in the American psyche, isn't it?

Fortunately, there was a whole other side to my visit. First of all, I was lucky to have found a wonderful yoga studio within walking distance of my hotel. At Kansas Siddhi Yoga, I got to work out the kinks in my neck and shoulders, but more importantly, work out the negative attitude that was starting to take over my mind.

Taking advantage of the Kansas City Veg. Restaurant Guide, the advice of fellow bloggers and PPK-ers, and the convenient and cheap K.C. public transportation system, I finally found enough time one evening to get myself to Eden Alley Café. When I saw the specials list, I knew exactly what I needed to get: watermelon gazpacho! This raw dish, bursting with fresh ingredients (a gazpacho of watermelon, cucumbers, apples, and tomatoes, served with a big scoop of guacamole and topped with sprouts and lime juice) was the counterpart to the bland food I'd been having all week.

Fresh lemonade

House-made sourdough bread drizzled with a green and fruity olive oil

And gazpacho! I can't tell you how good this meal was. It was totally worth the trip, and getting caught in a thunderstorm on my way back!

Especially because my awesome server slipped this chocolate lavender cookie to me after my meal, for free! This cookie let me have something awesome and healthy to enjoy as everyone else snacked on candy bars during our reading the next day.

There were so many other vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants that I still wanted to try in Kansas City, but I ran out of time. Good thing I'll be returning here for work every June for the foreseeable future. My yoga class allowed me to have gratitude- not only for the extraordinary vegan food at Eden Alley, but also for the quite ordinary food at the Convention Center. I was reminded that even though I complained about it, it was still food, vegan food. And that is something to be thankful for.

Restaurant Information:

Eden Alley Café

707 W 47th St
Kansas City, MO 64112
(816) 561-5415



springsandwells said...

Hey Bazu,
What a great post. KC looks not so bad after all... Two vegan friends of mine are moving to KC this week, so they'll be glad to know there's a spot or two for them.

I understand the bland food dilemma... I was in it last week big time - in rural North Carolina. I was super psyched to come home and cook up some meals with spices and flavor!

But, like you said, gratitude is gratitude. Good to keep in mind.

The Test Reading sounds neat. It must be interesting to see what the young people are interested in and how they respond to different works of art.

Has your mom left for Iran? I'm still jonesing to go. I fantasize about going on a vegan Iranian artsy journey with you. How rad would that be?

Hope you're well!

Emmie said...

That food does look bland, but like you said, it's *vegan* food and that's something to be thankful for at least.

The watermelon gazpacho sounds divine. I like everything watermelon!

Janet said...

I'm vegan and my in-laws live in KC, so we visit a couple times a year. Last month I got lunch at Cafe Seed ( and it was VERY tasty! I got it to go, and arrived just before they closed so I can't comment on the in-store dining experience, but everything was delicious, and I'm a slightly picky food critic, so be sure to check it out!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Melisser; the Urban Housewife said...

Glad you survived the bland food & found some good food as well!

saucepot said...

I <3 your blog, bazu.

Is it just me or, for a conference centre, is there a lot of plastic in those eating utensils?!

bazu said...

Thank you, saucepot! Oh there was a LOT of plastic. Some people, like me, started keeping their utensils and cups to reuse. One of my colleagues took it a step further and went out and bought herself a plate so she wouldn't have to waste so much styrofoam! I might copy her next year.

VeggieGirl said...

That vegetarian food-line sign is quite amusing, haha. Too bad about the food and all the plastic :0(

Kati said...

Lovely reflections, Bazu. Isn't yoga the best? :-)

Anonymous said...

I really wish I could have one of those chocolate lavender cookies right now. I've never thought of combining those two flavors.

Is that a badminton birdie in front of the art museum?

Café Cyan said...

Hey Bazu - I'm back to blogging (I least I got 1 post up!)

It's neat to hear about your trip. Too bad about the repetitive food - ugh. Salad again? (haha) Sounds like you made the best of it!


aTxVegn said...

I really enjoyed reading these two KC posts, Bazu. You really know how to make the best of your surroundings.

Peace by Pastries said...

I am soooo glad you got to visit Eden Alley! I am from KC and that is my favorite restaurant in the WORLD! There is another 100 percent vegan place in KC called Cafe Seed, which is amaaaazing too...maybe next time :)

Mihl said...

I know a lot of "institutional" places where the vegetarian food is better than the rest and I would also still consider it as bland. I am glad you survived! Great to hear you were able to enjoy fresh lemonade (which looks awesome) and sourdough bread.

Anonymous said...

That's so bizarre how the convention center handled the vegetarian food. I know it wasn't the best but at least they tried! I love the idea of a chocolate lavender cookie. Was it as good as it sounds?

Urban Vegan said...

KC will always be better than KFC.

Carrie™ said...

LOL @ Dynise! Good one. It's great that there was vegetarian food available. And lucky for you they had vegan brown rice. That cookie looks amazingly huge!

dreamy said...

Love the artwork! It reminds me the importance of not eating other's mums or kids.

The vegan food you had was not all that bad! It's great to have food, and vegan one somemore. I would be glad to have that :)

Yea the omnis will always cword over the veg side for food leaving us with little left... it was the same when I was in school last time.. you will see your mock meats disappearing fast haha...

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rural Vegan said...

I don't know whether to laugh or cry at the vegetarian food line sign and "brown rice for vegans" comment!

pixiepine said...

A chocolate lavender cookie sounds magical! Yum :)

Jes said...

Stink about the institutional food. :( But what an awesome combo--lavender + chocolate chips!

I've been thinking about applying to read AP English exams, but they just moved the location to either Kansas or Nebraska, which isn't quite as good as Florida (on the beach). Might still do it though since the pay is radtastic!

Vegan_Noodle said...

I would have definitely been worried about a trip to K.C., but looks like you survived just fine. Hopefully the essays are enjoyable to read since the food isn't so hot.
Lucky you had the yoga studio, watermelon gazpacho, and that cookie to get you through!

TavoLini said...

aww--all these Kansas City haters...KC is a great town! (I'm biased, I lived there for 4 years)

I liked Jerusalem cafe in Westport, there's plenty of good salad type stuff at Sunfresh (grocery store) but most importantly, you should definitely hit some of the art galleries by 19th and Broadway and in the Bottoms.

Have a great trip!


Laura said...

Hey, bazu- I just stumbled on this post... I took ap art history last year (2007)! So maybe you read my essay! I got a 5, so thanks :)