On the vegan trail

Book on the Curry Trail

Out Health

Sometimes we make the best plans. We set out on a carefully calculated journey only to encounter obstacles in the road, uprooting detours, and disappointing reception. But then sometimes we are blessed with amazing opportunities, with unbelievable coincidences seemingly thrown into our path that are clearly the result of some divine plan.

Intriguing parallels

Recently I started noticing parallels to an interview on NPR. The host was talking to the chef Raghavan Iyer, who had just had his sixth cookbook published. On YouTube are videos of me cooking vegetarian dishes. He grew up in India. I love Indian food. He moved to Minnesota in 1982 to study hospitality. I moved there in 1978 to study music. The day he arrived there he met the man who was to become his longtime partner. That didn’t happen to me until a few years after I moved to New Jersey. He learned how to cook in order to make the Indian food he loved growing up. I learned to cook to make more healthy, vegetarian dishes for myself and my friends.

He was diagnosed with fatal colorectal cancer. I survive with dangerous uveal melanoma. And so the path to this article was started. I immediately went to Amazon and bought the book, On the Curry Trail: Chasing the Flavor that Seduced the World, which was previously published, and is destined to make Indian food accessible to the average American cook.

Talking to the chef

After attempting to contact Mr. Iyer, I got no response. I just had to talk to him and ask him about how his odyssey with food helped with his episodes of chemotherapy and radiation. He had so eloquently spoken on the radio about how food and cooking affected him as he approached the end of life.

As the deadline for this issue was approaching I expressed my concerns about not getting to communicate with him. But then it hit me that I have been testing and proofreading recipes for my friend Adam Sobel, former owner and chef for the Cinnamon Snail Vegan Food Truck, for his vegan recipe blog. Many of his recipes that I have been making are Indian. Adam and I both did our yoga teacher training with Dharma Mittra in New York City. He’s also close by me in Red Bank. So I stopped by his house, Mr. Iyer’s cookbook in hand, to talk about vegan food, health, yoga, spices, and these wonderful synchronicities I’ve been experiencing, and how I might write about them, with or without input from this man from the radio.

The chef speaks

Adam was in his kitchen making lunch for his daughter, who was just about to come home from school. He expounded, “I want to help people stop eating animals. Listen to what your body needs and not what your mind wants. I fell in love with my wife when we were 17. She was the first vegan person I got close to. She was eating french fries and canned food. I began to understand why she was vegan, but I learned how to cook to make yummy food for her.

I became a vegan the day our daughter was born. I knew I wanted to raise her vegan and with compassion for other creatures. I have a deep desire to help other people create less violence.”

Food and wellness

Adam and I talked at length about the relationship between food, especially healthy, ethically sourced food, spices, and Ayurvedic principles of eating and medicine. When we spoke about this magazine he said, “There is a relationship between human rights and animal rights. It’s the same issue. It’s equal rights for all living beings. If we can come to terms with the exploitation of animals, we can help to solve human rights issues. Activism can be a downer. I want to help people with what to embrace rather than what to avoid. I want to make vegan food fun, joyful, and approachable.”

As does Mr. Iyer. Or did.

He died on March 31, 2023. I missed an opportunity to get to know him. But I have his book. And Adam’s. I bought his cookbook, Street Vegan: Recipes and Dispatches from The Cinnamon Snail Food Truck, published in 2015. I will continue to test his blog recipes, getting to know lots of wonderful flavors and techniques. And I know I will continue to have opportunities cast into my path. I hope I maintain the wisdom to see them as the gifts they are and use them to help others create less violence.