It was 1968; an intense year. The reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert Kennedy were murdered. News of the My Lai Massacre was unfolding and other horrors of war in Vietnam were shown on the news each night. The Beatles' White Album had just been released. New shows such as Star Trek, Laugh-In, Green Hornet, and The French Chef were on our television. I was eleven years old - the same age as my son right now.
Then....in December, NASA's Apollo 8 sent Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders to the far side of the moon and back again, and here came photographs of the Earth taken by Bill Anders from lunar orbit, the most famous of which was called Earthrise. There was optimism expressed by some that these images would hasten world peace. They had to! One extra connection I had was that my father had worked on the Apollo program in some minor way - he was an aircraft engineer whose quality control work from his visits to Cape Canaveral sent his fingerprints into outer space. How exciting for me!
Although peace did not break out, trajectory, a word used a lot in those days, was something I was feeling concerned about; both my own and that of the earth. I cut out this picture from a magazine, saved it, and was drawn to look at it many times. Others were looking too. One of them, I feel sure, was Frances Moore Lappe.
When Diet for a Small Planet came out in 1971 I did not notice. But not long after, while working after school and summers at Tufts University's dining hall kitchens, I inadvertently became exposed to things that changed my trajectory. Oxfam was one of them. I read about it in the student newspaper and got informed (the expression of the time was "turned on") by Tufts students I worked with who were promoting Oxfam America.
I read Diet for a Small Planet, thought about Oxfam's work for peace, justice and famine relief, practiced making Julia Child's recipes, listened to Captain Kirk explain to a Klingon that earth had ended war and hunger in the last century, attended a lecture by Dick Gregory and began doing short fasts...a bite of a sun warmed tomato from my mom's garden was also probably in the mix. Before long, I was a vegan, buying organic foods, growing sprouts in my closet in gallon jars, and trying to get protein complimentary concepts to work for me. A few years later I was back to eggs and dairy; about a decade later, a slow slide began into eating fish; then poultry; then other meats.
But at the time, my mom was shocked, hurt, could not believe it: at age 15 I was refusing to eat her pot roast! And very tasty pot roast it was, as I hastened to assure her it was nothing personal against her cooking skills. Going out to eat at the Hilltop Steakhouse, waitresses sadly shook their heads while getting confirmation from my mom, in an I - can't - believe - it - either tone of voice, that I was only ordering salad.
A startling facet of what I was doing was that it was a luxury; being a vegan was something I was going out of my way to do (far, far fewer vegan foods available then); it was something I could do only because of my privileged social status, which my parents had worked their butts off to provide and saw in light of their own experiences growing up in the great depression. I was not being ungrateful, was not trying be spiritually materialistic or better than thou, was not trying to hurt anyone's feelings, and most of all was not "giving up" meat, which is the way my mom described it. I loved vegetables! All I wanted to do was make a small difference, by making choices I believed in, choices that I felt better about the more I learned about food. Perhaps I did.
I later pondered these things while I rode my 1974 burgundy Fuji road bike on long solo trips to places like Long Lake in Littleton or Wingaersheek beach in Gloucester whose focus was the singular experiences of being one with my bike, the water, and the corn and other veggies found at farms along the way. Many of these farms are no longer there. I had that experience called Mono No Aware by the Japanese - I knew I was tasting in the cucumbers and raspberries micro elements of the earth and rains that had fallen on that land that might be, is now, a car dealership.