Hansen: Vegetarianism sprouts its way forward

If I were to describe a scene in Laguna Beach using just food and an odor, do you think you could figure out the location?

Wheatgrass and patchouli oil. (Wait, is wheatgrass a food or a plant?)

Either way, if you guessed The Stand, you are correct. You win the right to be a '70s person.

Here's the thing: I want to dislike The Stand but I can't.

The Stand, for those who may not know, is our old-school vegetarian place. And when I say old school, I mean before the movie came out. Maybe even before vegetarians went to school.

There are many time warps in Laguna. The Stand stands above them all.

Have you ever had that uncle who still listens to Deep Purple and smokes pot for "medicinal purposes," yet he is still your favorite uncle because he's authentic? He is oblivious to fads because those things don't interest him.

So on any given day, he looks outdated, but at least he never wore polyester disco pants.

He never cared what people thought.

He never got religious over margarine.

In other words, The Stand has stuck to its roots, for better or worse.

The food is, at times, a little too much sticks and twigs, but you can't help but admit it's good for you. It never oversteps its bounds.

The Stand, 238 Thalia St., has 47 varieties of spices on the counter because, well, you might need them.

By contrast, we live in a worldwide web of vegetarianism now. We have options. There is Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and several local restaurants with impressive vegetarian and organic dishes.

There are area competitors such as Native Foods, Veggie Grill and True Food Kitchen. These competitors are very good. The food is colorful and exotic — the flavors shimmy like some Polynesian wheatgrass skirt.

I don't know what that means but it sounds tasty. And I'm not even vegetarian.

But here's what I don't like about those places: They're kinda fake, with their strip-mall sheen and expensive organic wine.

True Food in Fashion Island has valet parking. I mean, c'mon, that's just wrong. And that hostess stand they have covered with the fake plastic wheatgrass? Really?

At The Stand, we have a real tree growing in the middle of a table.

The menu is intimidating, and they don't care, like some vegetarian Soup Nazi.

They have pamphlets for every kind of left-wing, alternative, holistic, feel-good group you can imagine: transcendental meditation, Occupation Watch, yoga lessons (lots of yoga lessons), PETA and others. There are booklets called "Chant and Be Happy."

Plus, you get to people watch, which means you not only get Laguna people, but a subculture of Laguna, which is golden if you're into sociology.

It's cotton sack dresses, cargo pants and dreadlocks, mountain bike shoes and hemp sandals. Sandy feet and rainbow anklets. Toe rings and statement tattoos.

There's not a lot of hair product, but everyone smells good — usually essential oils or fresh sea salt. People here compare notes on composting and micro-gardening.

Women admire their jewelry, then add nonchalantly, "I just got this in India."

And we believe them. We believe because we know it's true. It's true because they eat at The Stand.

The Stand could use a menu face-lift, admittedly, but perhaps it's OK sometimes to stay the same. Never underestimate the power of tradition in people's lives.

More importantly, nostalgia works when it evolves. Despite the fact that The Stand is still largely circa 1979, the culture of vegetarianism has grown up. It has become much more mainstream, and with that, much more sophisticated.

For many, vegetarianism has become one touchstone of a complex, meaningful lifestyle. It's like a fabric wrapped in other life choices such as sustainability, environmentalism, local activism and dozens of other causes.

Together, they define the person, the one we know is real because that person is eating these amazingly healthy bowls of unidentifiable stuff in a barn in Laguna.

And they are smiling, glowing, more enlightened than ever after all these years.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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