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A Tale of Two Restaurants

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Last month some friends and I vacationed for a week on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. One day we traveled to the French side of the island to do some sightseeing. We were looking for a place on the beach for lunch, and stopped into a French restaurant called L’Escapade ( https://www.facebook.com/Escapaderesto) that had a great view of the harbor.

As a vegan, I must say that I’m not a huge fan of French restaurants, with their emphasis on meats and butter and cream-laden sauces. But I’ve often been pleasantly surprised when I’ve asked them to make something special. I knew that’s what I’d have to do at L’Escapade as well, since their menu had nothing in the way of a vegan entrée. I had plenty of time to think about this, because, even though there were fewer than half-a-dozen other people in the restaurant, it took about 30 minutes before the waiter came over to take our order. When he got to me I was ready for him. I smiled politely and said, “I’m a vegan. I assume your chef can do something really spectacular with vegetables?!”

This is a line I’ve used many times before, at many different kinds of restaurants, and it has invariably brought good results. Not at L’Escapade. The waiter glared at me as if I’d just insulted the entire French Republic, and answered in one word: “No.” That was it!

I ended up with a small salad, some awful French bread, and fries. When I think about it, that’s pretty much what I’d end up with at Applebee’s or any other dreadful American chain restaurant. Of course the service at Applebee’s would be much faster. It took us two hours to get out of L’Escapade. Even a great view can’t make up for that.

A Pleasant Surprise At Freedom Fighters Ital Shack

I was pretty down on restaurants the next day when we were looking for lunch in Philipsburg on the Dutch side of the island. We had heard about a vegetarian restaurant with the unusual name of Freedom Fighters Ital Shack ( http://sxmfreedomfighters.com/restaurant/), and after a bit of hunting we found it. When we walked in we were a bit apprehensive. It was just a little hut with no glass in the windows, surrounded by greenery.

There was no one there. But it was spotlessly clean, and candles were carefully placed and glowing under each of the high tables. A minute later the owner/chef, who goes by the name of “Bushman,” appeared. Bushman is a Rastafarian with unbelievable dreadlocks and a big smile, and he said he had lunch all prepared for us. It was like he had been expecting our arrival! I sheepishly told him I was a vegan, and he responded with a laugh and the Rastafarian equivalent of, “friends don’t let friends eat anything from an animal.”

The food, it turns out, was a variety of dishes—greens, grains, vegetables, patties, you name it—served in a Caribbean style. I couldn’t identify most of it, but it was all amazingly delicious. Bushman told us much of it was grown right there on the hillside behind the restaurant. We were only about 7 miles from where we had lunch the day before, but we were in a different universe.

So, I guess one point this this blog is to tell you where you definitely should and shouldn’t eat if you ever find yourself in St. Maarten. More importantly, though, these two restaurants are perfect examples of everything that is right and wrong with restaurants (and food in general) everywhere. L’Escapade certainly isn’t the only restaurant in the world that thinks it’s God’s gift to mankind. There are dozens of them right in my neighborhood. Their menus are predictably the same, unhealthy, and tied to a wasteful and unsustainable agricultural system. Freedom Fighters is living proof of how much better we can do.  There’s no reason why restaurants can’t be creative, people-friendly, animal-friendly, local, organic, sustainable, and a whole lot of other good adjectives. …And, oh yeah, their food sure tastes a lot better too!

Mark is an attorney, author and long-time vegan.  He lives in Colorado with his cat Elgie.  Mark’s book, ” The Perfectly Contented Meat Eater’s Guide To Vegetarianism”  can be purchased at our store.

Categories: Travel
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Author: Mark W. Reinhardt

Mark Warren Reinhardt is an attorney and author who has been writing and lecturing on veganism and animal rights issues for longer than anyone can remember. His book, “The Perfectly Contented Meat-Eater’s Guide to Vegetarianism” was published by Continuum in 1998. Mark has previously served on the boards of the Vegetarian Society of Colorado, Rocky Mountain Animal Defense, and Divine Feline, as well as a number of other nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Mark holds degrees in engineering and law from Duke, Harvard, and the University of Chicago. He lives in Denver with his cat Elgie.