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No Meat, No Problem: One Carnivore’s Night at the Crafts House

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There are few things in life that I enjoy more than succulent, delicious meat. The scrumptious sight of pastrami heaped on rye bread, the warming scent of a juicy filet mignon broiling, the sound of bacon sizzling; these moments pervade my dreams.

But sometimes, even a carnivore needs to spice things up. So this week, I went to dinner at the last place one would expect to find a meat-lover: the Crafts House.

The Crafts House is a residency on 14 Professor’s Row that serves as a vegetarian/vegan co-op community. This year, twelve students live in the house, and each of the students is required to do tasks like cook once a week and run workshops at the Crafts Center in the basement of Lewis Hall. The house serves a vegan dinner at 6 PM from Monday to Thursday, which is open to anyone from the Tufts community seeking a change from standard dining hall fare, or who just wants to hang out and make some new friends.

The Crafts House sticks out from other buildings on Pro Row because of its eyes. No, seriously; the building is adorned with two massive paper “eyes” that peer at each visitor from the top floor. A look inside shows the entire house is filled with examples of zany student art. Upon my entrance I was greeted by an inflatable doll named Paula, who, with her frazzled hair and swine-flu mask, looked like she had endured a long weekend. The walls of the dining room are smattered with paintings and sculptures of all types. And the ceiling? A larger- than-life Tetris board, painted by the housemates in one long weekend.

The centerpieces of this night’s dinner were two different types of soup. The first was a tomato soup, with dark, leafy Italian kale. The soup was simple, but fresh and very comforting, especially with some bread dipped in it. The second soup was a more-complex miso-based noodle soup, with myriad vegetables inside, including broccoli, mushrooms, and tofu that had been baked with soy sauce. Some limejuice was added at the end to add a citrus kick.

Other food items at the Crafts House included some rice balls with a baked tofu surprise inside, served with an Indian multi-spice vindaloo sauce. There was also a side dish of chopped cantelope and mango garnished with pepper and limejuice, which added a savory dimension to the sweet fruit.

The highlight of the meal was the dessert, a freshly baked cranberry bread with orange peel. Interestingly enough, this dish was the only non-vegan item of the night, as it was cooked with eggs. While everything I tried to at the Crafts House was tasty, the cranberry bread, with its moist texture and sharp tangy bite, really stood out.

But dinner at the Crafts House is not only about the food, or at least the quality of the food. Yes, the food is tasty, but on average, meat eaters will find significantly more options, and often delicious carnivore-friendly options, at Tufts dining halls than at 14 Pro Row. Yet for the Craft House’s chefs and their guests, the meal means a celebration of independence, of having the freedom to create their own menu and design their own dining room.

For vegans and vegetarians, dinner at the Crafts House is also an opportunity to  spice up their eating experience. One Crafts House resident, junior Karen Wickert, recognizes that Tufts Dining does its best to cater to vegetarians, but she says she enjoys a more varied menu in her new home.

“Dining [Services] does a good job, but it becomes a diet of habit,” Wickert said. “[But] as good as a piece of chocolate cake might be, for example, after a while it gets bland and you enjoy it less. More common foods are varied [in the dining hall].”

Fellow junior Will Ramsdell, one of the people cooking our meal that night, agreed with Wickert and also noted that he enjoys the sense of independence he gets from cooking his own meals.

“A lot of people have a serious distaste with the Tufts dining halls and can’t get what they need,” Ramsdell said. “ Also, it’s really nice to be able to cook for ourselves.”

Dinner at the Crafts House is free of charge, though if a student becomes a frequent visitor he or she may be asked to become part of the co-op. If the student accepts, he or she has the opportunity to use the kitchen in his or her free time. Students who have no cooking experience are nonetheless encouraged to come learn from other Craft House members who have more expertise.IMG_2264

“When I got here I didn’t know how to boil water,” said junior Tom Callahan with a grin. “But now I can do all kinds of things. I can steam broccoli and cut garlic like nobody’s business.”

If a student wants to come check out the Crafts House for dinner, I suggest shooting House Manager Jonathan Evans (jonathan.evans@tufts.edu) an e-mail first, just to make sure that there will be enough food for everyone. But overall, I highly recommend having dinner at the Crafts House. Even for an established carnivore like myself, dinner was a fun experience. I was able to eat some home-cooked food and listen to an hilariously bizarre conversation, which ranged from a suggestion of a provocative art project involving making molds of each other’s genitals to a discussion of famed Tufts professor Daniel Dennett’s uncanny resemblance to Santa Claus.

There may not be any bacon around, but a little bit of Italian kale­ served in subtly spiced and steaming soup once in a while really isn’t so bad.

-Ben Kochman

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tom Calahan #

    One correction: Paula is not a blow-up doll – her internal organs beneath her clothes are made of cardboard, paper, chicken wire, and blood.

    Love the article!

    November 10, 2009
  2. Ben Ross #

    I love the article. Well written, descriptive, and engaging.

    YEAH!
    Keep writing about food adventures!

    November 11, 2009

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