Why you should care
A really amazing holiday can be had without meat. Or eggs. Or dairy. No really.
While you don’t have to be vegan to check in to Stanford Inn by the Sea, you’ll need to behave like one when eating at the inn’s Ravens Restaurant. Because at this Mendocino, California, resort, nary a steak sizzles nor an egg cracks. We are talking 60 acres of down-free pillows, dairy-free chocolate-chip cookies at tea time and wine hour sans cheese.
Yes, this is a 100 percent vegan resort — the only one of its kind in the U.S. Although most of the guests aren’t of the strict dietary persuasion, says co-owner Jeff Stanford, during my stay I sure met a lot of them — even by California standards, where the unofficial state diet is juicing, cleansing and raw foods. Completely undoing stereotypes, I met a vegan couple at dinner straight from the land of chuck wagons and barbecue: San Antonio.
A few nonvegan vacationers were just stretching the concept of meatless Monday. The other nonvegans, on the hunt for a room on the Pacific Ocean, didn’t research the resort accurately. Oops. They got a coffee-with-no-cream surprise at breakfast.
You won’t get served food the color of U.S. military uniforms: brown rice and brown tofu in a pile of green mash.
Veganism is still fringe in the U.S., with only 2 percent claiming status. Nationwide, vegans still elicit groans from hosts and chefs when they come to dinner.
But you won’t get that eye-rolling from the kitchen staff at the Ravens, nor will you get served food the color of U.S. military uniforms: brown rice and brown tofu in a pile of brown or green mash (I’m talking about you, kale). No, the redwood- and pine-paneled resort on the shores of the Big River and the Pacific Ocean pushes out delicious plates with rainbows of color, almost gay pride flag-ish. A sea palm strudel, stuffed with stir-fry cashews and vegetables, sits in a red and green layer of umeboshi and wasabi sauce. Sesame phyllo crunches in the mouth.
The briny sea palm is plucked from the shores nearby, and the vegetables and grains — everything from lettuce and tomatoes to quinoa and amaranth — come from the edible beds around the property and the resort’s Big River Nurseries.
But conversation with vegans, especially the newly minted, isn’t for the faint of heart. They seem to be fond of proselytizing at dinner: You’ll learn how this lifestyle helps rosacea and digestive tracts. In detail. They are also keen to discuss animal nonwelfare in an uncomfortably pornographic way.
I want people to come and leave excited by life.
If you can handle the conversation, the food is spectacular, the grounds are beautiful, and vegans are smiling and seem younger than their age. Stanford, the owner, a septuagenarian, has the skin and swagger of a 50-year-old. The Mendocino Center for Living Well, part of the resort, introduces guests to gardening and cooking like a vegan.
Meat-free days can be filled with bike rides along the shores of the river; a local outfitter will send you off with trail maps, a Cannondale or an outrigger. Or in the solarium you can take a sauna or a swim or a soak in the hot tub, letting go of all your former bad-eating toxins.
After two nights, I was convinced that even the air is 100 percent certified organic at Stanford. I felt, OMG, reborn and even considered converting.
That’s kind of the point, Stanford explains. “I don’t want people to come here and just feel calm or unplugged. I want people to come and leave excited by life.”
But it’s a slippery slope on the Mendocino Coast, where you may be lured into wandering off property into the princely scenery. You might find yourself three miles down the road in Mendocino Village — where you could grab a burger. If you do sneak a bite of beef, no siren sounds when you re-enter the property. Stanford hasn’t hired any CIs (confidential informants). But why ruin a perfectly happy vegan holiday?