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Thursday, 21 September 2017 06:59

Being lost in land of vegetarians

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The Cliff Notes: In the early eighteen hundreds, a splinter sect of Baptist Americans began to practice Sabbath-keeping.

They predicted The Second Coming and predicted it again, before a woman named Ellen G. White became their prophet. She advocated, among other things, vegetarianism and annual Camp Meetings, where like-thinking-and-eating people would assemble for a two-weekend-week of tent sermons while sleeping and eating vegetarian food in various states of outdoorsishness.
Over time, and having crossed borders, the church established that Albertans would go to Bowden, British Columbians to Hope, and residents of Saskatchewan and Manitoba to White Sands.
This was the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
And so it was, a hundred and forty or so years later, that I, a Mennonite-raised girl accustomed to cream gravy and porky cracklings, was dropped off at Bowden on a Friday afternoon, and told that my paternal grandparents were expecting me for dinner at their tent trailer. I was told, also, that there was a store of sorts, somewhere on the grounds.          
Already munchy, and with a few dollars itching in my pocket, I imagined a camp canteen. A place stuffed to the tent poles with fun doodle books and junk food. A place where a girl could find a cheeseburger or hot dog, even if the cheese was soy and the burgers and dogs spun from veggiematter.
With no sense of direction except that I could find my grandparents trailer in the open area where the trees ended and the sun killed dead anything not wearing a hat, I had time to wander the grounds, become fabulously dehydrated, and attempt to understand the mysteries that were Camp Meeting.
There was the mystery of whether I could find and make a friend for the day.
There was the mystery of the oddly tall man in a pea-shoot-green suit who turned out to be my Uncle Ernie.
And there was the mystery of where was the "store of sorts" where I could find, surely, a Thinking myself too cool for camp, wearing a Hard Rock Café tee shirt, I soon came to understand that Camp Meetings coincide with stinging insect season. And that wearing a bright yellow circle on your chest will attract every angry wasp within a tent-town-sized area.
Flapping my arms against the hoard, I sought refuge in one giant tent, then another. I stumbled, flap by flap, through a song service, a prayer meeting, a sermon, a vegetarian lesson, until, at last, I dove into the food tent.
Eureka! Lined with books and CDs, candy bins and freezers, I stuffed my hand into my pocket for my few dollars, just as a woman stepped into the middle of the tent to announce that it was nearly sundown, and the tent was soon closing for the next 24 hours.
 A scurryingly fast survey of the freezers revealed that, in place of popsicles were piglet-sized rolls of imitation turkey and "Wham." There veggie patties and faux weenies, and boxes of "Stripples" that looked like bacon but, I already knew from experience, definitely were not. Frantically, I stuffed one plastic baggie with Sorbitol-sweetened bon bons, and another with unsalted peanuts, then joined the end of a line before going off to find my grandparents, the yellow beacon on my shirt now scrunched protectively in one fist.
Dinner, as it turned out, was Mock Chicken Buns. A recipe belonging to my stepmom, and one that, while the chicken was imitation, was one of the first vegetarian meals that had helped me feel at home in my second home.
Reaching for a ball of foil, warming at the edge of a mound of glowing coals, I sat next to my grandparents, and the man in the green suit. And after prayer, I peeled open a bun.

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