I'm sorry the photo is sideways. I've been fighting with flickr and blogger, and it won't rotate. I give up. Anyhow...
I am sure that the first intentionally vegan meal I consumed was during one of several childhood visits to the Country Life restaurant which was formerly located in Nashville. (The building is now an Adventist-run whole foods co-op, at least the last time I checked.) My mother, while a confirmed omnivore, was interested in health food, and Country Life was near the old Sunshine Grocery.
Country Life was run by members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, which encourages but does not require a veg*n diet for its members. This "health message" has a number of theological roots. For example, in the Bible, God gives only plant foods to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, with no instruction to eat meat until after the Flood. Thus, one might conclude that a veg diet is the original divine intent for humanity. Also, as our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, we should care for our health, and the veg diet is healthy. If you are interested in Adventist views on these matters, there are a number of books by early SDA leader Ellen White which explore the subject. Those who enjoy cold cereal might note that John Harvey Kellogg was an Adventist vegetarian. These are the people who brought us corn flakes! If nothing else, the Adventists are a reminder to the rest of the veg community that people eat veg*n for a wide variety of reasons, including conservative religious reasons.
My great-great-grandfather was a Seventh-Day Adventist, and I like to think that he would be pleased with my dietary choices, although he might not approve of some of my other views!
The Adventists are a great resource as they run restaurants, food co-ops, and bulk buying clubs, often in areas that are not so veg-friendly. Their church bookstores frequently have a section with pre-packaged veg foods and cookbooks. Despite the fact that I am not Adventist (a fact which is probably quite clear from my appearance), I have never met anything other than friendly helpfulness in their stores in both New York and Tennessee.
SDA cooking tends to be down-home, comforting, and nourishing. Think gravy and veggie loaf and casseroles. This is what you need after a long day of weeding the kale and picking the okra on your vegan homestead. The famous and useful Magical Loaf Studio on Jennifer McCann's website is a computerized version of a flexible veggie loaf formula often given out at Adventist cooking classes. Of course, Adventist cuisine continues to evolve, and new directions can be seen in books like the Seven Secrets Cookbook by Neva and Jim Brackett. There are also some wonderful SDA veg bloggers out there.
If you are new to SDA cooking, I suggest starting with the Country Life Vegetarian Cookbook. No vegan can go wrong with this classic. You can explore further in the cookbook listings at the Adventist Book Center and Country Life Natural Foods. If you happen upon any older Adventist cookbooks in a used bookstore, snap them up! They give a fascinating look into the veg cuisine of an earlier era, and you might find yourself whipping up a batch of protose while remembering those who were veg before us!