I had my first piece of vegan cheesecake last week, and oddly enough, it was during a trip to Kansas City for the Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit.

You read that correctly, but just to clarify, it wasn’t while attending the actual event. Nor was it fully intentional.

The summit is one of my favorite events because it brings together people from a wide variety of sectors, including broiler, turkey, egg, pork, beef, dairy, lamb and goat. And at this event, they all learn to advocate for each other. Plus, you won’t likely eat any funky food. The main course will always involve some sort of flavorful animal protein.

It was a several-hour drive, so I pretty much did my daily routine, took care of a few things outside of work, and hopped in my truck to head to Kansas City without first changing clothes.

While I normally arrive in time for the welcome reception, that wasn’t the case this year. I checked in, then plopped down in the hotel room for a while. When I decided to get some supper, I figured pretty well everyone I knew had already eaten, so I went to check out restaurants within walking distance of the hotel.

I saw a place called True Food Kitchen. I didn’t know exactly what True Food meant, even though I had a hunch. But I thought what the heck.

Like I said, I didn’t change out of my casual clothes. So when I went in, I was wearing boots, faded jeans, a belt with a rodeo buckle, a cowboy hat and a t-shirt that showed support of an obviously small town high school sports team. As you can suspect, I was the only person dressed like that in there.

But nobody stared, and the staff was courteous. I ordered a grass-fed beef burger, a side of potatoes and a blackberry lemonade. I don’t feel like the beef I eat has to have that label, but a burger did sound good. And it was.

The waitress came back by to ask me if I needed anything else. With no menu in front of me, I asked what they had for dessert. She rattled off several choices, including (something-something) cheesecake. I didn’t catch what the something-something was, but cheesecake sounded good, so I told her I’d have the cheesecake.

She brought it out, and the flavor wasn’t bad, but the texture was odd and the crust was difficult to get a fork through. Not the best cheesecake, but nothing I would send back. The waitress swung by and asked my how my vegan cheesecake was.

My response: “That’s vegan cheesecake? I didn’t know you could make cheesecake without cattle.”

She just laughed. I acknowledged that it wasn’t too bad.

But I wondered: Did she see how I was dressed and deliberately mumble when she said the something-something that preceded cheesecake, or is it just that too many years of driving tractors, playing loud music and using power tools have taken a toll on my hearing?

A good conversation piece

The next morning, before entering the convention room where the summit sessions were held, I saw Steve Olson, one of the summit speakers who I’ve known for several years and consider a friend. We talked about a few things, and I shared my story about the vegan cheesecake and the irony of it all.

Then when Olson’s session started, he had us hold several discussion at our tables. And the cheesecake topic came up during our table discussion. One woman at my table represented the dairy industry. She said she didn’t oppose people using non-dairy milk products and wanted consumers to have a choice. But she did note that she would not eat vegan cheesecake herself.

Another person at the table who represented the beef industry wondered if maybe people at these restaurants talk up vegan items because that’s what they think the consumers want. She was probably right in some instances, but I told her how I was dressed and that that may not have been the case in my particular situation.

But my takeaway from the whole experience is this: I could have made my comment about not knowing you could make cheesecake without cattle in a snarky or condescending tone of voice, but I did so in a tone of surprise or curiosity. Not to toot my own horn, but I think I handled the situation properly. This waitress saw someone who clearly wasn’t pro-vegan, but was willing to give such a product a try to supplement a meal of animal protein. She cordially thanked me for dining there, and I cordially thanked her for waiting on me.

Multiple companies who produce both plant-based and animal-based protein foods have said their entries into the plant-based sector weren’t about replacing animal proteins with plant-based proteins, but rather complement or supplement each other.

And when a restaurant that wants to appeal to vegetarians or vegans sees someone eating both types of protein, that could be what it takes to make sure that at least some animal proteins remain on the menu.