Tagged: nonsense

things are looking up

Going into this vegan-macrobiotic diet, I knew I was getting into something absurd, as written by some idiot actress. I thought it would be sort of fun in that way that doing any stupid thing on a lark is always fun. And I thought that, since some people I’ve known and some people I don’t know (@foodsyoucaneat, obv) have said that going vegan did actually make them feel great, maybe I’d be surprised by some positive physical results.

I was wrong.

The Kind Diet is exactly what it looks like: a horrible nightmare diet full of bland and sad, designed for people who hate both food and themselves.

To be fair to veganism, I already regularly eat a number of meals that happen to be vegan and that also happen to be delicious. (The beauty of not being a vegan, though, is that if something you try doesn’t quite work, you can always blanket your missteps in cheese.) The problem here is more with 1) macrobiotics and 2) Alicia Silverstone’s horrible recipes.

As in all books of this ilk, there is a suspiciously overenthusiastic barrage of reassurances that the food will be awesome, that you don’t lose anything by giving up animal products. Well, you do obviously give something up just there, but if you also give up salt and sugar and fat, and then start dousing everything in umeboshi byproducts? Just admit that enjoying food makes you feel dirty and sinful. Please. I mean, hell, I’ve read pro-ana message boards less quick to label foods “naughty” or “nasty” than The Kind Diet is.

Three days in, I had already sucked down half a pan of peanut butter crispy treat things, because they were the only thing from the book that I found edible. As such, I have consumed about half a jar of brown rice syrup. I don’t think that’s really part of the plan, but you guys, I was so hungry.

She claims you will get plenty of protein, and when giving an overview of how to build a macrobiotic meal, says to start with a grain and then “add a bean or bean product. And eat a wide variety of beans.” But then, if you look through the sample week-long meal plan she provides immediately thereafter, actual beans show up once and tofu shows up twice. Realistically, she’s asking you to live on grains. I already like to eat whole grains, but in normal life I have the option of adding an egg or some cheese, and then I’m not starving again 45 minutes after I eat.

In my current grumpy, sleepy state (I fell asleep on the couch at 4 pm yesterday, which is extremely not normal), I’m also less willing to laugh off the shitty logic that forms the basis for eating like this in the first place. Am I saving myself? Not too likely, given that I’m already pretty healthy and now I just feel stressy and mad. Am I saving the planet? Well, let me think about that for four-and-a-half seconds. Let’s take one of Silverstone’s big arguments that if we switch to a plant-based diet, we’ll be saving the rainforest, because the majority of rainforest destruction is a result of clearing land upon which cattle may graze.

Unfortunately, while meat does contribute its fair share, it’s not only meat production but agriculture in general that leads to deforestation. What’s more, most of that is subsistence farming, not commercial, and that first one has nothing to do with my appetite for beef. To go even further, a huge segment of that commercial agriculture contributing to deforestation is the production of palm oil. Walk through Whole Foods or the “natural foods” section of your grocery store sometime, read some labels, and try to tell me you don’t completely lose count of how many of those products contain palm oil. So when Silverstone or PETA or anyone else says that eating a whole-foods macrobiotic vegan diet is best, but that eating a vegan diet built around soy substitutes and processed convenience foods is somehow “still better” than eating any animal products, how does that follow? If you lend any of her arguments credence, they don’t in any way point to a vegan diet (unless, again, you just feel guilty about eating an animal or anything they produce—which is fine, but not really an argument so much as an opinion). There is probably something there to further the idea of lessening dependence on large-scale agriculture that destroys the land (in which case, I hope you’re looking pretty closely at where you’re getting grains in such quantity), to eating more foods lower on the food chain and more wild foods. But eating always means death, it always means robbing something else of its reproductive raison d’être, and feeding the number of people we have to feed is going to mean interrupting the “natural order” of things, whether those people are eating eggs or not.

Anyway. I initially figured that as long as I had a book by Alicia Silverstone around, I should give the diet a fair shot by remaining faithful to her vision and using her recipes. As it turns out though, I’m not strong enough to keep this up, because it’s gross. Last night, I celebrated my independence with a meal based around vegetables and defiantly lacking in grains, and I instantly felt better. OK, actually, first I celebrated with a truly massive order of cheese fries. But then I went back to being vegan and ate this stuff for dinner:

Bicolor corn, lightly marinated cucumbers, and a raw beet salad, with all the vegetables coming either from the local farmers’ market, the CSA share I inherited for a couple of weeks while my sister-in-law was on vacation, or our backyard. A small black bean burger completed the meal (not actually vegan, because it was left over from a few days ago when I was still eating eggs). No umeboshi anything, no outsized sugar cravings from eating so many carbs, none of the bleakness that comes with eating gruel prescribed by Batgirl.

So for the sake of science, I think I’ll continue with the vegan thing for a couple of weeks or so like I said I would, but you’ll probably all be happy to hear that I’m dumping the macrobiotic bit and you won’t have to read all these super-timely Alicia Silverstone jabs anymore.

Though, I have to say, I will miss her unique brand of namedropping or whatever this is:

But I guess everything has to come to an end sometime. For now, I’ll leave you with the recipe for the beets, because I guess this is mostly a beet recipe blog now.

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blue belly bbq + a preliminary weigh-in

Well, not literally. I’m not trying to lose weight here, and I never weigh myself anyway. (Even if I did, it’s doubtful I’d be champing at the bit to go internet-public with a number.) As I embark on day one of my vegan experiment, though, I thought I might as well try for an overview of where I’m at going in.

First things first: I chose Blue Belly BBQ as the venue for my farewell-for-now to meat, and it only seems fitting to lead off this post about veganism with a mini-review of a tableful of dead animal. Jarred and I chose two sandwiches (pulled pork and korean beef) and one platter (pork belly), then shared everything. The korean beef sandwich was my favorite thing—a surprising result considering my deep-seated amorous feelings toward pulled pork, and the fact that Gene Giuffi tops his with pickled fennel and motherfucking pork rinds. Still, while the pork was very good and the meat/bun interplay was exemplary, overall it was just a touch overshadowed by the more engaging korean beef, with its kimchi and awesome vinegary drippings that I had to keep licking off of my wrists as I ate.

I’m not going to insult you by describing smoked pork belly, but of course it was great, because it was smoked pork belly and Giuffi knows how to cook pig. The sides weren’t necessarily huge standouts for me, but all were enjoyed. The braised greens were pleasant, but begged for a squirt of the slightly-spicy vinegar sauce on the table. (They provided both hot and sweet sauces, the hot version of which really stole my heart, a mustard sauce, and the vinegar-based one, in addition to sriracha and ketchup.) I also doused most of the (very good) fries that came with my sandwich in the vinegar sauce, because duh. The bacon onion corn cakes were probably my favorite of the sides, while the baked beans were good but very unexpected. Our cup might’ve contained roughly equal parts meat and beans, but completely absent was the molasses-forward sweetness or overt smokiness you might expect from barbecue-joint baked beans. These were white beans with a significant (and very welcome) green onion presence and occasional carrots, and the dish read to me more like a familiar bean soup, minus the soup. I liked them, but upon reflection, this is one place where I’d have been happy with a more expected approach. I might be tempted to mix in some sweet sauce if (when) I get them again.

My only other quibble was with the plating (traying?), and I won’t say I actually care about that, since it doesn’t impact the food at all. The massive trays managed to make the pork belly platter look scant, despite it being a fine amount of food. Little cups lined up beside two pieces of pork belly and a couple of pickle chips just leaves an awful lot of negative space. In contrast to the really bountiful, picnicky feel at a place like Hill Country, everything here seemed a little too dainty and composed for the background of a paper-lined tray. Even so, they managed to fit all three giant trays on our table comfortably, and it worked just fine to convey food to my dopey, meatphoric grin, so… just an observation. The takeaway is that I’ll find myself back here a hundred more times.

In contrast, my breakfast this morning consisted of “miso” soup over wilted napa cabbage and scallions and a scoop of black rice. I put miso in quotes, because due to logistical concerns, I chose to get started with my shopping at Whole Foods. They don’t carry miso paste, so I got a box of some sort of miso soup mix as a get-me-over until I can get to a decent Asian market, and oh my god. If this actually contains any miso at all, I will be shocked. It looks like there’s sand in it and (charitably, I guess, given the apparent sand content) tastes like nothing.

That said, while I wouldn’t say it’s the most filling breakfast, a more flavorful version of this would make for a pretty appealing option for me, vegan or not. I can only eat eggs so many days per week, I don’t often like sweet things for breakfast, and I’m also not particularly creative first thing in the morning. My favorite breakfasts are usually just leftovers from dinner (OK, often with an egg on top). So, miso soup. Sure.

The crazy macrobiotic directive to chew your food until it’s entirely liquid is so lost on me, though. “Just close your throat!” Alicia chirps helpfully—but look, lady, that completely flies in the face of how I’ve chosen to live my life thus far. (Also, that might have been a bit of a paraphrase, but it is the gist of her masticatory advice.)

From a physical standpoint, I already eat a ton of greens and a limited amount of meat, and I jog a little and do yoga, so it’s not like I’m going from a steady diet of fast food to this stoic new lifestyle. So we’ll see if a relatively brief experiment can lead to any measurable changes either way. But yesterday, my skin did decide to freak out and get oddly flaky, almost as if my body sensed that I needed some obvious yardstick and that Alicia Silverstone had promised my newly-vegan self newly-lovely skin.

Finally, in an intriguing turn of events, Jarred has been absolutely lapping up The Vegetarian Myth (which I still have not read, for those in the stands keeping score) and keeps pointing me to articles about how veganism leads directly to death. That may not sound intriguing, but consider that, unlike me, Jarred is a bona fide health enthusiast and life-long sufferer of animal-consumption-related guilt. He has actually flirted with a macrobiotic diet in the past, and has definitely gone vegetarian and vegan in turns over the years. So I thought that, if nothing else, he’d be on board for this for a few weeks. As it turns out, he is not! And I think I have Lierre Keith to thank for it.

He’s already trying to get me to eat pizza. Thanks, Lierre!

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notes on foodie navel-gazing

As part of my staunch commitment to acting like I’m still 12, I do one really weird thing: I still frequent public libraries.

For the record, from top to bottom: 1.) one book I’ve picked up on a few occasions and then promptly re-shelved, because it opens with such a dull rehashing of that propaganda-darling framework, “I understand the argument of my opposition perfectly; I used to be one of them!” and thanks for that, but I’m not actually still 12; 2.) one book I took out and started reading once a long while back, but that never held my interest and went back to the library largely unread; 3.) one book chosen partly to deflect any potential suspicion on the part of the librarian that I might actually be considering veganism and that this would be how I’d go about it if I were, and partly because I can’t wait to give it a second look through Gwyneth Paltrow-colored glasses; and 4.) one book by Alicia Silverstone.

I actually just humped these back to my house and haven’t cracked any of them open yet. This post is not about these books, but more about why I took them out. (Hint: not because of any recommendations from Alice Walker. BLURBING: WHY, HOW??)

There are a number of things that taint food writing and “foodie culture” as a whole for me, but there are two that particularly assert themselves, and they go hand in hand. The first is the tendency to indulge in preachy moralizing and snobbery. The second is the continual need to apologize for certain things you like to eat. One is more self-aggrandizing and the other more self-deprecating, but both are just expressions of a small-minded obsession with the self.

While veganism is an easy mark for the discussion of overmoralizing food, it’s hardly alone. Locavores often take on the same shrill tones, as can porkophiles. And it’s easy to get caught up! There are moral issues tied up in food and food production, same as any other form of consumption. But the reason I usually avoid books like some of those pictured above is that by now I’ve come to expect more proselytizing than sound argument, over-reliance on truisms and flawed studies, and appeals to the reader’s sense of superiority over those who would disagree.

The way I see it, we are all raping the planet, every day. We are all contributing to the suffering of other people and of animals, and not only through our dietary choices. (I’d be willing to concede that there may be a few people who don’t, but I also feel very confident that they’re not reading this food blog.) I’m not a nihilist; I applaud people making thoughtful choices in an attempt to lessen their negative impact on the world. But if, for instance, you really think that universal or widespread vegetarianism is the solution, you might first want to swap out the real U.S. population with some other one—because if there’s one thing people here might love more than animal products, it’s food from a box. And soy protein contributes to the rape of the planet, too.

(Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe one of these books will be so meticulously researched and so convincing that I will come back to you a fervid vegan or mindless carnivore. At the very least, the surprisingly large number of jokes I make at Jonathan Safran Foer’s expense will be coming from more solid ground.)

Moralizing types are bolstered by their convictions, which—much like a religion—they feel they need to convince others of or even legislate for the good of the planet, the animals, or our health in general. As a card-carrying pinko, I think some measure of regulation is absolutely necessary. But at a certain point, it helps to take a step back from yourself and remember all the other groups who fully believe they’re doing what’s necessary to save us from ourselves: Prohibitionists, the anti-choice crowd, the Westboro Baptist Church.

Then there are those whose only guiding conviction in life seems to be that no one else has a palate so refined as theirs, or a wealth of experience to rival theirs. Read the comments section of any popular food blog, and you’ll recognize these people by the way they react to every recipe with something like, “Cute idea. Next time, try a 36-month Parmigiano-Reggiano made in the northern Apennines in October, so much more complexity than whatever Whole Foods sold you.” In other words, they’re insufferable, and much of the time they’re just mining old Jeffrey Steingarten articles anyway. But this isn’t news to anyone.

So is it a result of these attitudes that so many people seem so insecure about the things they like to eat? Or is it just that if we acknowledge in passing our unease at eating so much junk food, we can move on, pretending we’ve actually addressed it? Whatever it is, I wish everyone would agree to stop throwing around the phrase “guilty pleasure” so damn much. (And that goes for your taste in TV and websites, too.) It’s so gross on so many levels. It implies a faux-morality that you clearly don’t actually ascribe to, and it also tries to imply that you live this intensely principled or harried or meaningful life for 23.5 hours a day and then hey, you’ve just gotta blow off a little steam by watching Kendra On Top.

Maybe you also saw that NYT piece a few weeks ago. I don’t have a problem with the article itself; I just hate that it had to be written. Even some of the chefs quoted just make me sad: Gabrielle Hamilton makes sense, but Tony Maws “[doesn’t] know why” he likes to eat Fritos. (Hint: they’re manufactured to be nothing other than addictively delicious.)

Why would anyone apologize for eating American cheese? Are you afraid that people are going to think that you’re only using it because you’ve never tried any other cheeses? If that’s been a real problem for you, how about this: the answer might not be to worry about your standards when it comes to food. Maybe you need to raise your standards when it comes to the people you surround yourself with. If you can’t extricate yourself from them, my advice would be to stop eating around them and stop telling them anything specific about yourself, because they sound awful, like really boring poison.

That kind of lazy, mean-spirited questioning into what other people are eating and why is what leads to the foodie one-upmanship I mentioned a few paragraphs back. Why would someone eat American cheese when they could have that one particular blue you’re so fond of right now? Well, maybe because they have entirely different properties, or maybe just because of nostalgic ties. It’s ok to eat something without a label approved by the foodie cabal, even without the blessing of Wylie Dufresne. It’s even ok to eat and enjoy something without ever asking to see the label. Which is not to say it’s not ok to note the provenance because you’d like to buy it again, but it is absolutely to say that it’s never ok to take note only so that you can later impress someone else with the fact that you ate it. If you ever feel yourself getting caught up in that race, have enough self-respect to drop the fuck out of the running.

(I should note that there is also the phenomenon of foodie shame surrounding anything one doesn’t like to eat. If you happen upon a crowd of trendy foodie types and want to ensure they won’t want to talk to you, try casually mentioning to them that you hate oysters, or that you can’t bring yourself to eat any animal’s eye.)

There are a lot of people who want to tell us what we should be eating. But if there are some we should listen to on that subject, I feel all right about assuming that the star of Clueless (or Pepper Potts, or Mark Bittman, or or or) does not number among them. I’ll read some of their books, though, even if the only result turns out to be that I have a fuller understanding of what’s being put out there that’s making us more and more stupid about how we feed ourselves.

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