The Inconsistent Vegan

First of all, I’m sorry for procrastinating on writing the next post on this blog. I know you’ve all been sitting on the edge of your seats waiting to hear what happened at The Big Show™ (that was a joke). My prediction about going into the interview calm and relaxed because I had nothing to lose came true. We all talked easily and laughed a lot. I wore black pants and a red and white striped shirt with a grey jacket (so DC), and the chairs in the conference room turned out to be gaming chairs, black with red piping. So I started the conversation by taking off my jacket and thanking them for buying chairs to match my outfit. The joke landed, and like that, we were off. I should know something one way or the other by next week, but even then, I will have another interview with the department head, which will be much more about HR kinds of things since I’ve already been given preliminary approval. And then the University of Maryland hiring process takes over, and that is state bureaucracy, so if I actually get an offer, it may be close to two months before I actually start. I’m not bothered by this- getting hired at University of Houston was the same way. It just comes with the territory of working for a state school.

The title of this entry comes from me committing to be vegan at home. I realized that with all the crap I eat (at work, dining out, etc.), at least some of my meals have to contain nutritional value. But the voice of Anthony Bourdain is always in my head. I remembered his treatise on the audacity of vegetarianism/veganism, and just how much I agree with it. Basically, he said that food is about hospitality, and when you reject someone’s food, you reject them. No matter what you’re offered, eat it. Choke it down if you must. It’s that important.

Maya Angelou once said (in an Oprah interview, I think), “when people show you who they are, believe them.” Nowhere is that more apparent than when someone offers to cook for you. If you sit down at their table, they are indeed showing you who they are. Food reflects both one’s self and family history.

I don’t have any food allergies, so when people ask me if I have any or if I have a preference as to what we eat, I used to say, “nope. Just the fact that you’re cooking for me is enough, because the last thing I want to do after hours of cooking for others is cook for myself.” Perhaps now I should say “make something that makes you happy.” I can think of several sub-par meals I’ve had over my lifetime (in restaurants, not at friends’ houses) that I remember as some of the best food I’ve ever eaten, just because of who was sitting at the table. I am guessing that the same is true for all of you.

Therefore, I just want to take care of my body when I’m alone. I don’t feel the need to make anyone else adapt for me, or preach on the evils of eating meat because I just don’t buy it. I have issues with buying meat where you don’t know your source, but other than that, I’m “game.” There are few people I respect more than Temple Grandin, and if you know her work, you’ll understand that to me, it’s not about giving up meat, but giving up the mistreatment of animals before we eat them. I believe in giving thanks for their lives, a nose-to-tail approach so that nothing is wasted, and eating lots of vegetables because humans weren’t meant to eat meat every day, a lot of what’s driving animal cruelty because the demand to do everything bigger and faster supports it.

Just being mindful is enough for me.

I will say, though, that I enjoy Quorn and Dr. Praeger’s meatless chicken a lot more than I enjoy poor quality nuggets and patties of the real thing. I have also discovered Dr. Praeger’s crabless cakes, and it was really hard not to eat the whole bag at once.

They’re probably vegetarian. I didn’t check. Baby steps.

But from now on, Pizza Night is one of those Daiya Supremes, because I can’t get enough of them. I was going to try and have it ready by now, because I’m working at 1800, but now I think I’ll bake it when I get home- note to all those who metaphysically show up at my house that dinner has been moved. I’m sorry if you don’t like vegan pizza, but if you get to show me who you are, then I get to do the same.

Choke it down if you must.

To InfiniMeat and Beyond

BURGERFI has a new Beyond Burger, which I was excited to try because they are all the rage with vegetarians and vegans right now. I can understand why they’re excited. It does taste like a burger. But here’s why I’m not so crazy about it….. The pictures look like the burgers are fat, like Chili’s or something. What arrived was as flat as a McDonald’s basic hamburger patty, but three times as large as the bun. Plus, it tasted like McDonald’s poor quality beef as opposed to Quorn chicken patties, which are so much better than that Tyson’s crap. Though I’m sure that the Beyond Burger contained less fat & calories than anything Mickey D’s has to offer, my official review is “meh.” I was disappointed that something that looked incredible on the menu and package at Whole Foods just fell apart all over the place, and I could have spent that money on a chickpea or spicy black bean burger that would have stayed together and tasted better.

Side note-  All Quorn products are not vegan- some are made of mycoprotein and egg whites (which, obviously, enhances the chicken flavor). If you are vegan and want to try it, vegan options will say so on the package. However, I have not tried them, thus will not even attempt a review until I have. That being said, I have not once been disappointed by Quorn. My favorite are the “chicken breasts” stuffed with goat cheese and cranberries.

Let me say for the record that I am an omnivore, and have not given up meat entirely. I have given up meat most of the time. As a cook, I am very interested in vegetarian/vegan cooking because it takes skill to recreate your favorite dishes without the use of meat, eggs, dairy, etc. For instance, fluffy crusts with olive oil instead of butter or Alfredo sauce made from cashews and nutritional yeast. As a junk food junkie, I also enjoy making “shitty bar food” healthier, such as nachos with Daiya cheddar or pizza with mozzarella shreds that melt better than the real thing. Also, pretty sure that Whole Foods’ 365 brand “hot dogs” kept me alive for the better part of a year…. I did so much with them:

  • Cream cheese and Sriracha (the non-blended chili garlic sauce as opposed to The Big Bottle™)
  • Bleu Cheese dressing, wing sauce, and shredded carrots
  • Mustard, ketchup, and vegetarian chili
  • Classic- mustard, ketchup, and sweet relish
  • Chicago- you can order the neon relish and sport peppers online

There are four really good reasons I have flipped my diet this way. The first is that I don’t have to worry that vegan and vegetarian food will spoil before I get a chance to eat it. The second is that I have to splurge on beef and chicken so that I know my source and am not advocating animal cruelty. Meat that isn’t expensive is generally because it isn’t made from animals who were actually allowed to have a life and weren’t pumped full of dyes and antibiotics…. chickens in particular. The third is that plant-based foods are infinitely more sustainable. The fourth is that when I eat nutritionally dense food, my overall mental health improves. This is not to say that I can control it by nutrition only, just that combined with medication, I am more healthy overall. I am most impressed by the healthy fats.

My obsession with vegetarian and vegan food started with a bang in two ways. The first is that I cracked an egg and noticed there was blood in it. I asked Chef Dana about it, and she said, that’s a chicken abortion. I told her I didn’t care if she was a chef/butcher or not, if she ever said that to me again I was going to force her to be vegan the rest of her life, because ew. I was only half-kidding.

Additionally, one of our neighbors in Portland, who’d also previously been a butcher, started a vegan Italian trattoria that is unfortunately now closed, despite many, many five-star reviews. I would have given it at least one Michelin star, but they didn’t ask me. That is how I became convinced that anyone could make a great meal with filet mignon, but it took work and excellence in the kitchen to create memorable plant-based dishes.

However, I feel it necessary to say for the record that vegetarian/vegan food will not necessarily make you lose weight, because so many people believe it. The difference is not caloric intake, but the types of calories you ingest. Portion control is still just as necessary… I mean, come on. Alfredo sauce made from cashews? Please.

I’ve even changed my morning coffee to better fats, because both animal and plant fat naturally bind to coffee. Trader Joe’s has what they call “Coconut Beverage,” which comes in plain and vanilla. It has the same amount of fat as 2% milk, so your coffee is still just as creamy, yet not as unhealthy as either half-n-half, or what I like to call “chemical shitstorm,” all the dairy and non-dairy fat free creamers of the world. Coconut Beverage is different than coconut milk, in that it is coconut-watered down. Pure coconut milk, while delicious, contains enough fat and calories for an entire day. A pina colada is basically three meal replacements at once.

For ovo-lacto vegetarians, I also believe in Bulletproof coffee as a breakfast replacement. Take one tablespoon of grass-fed butter (I use Kerrygold) and one tablespoon of coconut oil and throw it in the blender with eight ounces of coffee. I like to make the coffee strong AF so it stands up to that much fat, but adjust your own to taste. The reason you only need 8oz of coffee is that the little amount of caffeine plus the mind-bending nutrients of the coconut oil and grass-fed butter will keep you buzzing for HOURS without the crash later. Just make sure the coffee is still hot and that you have a blender that will stand up to the heat, because if you try to make it out of room temperature or cold brew, the butter and oil will separate. What you’re looking for is a creamy latté with much more foam on top. You might disagree with me, but I can barely taste the coconut, if at all, and just tastes like a better version of a coffee house drink that doesn’t cost five dollars.

These are, so far, the best tips I have for a nutritionally dense diet without animal fat. I will probably come up with more, but right now I have to get ready for an event tonight. I’m going to dinner at the Mexican Cultural Institute, cooked by the adorable Pati Jinich…. meat included.