T h e F o u r t h I n s t a l l m e n t of the T h e o r y of C u i s i n e
The Restraints to
The Theory of
V e g e t a r i a n i s m
o r a t l e a s t,
Eating Less Meat
I feel particularly qualified to take up this subject because of two things:
I am not a vegetarian, I do eat meat.
I dig the earth. Not only do I dig it, I also dig-it.
( Or as someone said, "Save the Earth, it's the only planet with Chocolate." )
And it is true, I do want to Save-the-Earth for a variety of reasons.
But I don't want to save it the way that it is, I want to change it.
But the facts-of-the-matter are that the world is going to save itself, by itself, one way or another,
with us or without us.
So that is why I think it should be saved with as little pointless conflict as possible.
One way to reduce such conflict is to keep everyone reasonably well fed.
Given this - The evidence is in.
And I'm sure you've heard this before... if everybody is going to get fed in the upcoming decades,
one of the key factors will be everyone eating less meat. And the reason to start now, is that
as Americans we have a lot of responsibility because we are leaders of world fashion.
This little preface is letting you know where I am coming from, and why I think the subject and
our practices around the issue, are worthy of further study and action. So . . .
To understand this home-grown theory of vegetarianism,
let's first look at what restrains its acceptance.
There are three things:
Vegetarianism unfortunately does not . . .
1 - Drive the menu. 2 - Create a sense of centerpiece. 3 - Have a sense of sacrifice.
To elaborate ...
1. Drive the menu.... Meat drives the menu. If somebody says, 'what do you want for dinner?',
the answer is easy; it's Chicken, Beef, Fish, or Pork.
Each one of these answers yields one or two favorites. The favorites are easily imagined and
there are plenty of supporting recipes from the family or books, (even the Internet) to get to
that imagined favorite.
With vegetarianism, the answer is: soy, grains, greens, beans, or something equally vague
and amorphous. So given you can't get fed with the amorphous, then the answer goes to
something with a little body, which develops to an ethnic group... "Let's have Italian, or Mexican,
or Japanese" for example. Or it's a cooking style or device, like BBQ-ed, wok-ed,
a hot iron plate for sizzling, or casserole-ed. And within these categories/groups/devices
there are hundreds of choices and tens of favorites.
It doesn't exactly drive a menu. So the easier choice is:
2 - Creation of centerpiece.... Meats creates the sizzle, ooh, and even the ahh of presentation.
Meat catches people attention. A casserole only has a half-assed-chance to create salivation.
And there is a reason for that:
3 - A sense of sacrifice.... Although nobody ever talks about it much, it goes back to our
DNA roots. This is what a soy bean can't provide. And luckily so. It wasn't exactly sacrificed.
It was not the worst day in a soy bean's life when it became dry and it was harvested.
But hang out for even 1 minute at a processor where life is coming to an end against it's will,
and you will never forget what a sacrifice occurred. Rightfully, because of the unpleasantries,
we all tend to remove ourselves from the process of production, it all becomes distant.
But if we remove ourselves too much, and we are eating anonymous food, this is
the first sign that we are in the process of losing our roots to our means of existence.
Something to avoid,
because existence does take sacrifice.
Therefore, given these 3 restraints, it is easy to understand why we gravitate toward
meat eating as it drives the menu, creates centerpiece, and the imbues the sense of sacrifice.
And that is why my theory of vegetarianism is so simple....
To elaborate the theory, using the three restraints.
Driving the Menu - When Krassimira and I eat out, we let the menu drive the menu,
and we usually eat meat. But at home, we have many more choices to ensure
our nutrition on all the different levels.
So we let two things drive the menu: Culture and Devices.
Culture, sometimes known as ethnic, is a good place to start.
And each culture has its own little devices which sets them apart as a culture or region.
When Krassimira and I travel, which we don't do very much because we like it at home
so much, we collect the devices that were used to make the unique dishes:
a 'cataplana' in Portugal, 'gouveches' in Bulgaria, a 'tortilla press' in Mexico.
With these devices and cultures, it drives the menu.
Then we just let the various soy products do their thing.
Please Note: When I wrote this several years ago, I felt differently about soy beans and
the products derived from them. Now I eat very, very little soy. This is for two reasons:
1. There is a hormonal issue for men because soy can cause the production of inappropriate
amounts of estrogen. 2. And this is the much bigger reason, 90% of all soy beans grown in the
U.S. are now genetically modified to be able to tolerate the use of RoundUp, an herbicide and poison.
This has been the single handed work of the Monsanto chemical company. Because of their band of
goons (called investigators), now seed saving is practically a thing of the past due to Monsanto
holding a patent for a novel form of life. Many farmers trying to maintain genetic diversity
have been intimidated and sued by this misdirected company. For this reason, I have
given up on the soy bean, but have left the references for historical reasons.
If you can't get soy products that mimic meat, go to your store and ask, or visit a website.
The following companies make many more products than what's listed, these are our favorites:
lightlife lightlife.com Smart dogs! - Veggie Ham - Gimme Lean, 'beef' & 'sausage'
Smart dogs! - These are the best of the dogs, I've tried all the different brands.
Veggie Ham - A great way of introducing the ham flavor to beans, eggs, etc.
Veggie Salami - Same as above, but I use it more like a spice/herb in Italian dishes.
Gimme Lean, 'beef' & 'sausage' - Absolutely essential, they have the stickiness that
ground meat has which is essential in meatless-balls and meatless-loaf.
Morningstar Farms seeveggiesdifferently.com Corn Dogs - Sausage Patties -
Sausage Links - Meal Starters
Corn Dogs - You know, this is Americana re-invented, I make no apologies, I luv'em.
Sausage Patties & Sausage Links - Really good as is, or, cut or broken up in stews and sauces.
Meal Starters - Food technology at its best, the steak and chicken strips are amazing,
the chicken is best if first browned in a little olive oil.
Yves Veggie Cuisine yvesveggie.com The Good Ground - Brats, original & Italian
The Good Ground - Another absolutely essential, it has the ground beef texture needed
in pasta sauces and lasgana.
Brats, original & Italian - These are big sausages that are a huge favorite around our house.
Unfortunately, they are very hard to find.
Boca bocafoods.com Boca Burgers
Boca Burgers - These are the best of the burgers, they have the perfect re-fluxed fat from
the grill taste. We buy the 'original' flavor, we haven't tried all of the other flavors,
but I'm sure they are good.
These are all worthy products and they can almost always substitute for anything that isn't just a
big hunk of meat.
Creation of Centerpiece - This is the one place where vegetarians, or quasi-vegetarians, just have to
be a little more creative than the norm. But isn't that our thing anyway?
So let me back-up a little bit. There are two basic styles of having dinner at home:
Everything on the table at once -&- Serving in courses.
We favor serving-in-courses because it gives us more time for the meal and the appreciation of
all of the work and the elusively-sacred nature that went into it, more opportunity to
drink different and really good wines, a bit of time to do a little kitchen work/clean-up between
courses, a chance for people's specialties to come out as they take responsibility for a course,
and it's not so stressful because the amount of simultaneous production goes down when
it can come to the table as needed. It also gives a sense of family/couple/person nucleation....
Or to say it this way - Everyone was gathered around the table and I was talking to myself,
muttering, but nevertheless in a Now-Hear-This manner, and I said:
"You know, I think dinner is the 'main-event' around here."
to which, Clark, the youngest son, said...
"Gee Dad, did you just realize that?"
Guilty as charged !
I mastered the obvious.
And within serving-in-courses there are two ways of doing that:
Plating -&- Family Style
Plating takes more creativity, but it reduces the need for a sense of centerpiece because
the plate in front of you, is the centerpiece.
Your classic trade-off.
Plating obliges your artistic tendencies to blossom.
Because you have to make the plate of food, to some degree, be a composition.
Besides, it a chance to get back at your parents that told you not to play with your food.
It's not that hard, sometimes just the plate itself can do the art all by itself.
A plop of polenta on a beautiful plate, with one sprig of herb from the garden is plenty beautiful.
Sometimes plating can be a chance to do something artistic with that little dab of leftover that
would otherwise go wanting and be ignored in the family-style format.
But given that artistic creation does beckon you, plating is a chance to have fun.
And the huge advantage is that after your creative urge is fulfilled,
you don't have to sell it, figure out where to put it in the house, or where to store it.
Isn't it just amazing that eating can take care of all that annoyance?
Serving family-style has its glory too. This is where we bring the unusual cooking devices to
the table. Hauling in the Dutch Oven from the campfire, always makes for a centerpiece.
This leads us to:
A sense of sacrifice - This is another look at a subject that goes back to the DNA roots.
Fire, Smoke, and its attending Aroma... all relate to ceremonial sacrifice.
This is what gives the sense-of-sacrifice to our cooking style. Every chance we get we
smoke the food, or cook it over fire, or with fire in the pizza oven.
Fire from a propane bottle doesn't count because there isn't the complete aroma.
This is what mingles into our cultural/genetic roots and gives us a rock solid feeling of
we are at home. Now in the middle of winter, the firewood gets wet and the campfire ring gets
soggy, so we do have a way of bending the rules, but we use natural gas and not propane.
It is another cooking device that we found at the Robin's Nest, a store just off the
southeast corner of the Sonoma Square, next to Reader's Books
(another must if you support independent bookstores).
It is the "Cameron ~ Smoker ~ Cooker".
I can't find a website for them, but go to the Robins Nest the next time you are in Sonoma,
or, yes, I did find it on eBay.
This is a great device that has earned its place in our kitchen and earned its storage space.
It comes with your starter kit of different wood chips for smoking and it really does the trick.
If you want the soul-food satisfaction of smoke, and you don't have a fire-ring out the front door,
* get one. *
There are just some things that can't be sacrificed, like eating without a sense of sacrifice.
The whole thing might be a little rich....
But that's my theory,
and I'm stickin' with it !