Christ, its been a while. Sorry for not posting for a while, but school got crazy, because enrolling for two upper level English classes and a 200-level History was the greatest idea ever. But I’m not here to gripe about how stupid my life decisions are.
Instead, you all get to hear about the latest food trend. Actually, its not really that recent, it’s been around for years, but is only now beginning to gain a bit more popularity in the lower rungs of the food scene. The PB&P: Peanut butter and Pickle. In retrospect, I didn’t have to build up to the reveal as much as I did: the name of the sandwich is in the fucking title.My friend, Paisha, is responsible for alerting me to the presence of this magnificent sandwich. I greeted the news with skepticism. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.
PB&J is such a success because of the viscerally pleasing balance of creamy and fruity. But this balance can be achieved by taking the “fruity” out of the equation and adding pickles. They elevate the sandwich in a few key ways: texture, sweetness balance, acidity, and structure. There’s something about the crunch of a pickle that’s always satisfying. Especially in a sandwich that is otherwise devoid of texture, or rather, in a sandwich with the distinct texture of wallpaper paste, the snap of a pickle is welcome to remind yourself that, yes, this is grown-up food you’re eating. Textural contrast has always been important to me, which is why I couldn’t bring myself to eat a PB&J without some chips handy to stave of the feeling that I was just shoving globs of food product down my throat. The counterpoint to this crunch, however, is the soft flesh of the pickle. It almost creates its own jelly, which is very fun and, again, a nice contrast because the pickle jelly is not as mushy and formless as actual jelly. Sweetness balance was another thing that got to me. Peanut butter on its own isn’t terribly sweet, but when you combine it with jelly, the sugar in the peanut butter is much more prominent. I have an issue with too much sugar; it’s insulting to my palette. The pickle in a PB&P is nice because it balances the flavors. With a pickle, you get the sour component that is severely lacking in a PB&J. There is still the underlying sweetness from the peanut butter, but it plays a smaller part, as an accent instead of the main focus. The pickle also brings a nice amount of acidity to the party, which elevates the sandwich from being a stupid mess of glop to a sophisticated sandwich (if one can call this crack ship of ingredients sophisticated). Without this acidity, the top notes of the peanut butter are completely lost. It’s amazing how much a little kick of acidity will awaken your senses, especially with such a simple sandwich. Of course, the pickle also helps with the structural integrity of the sandwich. Remember how PB&J’s are always flopping around and oozing their filling all over the place? They’re messier than Paris Hilton on elephant tranquilizers. With the addition of the pickle, there is less amorphous globs of food to fall out. In fact, they stabilize the sandwich a bit, with the peanut butter acting as a thin layer of glue to keep the pickles safely in place.
Now that I’ve told you why a PB&P is awesome, you should be warned: this is not a sandwich you can take a lot of liberties with. It isn’t meant to be made with gourmet peanut butter, rye bread, and gherkins. This sandwich requires a few key things, the most important of which is the pickle. Dills get confusing, and even though they are delicious, they mess with the flavor too much. Use bread and butter pickles. I can’t stress this enough: any other pickle will pale in comparison to the bread and butter for this use. They are what really makes the PB&P the delicious sandwich that it is. White bread is important too: wheat bread, crusty bread, any other type of bread will be fine, but it won’t quite work. There’s something quintessentially white trash about slapping together a few pieces of Wonderbread. Any cheap loaf of white bread, honestly the cheaper and shittier the better, will be great for this sandwich. See that sad looking loaf of Kroger bread that nobody else is touching? Buy that! Although this sandwich is forgiving with peanut butter choices, I do recommend creamy peanut butter. Jif or Skippy, preferably, but if you can find something even more low-brow, go for it. This is not the place to whip out your gourmet stuff that you got from some guy named Damian from the specialty market. Don’t be choosy; use Jif.
At the end of this, you will end up with an excellent sandwich. I will leave a disclaimer: you will either love it or hate it. I got a bunch of my friends to try it, and a little more than half of them hated it, but that’s just because my friends don’t like pickles. I know, they’re terrible people, and I’ve been telling them that forever, but they just don’t understand the glory of the PB&P. But if you’re a person with a soul (i.e. likes pickles), I have a hunch this will be your new thing for a while. It certainly was for me.
I have some big news. My short story is getting published in my college’s literary review. It’s not the the biggest thing ever, but its pretty cool. Over the past six months, I’ve been writing and editing a story called “Coup de Tart” which is a kitchen noir story. It has no literary value, no symbolism, no deeper meaning, and absolutely no purpose. It’s just a really fun story about a guy who works in a kitchen getting involved with the mafia. I like to think of it as pioneering the genre of kitchen fiction, but that’s probably getting ahead of myself. Before it gets published though, I want to give you a sneak peak. Once its published, I will post a link to the whole story, or at least a link to a place where you can buy the story. Enjoy!
“Who is the money from?” she asked. She wanted me to give up Frank’s part in all this. No fucking way. I liked my job, and I liked Frank.
“I’m just the errand boy,” I said. The FDA woman turned her back to me and paced the room. Nobody said a word—all was still except her heels clacking along the floor. She spun around, a melon baller in one hand and a dough hook in the other.
“You know, I used to work for a fish supplier. You learn pretty quickly how to gut a fish in that environment. Sometimes we had so many fish, there weren’t enough knives to go around. We used all sorts of tools: spades, ice picks, combs. I once cleaned a fish with a melon baller and a dough hook. It was the easiest fish I’ve ever cleaned. These are still my tools of choice for any kind of gutting,” said the FDA woman. She held the dough hook close to my chest as the dishwasher sobbed next to me.
There was a knock at the door. One of the chefs went to answer it. As he walked to the door, I looked back at the flustered dishwasher who had all but curled into a ball. Agent Dubois was looking him up and down with her tiny, pigeon-like eyes. Her neck fat rolled over the collar of her shirt in the most intimidating way. As the chef opened the door, a flood of line cooks wielding kitchen utensils burst in.
But criticism, real criticism, is essentially the exercise of [curiosity]. It obeys an instinct prompting it to try to know the best that is known and thought in the world, irrespectively of practice, politics, and everything of the kind. — Matthew Arnold, The Function of Criticism at the Present Time 1864
I never reblog, but this feeds both my love of food and my love of literature. If I could like something a thousand times, I would like this a thousand times. Thank you, Emma, for sharing this. It made my night. Also, I’m so glad that there are people out there who know the amazingness that is Banoffee Pie.
(Source: ourgreatestmiseryis, via averagepedestrian)
I’ve often wondered whether organic foods really make a difference. My hipster friends love to tell me that it makes a dramatic difference, and that organic is the only way to go. Some of my more cynical friends would have me believe that labeling something “organic” is mostly a conspiracy thought up by the evil grocery stores to get me to pay double for a product that isn’t much different from its non-organic counterpart. Is there any truth to buying organic? Has the foodie revolution gotten us all hyped up to the point where we are willing to shell out extra money just to “feel good”?
These questions, along with many other unrelated and unimportant ones, have been keeping me awake at night. Or maybe its just that my roommate snores like a walrus. But damnit, I want to be melodramatic and hyperbolic, so we’ll go with organic food keeping me up at night. I devised a test that would prove whether organic food made any difference or not. Using four different foods (apples, lettuce, carrots, and eggs), I began to research health benefits of organic food. Apparently, the jury is still out on that verdict. Stanford recently did a meta-analysis of a lot of data gathered over the years from studies about organic food, and found that organic food has only a few relatively negligible benefits. But Mark Bittman, a very highly regarded food writer, has some differences of opinion and largely discounts the findings of this study. I’m still not sure what to believe. It’s at least apparent that there is no clear answer, and if the consensus is so mixed, there is probably a lot more that needs to be tested, analyzed, and reported. We are not close to having a definitive answer, but there seems to be a tentative “yes, organic food is better for you” from the science community, although it’s particularly hard to figure out what the benefits are specifically.
My own test had nothing to do with health. For those of you who know my lifestyle choices (lots of food, plenty of meat, little exercise, sleep deprivation, etc.), this will come as no surprise. What I really wanted to know was if organic food made a definitive qualitative difference in flavor. I used an organic and a non-organic version of each food. In the interest of fairness, I didn’t tell my test subjects which sample was which.
Oddly enough, the non-organic apple was preferred. Apparently, it was more flavorful, firmer, and had a thicker peel, while the organic apple was a bit softer, lighter in flavor, and had a peel that was barely noticeable texturally. However, it was well past the peak of apple season when this study was conducted, so it was not too surprising the non-organic won. Naturally, the non-organic apples you see in the store are designed to be harvested at odd times of the year, kept for long periods of time, and be firmer. For some reason, Americans like their fruit firm, before it gets the chance to ripen at all. That was the highest praise for the organic actually—it was perfectly ripe and juicy, although it had a lighter flavor.
Carrots were completely different. The organic was an easy winner. Non-organic carrots, predictably, have a grainy, stringy texture as opposed to the firm crunch of the organic carrot. Another aspect of the organic carrot was its depth of flavor; it was described as peppery, sweet, and even perfumy. Even though the non-organic carrot got the nod for tasting more earthy, it tasted more dirty earthy than clean earthy. My test subjects did inform me, however, that they would not bother buying organic if they were going to cook with the carrots. For eating raw, organic carrots were the favorite, with about half of my test subjects saying they would spring for organic if eating raw carrots.
Lettuce was equally easy. Yes, you guessed it, organic won. The reasons were similar to the carrots, namely that the organic lettuce had a firmer, better texture and much more depth of flavor. What really surprised me was that the non-organic lettuce was described as acidic and sour. One of my tasters even commented, “This doesn’t taste like it should be food.” Well put anonymous taster. Smell was another factor that was fairly decisive, with the organic having lots of fragrance, and the non-organic smelling distinctly like the plastic bag it was wrapped in.
Eggs were easy. Organic eggs taste fresher, and they have a generally firmer texture. The yolk is where it made a big difference. With the same amount of cooking time, the yolks of the non-organic eggs had hardened considerably more and had even become mealy. Someone commented, “It tastes like the inside of a refrigerator.” By comparison, the organic egg had plenty of clean, eggy flavor. The yolk was even bigger and much more flavorful.
So the jury may still be out on this one; I don’t think my study will be picked up by Universities or the Associated Press anytime soon despite how exhaustively I tested every piece of organic food I could afford and store for a day or two in my room. In general, I think it was a success, with most people preferring organic food, especially when its in season and fresh. But even though the organic was preferred, a smaller proportion of my testers said they would actually be willing to pay extra for organic food. Save it for the special occasions I guess. Practically, maybe organic is only good in some situations. But I definitely think its worth it for those few situation where you would really miss it. Next time you make a salad, just try using some organic lettuce. Or when you fry your next egg, use a fresh organic egg. You’ll notice a difference, and you tongue will thank you.
Addendum: I realize its been a month since I’ve actually posted. School is extremely busy, and I’ve been funneling my energy into writing papers and not falling behind. I can’t make any promises about updates and posts until I’m done with this semester, so all I can say is bear with me. Also, sorry about the distinct lack of pictures. Taking pictures of a few cut up foods laying on top of my mini fridge is not the most appealing, and quite honestly I forgot to take any pictures. I know, bad food writer. Have no fear; in the time that I’ve not been able to sit down and properly write an article, I’ve accumulated more than a few ideas for when I actually do have time.
God, I’m really terrible at getting posts out on time lately. My work load is rather large this semester, and I don’t expect it to let up. I will try to be more punctual about my posts, but when it comes right down to it, my grades take precedence. But I digress.
I’ve been in a particularly veggie mood lately, and decided to play around with making some Ratatouille. Everybody knows about Ratatouille from the Pixar movie by the same name, but in fact, that version of Ratatouille is a fancier version though up by Thomas Keller called Confit Byaldi. The truth is, Ratatouille has much humbler origins. Like many of the great comfort foods, Ratatouille came into being out of the kitchens of Provence. The question “what can I do with these random vegetables?” has been an important question for many impoverished cultures for centuries, and strangely enough, it has produced some of the best food known to man.
This dish is usually made by stewing eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and garlic together in a pot for a while with some herbs (basil or marjoram usually). While this method develops great flavor, the texture leaves something to be desired. By making a sauce with the tomatoes, onions, and garlic, we can develop all the great, savory flavor. But if we saute the other vegetables separately they will retain their freshness and texture. This allows for a dish with a wide range of flavor and textures. Ratatouille is great with anything from grilled lamb to fish. I highly recommend serving it alongside a starch of some sort, bread being the first choice.
-1 medium eggplant, finely diced
-2 zucchini, finely diced
-1 green bell pepper, finely diced
-1 red bell pepper, finely diced
-1 onion, finely diced
-5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
-1 28 oz can of tomatoes (San Marzano if possible)
-handful of basil leaves, chiffonaded
-herbs de provence
In a medium pot over medium heat, add a bit of olive oil. Once the oil is hot, sweat the onions until translucent. Then add the garlic and saute until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and break the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.
In a large skillet over medium high heat, add some olive oil. Once hot, add the zucchini and eggplant. Season with salt, pepper, and herbs de provence. Cook until tender. Set aside. Repeat the process with the bell peppers.
Add the sauteed vegetables to the sauce along with the basil and stir to incorporate and heat through. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
I’m sorry I didn’t get a post up last week. I’ve been busy and had some issues I’ve had to deal with, especially with my internet connection back at college. However, that hasn’t stopped me from cooking and eating. Although nothing I’ve done is particularly noteworthy, I figure I can piecemeal together a few things I’ve been doing into a somewhat coherent and informative post. Thus, this post is called “table scraps”, as in the stuff that’s still good but didn’t quite make it into a full post.
Did you know that if something is too acidic, you can add a bit of honey and bring the acid level down. Only a teaspoon will do the trick, and you won’t taste the honey at all. It’s a much better alternative to adding dairy, which is what I usually do in a highly acidic situation. But nobody wants a vinaigrette with milk in it. Well, maybe some people do, but those are probably the same people who like unsalted potato chips, oxidized artichokes, and gray steaks. This honey trick works for everything I’ve tried. It doesn’t fight with any of the flavors, but simply takes some of the bite off.
Apparently octopus is a particularly challenging meat to cook. Unlike most other seafood, which must be treated delicately and cooked quickly, octopus is tough. It’s a meat that must be cooked slowly for a long time. It’s the brisket of the seafood world, if you will. So if you’re ever thinking about cooking octopus, which I highly recommend you try at some point, you should do a braise, or any other method that allows for long cooking time in wet heat.
Mushrooms, as I’m sure most people know, are not actually vegetables. They are fungi, which means they have a very different construction than what we’re used to. Namely, mushrooms have very porous cells with walls that can easily be broken. And how do we break down these mushrooms to concentrate flavor, extract water, and make them denser. Salt. Yes, the magical cooking all-star makes yet another appearance in the cooking world, making sure your fungi cook perfectly. Salt liberally. It may seem like a lot, but the mushrooms can take it. Remember, the salt here is more for the chemical process it plays rather than the flavor of the salt itself.
Really good sushi is more than just fish. But to realize this, you have to have eaten a lot of sushi from a lot of different places. You begin to realize that the freshness and taste of the fish is only half of the equation. Rice takes up a considerable part of the sushi experience, and can be just as important, if not more important, than the fish. Properly cooked sushi rice is an art that takes years to master. It shows true dedication and attention to detail if your sushi contains good sushi rice. I have eaten sushi where the fish was merely okay, but the rice was exceptional, and I consider that sushi to be excusable. It might even be better than sushi where the fish is good but the rice is terrible. Since sushi restaurants of varying levels pop up nearly everywhere nowadays, the rice has become my most trusted way of knowing how good a sushi place really is. That, and if they serve me sake with no questions asked.
I’ve been making a lot of stews and one pot meals in the past few weeks, usually cooking with my mum. She really likes to use a recipe, and I usually don’t so it’s a bit of a challenge for us to work together sometimes. But over the course of my winter break, I’ve started writing stew recipes on my free time because stews are amazing. All the ingredients are cheap, they’re really easy to make, and there’s something viscerally comforting about a stew. Instead of sharing some of my recipes with you though, I want to share a general method. After hashing through tons of stew recipes, a pattern appears. It’s pretty easy to pick up and riff on if you have a good sense of flavor. The method is as follows:
Sear desired cheap cut of meat in vegetable oil in a dutch oven or large pot. Once browned, set aside on a plate. Add aromatic vegetables to sweat and brown for a few minutes, then add minced garlic for another minute. Add spices and herbs and toast in the veggie mix. If you were going to make a roux, this would be the time to do it, but it is certainly not necessary. A roux, by the way, is equal parts flour and fat (oil or butter) whisked constantly until it turns the desired shade of brown. At this point, with or without roux, add a flavorful cooking liquid, like stock or wine. Bring to a boil and add meat and the meat juices from the plate, as well as any hearty, fibrous vegetables (potatoes, squash, etc.). Reduce to a simmer and cook, usually covered, until meat and vegetables are tender. Add finishing touches like an acid, fresh herbs, cream, or seafood. Serve with starch, like bread, rice, potatoes, etc.
You can do this with pretty much anything. I really like using chicken as my meat. If you feel particularly vegetarian, you can skip the meat and use mushrooms instead. The cool thing about these stews is that they age well, and flavors develop with time. After a day or two, the leftovers will taste even better than the original.
So that’s about all I can do for this week. I sincerely promise that I will have something more substantial for next week. Until then, I’m back to the old grind, eating in the college cafeteria and dreaming of the food I could be having instead.
Dating Series part 1
There’s a short story they made us read in high school about this kid eating oysters with his father. I don’t remember much about the story other than the somewhat average description of the oysters. I do remember having to analyze the hell out of it, and I very distinctly remember how much I thought analyzing a fairly innocuous story like that was bullshit. I vaguely remember saying something about it being a metaphor for sex, and I wish I didn’t remember the looks most of my classmates and even my teacher gave me when I said it.
But seriously, oysters are very sexy. Don’t believe me? What if I told you that oysters are a natural aphrodisiac, or that popping an oyster out of its shell is like…well you get the picture. It goes further than that though. Oysters imply something luxurious, daring, and exciting. You will learn a lot about someone by feeding them some oysters. I have no doubt that relationships involving oysters last longer than relationships without oysters, although I don’t think there’s ever been a study done to confirm. I urge you to try an oyster if you ever have the chance.
While it’s all well and good to sit back like a King with a dozen oysters that have already been shucked for you, most of us can’t really afford to do that. And for something as sensuous and intimate as eating oysters, you will want to do it in the comfort of your own home as well as at nice restaurants. Shucking your own oysters is an extremely valuable skill for small parties, and especially for date nights. Shucking an oyster showcase your strength, finesse, attention to detail, and creativity. It’s a sign that you know what you’re doing. With that said, I know there are plenty of people who don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to shucking oysters. That’s presumably why you’re reading this blog post.
Before we get into shucking, we should talk about choosing the oysters. In general, you want to get oysters that are from your area of the world. If you’re from the Seattle area, like myself, get oysters from the Puget Sound. Like with all seafood, the fresher the oyster, the better and cleaner it will taste. Some of my favorites are actually Canadian oysters from Vancouver Island. It’s not easy to tell how fresh some oysters are, but you can infer a few things by seeing how they’re kept. Always look for oysters kept in cold, relatively clear water. A bit of murkiness is expected, so don’t be put off if the oysters aren’t in a pristine fish tank. Oysters kept on ice will suffice, but they stay alive longer if they can stay in water. Buy your oysters as close to service as possible, never a day in advance. Like any seafood, you want to buy it the day you eat it. I’m not going to go over storage, because you really shouldn’t be storing them for that long. As long as they’re well wrapped and in the fridge, they’ll be fine for a few hours. When you unwrap the oysters, they should still be completely shut. If any have started to open, throw them out.
For shucking, you will need a towel and an oyster knife. No, not a paring knife, a screwdriver, or any other tool. I don’t usually promote unitaskers in the kitchen, but this is one where you cannot do it with anything else. A good oyster knife should be relatively short, have a solid handle and a guard between the handle and the blade. The term “knife” is somewhat deceptive, as it doesn’t have to be sharp at all. In fact, a blunt oyster knife works really well. Why not just use a paring knife? Oysters are tough motherfuckers. They’re the Samuel L. Jackson’s of shellfish, with Gooey Ducks being the Ron Jeremy’s. An oyster will not give up easily, and you’ll have to use some force. If your hand slips, you want to keep all your fingers. The guard helps with this. A paring knife will cut your fingers, and so will an oyster shell. You can find a decent one at a kitchen supply store for not much money.
Notice that an oyster has two sides, a flat side and a rounded side. Put the rounded side down on a kitchen towel and fold the towel over to have a grip on the flat side. An oyster is shaped like a tear drop and is extremely hard to open from the round end. You have to use the pointed end, the back end of the oyster. Plant the tip of your knife in the small crack.
Wiggle until you can feel the shell starting to come off. Then take your knife and run it along the top of the shell to remove the oyster from the top shell. This will also remove the top shell.
Do not cut the oyster, poke the oyster, or otherwise inflict harm upon the oyster. Just run your knife under the oyster to separate it from the bottom Shell. Pick out any stray pieces of shell and any dirt. Some people like the brine that is naturally inside the shell with the oyster, and are perfectly happy to leave it in. If you don’t like the brine, just drain it off, and be sure to keep the oyster in tact and not disturbed. When all is said and done, the oyster meat should look natural in its shell.
Once shucked, place the oysters on a plate with a few wedges of lemon and serve immediately. If you’re doing this in advance, put the oysters on a bed of ice. You can use a fork to scoop them out, but it’s much more fun and sexy to just slurp them straight from the shell.
Oysters like this are sure to impress that special someone. And don’t worry, there will be more posts like this one to help improve your kitchen abilities on dates.
Recently, I have had a lot of questions about vegetarianism. For me, a lifelong meat eater, the concept doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But what seems like such a simple question (Why do you not eat meat?) can be quite complex. I decided that I would try and figure out how vegetarians think. I wanted to get inside their minds, see how they really work. To be able to truly understand vegetarianism is a powerful tool, especially as someone who does food for a living. Over the course of the past few months, I’ve been interviewing vegetarians to see how they think, act, and cope with the rest of us on a daily basis, as well as doing my own research on the subject.
Vegetarianism seems pretty simple: don’t eat animals. So what’s the big deal? It turns out there are lots of disputes as to how to go about this. The main two factions, as far as I can tell, are vegetarians and vegans. Vegans take vegetarianism a bit further by not eating animal products: no dairy, no eggs, no gelatin. There are other classifications as well. Ovotarians, who are vegans but also eat eggs, lactotarians, who are vegans but also eat dairy, ovolactotarians, who are essentially just vegetarians, pescetarians, who are vegetarians that also eat fish, pollotarians, who are vegetarians that also eat poultry, pescepollotarians, who are vegetarians that also eat fish and poultry, and pescitarians, who only eat Joe Pesci. Yes, that last one was made up. Furthermore, there are some vegetarians who include odd little caveats to their eating habits, like omitting gluten, or insisting on everything they eat being raw. This is but the tip of the iceberg, and a very general classification of vegetarians solely based on diet.
Although there are some vegetarians who are simply doing it for the diet, there’s certainly a philosophy and lifestyle centered around the concept of not eating animals that many vegetarians latch onto. It certainly is not the same for everyone, but there are a few main motivational drivers that influence the extent of one’s vegetarianism.
Health seems to be the most straightforward. Many vegetarians preach that a plant based diet is healthier for you. As much as I might like to say this is false, I cannot in good conscience provide misinformation. Although a study is difficult to do on a large scale to test these claims, we can piece together information from many smaller studies to give us the pertinent information. It seems that eating a meat-heavy diet is not very healthy for humans, with dairy products following close behind in risk factor. This is not to say that meat and dairy products are bad for you. There’s plenty of evidence to substantiate claims about the benefits of eating meat and dairy, although this is usually based on a fairly reasonable test amount. Most health conscious vegetarians would tell you that Americans eat far too much meat and dairy. Some say we shouldn’t be eating any meat and dairy. As painful as it is for me to say it, the vegetarians have a point. We eat too much meat, and probably too much dairy, for our own good. Many vegetarians who do vegetarianism for health reasons are also against highly processed and factory farmed foods. It seems hard to continue eating meat and dairy yet steer clear of factory farmed/highly processed products, so it drives many people looking for a healthier alternative to become vegetarians to avoid the evil meat corporations.
This brings me to the next big motivator: ethics. Many people will not eat veal or foie gras because it’s “unethical”, but will very happily chow down on a big mac. This sort of false ethical righteousness is something I really can’t stand in the meat eating community. I actually appreciate vegetarians for ethical reasons quite a bit. Their general stance is that it’s cruel to kill animals for our pleasure. Many say that the conditions factory farmed animals are kept in horrible conditions that are wholly unethical. Now, I know this sounds a lot like what PETA says on a regular basis, but apparently PETA is not universally liked among vegetarians. In fact, quite a few of the vegetarians I talked to said they disliked PETA, that they gave vegetarians a bad name in the extent of their craziness. In the past, I’ve always been resistant to seeing the ethical side of the argument because of PETA and the videos they put out which very blatantly pull on the heartstrings of the viewer and cast guilt and blame on meat eaters. But knowing that the ethics of most vegetarians don’t drive them to such fanatical hatred of the meat eating population, or outrageous protest measures, that helps me accept the ethical argument much better. Vegetarians who cite ethics as a reason not to eat meat are no different from the rest of the meat eaters who choose to not face the facts of the meat they’re eating, which is an unfortunately large number: they feel genuine compassion for other living creatures and would not be able to contemplate directly harming an animal. To be honest, if we had to kill our own meat, I think there would be a lot more vegetarians in the world. Ethical concern for animals is a big deal for a lot of people. I guess it’s like people being nice to pets. They’re animals, but they’re put on the same level of discourse as a human. They’re a part of the family, fed and cared for by the family, and even given a name. Extend that comradery to all animals, not just dogs and cats, and you’ve got a dilemma when it comes to eating one of those animals. For some people, it’s difficult and illogical to separate animals into two categories, one of which is cared for on a near human-like level while the other group is seen and treated as only slightly better than a field of corn. The dissonance it takes to justify that separation is understandably difficult. But for all the ethical posturing, there is some amount of ethical dissonance for vegetarians who still eat dairy or eggs. They are still eating products of animals that were treated unethically by the factory farming process. Unless these vegetarians buy organic, cage free eggs and raw milk cheese, they are still contributing to the unethical treatment of these animals. How can vegetarians have such high claims to ethics, yet compromise in other areas? Some claim that it’s just too hard to go completely vegan, and others say that eating dairy or eggs aren’t as bad as eating meat so they’re already doing their small part. While I understand this, I still feel as if they don’t quite have the courage of their convictions to go all the way. Personally, I’ve always viewed animals as inferior life forms, and have no problem with them dying for my consumption pleasure. But it’s still hard to admit that, and I know I would have trouble killing an animal myself. Even a ruthless meat eater like me has some reservations about animal suffering.
In line with treating others well, environmental reasons come into play for many vegetarians. Although its not usually the main reason, it’s certainly a powerful motivator and is usually cited as an ancillary reason for turning to vegetarianism. It’s no secret that it takes more resources, time, labor, and money to feed people meat than it does to feed them vegetables. That isn’t to say that meat is the main cause of all our environmental troubles. But it certainly plays its part in the ravaging of our planet. Again, there are those of us meat eaters who are willing to turn a blind eye to the facts of the matter. Some vegetarians, in fact most of them, would not say that it’s the meat eating populations’ fault at all. It’s the factory farms who pollute and do so much of their farming irresponsibly. But that only skirts the problem. The demand for meat is higher than it has even been, and producers want to keep up with that demand as best they can. There are many industries in which the struggle for suppliers to keep up with demand causes environmental problems, so why is it that vegetarians fixate on the meat industry? I suppose we could cast blame on the consumers completely for their high demand of such products, but this seems just as unfair as blaming the industries themselves. It’s pretty easy to see how the meat industry is causing all this environmental damage, and it’s a relatively easy place to point a finger. But I certainly know vegetarians who buy products from other environmentally irresponsible companies, like Monsanto, and be perfectly okay with it. If you’re going to care about these issues, it seems to me that you should go all in. Is food really such a big statement that it negates other areas? It occurs to me that it is human nature to focus on one area of a problem in specific, and that it’s also nearly impossible in our day and age to go completely green. So vegetarians are just doing their part.
It’s probably evident by now that I am not a vegetarian, and I only partially sympathize with their cause. I understand the reasoning behind it, but I still enjoy meat. I’ve been presented with enough evidence to convince me that I am eating too much meat, so I will concede that point and try and cut back on my excessive meat intake. It will take pretty substantial evidence and possibly even blackmail and coercion to turn me into a complete vegetarian for the rest of my life.
However, over the course of a month and a half, I did a trial run as a vegetarian, just to see what its like. At a college campus where a substantial part of the population is vegetarian, it’s not difficult to find food that I can eat. The usual concerns for vegetarians, protein, iron, fatty acids, calcium, were not a problem and easy to substitute for if you know how to eat right. Pasta vegetarians, as I soon figured out, are the vegetarians who don’t know how to eat a vegetarian diet and subsist more on carbohydrates than anything else. It is also a fun, derisive term that other vegetarians use to talk bad about fake vegetarians. Yeah, my diet was a bit restricted, and it did take some extra effort to make sure there wasn’t any meat in the food I was eating, but it wasn’t that difficult to transition into vegetarianism. I felt calmer, more balanced, and healthier at the end of my stint as a veggie. The only thing I missed in my time as a vegetarian was the savory taste of meat. It’s hard to replace with anything else, and the unctuous taste of meat is something that has always been a big part of my life. It was hard to even walk past the steamer trays of meat without catching the wafting aroma of fat and animal protein, which would make me sentimental for my savory meat-eating days. I caved when my girlfriend took me to a BBQ place where there was literally nothing vegetarian to eat. I very happily dug into my ribs, knowing that I could never completely convert to a vegetarian lifestyle. I certainly will cut my meat intake, and be more careful about where my meat comes from. But there’s no way I’m going to stop eating meat.
Vegetarians, I wish you the best of luck, and more power to you. You face a lot of challenges, and you are unfortunately misunderstood by some of your meat-eating brethren. But I hope that whether you eat meat or not, you at least were able to think about your position on these issues, and maybe will be able to find a better balance after reading this. Maybe its just wishful thinking on my part as an amateur food writer, but it’s certainly been an eye opening experience for me. I try to practice what I preach about trying other foods, learning to accept the cultural culinary traditions of others, and being open minded when approached with something drastically different from your own norm. Thanks to all the vegetarians who made this possible, all the animals whose lives made my happiness possible, and the few people who actually read this entire post.
My best friend, Paisha, just got back from France, and brought quite a haul with her. As usual, our Christmas gift exchange comprised of a lot of little food items. This year was a particularly wonderful sampling of pate, chocolate, salt, and some very strange pig gummies.
The pate was excellent. Subtle hints of the port and other flavorings only added to the enjoyment. It was perfectly rich and creamy, but still light enough to have more of it thank I probably should’ve. It plays especially well with a nice loaf of bread. The salt level is perfect, the flavors are exceptionally well balanced, and the little pieces of fat laced throughout the pate make for an extra treat. Even though it comes in a can, you can tell this is some quality pate.
The fleur de sel is a perfect finishing salt. The flaky, small grains make for a very elegant looking piece of food. It has a bite that elevates whatever you put it on, and it even has a bit of acidity that brightens on the tip of the tongue. Every time I open that bag, I can almost smell the sea. It’s not as round and warm of a flavor like Kosher salt, or even as sharp and earthy as rock salt, but more mild and briny. I used some fleur de sel on top of a fillet of pan seared tilapia the other night, which was a brilliant pairing. Another instant hit. And the bag is big enough that I’ll have enough for the foreseeable future.
Pig gummies are an interesting addition to this year’s bag. I noticed that pork gelatin was listed in with the ingredients, which makes it even more fitting that the gummies were in the shape of pigs. A nice consistency combined with a measured fruity flavor makes these perfect for an idle snack. And they’re so cute! Woah, did I just call something cute? Of all the things in the world that are deserving of the cuteness moniker, pig gummies only take backseat to golden retriever puppies, babies wearing stylish clothes, bears on unicycles, and Congress’ attempt to fixing the debt problem, all of which are insanely cute.
But I’ve saved the best for last. When Paisha asked me what I wanted her to bring back from France, I remembered reading Jeffrey Steingarten’s praise for Valrhona chocolate and reading in various other sources how wonderful Valrhona is. So on a whim, I asked her to bring back some Valrhona, half expecting her to not bring any back in light of the amount of suggestions I was giving her. But Paisha latched onto the idea, and within a week, she told me she had bought my bar a Valrhona. The moment of truth came a few days ago as I opened the package for the first time. It smelled like the most chocolaty chocolate I’ve ever smelled. If there’s any food I would point to as evidence of God, it would be that bar of chocolate. That bar of chocolate is the best I’ve ever had. To be honest, I debated with myself whether to put that last sentence in past or present tense for about a half hour. I’m still eating it, and very slowly too. I intend to savor every bite. Valrhona does an amazing job balancing all the flavors. There’s the bitter chocolate bite balanced with the creaminess, the floral and herbal notes, a deep earthy undertone, a hint of acid, and the very pleasing taste of pure chocolate. I just let the piece of chocolate sit on my tongue and melt, picking up all the notes of every flavor as I went. That chocolate is the most complex and most pleasing chocolate I’ve ever had. It’s very apparent that Valrhona knows their chocolate on a level that few can actually hope to achieve.
Thank you, Paisha, for bringing back of of these delicious treats from France. It’s really a test of a friendship to see if your friend is willing to smuggle in food from another country for your Christmas gift, and Paisha has once again proven herself.