Sunday, March 2, 2008

Fasting for Lent(ils)

Lazing off a hangover today, I noticed a bag of dried lentils I'd bought at the natural foods store a month or so back. I also noticed that, since breakfast, I hadn't eaten squat. I salted some water, and began boiling them while Kathy prepared rice, mashed potatoes, and roasted asparagus. While they were cooking, I caramelized some onion and garlic in unsalted butter, and then placed them in a bowl, to which I added turmeric, ginger, a little chipotle pepper, garam masala, kosher salt, a dash of nutmeg, a tablespoon or so of olive oil, and black pepper. I drained the beans, added them to the mixture, and garnished with some rough-cut fresh cilantro.

We both ate our fair share (and still had enough left over to feed half of Punjab) the rice and lentils almost as perfect a pair as the rum and Cokes (beer and a Royal Flush for K) we'd imbibed the night before. Good things come in twos, it seems -- something that was further reinforced doing the "kitchen dance" in our tiny cookspace.

Bittman's Meat Eat Manifesto

Mark Bittman's weekend "Minimalist" videos in the Food & Dining section of the New York Times are always a Sunday treat for me. They're always out in under five minutes, and many of them are sans meat, keeping with Bitty's ideas that we should all eat less flesh. Most of his suggestions -- this week's is a roasted tomato soup, using whole canned tomatoes, which, incidentally, I've been combining with onion and garlic and olive oil and red wine for a hearty winter marinara -- use ingredients you can get anywhere, and, what's more, purchase for next to nothing. Just more proof that -- as I hope to elucidate in an article I'm currently penning -- the vegetarian (or mostly vegetarian) diet is a great recession buster. (That is, of course, unless we're not actually having one.)

Anyway, here's the link, and an excerpt below. The last paragraph is especially interesting -- turns out the Whole Foods/Starbucks crowd might end up saving the planet after all.

Animal welfare may not yet be a major concern, but as the horrors of raising meat in confinement become known, more animal lovers may start to react. And would the world not be a better place were some of the grain we use to grow meat directed instead to feed our fellow human beings?

Real prices of beef, pork and poultry have held steady, perhaps even decreased, for 40 years or more (in part because of grain subsidies), though we’re beginning to see them increase now. But many experts, including Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University, say they don’t believe meat prices will rise high enough to affect demand in the United States.

“I just don’t think we can count on market prices to reduce our meat consumption,” he said. “There may be a temporary spike in food prices, but it will almost certainly be reversed and then some. But if all the burden is put on eaters, that’s not a tragic state of affairs.”

If price spikes don’t change eating habits, perhaps the combination of deforestation, pollution, climate change, starvation, heart disease and animal cruelty will gradually encourage the simple daily act of eating more plants and fewer animals.

Mr. Rosegrant of the food policy research institute says he foresees “a stronger public relations campaign in the reduction of meat consumption — one like that around cigarettes — emphasizing personal health, compassion for animals, and doing good for the poor and the planet.”

It wouldn’t surprise Professor Eshel if all of this had a real impact. “The good of people’s bodies and the good of the planet are more or less perfectly aligned,” he said.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, in its detailed 2006 study of the impact of meat consumption on the planet, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” made a similar point: “There are reasons for optimism that the conflicting demands for animal products and environmental services can be reconciled. Both demands are exerted by the same group of people ... the relatively affluent, middle- to high-income class, which is no longer confined to industrialized countries. ... This group of consumers is probably ready to use its growing voice to exert pressure for change and may be willing to absorb the inevitable price increases.”

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Satori on Skynyrd

Truth be told, I pretty much stopped eating meat about the same time I became truly committed to the concept of secular humanism. (Catchy opening, no?)

I think there’s more of a connection there than I first realized. When I stopped eating meat, people asked me how I “survived” without meat. What did I center my meals around? The same was true with humanism. “Don’t you feel a hole without God in your life? How do you get on without a moral compass?”

Well, I believe I do have a moral compass, of course (frankly, it's why I'm writing this in the first place.)

To boot, I believe in the m.o. that’s worked so well for the White Stripes, the whole Oulipo artists’ group and the free jazz-leaning Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, to name but a few examples: not lamenting such so-called “limitations,” but instead luxuriating in them.

Do I miss eating meat?


“Sure” as in, even though it killed a part of my soul -- and maybe my marriage -- yes indeedy, I did enjoy those sweaty bouts of adulterous coitus. (Not speaking from experience here!) "Sure" in the same way that we relish telling stories about when we whipped someone but good, even as the thought of such violence secretly sickens us now. (We tend to not talk about when we got whipped, of course.)

So: sure. And he who says he doesn’t miss meat – he who’s tasted it, at least -- is probably lying. But righting (and writing) what you feel was probably a wrong in your life isn’t a subtraction, to my way of thinking, but rather the most admirable of additions.

* * * * * * *

My first brush with the concept of vegetarianism came long about 1982, if memory serves me. I’d gone over to a friend’s house, as had often been the case, to listen to records and watch a Showtime broadcast of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. My friend, Gary Helton, was a kid who had grown up fast. He grew up across the two-lane blacktop from my friends and I: a nascent neighborhood wholly apart from our own. There were tales of guys who drank beer and some that sold weed. One guy'd even dropped out of school, and it was said he bought condoms by the box. To our more Levitt-like burg, this land -- this "Brookfield"! seemed positively exotic.

Anyway, this friend, he had a ‘stache before the rest of us, drank before the rest of us, smoked before the rest of us, smoked pot before the rest of us. Perhaps predictably, he also dropped out of school before the rest of us.

One day, after dinner at his house – steak (bottle of A1), baked potato (butter, dabs of dour cream), iceberg salad (French dressing), dinner rolls (premade) and sweet tea (homemade, as I remember), we retired to his brother’s room to look at his records and to scarf, rather Tom and Huck-like, some stolen brownies.

More specifically, we went to look at his Lynyrd Skynyrd records. I can still name them in order today, as I used to do the planets, the better to impress my parents’ friends: pronounced 'lĕh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd, Second Helping, Nuthin' Fancy, Gimme Back My Bullets, Street Survivors, and Skynyrds’s First…And Last, Gold and Platinum, Best of the Rest. (I don’t count any post-plane-crash stuff excepting the last three cleaning-the-vaults releases.)

So anyway, this friend, belly full of beef and butter and brownies, pulled out the holy grail of Skynyrd records, the out-for-three-days-only, pre-plane crash and too-close-for-comfort “flames cover” of Street Survivors, and, after making me wipe my hands on my jeans, allowed me to hold it. Holy damn. We stared at it for a bit, and I remember he would look at me, and I'd look back at him, and then we'd both look back down at the record, drawn in by the tractor beam that was forbidden music -- dirty music, cuss-friendly music, older kid's music -- back in the LP age. Guitarist Allen Collins, on the cover stage left, was wearing a Tom Wolfe-meets-Jimmy Page white linen suit with tails, along with what looks like a T-shirt sporting an iron-on decal of a striated, Japanese-style sun. Guitarist Gary Rossington rocked worn corduroys and a black and blue shirt, befitting the band’s rough-hewn image. Lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, in a thumbed nose to redneck literalists everywhere (see “Sweet Home Alabama”), sported a Neil Young T-shirt, circa Tonight’s The Night. Steve Gaines (who, along with Van Zant, perished in the crash), had on a plain red shirt tucked into a pair of Okie-befitting plain tan pants (eyes closed, he also boasted a spooky halo of fire). Bassist Leon Wilkeson sported a “My Grass is Blue” T-shirt and a top hat, which, being only ten years old, took me a few years to figure out.

But wildass, feral drummer Artimus Pyle? Ol’ Artie was sporting white-on-white tennis shoes, white blue and gold knee socks pulled high, cut-off jeans shorts, and, the piece de resistance, a blue T-shirt with a semi-circled “VEGETARIAN” written in white “Keep On Truckin’” style iron on letters.

I’m not even sure if I knew what Pyle was trying to get across at this time. What I know of now as a vegetarian was – well, it simply didn’t exist at that time, at least in my neighborhood. The crew I ran with thought of vegetarians as people who ate nothing but raw vegetables. Truly, people did not understand that you might not want to eat meat (or, conversally, you would choose all those raw vegetables). They thought of such folks much in the same way the thought of atheists: Lord have mercy -- they know not what they do.

(excerpted from larger work.)

ADDENDUM: Sonofabitch. As is just my luck -- and the luck of veg-friendly, Southern folk everywhere -- Pyle just got (re)arrested for failing to register as a sex offender, having pled guilty about a dozen years ago for indecent liberties on two young children (Pyle claims he was set up by an ex). File under: bad people wearing good T-shirts.

All things must...I'll pass.

Found this great little "cookbook" at the flea market the other day, a Scholastic Book Services tome called "Cool Cooking: Recipes of Your Favorite Rock Stars. There's good stuff in there, too: The Delfonics have a bean pie recipe, and there's a shrimp curry recipe by Elton John (no word if Bernie Taupin wrote it).

Beatles-wise, there's a tempura recipe from the Lennon family, egg salad from Ringo, as well as a pre-vegetarian pizza recipe from Macca.

George Harrison's can't be beat for ease of preparation, however. You'll find the recipe below, in its entirety:


ripe banana
peanut butter (optional)

Slice a ripe banana lengthwise and lay it on a piece of bread. If you like, you can spread the bread with peanut butter.

Salt showers

Why is it that chefs -- alright, mostly TV chefs like Emeril and Top Chef's Howie -- insist upon sprinkling salt from damn near shoulder level into the pot or pan? Is it an attempt to add a little "flavor" to a recipe their dinner guest -- i.e., you the viewer -- will never get to taste? Is it because it's easier for Little Susie (or Sammy) Homemaker to get a handle on just how much a "pinch" should be?

My fiancee and I, taking in a minor league baseball game a while back, text messaged a baseball-mad friend of ours with this question (albeit probably in junky text-messaging lingo):

Why, after an out, do baseball players throw the ball around the diamond?

Some would say it's to give the pitcher a few seconds of respite.

I liked his answer better, though, and I think it fits here:

"Cuz theyve seen people do it on TV."

Where's the cow? (Er, beef?)

Ever wonder why we call lamb "lamb" and fish "fish," but why we call cow "beef," pig "pork," and chicken and the like "poultry?"

Well, me too. Turns out the answer is, likely, that no one's sure of the answer. But you can find some discussion on the matter right'chere (you'll need to cut 'n' paste, as link function is on the fritz):