Where do we go from here?

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Whole New World: Vegan Foodies

As a former all-foods foodie, in the days when food was for me, not merely nutrition, but reward, self-medication, and entertainment, there were many food writers whom I enjoyed reading, both as inspiration and just for the fun of it. There are not only cookbooks, and food memoirs (Ruth Reichl is my favorite in this category) there are websites and blogs, Facebook pages....ah, the list goes on.

In my new incarnation as a vegan foodie I am challenged by the search for replacements for these sources of fun and inspiration.  And to my mild surprise, and great delight, the discoveries are piling up. I will be writing more about this in future posts, but my latest discovery is the one I want to address today.

Some of you may be familiar with Mark Bittman, a professional food writer since 1980. Mark is currently writing in the "opinionatorblogs" at the New York Times, as well as in The Diner's Journal blog at that same paper, has a website,Facebook page, has made numerous TV appearances (Good Morning America, in particular) and quite likely more media presence that I don't even know. His writing is omnivorous, not limited to vegetarian or vegan, but does include those modes, in his articles and in his cookbooks. His recent column on McDonald's new addition to their breakfast menu, their "Wholesome Oatmeal" has garnered a lot of publicity all over the Internet, and is what has truly endeared him to my heart.  We were so happy when we saw this announcement, just before a road trip to Texas.  Road trips are especially trying for us as newly-minted vegans, and if the ubiquitous eatery was going to be offering something we could eat on the road for breakfast, we were thrilled.  Our first bowlful of this "wholesome" item cured us of this naive hope.  We declined the brown sugar and the cream that McDonalds adds to a bowl of cereal already evidently containing "11 weird ingredients you would never keep in your kitchen,” as well as "more sugar than a Snickers bar and only 10 fewer calories than a McDonald’s cheeseburger or Egg McMuffin...Even without the brown sugar it has more calories than a McDonald’s hamburger." poured on our own unsweetened soy milk and managed to eat that morning's breakfast.  It was our first and our last.  Without even knowing about the weird ingredients, it bore no resemblance to the oatmeal we make in our own kitchen every morning. For our next road trip I made up a pan of Oatmeal Cake, cut it into squares, wrapped them up and tossed them into our Road Food bag.  If we stay someplace with a microwave, we can warm it up and have it with soy milk, if not we can just eat it as is. Either way it only has ten ingredients, not a single one of them weird.

I am now a faithful reader of as much Mark Bittman as I can find, am going to pick up his book Food Matters today if I have time. Because although his new slogan is "Eat Real Food," I think that this phrase "Food Matters" is the heart of Bittman's philosophy, as it now is also mine. On my way to fifty pounds lighter than I was at the beginning of this journey, I am able to see that food does indeed matter, in ways that are new and wonderful to me -  as nutrition, as fuel for my increasingly more fit physical self (a post on this is in the works too!), as a way I can contribute to the healing of this planet.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Eating Animals

I have just finished reading Jonathan Safran Foer's book, Eating Animals, and I will never be the same again. My partner and I became vegans just over four months ago, after several years of being mainly vegetarians. Our earlier decision not to eat four-legged creatures was based mostly on our experiences of driving through the Texas panhandle, seeing, smelling, and being horrified by, the feedlots full of cattle wallowing in mud and excrement along I40 and other highways in the area. We continued to eat the occasional chicken and fish, as well as eggs and dairy, but came to feel worse and worse about the whole thing.

As I have posted here, and on my Facebook page, the ultimate decision to eat neither animals nor any animal products, came about for reasons of personal health, when Gail was diagnosed with coronary artery disease, and we began our research into ways other than invasive procedures and medication to help her recover. I know people, most notably my niece and her partner, who have been vegan for many years now out of a moral conviction that eating animals is wrong. Reading Foer's book has placed me someplace I never thought I'd find myself, squarely in that "eating animals is wrong" camp. It's not exactly the "I'll never eat anything that had a mother and a face" position that my niece holds, but it's getting closer. I love Saffran Foer's writing, have read his earlier books, both novels, and much to my suprise found this nonfiction book equally engaging.  His writing here was as offbeat and captivating as his fiction, and I read it straight through almost without stopping. To quote the book's website:

"Like many others, Jonathan Safran Foer spent his teenage and college years oscillating between omnivore and vegetarian. But on the brink of fatherhood—facing the prospect of having to make dietary choices on a child’s behalf—his casual questioning took on an urgency. This quest ultimately required him to visit factory farms in the middle of the night, dissect the emotional ingredients of meals from his childhood, and probe some of his most primal instincts about right and wrong.

This book is what he found. Brilliantly synthesizing philosophy, literature, science, memoir, and his own detective work, Eating Animals explores the many stories we use to justify our eating habits—folklore and pop culture, family traditions and national myth, apparent facts and inherent fictions—and how such tales can lull us into a brutal forgetting."

In the past couple of days I read that  Duke University and Univ. of North Carolina have chosen Eating Animals as the summer reading assignment for their incoming freshmen. It is an excellent choice for young people on the brink of being in charge of their own life decisions. As one of the students on the choosing panel stated:  "For me, it's not just a book about food, It's a book about being really active in making your own decisions."  It delights me to think that Saffran Foer may be instrumental in helping them make some very good ones.(Crossposted to WomenOn)