Monday, November 3, 2008

Going Vegan

Bet you wouldn’t expect that photo to lead off a post titled “Going Vegan.” Well, it’s there just to prove that veganism isn’t a lifestyle that I adhere to most of the time. But when Leena asked me to go vegan for 48 hours as a social experiment for her podcast Chicken ‘n Waffles, I thought it was a good opportunity for me to form an informed opinion about veganism. And once I started menu planning, I got excited and decided to up the ante and go vegan for – gasp! – 100 hours.

My initial thoughts were, What will I eat for breakfast without yoghurt and milk? Will I be forced to eat tofu and fake soy-based meat products from the freezer section of my grocery store? Is there a strain of veganism that will allow me to eat pork products, most notably chorizo sausages and the spicy sorpressata from the Italian smallgoods shop in the Central Market? Will anyone be mad if I cheat and grate a wee tiny bit of parmigiano into my pasta? Couldn't I please make an exception for Jackie's eggs, which come from the happiest chickens on the planet?

Well, once I started doing some research I realized that veganism isn’t just about not consuming meat or dairy or honey; it’s a lifestyle decision that centers on a cruelty-free approach to everything. So, those leather Rainbow sandals I wear every day? Toss ‘em. My comfy feather pillow? Fuggedaboudit. That cozy alpaca sweater I got in Peru? Nope, in the trash. Hard line vegans object to these products for various reasons that you can learn more about at I had never considered myself a cruel person, but the vegan philosophy really put me in my place about some of my habits.

I started thinking about various cuisines I often cook and began to see a pattern. Some are naturally more vegan-friendly than others. My new Indian cookbook had an endless number of suitable recipes, and I could certainly make do with a southern Italian olive oil and tomato-based pasta sauce with an infinite number of veggies thrown in. I could do a salsa or a guacamole for some Mexican flair, and a quick stir fry for a bit of Asian flavor. Plus, I really dig tofu. And Boca burgers rock, but they aren’t sold in Australia. Oh, and I could even have PB&J!

Maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad after all!

My first day started smoothly. For breakfast, I cubed a potato and fried it in olive oil. Then I sautéed red onions, mushrooms, garlic, and green onions in the oil until the veggies were soft. I then crumbled some firm tofu into the veggies and seasoned with a bit of turmeric to give the tofu a yellowish tint to resemble “eggs.” Kind of eerie how similar to eggs this looks!

I then added a dash of veg stock to moisten it all up before throwing the whole lot into a flour tortilla with some Pete’s Red Hot. Didn’t miss the dairy at all.

With a glass of breakfast juice and a cup of coffee, it wasn’t a bad start to the morning.

Lunch was a leftover asparagus and mushroom pasta from the night before with a garlic, olive oil, parsley, lemon and veggie broth sauce.

Dinner was the first time I encountered what I would call a gastronomic predicament, albeit a minor one. I planned on doing a veggie and tofu stir fry and prepared all my ingredients in advance before beginning to throw them into the wok. Mushroom, asparagus, red pepper, green been, broccoli, garlic, tofu – yum!

After the veggies were quickly sautéed I started adding my sauces. When I do a stir fry, I throw whatever’s in the fridge into the sauce. So first went the black bean sauce, the soy sauce, hoisin sauce, OYSTER SAUCE! FISH SAUCE!!!! Oh no!! I caught myself in the nick of time before the oyster sauce hit the wok. You see, Cari, oysters are unacceptable on a vegan diet, duh. Disaster narrowly averted.

Day two was a cinch. Breakfast was leftover tofu scramble. Dinner was leftover stir fry. Lunch was a bowl of guacamole, a bag of chips, and a bottle of beer on the roof deck. This vegan stuff isn’t so bad from a flavor perspective, you know!

Day three started off just as easily. Breakfast was toast with peanut butter and jam, a bowl of strawberries and a passionfruit. Lunch again was guacamole with chips and a beer at my desk while I did some research for my dissertation (beer is brain food).

Then came time for dinner. I had a brilliant idea to make spaghetti alla puttanesca with a green salad. Oh, you know, some garlic, some olive oil, some canned tomatoes, kalamata olives, capers, parsley. It’s a dish I throw together all the time with stuff I have floating around the pantry. Well once more I’m focused on cooking and I go to throw the anchovies into the oil and YOWZERS it hits me. Anchovies = fish. Duh. Then I go to boil my pasta. My spaghetti was made with egg yolks. Crap. And wait a minute, no parmiggiano allowed… ?! Maybe this wasn’t as easy as I thought for me to do. You see, I care about animals and the environment and all, and really could take or leave a big hunk of meat, but unfortunately I can’t see the bigger picture when anchovies taste so darn good, and cheese makes everything better, and bacon grease elevates everything to a gourmet treat, and it’s kind of impossible to eat Kashi Go Lean or Wheatbix without milk. Maybe I am a cruel person. I do try to only buy local, free-range and organic products when possible. Sometimes it’s just not an option, though, whether for budget reasons or availability reasons. So I guess I have to learn to live with that.

Well, I left out the anchovies and got a different pasta and suffered without parmesan for the sake of my gastronomic experience, but let me tell you, I wasn’t happy.

Wait a minute, this pasta was awesome. I was totally happy, what was I talking about.

The fourth day began with a revelation. Soy milk is awesome! I’d always avoided it but after tasting it on my cereal with strawberries, I am now a happy soy milk convert.

Lunch was leftover Italian. Then came the fun part. I decided to whip up a variety of Indian curries for my last official night as a vegan. It was difficult to choose from all the great options in my curry cookbook, but I decided on fresh greens with black-eyed peas seasoned with a roasted curry leaf spice blend I made by roasting curry leaves with toovar dal (split yellow pigeon peas), urad dal (split black lentils), dried chilies, turmeric and asafetida…

…and then whirring the lot in my spice grinder to make a fragrant blend.

I also chose a cauliflower and potato curry which was flavored with ginger, garlic, coriander and cumin seeds, cayenne, garam masala, and a caramelized onion paste I made the night before. Here are the caramelized onions before I whirred them in the spice grinder:

And finally I roasted an eggplant and mashed it with tamarind, turmeric, chiles and mustard seeds. A meal that would please anyone, vegan or not.

While this was technically the end of the 100-hour experiment, I continued into the fifth day with cereal with soy milk for breakfast, leftover puttanesca for lunch, and leftover Indian for dinner. Mission accomplished. Being vegan for a few days showed me that if you are concerned with eating (and living) ethically and are willing to cook, it is easy to find and prepare vegan food at home. I however did not venture to dine out during the experiment – college student budget – but preparing vegan food at home was cheaper than preparing non-vegan food. I usually spend a lot of money on seafood and cheese so without those expenditures I was mainly going for the veggies and the carbs, which are usually pretty affordable. The substitute products can get a bit expensive. I noticed it was around $4 for just one fake meat burger substitute in the fridge section at my local supermarket – yikes.

To make being a vegan even easier, my soon-to-be brother-in-law brought my attention to what I consider a modern gastronomic miracle. Baconnaise is, you guessed it, bacon-flavored mayonnaise that is VEG FRIENDLY!!!! It defies everything I thought I knew about bacon. AND mayonnaise! The makers of Baconnaise also sell Bacon Salt, which “has the power to make everything taste like bacon” and apparently tastes like the real deal. You can read about it here. I wish I could find this product in Australia. It would make me happier. Vegan or not.

Day six was decidedly non-vegan. I whipped up a huge batch of Texas beef and pork chili and topped it with sour cream and cheddar cheese. It was the best chili I’ve ever made.


dAkBaiK said...

waaa...alot of food here :D

Anonymous said...

Awesome post.

Anonymous said...

"In fact, if one person is unkind to an animal it is considered to be cruelty, but where a lot of people are unkind to animals, especially in the name of commerce, the cruelty is condoned and, once large sums of money are at stake, will be defended to the last by otherwise intelligent people."
— Ruth Harrison, "Animal Machines"

Check out this informative and inspiring video on why people choose vegan:

Also see Gary Yourofsky: