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We love labels. March 10, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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We humans just love to label ourselves. And that’s never more true than in our dietary habits.

Silence Dogood here. Humans are all born omnivores—pretty much capable of eating anything they can get their hands on. We share this useful adaptive trait with apes and monkeys, dogs, bears, parrots, rats, and flies, among others. It helped our species spread and thrive wherever there was anything edible to be found.

Of course, some of us are more omnivorous than others. There are those with intolerances, such as to lactose or gluten, and those with allergies, as to peanuts or shellfish. These people have labels, but they’re not of their choosing. And there are people who won’t eat certain foods like pork and seafood for religious reasons. It’s the rest of us I’m writing about here.

Take me. I’m a vegetarian. This means that I choose to avoid all types of meat and foods containing meat products (such as lard and gelatin). But I’ll eat sterile eggs from free-range hens if they’re organic and the hens haven’t eaten feed enriched with fish offal to up the eggs’ omega-3 content. And I’ll eat organic dairy products from humanely raised cows. This is quite different from vegans, who are basically vegetarians who also won’t eat eggs, dairy, honey, or any other animal derivative. Vegans typically make their food choices for moral reasons, while vegetarians may make theirs for moral or health reasons.

Then there are piscatarians (from pisces, fish), who refrain from all meat but fish and seafood. Since killing and eating fish and seafood is the same as killing and eating other animals for meat, I presume that these folks follow this lifestyle for health rather than moral reasons.

Next come the flexitarians, who sometimes eat meat and sometimes don’t, as it suits them. Basically, they’re omnivores who wanted to call themselves by a fancier name.

Let’s not forget the locavores, omnivores who pride themselves on eating what’s in season in their immediate area. While I applaud everyone who supports local farms and wineries, who patronizes their local farmers’ markets, who joins a CSA (subscription produce farm, typically organic), and the like, unless you live in a warm climate or are really invested in canning and freezing in season, winter can be rather bleak for those of us trying to eat out of our gardens or local farmers’ gardens when we’re buried under two feet of ice and snow for three months.

Today, I discovered a new label for people who want to set themselves apart from the omnivorous herd. These people are omnivores, too, but they’ve chosen to call themselves “nutritarians,” to emphasize the wholesome nature of their diet, i.e., stripping all the life and flavor out of food in the name of nutritional guidelines. The sample recipe I saw was horrifying to behold. It was a dish containing kale, potatoes, carrots, two kinds of legumes (black beans and chickpeas), onion, and garlic.

I read on because I could see how to make it a good dish—saute the onion and garlic in olive oil, and when the onion had clarified, add the kale and seasonings (red pepper flakes, fresh-cracked black pepper, salt, oregano, thyme, basil, and rosemary), cooking just until the kale turned shiny bright green. Meanwhile, boil the potatoes and sliced carrots until soft but not mushy. Quarter the potatoes and stir them, the carrots, and the canned beans into the kale-onion-garlic mix, heat until the beans were heated through, then serve.

But no. The “nutritarian” had noted that she’d modified a friend’s recipe to fit nutritarian guidelines, which meant that all the ingredients (minus the oil and most of the seasonings) were boiled together at the same time, then served up as a kind of stewed slop. Eeeewww!!! Doesn’t this person realize that olive oil and seasonings are good for you, making food more digestible as well as more flavorful?! Guess not.

Whatever the case, maybe it’s time to stop labeling ourselves and just eat.

‘Til next time,

Silence

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Vegetarians understand. February 13, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. This morning, my Yahoo homepage featured an article from Cosmopolitan.com called “23 Problems Only Gluten-Free People Understand.” A number of the problems were related to the fact that wheat (and thus gluten) is hidden in so many products, from beer and soy sauce to peppermint Altoids, and that people on gluten-free diets have to be constantly on their guard, reading labels, asking questions. Eating salad for supper when they go out in case the soup or gravy has been thickened with flour. Generally being a pain at parties and family gatherings.

Trust me, as a vegetarian, I understand. Long before there was gluten-free eating, even before there were vegans, there were vegetarians. And yes, we too had to resort to constant label-reading (and to this day), to make sure insidious ingredients like gelatin (made from calves’ hooves) and lard hadn’t snuck into seemingly innocuous products like crackers, yogurt (!!! damn you, Yoplait), spreadable better-than-butter alternatives, vitamin capsules, and yes, Altoids. (Gelatin in mints? Please.) Not to mention fish oil in such unlikely places as milk and eggs that have been omega-3 enhanced.

We’ve had to ask if the soup at a given restaurant was made with beef, chicken, or fish stock, if the miso soup in a Japanese restaurant was made with dashi (bonito tuna flakes), if desserts were made with gelatin. We’ve had to patiently explain to our server, after ordering a club sandwich with no meat and receiving one without the chicken or whatever but with bacon, that in fact, bacon was meat. We’ve had to decline the gazpacho that our hostess made “just for us” with beef stock. (Gazpacho with beef stock?!!) We’ve passed up endless slices of pie with “authentic” lard-based crusts, and had to ask every time we go to a Mexican restaurant or buy a can of refried beans if they’re made with lard.

In short, we’ve had to get used to making a pain of ourselves. In the most polite, apologetic way, but still. So we know what you gluten-free folks are going through. Hang in there, do your homework, and above all, be considerate. Just as it’s not other people’s fault that we choose to be vegetarian or vegan, it’s not other people’s fault you can’t tolerate gluten. Be kind, be patient, and you’ll find that people will be happy to help you. Except, apparently, the Altoid company.

‘Til next time,

Silence