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vegan envy

“As some of you already know, it is Meat Week here on Morning Edition“. So starts Steve Inskeep in a report on NPR last week– which means that a few million people did actually know. But, coincidentally, or as I prefer to think, karmically, it was also Vegan Week here in my little village, and my, what a Vegan Week it was.

For a little background on Vegan Week, visit my post, Be Kind to Animals, which gives the history of this event– which was until recently known to about seven people. However, this time around, the Village Veganistas took on a few new cocktail-concocting guests. One evening we were barely contained in our host’s small home as our table grew to eleven. And, the next night we literally spilled out onto the porch as our numbers increased even more–along with the temperature. The word was out. Our giddiness, fueled by the exquisiteness of the meals–plus the fresh strawberry cosmos and daiquiris–could no longer be contained. The curious fringe came circling, like lions ready to pounce on some new meat–but alas, all that they found was some kale salad with fennel and cannellini beans, vegan egg rolls, and some rice stuffed cabbage. Ah, but they pleaded to stay and begged for more.

As I listened in on Meat Week’s offerings with its stories of the evolution of carnivores in America, my single compartment stomach churned and felt a little queasy. Reported was that Homo sapiens evolved as meat eaters– which apparently accounted for the increased size of our brains. Even so, eating meat was essentially a game of catch as catch can for many a good year. The advent of animal husbandry increased access to and consumption of meat, but for the most part, it was tendered to the reigning aristocracy. It was here in America, due to the vast amount of pastureland plus some good old ingenuity, that meat became amply available–and at a cheaper price– thus elevating meat-eating to a national pastime.

The rest is a mere hundred plus-year-old history that brings us to today and the 30 million cows we now have in this country. Some standard meat factoids are that: it takes 20-30 pounds of feed to produce one pound of beef; it takes 53 gallons of water to produce one hamburger; one-third of all crops grown are fed to animals; two-thirds of the water that we use is for agricultural purposes; cattle raising contributes to vast deforestation and air and water pollution; and, Americans eat 270 pounds of meat, per person, per year.

Two hundred and seventy pounds? Per person? Per year? That is like 10 ounces per day. The world average is 102 pounds and all those people in India are consuming only about seven pounds. Only folk in tiny Luxembourg eat more, but Australians are right up there as well. Though people are eating less beef, chicken has quickly taken its place because of the work of Frank Purdue and others who fostered industrialized chicken production only a few decades ago.

Apparently, though, there is a turnaround trend occurring and people are starting to eat less meat. It seems that this is mainly due to economics but also to concerns about health, the environment, and animal welfare. This news left me ruminating. How primal is this need for meat? Could a week of eating a diet entirely devoid of animal products provide some answers to this evolutionary debacle?

This is about our seventh seasonal celebration of Vegan Week. We are usually corralled to gather when my next-door neighbor Carrie clears a spot on the table of her own busy life to find the space for our culinary, dietary and social intention. I was actually quite surprised then when the summoning email arrived this time, as Carrie is a candidate for the NY State Assembly. She is already busy campaigning around our district, making appearances at various, sometimes hot dog hawking, events. But true to her commitment to community, she did not forget the Veganistas.

This Vegan Week held now the excitement of  Carrie’s candidacy. We sometimes had to save a plate for her as she arrived late due to some campaign work. But that was not the only thing that marked this week. All the meals that we share are incredibly good, prepared by some excellent cooks. However, on Thursday night, unassuming and sweet Danielle, a relatively recent addition to the circle, brought Vegan week to new culinary heights. Her menu began with a vegan version of the traditional Italian soup Pasta Fagioli. She used those adorable little ditalini noodles accompanied by a homemade, perfectly fennel-seasoned gluten sausage. We were just getting over that flavorful experience when we beheld her main course, a Seitan Picatta.

This dish consists of a baked potato cake, topped with a tofu-based creamed spinach and a seitan cutlet with a lemon and caper wine sauce. She obtained the recipe from “Chef’s Table, The Kitchen of Angel Ramos” the head chef at Candle 79, a vegan restaurant in Manhattan. Danielle’s execution was exquisite. She made her own seitan cutlets which were the most tender I have ever tasted. The presentation was beautiful as well. After our first bites–we squawked like happy free-range chickens. Oh, and yes, dessert. A perfect chocolate cake. Our newbie guests were amazed.

Couldn’t this great fare appease us modern Homo sapiens? Exquisite taste with a  slightly chewy bite? Might less meat possibly expand our “knowing man” taxonomy to also include “homo ecologicus, homo amans, and homo poetica”–ecological, loving and makers of meaning?  Let’s chew on that at the Interdependence Day BBQ.

According to Meat Week, 7 billion hot dogs will be eaten in the US this summer. Given that about twelve ordinarily carnivorous individuals consciously chose to avoid any animal-derived products on this last week of June, let’s make that 6,999,999,988.

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In health, Elyn

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