Personal news update
A few notes:
Vegetarian diet: turns out to be much easier than I thought, and perfectly fine, and seems to produce a less-addictive attitude toward food. I wonder whether more is not going on with eating meat (in psychological terms—and perhaps physiological as well) than we realize—that something about eating the flesh of an animals stirs ancient echoes and awakens some sort of predator excitement with the result a non-nutritional need for food.
I do notice that my meals now are not only easy to fix, but seem more like mere food in my reaction to them: perfectly fine, very tasty, that’s done.
UPDATE: I’ve continued to mull this over. I think that through my various meal templates (see “Useful posts“), I developed a deconstructive attitude toward meals: when building a meal in my mind, I thought in terms of servings of oil, vegetables, starch, greens, and protein. A meal required at least one appropriate entry in each category. Over time the protein choices began to seem limited (because I primarily considered only protein from animal sources): beef was used rarely (King Corn took care of that for me—and in a highly entertaining way), pork we wanted to moderate after reading of the risks due to packing plant hygiene, and lamb also was only an occasional thing. So it mostly came down to chicken or fish, and that became boring.
Now, in contrast, I seem to have a bonanza of choices for protein: grains and beans and cheeses and plain old vegetables. I realize that a lot more variety is possible, and I do like beans—and cheese (complete the protein! :) In a word, removing animal flesh from the diet opens up the meal palette considerably.
Now, when I think about a meal in completing a shopping list, animal flesh really doesn’t enter my mind—I just don’t think about it, because when I get to the “protein” slot on the template, I’m all “rice—black? white? combo?—or pearled barley or beans or cooked wheatberries” and so on. Animal flesh doesn’t arise as an option.
I wonder why it seemed so difficult back then, and I just now realized that (a) one sees a lot of advertising of animal flesh—a lot—and virtually all cookbooks and recipes (except the “vegetarian” (scare quotes) magazines and cookbooks way over there) consisted mainly of using animal sources for protein; and (b) all that constant presence starts to feel like pressure to have your protein come from animal sources—like some guy at an event insisting a little too strongly that you have (another) drink: an out-of-place insistence and trying to make me do what he wants.
I didn’t notice that at all before, but I can feel it quite clearly now. I think that simply thinking (and cooking and eating) without any thought of using animal sources has created a new norm, and the constant presence of animal protein in the media all around us feels outside the norm (that is, our own personal norm).
You see the same thing in smoking. After you’ve not smoked for a while, an action that seemed totally normal and routine seems, as you think about it, really weird, and then it starts to look odd when people smoke. The tobacco industry fights that, of course, and spends a lot of money trying to give cigarette smoking enough presence in our lives (through movie and TV placements, magazine ads, and everything else they could think of) that it will look normal again. It’s not really working, but God knows they try. To hell with health outcomes, there’s money to be made!
And the same from the animal protein industry: “Please, please, please, you must eat this way. It’s the only way. Really.”
I feel as though I’ve walked through a looking glass. No wonder vegetarians are so insistent (and you are, you know—I guess I am, too, now): they/we see a part of our normal daily life from a totally new perspective. It’s like suddenly seeing behind the curtain, spotting the trick in a magician’s act, or spotting the animal hidden in the picture: once you see it, you can’t stop seeing it. Interesting.
I do think, though, that for me the tapering off was the thing—that, and the deconstructive approach to meal planning, when you start to realize that there are a lot of ways to fill that “protein” compartment, and new ones are fun to try. And so you find you’ve gone a day or two without meat, occasionally a stretch of four, then a week… and then you start to notice the constant nudging from media to eat meat—lots of meat: meat at every meal. Stuff meat with meat. I mean, my God! give it a rest!
I guess I’m convinced.
Another thought: Certainly media pressure is important, but my earlier resistance to a vegetarian diet went beyond that in a way that again strikes me now as an addictive response: not wanting to seriously consider a life without my meat fix, thinking of lots of reasons why I couldn’t skip meat (“I travel a lot…”) , why it had to be a part of every meal.
I don’t believe it will be quite easy now to let meat drop from my diet, but I’m also fine in consuming it on occasion: I can still think of an occasional (every few months—and probably graduating becoming less frequent) celebratory steak or the like. But I feel no need at all for a frequent fix, and I also really like the larger palette of possibilities that open with removal of animal flesh.
Full disclosure: I have eaten vegetarian at various periods, but it never pulled me into it—I was constantly have to push myself into it, and then, of course, one ultimately cannot resist the pressure (particularly if the pressure’s undetected as such). But this time feels different.
Tonight I made this GOPM again, with changes noted.
½ c rice, about half white and half black (ran out of white)
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
allium was 2 large spring shallots, chopped including all the green part
½ red bell pepper, chopped small
4 Roma tomatoes, diced
1-2 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano (I used up what I had left)
6-8 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
Small pitted black olives– no olives: ran out
1/4 c pine nuts
1 medium eggplant, diced
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled (I use most of a 6-oz package of crumbled feta)
home-cooked garbanzos/chickpeas, enough to cover the top (about 1.5-2 c)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp red-wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Blis fish sauce
juice of a very small Meyer lemon
2 Tbsp Amontillado sherry (Harvey & Gibson is what I mostly use)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2-3 tsp smoked paprika
Shake well, pour over, cover, 450ºF oven for 45 minutes.
This version seemed noticeably better than the prior version.
Today, for example, I had some greens to cook, so here’s what I did:
Put about 2 Tbsp olive oil in 4-qt pot, add 1 bunch of chopped scallions (including all the green part) and 2 large spring shallots, including all the green parts, and a good pinch of kosher salt.
I sautéed that for a while, minced about 6-8 cloves garlic and added that, then rinsed the greens well in a tub of water. Then I put into the pot:
1 large bunch broccoli rabe, chopped small, stems minced
1 bunch red kale, chopped small, stems minced
2-3 Tbs Crosse & Blackwell Mint Sauce (I buy it locally—link is just to show what it is)
1 c water (maybe 1.25 c)
1 Tbsp Penzeys Ham Soup Base
Several grindings black pepper
This filled the pot to the brim, so I put the lid on and let it cook for about 10 minutes, which wilted the greens and gave more room. Then I added
1.5 c (more or less) baby creamer potatoes
If I had been cooking this for myself, I think I would have added pepper sauce or crushed red pepper and probably some fish sauce.
I covered the pot, simmered all that for 40 minutes, and just had a bowl. Since the bowl included greens and starch, I figured with protein it would be a meal, so I added to the bowl about 1/4 c peanuts and 2 Tbsp sunflower seeds (I cannot escape thinking about a complete protein.) — Update: I just realized I could have substituted some cheese for the peanuts and sunflower seeds: feta, perhaps, or shredded mozzarella, or whatever.
I added a little pepper sauce and some fish sauce, stirred, and ate. Terrific.
I had a fish-sauce accident the other night: I was add just a little to a dish when the bottom part of the bottle just broke off—no impact, it just burst. Important note: Don’t ever spill a bottle of fish sauce. We did get it cleaned up, but the next cleaning ladies day is eagerly anticipated.
At any rate, it is incredibly good. I added about 1/2 tsp to the (rather large) bowl of greens and potatoes (and peanuts and sunflower seed), and it gave it a deep sort of smooth flaver: no edges, no roughness. Man! it’s good. I wonder whether this is the 50º fish sauce.
In other news, I saw in Paul Krugman’s blog his praise today for Charles Stross, whose writing I also enjoy, so I’m rereading Singularity Sky, and it struck me anew how, if each person had a maker-machine that could produce (say) everything needed in the way of clothing, shelter, food, and small devices (tools, simple machines, appliances, power sources, musical instruments, and the like, including maker-machines) just from dirt, the government would instantly make ownership of a maker-machine a serious felony and it would work to recover and destroy them all.
The crackdown would be touted as a way to protect the factories that would otherwise be shuttered, thus making their workers jobless. But, obviously, those workers could simply be given maker-machines and would no longer need a job.
If everyone’s needs were met, then the real problem, from the view of corporations and politicians, is that they would lose power—lots of power. Their power is based on controlling the spigot of what we need to survive, and the point (for them) is not that people have what they need, but that the corporations and politicians control access to what people need. With that control, they also control us, they will not want to give that up, however much good it may do for the people.
There will be exceptions, but I believe the first response of the vast majority of those in power would be to embargo the machines.
This is pretty much the beginning of Singularity Sky. I read it a while back, so I don’t quite remember how it goes. I’m enjoying the reread.