Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Eating Animals: Part 2 - The Foodie Debate

What is a foodie? Wikipedia says it's “an informal term for a particular class of aficionado of food and drink.” Merriam-Webster defines "foodie" as “a person having an avid interest in the latest food fads.” I didn't use the term "foodie" to describe myself until late in college, when I first discovered cooking (in other words, when I first discovered the Food Network). Junior and senior year, I had three girlfriends (S, A and J) who also considered themselves foodies, and we regularly got together to throw potlucks, try new restaurants, or simply just discuss our love for food. The funny thing is, S is a vegetarian and A doesn’t eat pork (J and I, however, ate just about anything). S and A's dietary restrictions never really got in the way, but J and I often wondered how they could live without experiencing the sweet and succulent joy that is pork. (For the record, I LOVE pork. It's the meat I miss the most.) I mean, I used to make fun of S all the time for being a vegetarian! (She KNEW I was kidding, and because she's got such a great attitude and sense of humor, she often played along. This is why I love you, S.)

Here's the thing: I never thought you could truly be a foodie if you didn't eat meat. I believe the same to be true for people who don't enjoy vegetables, dark chocolate, stinky cheese and red wine. That's pretty stupid and snotty of me, yes, but I'm just being honest here (and hypocritical b/c there are definitely some things I refuse to eat – helloooo, tripe). So when I made the decision to cut out meat, the first thought that popped into my head was, “But how can I call myself a foodie if I don’t eat meat?!” If that’s not bad enough, if I throw out eggs, cheese, and seafood, then WHAT does that make me? Can one be a vegan and still be a foodie? I don’t know. I do know, however, that many of you will say yes. And that’s why I’m writing this.

My identity as a foodie is at stake. My ability to throw successful dinner parties for my friends in Austin (who, for the record, are nowhere near vegetarian or vegan) is in danger. What will people think? Will they still invite me to dinner? And WHAT about Ina? Yes, I’m talkin bout THE Barefoot Contessa! She’s, like, my foodie idol! I love her recipes because they are simple, fresh, decadent and DELICIOUS. Can I betray her like that? What about all the food blogs I follow? What about Gourmet and Bon Appetit and even Cooking Light? Ruth Reichl and Anthony Bourdain? I mean, I am all about Clueless, but Alicia, we have no food history (YET).

Last night I couldn’t stop thinking about food. YAY guacamole is vegan! Darn, queso is definitely not. Tex-Mex is going to be tough. Asian, however, is a good option for a vegan diet. Italian? Fuhgettaboutit! Tuna melts? OUT. Lobster bisque? OUT. What the hell can I eat??

Finally, right before I drifted off to sleep, I decided to shutup and RELAX. I can still be a foodie, damn it! A foodie is anyone who loves and appreciates good food, whatever that food may (or may not) contain. I will, however, need to re-teach myself how to cook. Lasagna, bolognese and cornbread casserole can no longer be my go-to’s (probably a good thing seeing as how those are all heart attacks waiting to happen). I’m going to have to do my research, be creative, and keep an open mind. It’s not that vegan recipes don’t sound good to me; they just don’t sound satisfying. But what do I know? I haven’t tried enough to make that call.

So instead of being thoroughly depressed, I’ve decided to get really REALLY excited. And thanks to you all, I’m getting oodles of great ideas, recipes, tips and tricks. This weekend I plan to spend a LONG time studying the aisles of Whole Foods. The Kind Diet is on its way. Even my MOM is being supportive (this woman was less than thrilled to learn about my new vegetarian diet when I returned from Londy)! Together we brainstormed about which of my fave Korean dishes we could veganize. Bibimbap without the meat and egg? Definitely not the same, but STILL delicious (as long as it's SPICY)!

My sister thinks I’m nuts, but I know she’ll happily oblige to my dietary needs when I visit. My real-life friends? Well, I don’t know. Matty and I will most definitely have to re-think Nachos Thursday. Tomorrow night I’m dining with foodie friends in town for a wedding, and we’re doing tex-mex. Huh. And what about my potential trip to NY this Spring? No Lombardi’s pizza for moi.

It’s not going to be easy. Not everyone will be thrilled. But I’m doing this for me, and despite all my questions and concerns and panic attacks, I’m tres happy about it. And if my social life has to suffer because of it, SO BE IT!

Terribly sorry for the rambling. Um… thoughts??


Pink Heels said...

I had a friend tell me something the other day that I think that you will appreciate; especially in light of this post. Her comment to me: "This is your world. It can look and be whatever you want! All of us, we are just observers in your world. We don't set the rules. You do. You are the ruler of your world."

Therefore, you are a foodie if you say that you are a foodie.

Lauren said...

I've been a little concerned about the same issues. I'm thinking it might help if you tried out a bunch of new recipes, perfected them and then had friends over for a veggie feast! My former rabbi was a near gourmet vegetarian chef and going to her house for dinner was never ever unsatisfying.

Looking through all my new vegan cookbooks has me wondering if being a vegan foodie is more about veganizing the recipes of your former food idols and finding new veg-friendly food idols(like Isa Chandra Mosokowitz--I will buy anything she ever writes! haha)

You can still have nachos! Pile them with guacamole, salsa, etc. And have you tried cheeseless pizza? If you pile it with enough "stuff"--veggies, pesto, tomato sauce, etc.--it's actually really good!

City Girl said...

I had a similar identity crisis when I had to cut out a bunch of foods last year. I still love food and love cooking and love dining out (where there are options for me to eat) - that doesn't change.

Re: pizza, if the dough and the sauce is vegan (which it should be), you can just have it without cheese. I have yet to find a pizza place that won't honor that. Especially in NYC. Oh, and if you like Le Pain Quotidien, which is like everywhere in NYC, they have awesome awesome vegan options.

Vegan bim bim bap is good. I have had it here in DC. :)

Nachos thursday is doable too - Tofutti sour cream and Daiya cheese can give a very similar experience.

Tex mex might be different in Austin, but in DC and NYC, I have no trouble options wise - I usually get veggie fajitas and have them hold the cheese and sour cream, and get a side of rice and beans to make it satisfying (I can't eat wheat or corn tortillas).

You can do this :)

City Girl said...

PS as for Ina - I used to love her too - and I still enjoy watching her once in a while, but like Lauren said, it's about also finding new foodies :)

Lavanya said...

I'm loving your 'eating animals' posts..I am a vegetarian and am obsessed with food!! I've been thinking of cutting out some diary too- I've been guiltily stuffing my face with cheese ever since I realized that most European cheeses use animal rennet derived from veal..:(((

ooh- and I would love a vegetarian bibimbap (and kimchi recipe)

I think it is totally possible to eat well and heartily as a vegetarian..but I am finding it difficult to believe that I can live without cheese

Analiese Marie said...

Wow, you totally articulated so many of the thoughts and concerns I've had about changing my eating habits (from a total omnivore to a not-quite-vegan but close). I've considered myself a hardcore foodie for a long time, and I think that belief is partially what precluded me from changing my eating habits sooner. I thought that if I cut out certain categories of food, I would no longer be a legitimate foodie or even be taken seriously as someone who writes and blogs about food quite a bit.

It's been a process, but I've realized that this isn't a hypothetical - it's my LIFE and the only way I can live it is to do what's right for me. I still struggle. I don't so much miss the stinky cheese as much as I miss the idea of it. Or rather, my image of myself as a person who appreciates such things. But I'm realizing that it's totally possible to be a foodie within this new framework. It's about building a new appreciation for all of the good food that you're putting into your body, and how good it makes you feel. Feeling pure, whole, light, and at ease with your choices. Because as much as I loved food of all kinds, I always felt a sort of guilty ambivalence, even before I became aware of the horrors of factory farming and such. I feel like, in some ways, I've given up that epicurean identity, but I've also gained a new one as someone who is treating her body and other living things in a way that I feel good about.

So glad you're exploring this topic, and sorry for writing a novel, but it struck a chord! xoxo

Analiese Marie said...

P.S. Do you know Kirsten of A Karma Project? She has been blogging about this stuff as well...might be helpful!

Kirsten said...

As somebody that works in public relations in the food industry and has hung out with some incredibly famous and amazing chefs (hello, Thomas Keller - I'm looking at you)! I totally understand your concern. TOTALLY. You should see my cookbook collection at home, so much delicious meat-based food! So much dairy! I even have an ENTIRE (autographed) cookbook dedicated to cheese.

I haven't come to terms with travel yet (like if I go to Paris, am I going to avoid cheese or when I go visit my Chef friends - if Nancy Silverton personally makes me pizza at Pizzaria Mozza - am I going to decline?) These are bridges I haven't crossed yet.

But yes, you can absolutely consider yourself a foodie. An INFORMED foodie. And vegan food can be awesome and very fine dining. And think of it this way, fine dining veganism hasn't really been done yet - think of all the ORIGINAL yummy ideas you can have. Think of all the new flavors and spices you can experiment with - it is so exciting.

Tomorrow I'm writing about my favorite vegan cookbooks and some of my favorite recipes (so far). said...

I consider myself a foodie and I don't in meat. In fact, I eat vegan 99% of the time. One of my favorite things is shopping for local produce and finding new and exciting ways to prepare it. I also LOVE searching out vegan and vegetarian restaurants in new cities. I think that traditional foodies sometimes miss out on this often-dismissed world.

shelly said...

i have been a vegetarian for 2 years. i have and will ALWAYS consider myself a foodie. i LOVE to cook and that did not change when i decided to stop eating meat. now i love the challenge of coming up with creative new receipes. i am writing a cookbook on Mindful Eating now. just because you stop eating meat does not mean that you stop loving food. i have challenged myself to eat local as much as possible...which means i spend a lot of my time out searching for fresh, local food. food, food, foodie! and i think i appreciate my food a lot more now knowing that animals aren't being harmed just so i can pollute my body with their flesh. one thing i can suggest...ease yourself into it. start with removing the meat and get used to that. then consider the vegan route. i could be vegan 100% of the time if cheese didn't exist! and some cookbooks for can buy them on amazon, used: *Super Natural Cooking, Vegan Planet, Moosewood, *The Vegan Table. there is a ton of inspiration out there! you can do it!!!! :)

Hang in there Little Tomato!!!

Sallie Ann said...

Hey Darlin',

You're worrying about this too much. You know that, right?

Think along these lines:

polenta topped w/ avocado, blackbeans, & tempura
smoked dulse

hon shemeji (mushrooms) calamari style on a bed of tomato olive stew

potato gnocchi blanketed by a creamy and slightly spicy tomato-coconut milk sauce. Finished with roasted red peppers, tofu cheese, toasted cashews, & sunflower seeds

Thai Spiced Sweet Potato-Coconut Soup, crispy rice noodles

Sunchoke Ravioli, grilled leeks, medjool dates, preserved lemon

BBQ Black Eyed Pea Dumpling, hoisin, ginger, Chinese mustard, scallion

Quinoa salad and steamed greens served over a black bean sauce with cumin vinaigrette. Topped with an avocado and pineapple salsa.

I'd say any of these qualify for the "foodie" award! See, it's fun!

Kathy said...

Hi again Carolyn! Wanted to return the favor and comment on your amazing post! Your honesty in your post is fabulous and identifiable!

I hope more bloggers will start chatting about this topic, and questioning why mainstream 'foodie-ism' hasn't caught up with the vegan trend in a more respectful and accurate way. Vegan food IS delicious! Keep it up...

Your post is fab and thanks for reading mine:


AmeliaPontes said...

I went vegan for 30 days and although it was very hard, it had such a great health benefit. Half of the battle was just figuring out what I could and couldn't eat, but once I realized that I should just eat more vegetables/fruits it got much easier. Substitutes can be good, too, but nothing tasted better than eating natural food. Good luck!

Kayla said...

When I go to a potluck dinner or throw dinner parties people are always very interested in trying my veggie cooking. My veggie chili has become of my friend's favourite dishes and they even request it! So don't worry about your dinner parties people will likely be interested in trying new and interesting dishes that are vegan friendly.

The Voracious Vegan said...

Veganism is easy! Seriously, it expands your cooking horizons and completely changes your life - for the better! Just keep reminding yourself why you're doing it and it will get easier and easier. Check out my blog, we eat like we're in paradise over here and we don't even have all the fancy vegan substitutes you've got in Austin. I went to the whole foods there once and I was in awe. Here in Saudi we've got nothing but the basics but everything I make is still delicious, I even run a vegan bakery. There is nothing in the world that can't be veganized.

Speaking of queso...check this out....