Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Veggie Nugget #6

"I sit here and watch people eat steak and eat foie gras and do stupid shit all day long. I'm really not an angry vegan, but human beings are fucking rude."

-Russell Simmons

Are Mock Meats Too Real?

I found the following Q&A at this great faq site about vegnism. It does a great job of explaining why many vegans enjoy meat analogs. We have been feeding Anna a mostly whole foods diet with a little bit of processed veggie sausage or veggie chicken thrown in there intermittently. This Q&A is making me question whether we should be giving her any meat analogs. I'll explain after you read it.


Q. Are Mock Meats Too Real?

People often ask me why vegans eat mock meats. They say it doesn't make sense for us to eat fake burgers, turkey, and lunchmeats if our true intention is to avoid all animal products. I've even known some vegans who wouldn't touch certain brands of veggie burgers because they seem too "real." Personally, I enjoy these products. Should I feel guilty about eating them?

A. For the most part, processed meat products don't resemble animal body parts. By the time raw meat reaches consumers, most of it is skinned, boned, ground, chopped, sliced, or diced. Various cuts also may be formed into patties, loaves, roasts, links, and other assorted shapes. We recognize "hamburger" as "meat," even though it actually doesn't resemble anything specific. Consequently, we associate veggie burgers with hamburgers because they have a similar appearance (and sometimes a comparable texture and flavor), but neither looks like an animal's limb.

We live in a meat-centered culture and are surrounded by meat-eaters daily, despite our displeasure about it. Nearly all vegans grew up eating meat or living among meat-eaters, so meat in all its forms is customary and familiar. Animal flesh is a central feature of most holiday and social gatherings, and, healthful or not, many of us learned to fashion our meals around animal products. It is reasonable that people accustomed to this way of eating would want a painless replacement for meat when they become vegan. Having a cruelty-free alternative to meat can make vegan meal planning a snap, and it also can help ease the transition to an animal-free diet.

Nevertheless, mock meats are not solely for new vegans; long-time vegans and even nonvegetarians enjoy them as well. Tasty analogs are ideal for meat-loving family members and friends, as they are a food we can delight in and share. They are perfect for warm weather cookouts when nearly everyone wants something to grill, office picnics, parties, and other celebrations. When coworkers, friends, or relatives are eating burgers, we can indulge in a veggie version and not feel alienated. When people partake of foods that are comparable, even if they are not identical, there is a feeling of unity and camaraderie. Because these foods can be heated quickly, they are convenient for hectic lifestyles and people on the run. Students, teens, and busy parents find them to be a godsend when appetites are raging and time is in short supply.

An interesting detail about meat is that it hardly ever is relished plain. Meat-eaters generally douse it with tenderizers, gravies, sauces, herbs, spices, breading, and a variety of condiments. At the very least, it almost always is served with salt and pepper. Meat without these seasonings and treatments usually is bland and relatively unpalatable. When people say they crave meat, what they really long for are the flavor enhancements, the chewy texture, or a sense of fullness and satisfaction. All of these are replicated easily with pure plant foods in the form of mock meats.

The vast majority of people who become vegan or vegetarian do not alter their eating habits because they abhor the taste of meat. While they may find animal products objectionable for myriad reasons, typically this has more to do with how meat is produced, or its effect on human health or the environment, rather than an aversion to its flavor. No one should be ashamed about having enjoyed the taste of meat prior to becoming vegan. Generally, those of us who ate meat at some point in our lives liked it, and this notion isn't going to vanish simply because we choose to change our diet. Although we might feel that meat is repugnant on a spiritual, philosophical, or intellectual level, our palates have memory. We cannot erase a personal history of once having enjoyed the taste of meat, and our emotional attachment to it may endure.

There is no reason for vegans to avoid plant-based foods that simulate meat or other animal products. For many vegans, meat analogs fill a void. They also are handy, practical, comforting, and satisfying. Plant-based mock meats may be reminiscent of animal products, but the critical point is that they aren't meat.


So, do I want my daughter to have fake meat in her palate memory? If we feed her a meat analog at every meal it may make it easier for her to take that dreaded leap to real meat later on in life. If we abstain from feeding her meat analogs, then maybe she'll find anything meaty repugnant, including real meat. Of course, this would mean a pretty hefty shift in our diet, since my wife and I eat our fair share of meat analogs. I'm not sure I want to give those up. I have 23 years of meat memory in my palate!

This is why I need to buy this cookbook:

It's all about vegan cooking without meat substitutes. And I drool every time I read about it. Yum.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Anna's Travels

We went to North Dakota a couple weeks ago to see family. Here are some photos.

My dad has a couple gardens. They're both really big. Small fields, really. Anna loved running around amongst the veggies.

We went to Lake Superior's north shore last weekend with my sister, her husband and their three month old son.

My wife and I took turns carrying Anna on our back. She's a lot heavier than she looks. There was a point where I thought I was going to collapse. Believe it or not, that was actually before this photo was taken. It took all my energy to muster that smile.

Anna loved the rocky beach at Temperance Falls. She's a big fan of rocks. This place is a rock fan's heaven.

Some wildlife. Obviously they're pretty acclimated to humans, or I would never have been able to get so close.

Anna took a great interest in her little cousin this weekend.

Well that's it for now. Don't say I didn't warn you about there being a lot of photos.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

So it Begins...

Last night was the first night of Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE). It's a thing we do on Monday nights. Basically it's a way for Anna to interact with a whole bunch of kids, since she doesn't go to daycare. It's nice for us too, since the parents separate from the kids and talk about parenting.

For the first night of class the parents stayed with their kid(s) the whole time, just to get them used to the idea of being there in hopes that when we separate next week it won't turn into a meltdown.

At the end of playtime all the kids sit around a big table and have snacks and a sippy cup of water. My wife and I let all the teachers know ahead of time that Anna doesn't eat non-vegan things and they were all really cool about it. Basically what it came down to is she can have the Cheerios. That's about it. The Goldfish have cheese in them. The Bunny Grahams have honey in them. So Cheerios it is.

Anna loves Cheerios. In fact, I once used Cheerios as a vehicle for peas since she wouldn't eat the peas on their own. I called them Pearios.

Needless to say, they are one of her favorite things to eat. So we didn't think giving her just the Cheerios would be a problem and for the most part it wasn't. But she did look over at what the other kids were eating and we could tell she was wondering why she wasn't eating that. I mean, the Goldfish were the colored kind. Bright colors like purple and red and orange. How long will boring old brown Cheerios be able to contend with that?

Anna ate her Cheerios while my wife and I hovered and held our breath in hopes that she wouldn't demand the cute bunny and fish snacks. There was a point where the kid to her left was chowing down and somehow half of a Goldfish ended up close to Anna. I saw her eyeing it, but I didn't want to intervene. I guess I wanted to let her decide to not pick it up, instead of me deciding for her.

I do this quite a bit at home. She will stand in front of a plant and look at it and I know that she's contemplating pulling off a leaf or grabbing the stem and pulling the whole plant off the table. But I just let her stand there and let her work it out on her own and I only intervene if she actually grabs the plant. This hardly ever happens.

But she did pick up the half-goldfish and before I could get to her hands she had it in her mouth. End of the world? No. Do I regret not preemptively acting? Kinda. But I need to come to terms with the fact that these things will happen. In fact, they're going to happen quite often in Anna's early years, before she knows to ask if something is vegan before she eats it (and yes, things like this might happen even after she knows how to ask and even after we tell her that we don't eat non-vegan foods).

So what is a vegan parent to do? Sure, I need to come to terms with the fact that these things will happen, but that doesn't mean that I should just sit back and make no attempt to decrease the likelihood of these occurrences. I went shopping at Target after ECFE and as far as I can tell all of the Goldfish varieties have cheese in them. So bringing vegan Goldfish to class is out of the question. Also, I looked for Bunny Grahams without honey, and the kind that didn't have honey in them did have milk in them (except for the chocolate ones, and I don't think the teachers or parents would be too excited about giving kids chocolate at 7 at night). So I'm on the lookout for vegan bite-sized treats. If you have any ideas let me know.

Another option is to ask the teachers to keep a closer eye on Anna. We trust them to take care of our kids for an hour, why not trust them to monitor what goes in their mouths? I may have a one-to-one chat with the main teacher next Monday and ask her to just be more aware of the situation and to make a reasonable effort to keep the non-vegan foods out of my daughter's mouth.

The most extreme option would be to take Anna out of the class. This option is not on the table. I won't sacrifice my child's socialization for vegan purity. The best we can do is explain to her at every turn what we do and do not eat and why (age-appropriately, of course).

So it begins. The first in what I'm sure will be a long line of non-vegan things that end up in Anna's stomach.

Actually, now that I think of it, my wife told me that Anna ate a whole Goldfish a couple weeks ago at a play-date.