Vegetebliss Photo by: Claire Bilderback

Vegetabliss

Why rely on old-fashioned turkey L-tryptophan for your holiday high, when you can get your Thanksgiving on with these planet-friendly alternatives?

By Leslie Bilderback 11/01/2011

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My love of meat is no secret. I'm not militant about it (like some people I know). Suffice to say I have a healthy appreciation for it. And when it comes to offal, I have no fear. It’s not that I am trying to show off or launch my own extreme-eating reality show. It's just that the grodier and weirder it is, the more interesting I find it (also, coincidentally, the guiding principle in my quest for a mate).      

But it's not just meat. I am, by trade and by choice, a lover of all foods, which means that I have developed an appreciation for, and admiration of, vegetarians. Not the hemp-skirt, loom-loving, Haight-Ashbury, barefoot, patchouli-doused vegetarians — just the regular people who, without making it a big deal, have decided, for whatever reason, to omit meat.  

There are lots of legitimate reasons to do so, not the least of which is the horrific overuse of resources in the name of meat. It takes 60 pounds of water to grow one pound of potatoes, but a staggering 96,000 pounds of water for one pound of beef. My fingers get all pruney just thinking about it. And don't forget the grim reality of factory farms, which doesn't exactly cause a burst of patriotism to swell inside me. (More like nausea.)  

According to the United Nations, the meat industry is one of the most significant contributors to global warming.Factory farms are the single greatest producers of the greenhouse gases nitrous oxide and methane, which makes the decision not to eat meat the single most effective thing you can do to save the environment. Such facts have prompted me, despite my carnivo-centric history, to lean toward a flesh-free dinner plate.  

Of course, most vegetarians I know are a little nutty and under the misapprehension that people care what they eat. They proudly declare their alliance to ovo (will eat egg), lacto (will eat dairy), pescatarian (will eat fish because they are not cute) or vegan dining doctrines. My favorite example of the vegetarian lunatic fringe is the fruitarians who, in an effort to reduce suffering, refuse to eat anything that will die when harvested.  (Rest easy, carrots.)  

I have been catering to one vegetarian kid for a while now. It started in the fourth grade when she learned the life-changing equation hamburger = cow. I have been criticized for allowing this, but I never really cared what other moms thought. Also, their arguments against vegetarianism are pretty lame. Yes, humans are meant to eat meat. We are also meant to run naked and live in caves with multiple partners.  

Vegetarianism has a long and distinguished history. Pythagoras and his followers abstained from meat, so there’s a good chance that vegetarian kids will be really good at math. Ancient Egyptians were too (vegetarian, that is). In fact, most cultures that believe in reincarnation avoid killing animals, on the off chance that lunch could turn out to be Great Uncle Akbar.  

At the start of my tenure as Veggie Mom, I found myself deluged with vegetarian options: veggie wienies, garden burgers, vegan cheeses and non-dairy dairy have made vegetarianism as easy as kale pie. But fake meat has never felt right to me. Why, if you oppose eating meat, do you attempt to simulate a plateful of it? Are you disguising your vegetarianism?  

Why not simply eat the vegetables you so proudly champion? It isn't hard to get complete protein (all nine essential amino acids) herbaceously. People have done it for centuries by combining plant foods.  Science now concludes that consumption of these food combos (legumes, grains, nuts, seeds) can be spread throughout the week, not merely at the same sitting, because the body will store amino acids and use them as needed over the course of several days. All the more reason to lay off the fake meat, which is as processed as a bag of Ranch-flavored Doritos, with nearly as much sodium and several ingredients I cannot pronounce.  

The most unnerving expression of vegetabluff is about to make its annual appearance: Thanksgiving hostesses across America, in an attempt to pacify their vegetarian guests, will bring forth, with much fanfare, the Tofurky. This is a soy-based food product shaped like a cooked turkey. Yes, in a nationwide cry against the killing of animals, we will sit down to a substitute shaped like a dead one!

What have you got against vegetables, America? Were you traumatized by a plate of overcooked Brussels sprouts? Did an untoward turnip encounter turn you against the entire plant kingdom? Is that why you bury your veggies under layers of brown sugar and marshmallows, canned onion rings and goopy cream-of-mushroom soup? Why hide them in a fruit drink and mix them covertly into "fun" foods for unsuspecting kids? (I'm talking to you, Mrs. Seinfeld.) Why not simply teach kids to appreciate vegetables for what they are?

And exactly when did it become necessary for parents to give kids what they want?

I never got what I wanted. I had to eat what was on my plate, or I went hungry. (Of course, it rendered me unable to summon any sort of will power.) Oh, how I long for the good ol' days when kids kept quiet and did their chores after a long day at the factory.

I theorize that if kids were taught to eat what was put in front of them, there'd be a lot fewer people out there annoying me today.

As the Great American Family Meal approaches, vegetables across the country are bracing for rejection. But I say it is time for veggies to assert their right to be eaten as is! Ignore the wrinkled noses of your guests and let your leek flag fly. Then tell that bird-shaped fake meat to Tofurk itself.



Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and cookbook author. A South Pasadena resident, she teaches her techniques online at culinarymasterclass.com.

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