I've been reading A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain lately. If you don't mind harsh language and reading about eathing things like ants and birds nest soup, I highly recommend this book, and every book he's ever written. Bourdain is intelligent, funny and has a way with words. For all his criminally-minded youth, he has evolved into an excellent cook, writer and observer. He makes thoughtful observations about many things in life, not just food. When he remenisces about sitting in a crowded shack in Mexico, pressed between throngs of hungry locals below the light of a bare lightbulb, eating the best tacos he's ever tasted, is he really talking about the tacos? Well, a little. But mostly, he's talking about the feel of the place, the local culture largely uninfluenced by the outer world. It's a feel that cannot be duplicated, and yet exists everywhere in the world.
But this post isn't about that feeling. It's about vegetarians. *Spoiler Warning* In a later chapter in the book, he discusses his trip to San Fransisco. His producer thought it would be a really swell idea to send him to a vegan potluck. Now, in his award-winning book Kitchen Confidential, he informs us that vegetarians are the bane of chefs everywhere. In A Cook's Tour, he decides to give the vegans a chance. Fair is fair, right? Give the opposition a chance to present their side of the argument.
As far as I'm concerned, the opposition just lost. Again.
My favorite line: "And not one of them could cook a ****ing vegetable." He talks about how a great master of meat cookery that he knows shows more respect for a side of sauteed baby spinach than any one of these vegans showed for it in 10 elaborate courses. I was instantly reminded of a raw corn chowder recipe I stumbled across once online. It was horrible. So many vegetarians use animal cruelty as the basis of argument for their lifestyle. But what about vegetable cruelty? For so many years, I hated salad. I would not touch it. Why? Because all of the salad I had been experiencing was little more than chopped, wilted iceberg lettuce, adorned with dried slivers of carrot, rubbery strands of purple cabbage, oversalted croutons and bland dressings. Then I went to cooking school, took a garge manger class, and discovered that salads can be truly magnificent. There's so much more to the world of greens than iceberg! A good friend outside of school made a salad with spinach, toasted pine nuts, red onion, black olives, orange wedges, orange zest, extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar and orange juice. Simple, elegant, beautiful.
Recently, I decided to check out the raw foods movement. There is a woman about 20 minutes south of where I live that teaches raw foods classes. Agi is a certified master herbalist and darn talented in the kitchen. I took a class of hers which boasted a raw cereal for breakfast, a raw energy drink and even raw vegan sushi. And I must say, I immediately went out and bought raw grains from the local natural foods store and made my own almond milk and soaked the grains overnight and enjoyed a bowl of raw cereal for breakfast. The energy drink was actually quite good, and made me feel like I'd just drunk a can of Jolt Cola. The "sushi" (which did not contain rice) was actually quite good as well. She was a far better spokesperson for her cause than the rest of the class, who seemed to believe they were attending a $52 hallelujah session. I was more than just a little disappointed when Agi let the class more or less take over discussion while she quietly prepared her foods, robbed of the chance to discuss what she was doing. The man sitting next to me seemed more intent on hawking his MLM supplements than raw foods at all. It seemed that I was the only person in attendance who did not already know the teacher. I left angry and disappointed at the class, and more than just a little sad that the teacher let the class railroad her like that. I stopped at Carl's Jr on the way home and ordered a Westerner.
Still, I did buy a raw foods book at the herb store where she was teaching, and have since occassionally looked up information on raw foods online. Take a moment, please (if you haven't already) to look up the raw corn chowder recipe above. Okay, have you read it? Are you just as angry as I am that somebody would have the gall, the insensitivity, the arrogance to mix together corn and almond milk, puree half of it, season with chile powder and call it chowder? Look, people. If you want me to give up my meat, my cheese, my cooked foods, to abandon millenia of culinary progress to go back and eat rabbit food, it's time to learn how to make it taste good. I know you can do it. But before you can expect us to respect you and your food, you need to learn how to respect yourself and your food.