I love tacos. It’s one of my all time favorite dishes to make. I’m a hard shell gal but do also enjoy soft shells. For today’s taco feast I made use of some luscious produce I got from the local Farmer’s Market yesterday. Bright little tomatoes and crisp gorgeous white onion along with some cilantro made for a bright salsa. I also used Lightlife ‘Smart Ground meatless Mexican Crumbles‘, one of a few products I like to use on taco feast days (others include tofu, tempeh, Beyond Beef Crumble & Gardein Beefless Ground) sauteed and then mixed with rice, for the filling.
I used to eat a lot of “fake meat” products when I first went vegan but now consider it something for consumption every couple weeks for dishes like these. I’m fascinated with the innovation driving production of these plant protein products and see a lot of quality in the final result. Google for example “pea protein” and vegan meats if you want to go down the rabbit hole and learn more about this….
As I was cooking up the crumbles today I started thinking about one of my favorite questions posed to me by a non vegan. “If vegans are so against meat why do they eat the fake stuff?”. It’s a great question. If vegans are so against the consumption of animals why do they eat products that simulate the taste and texture of various animal meats?
My short answer is: taste and familiarity.
But, someone could argue, if the thought of eating ground up cow grosses you out so much (it does) why eat a product that pretty much is a plant based replacement of it?
My short answer: because I know it’s not (ground up cow).
I remember how tacos with beef taste. They were good. One of my many favorite food memories is the family dinner night outs we would have in Old Town, San Diego ( I grew up in Southern California). I loved the airy (but simultaneously woodsy and dark) colorful, bright interiors of the Mexican ‘Casa’ eateries we would go to. The delicious house made corn chips, the salsa and of course the taco plates I would order pretty much every time with either beef or chicken filling. These days, I prepare taco feasts regularly and not once have a I missed the taste, texture or presence of animal meat. Not once. I also thrill in creating loaded nachos platters – like these Tempeh Nachos– and am never at a loss for all the delicious plant based toppings I can load up on the corn chips.
What I have observed that is frequently misunderstood about vegans is that while taste of course plays a huge role in many of our food choices, palate desires do not trump our commitments to not eat animals. Also, while I can sit here and recall the taste of beef and how I enjoyed it, my thought process and psychological response to animal meat is different now, something that happens to many people when they go vegan.
The thought of consuming animal flesh period puts me off me now but this didn’t happen overnight. Also, I don’t walk around picking on others who eat meat. Veganism is a very political issue. It is an issue of justice and rights as well as health and personal philosophy. It is a sensitive issue for many vegans as well as people who are not vegetarian or vegan, the latter of which sometimes view vegans as a self righteous, preachy bunch. But honestly, I can now say it is very obvious that the mere mention of veganism will put some people (who still eat meat and dairy) on the automatic defense and ready to argue -people who often have no real clear concept of what veganism really is or the multiple reasons people turn to it. I often understand why, because for years I also avoided processing any media or information that might challenge or upset my desire to consume dairy and meat. Additionally, there are people who feel that as humans, we have righteous dominion over animals to do what we want with them (mainly eating them)- a whole other discussion really and a view that is directly opposed to ethical veganism which I embrace.
The truth is, many people don’t care about the ethics of eating meat or consuming dairy. Yes there are hunters who will only consume animals they killed but the vast majority of people purchase their meat neatly wrapped up with little to no idea of the life of the animal, conditions of it’s captivity and slaughter. Why would the industries show us all of these realities? They’re nightmares and would immediately affect consumer choice.
Despite veganism’s growing popularity, there certainly still remains a lot of misunderstanding and stereotyping around it- that it’s expensive (I will definitely be doing a blog post on this in the future as it’s a myth), that it’s only a fad or “hip” culinary trend, that it’s pretentious or unsustainable (the latter being particularly ironic comments when coming from people who support the extraordinarily unsustainable animal agriculture complex).
I love this story where Honolulu, HI based vegan chef Mama T wins a chili cook off and only after doing so informs the tasters that her chili was vegan! Even before I went vegan (I was an on and off vegetarian for years), if I could choose between a chili (or any other dish) that had animal flesh or was just as delicious and didn’t, it would be no question for me. I’d choose the plate without animal meat every time.
Now, the question still pretty much remains. If eating animals grosses you out so much why eat products that look and often taste like “the real thing”.
Memories, culture, tradition.
As I diced and chopped and stirred this morning I thought about some of my fondest food memories over life. Many of them involve animal meat. The school in La Jolla that I attended for middle and high school was close to a great open air mall. I remember a few times that my father would pick me up for school and we’d go to the Hickory Farms store in the mall that had a “hot dog” stand. Not just any hot dogs but these gourmet versions we’d slather with Dijon mustard and enjoy while walking through the open air mall. Do I wish I could eat them again? Not in the least. If I found a plant based version would I try them out? Yes I would!
My mom’s lasagna was so delicious. I think about her and that dish every time I make lasagna- one of my favorite creations being this version I made here. I love my vegan lasagnas as well as many of the insanely delicious vegan lasagnas I have experienced over time now (beginning with my very first taste of one- the ‘Living Lasagna’ at Greens & Vines Raw Vegan Gourmet Restaurant in Honolulu) but it was my mother’s cooking that instilled in me that early love of that dish and her lasagna when I was growing up always had meat. Oh but p.s.- my mum has recently begun the shift to veganism!
Another beloved food memory of mine from my youth is being at the harbor with my father in Oslo, Norway and him buying shrimps right off the boat and us sitting right there by the water, peeling and eating them. I love Oslo itself so the city is a special feature in this memory but so is recalling the freshness and taste of the shrimp, caught just hours (or less) prior to our consumption.
When my husband and I lived in Germany we would have these BBQ’s – these awesome rock n’ roll gatherings where people bought dishes and bottles of wine and whiskey and the music was turned up and all the kids gathered in my husband’s 2nd story man cave which was transformed into a Pixar movie room during the party. One of the greatest parties was in the middle of Winter. A snowstorm was forecast the day before and we started getting lots of messages about whether we planned to still have it. We did and it ended up being one of the best parties we have hosted to date. At least 80 people showed up and our house was packed full of people, laughter and good times and the firepit surrounded with friends. I love these memories and do not conceal the reality that one of the centerpiece activities of the entire event was the grilling of meat. I now know how incredible vegan BBQ food options are but at the time I was neither vegan nor vegetarian and it is impossible for me to not acknowledge that the bbq as an event is an important tradition for many people.
Speaking of my husband, as people are often keen to find out- no he is not vegan. But his consumption patterns have naturally changed as a result of my decision and over time he has become quite savvy at veganizing traditional meat based dishes, like this Vegan Shepherd’s Pie he created which was magnificent. And speakin of BBQ’s, he is also way more skilled than I am at grilling veggies and plant foods like this Grilled Tofu and Veggies. When he makes this, he makes a lot because I love having it for leftovers the next couple of days! These veg franks are also a product of his superb grilling. Field Roast is a great company to try these products as well as vegan cheeses.
On another BBQ note, some of the best vegan bbq food I have had aside from my husband’s cooking is Homegrown Smoker in Portland, Oregon. When visiting the Pacific Northwest one year, I went here with my stepmom in law and she brought home some dishes for my father in law (who, like many people, often has dairy and/or meat for every meal) and upon trying said he was a convert! No he did not become vegan that day, but as I have learned over time, the simple hesitance to even try something labeled and marketed as “vegan” keeps a lot of people from understanding and experiencing how delicious the food can be.
Food, memories and traditions are interwoven for most people and also an integral part of culture worldwide- fundamental in fact. I believe a great deal of the pushback and irritated responses against veganism are directly related to how close and core the consumption of animals is to people’s memories, food perception and connections as well as family and cultural traditions.
I love sampling and trying out various plant based “meats” and cheeses and sometimes they do bear striking resemblance to the animal based versions. However, when I am eating, for example, a nut based cheese- like the insanely delicious ones I photographed here from Divine Treasures I am a vegan for ethical reasons but there are tremendous environmental and health concerns to explore when looking into veganism as well. Core to my own lifestyle and belief is that I don’t feel an animal should suffer for my diet nor my palate pleasure, particularly when a wealth of other food exists that does not require factory farming and general slaughter of animals. The world is changing and I believe veganism is very much an acute response to contemporary conditions. I am happy to explore my rich food memories from youth while also looking forward to recreating them as plant based dishes that I am excited to consume and share.
It’s taco time!
It was great to work with these crisp, locally grown beauties for the salsa for today….
And with these sweet little local tomatoes.
Volia! Who wants a taco?! Dig in!