Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tell Me What You Eat and I Will Tell You What You Are

Those of my ilk were once considered Pythagoreans, as in Pythagorus. Best known as ancient Greece’s math geek extraordinaire, Pythagorus was also into music and philosophy. It’s believed his own personal ethos abjured killing and eating animals, a practice followed by vegetarians for generations to come.

The word vegetarian itself had to wait until the mid-1800s for someone to come up with it. The term vegan wasn’t coined until 1944. More commonly, though, if you didn’t eat meat, you were just weird. Or a weirdo hippie freak. Or a tree-hugger. The term herbivore never caught on, not the way omnivore has. Of course there’s variations of omnivore, too. You can be flexitarian, which basically means you’re vegetarian when the mood strikes you. You can be fishaterian (okay, I came up with that one -- my own wry terminology for those who don’t eat meat but do eat fish) and less-meatarian (that one comes from the estimable Mark Bittman, Food Matters Cookbook author and all- around great less-meatarian guy). Meat-eater, though popular, sounds barbaric and a little too like Harry Potter’s Death Eaters.

There’s so many ways we explain how we eat, French gastronome Brillat-Savarin (“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are,”) would never have believed it.

Lately, I’ve even been thinking about what I call myself. Being the Edgy Veggie suits me. I’m edgy by nature, especially when I write about food -- a cheeky part of me comes out. Sometimes I think my wonderful editor at the Miami Herald just wanted to throw the paper’s meatless readers a (meatless) bone. What she got is someone who’s come to see how food -- Pythagorean or otherwise -- connects us to the planet, to our community, to the past, to each other, and has ramifications in politics, environment, nutrition, education and more.

The term veggie, though, is quaint, especially compared to the newer, more assertive term meatless (or as Brillat-Savarin would put it, sans viande). I would never have anticipated the success of in-your-face Skinny Bitch. (which is perhaps, alas, why I’ve struggled with publishing). Nor would I have guessed the likes of Bill Clinton and Oprah would get on the vegan bandwagon (Oprah, good on you for trying. Bill, stick with it, honey -- you look terrific). When I was the lone vegan in my teens, I never dreamed there’d be a Meatless Monday movement, let alone that it would gain traction. It does my vegan heart good.

Call us Pythagoreans, call us meatless, the only difference is spin. I hope I’ll always be the Edgy Veggie. But perhaps if I were starting out now, I’d be even edgier. I’d be the Meatless Marauder. With a mask and cape. And vegan superpowers.

Mushroom Risotto

The classic rice dish requires no superpowers, vegan or otherwise, just the time you spend stirring at the stove. Having friends in the kitchen and/or a glass of wine makes the time go faster.

1/2 cup white wine

a handful of dried mushrooms (8 to 12) (optional but flavor-enhancing)

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, chopped fine

1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms (regular button mushrooms work, too), sliced

1 cup rice -- Arborio is the risotto rice of choice, but really, any rice will work

4-1/2 cups vegetable broth

1 sprig fresh rosemary, stem removed, leaves chopped fine (about 2 teaspoons)

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Over medium heat, bring white wine to simmer in a medium saucepan. Add dried mushrooms. Turn off heat and let mushrooms infuse the wine for half an hour.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion. Reduce heat to medium and saute until onions turn translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add sliced mushrooms and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, or until mushrooms become tender. Stir occasionally.

Add the rice and stir, coating each grain with oil Keep stirring another few minutes, until rice looks luminous.

Chop the wine-infused mushrooms. Add to the rice, along with the warmed wine.

Pour the vegetable stock or water into the medium saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. When stock reaches simmer, reduce heat to low but keep on burner.

Meanwhile, stir the rice until it absorbs the wine.

Add warmed stock to rice a ladleful (or 1/2 cup) at a time, stirring constantly. It’ll take about half an hour to work in all the liquid, by which time the rice will have turned creamy and luscious from slow cooking.

Stir in finely chopped rosemary and nutritional yeast. Season with sea salt and fresh pepper.

Serves 4.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Imagine the Real Food Project

Crackerman is a German baker with an expansive soul and a soft spot for sausage. I am a nervous American vegan. This is not the stuff of bad sitcom but a true, strange and beautiful friendship. We get together and talk about literature, family, travel, ghosts, but mostly about food and the way we wish everyone could eat -- real food, food without processing, preservatives or genetic modification, food that sustains and is sustainable, food that’s seasonal, local and cause for joy.

These talks sustain me, but Crackerman decided to take things further. He came up with what we’re calling the Real Food Project, a nonprofit call to arms, a grass roots demand for greater care and awareness in what we eat. We hammered out the language and with the mighty Khim, launched a website and forum. Crackerman thinks if we band together and speak out in favor of real food, we can make it happen. We can change the world. I hope he’s right and I hope you’ll be part of it. It’s free and all you gotta do to join is sign up.

What happens from here on out is up to you.

You might say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.

Sweet Potato Salad With Tahini and Ginger

Sweet potatoes, in season now are real, rich in vitamin A and roasted like this, reveal their own sweetness without (guuh) pineapple or marshmallow. This is a significant salad, but to make it more of main course, add 1-1/2 cups cooked whole grain, like quinoa or millet.

2 sweet potatoes, chopped into bite-sized cubes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pinch sea salt

1 pinch red pepper flakes

1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

3 cups fresh spinach, watercress, arugula or a combination of all three

juice and zest of 1 orange (about 1/3 cup juice)

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped

2 tablespoons tahini

Preheat oven to 400.

Spread sweet potato bites on a rimmed baking sheet. Add olive oil, sea salt and pepper flakes. Toss to coat sweet potatoes and roast for 25 minutes, stirring once to make sure sweet potatoes roast evenly and don’t stick to the pan.

Meanwhile, make the dressing. Using a blender or food processor, blitz together ginger, orange juice and tahini for 1 minute or until smooth. Makes about 1/2 cup dressing, enough for the salad plus leftovers. Dressing keeps covered and refrigerated for up to a week.

Keeping the oven at 400, toast chopped nuts in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes, or until golden brown and fragrant.

To assemble salad: Place greens in a large bowl or arrange on a platter. Scatter with chopped celery, chopped sweet potatoes and chopped nuts. Drizzle dressing on top or serve separately.

Serves 4.

The Real Food Project

What : An appeal for real food -- food without additives, preservatives,

antibiotics, mystery chemicals or genetic modification.

Who: You and everyone else who wants real food.

Where: Everywhere around the globe.

When: Now.

How: Become a fan. Choose food made without additives. Read labels.

Join us and speak out in favor of real food.

Why: Because everyone deserves access to real food.

Our food is contaminated. It’s processed with chemical preservatives and additives, genetically modified products and laced with salt, fat and sugar.

Our seas are overfished and polluted, killiing off 90% of our oceans’ fisheries.

Our national productivity, creativity, economy and health are crippled by obesity-related illness.

At Real Food Project, we’re into:

Families who cook together.

Families who eat together.

Teaching basic cooking, sourcing and nutrition in all schools.

Serving real food in our school lunchrooms.

Meat produced ethically.

Fish caught sustainably.

Eating less meat.

Farm and garden initiatives that reintroduce heirloom varietals.

Bringing local foods directly to consumers.

School gardens that bring real food to communities, starting with our children.

Home and community gardens.

Preventative health

Companies that feed employees real food.

Fresh sustainable and organic foods.

We’re anti:

Multinational food conglomerates

Industrialized food distribution systems

Factory farming

Genetically modified food

Artificial preservative

Chemicals and additives

Misleading food labels

Obese, unhappy children

Obese, unhappy adults

We deserve a change and so does our planet.

We ask our readers to pay attention to what’s in our food and to who makes it.

We encourage vendors to provide fresh, local, unprocessed food.

We ask the USDA to step up oversight on corporate food production.

We want companies to reward employees who make real food a priority.

We demand food made without additives.

We want a choice in what we eat. We choose real food.

Join our Project.

Working together, we can make companies, institutions and government listen. We can make the move, make the change to real food. Become a fan now.

Post links, comments, photos and videos. Introduce your project, coop, company, community and even post jobs here.

Network with others and profit from an ever-growing web of real food supporters.

Live better, eat better. Welcome to the Real Food Project.