It never fails to astound me just how heated conversations can become when a carnivore and a vegetarian or vegan talk about their respective diets. Fights have been started, punches have been thrown and families ripped asunder! Can’t we all just get along as conscientious eaters and learn to respect the ingredients?
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Eating a plant-based diet or one that includes animal flesh and the foods animals produce can be a cultural or religious decision, a moral decision, a decision based on dietary allergies, or just a lifestyle choice. With that many options, there are bound to be clashes, even within the groups themselves.
A vegan may have issues with a lacto-ovo vegetarian, because they include eggs and dairy in their diets. A pescatarian includes fish in their vegetarian lifestyle. A flexatarian eats mainly a vegetarian diet, but will occasionally eat meat. And then there are the raw foodists, who don’t eat food that has been heated above 115 F, because they think the cooked food loses most of its nutritional values and is harmful to the human body. I’m not even going to try to explain all the vagaries of the macrobiotic diet, but just know there are a lot of rules.
Losing touch with our food’s origins
A plant-based diet is great for your health, your heart (plants don’t have artery-clogging cholesterol) and even the environment. The United States Department of Agriculture’s new food guidelines, going from a pyramid to a plate model, propose having one half of the plate consisting of fruits and vegetables, with the remaining quarters divided between proteins and whole grains. Without argument, it’s a very sensible and healthy way of eating.
And then there are people like me who will basically eat anything. I try not to eat anything while it is still moving, but if a girl gets hungry I make no promises! I am not a big fan of organ meats, but that is strictly a matter of taste and I don’t like the taste. As humans we need to respect the animal enough to consume it entirely if we have killed it for food. I will respectfully transform those organ meats into a sensational pâté or mousse, and serve it to someone else.
I saw a picture of a sign on Facebook that read “Native Americans had a name for vegetarians. They called them bad hunters.” If most of us had to hunt, kill, clean and preserve our meat, the number of vegetarians would surely rise. We live in a society now where children think meat is a shrink-wrapped package from the supermarket. The origin of that meat is not a thought. Some are not even aware a hamburger comes from a cow or a chicken nugget comes from, well, I don’t really know where the nugget is on the chicken. (Joking, of course.)
While in culinary school I had to take a meat fabrication class, taught by Butcher Bob, an old-school butcher from San Francisco. I remember Butcher Bob took a chainsaw and broke down a half cow carcass as a demonstration. We also had to fillet whole fish, which sometimes contained their last meal in their stomachs, including smaller fish, sand dollars, starfish and more. It was like a treasure hunt. I also learned to cut a whole chicken up in less than minute. But mainly, I learned to respect those animals we killed in order to feed others and ourselves.
In stark contrast, when I taught at a culinary school, meat fabrication classes no longer existed. The primal cuts came in Cryovac packages, so we could not truly show the students the reality of where their meat came from. The only demonstration we did was break down a half lamb carcass, which both fascinated and repulsed students. I had one student who was raised a vegan, and that poor girl turned the whitest shade of pale I have ever seen. Needless to say, I excused her from the demo.
Everyone can make conscientious food choices
The American system of raising animals for food is broken and in need of repair. But that is a subject worthy of another essay, or a book. Actually, just watch the film “Food, Inc.,” or read Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” for excellent coverage of that subject. But you can work around the industrial food system: Buy from small local farmers in your area, or even order online from farms that sell naturally raised and/or organic products.
This strategy works for vegans and vegetarians. Go to local farmers markets to buy organic, local produce. The large amount of pesticides used on our plants is appalling, so it is important to avoid them if you can. Certain pesticides that have been banned in the United States are still being sold by our mega-corporations to other countries, who then turn around and import cancer-causing, pesticide-covered produce to the United States.
There is no right or wrong way to eat, but some ways are gentler on the Earth and our bodies. As an avowed omnivore, a vegan diet would not work for me. But I do eat vegetarian meals often, and even grow organic vegetables in my back yard. Unfortunately, the gophers seem to be enjoying my organic vegetables more than I am this season.
This simple recipe for spicy carrot and yam soup makes a belly-warming and satisfying meal. This version is vegetarian, but can easily be converted to a vegan recipe by substituting the dairy products with coconut, soy or almond milk. The flavor profile would be altered, but the resulting taste would be just as delicious.
Spicy Carrot and Yam Soup
5 ounces carrots, about 4 small, peeled and sliced into large chunks
1½ pound yam, peeled and cubed
4 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
⅛ teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
1 to 1 ½ cups milk, half and half or cream
1. In a medium saucepan over medium low heat, simmer the carrots, yam, broth and spices about 30 minutes, until tender.
2. Purée the soup with an inversion blender or in a food processor.
3. Stir in the milk to thin the soup, until at the desired consistency.
4. Adjust the seasoning, if needed.
Top photo: Spicy carrot and yam soup. Credit: Cheryl D. Lee