A Bit of Perspective
Monday started week seven at The Natural Epicurean. Week seven falls about one third of the way through the 22-week classroom portion of the program. It’s amazing that time has passed so quickly. In 15 weeks, I will be starting an externship and my new life as a food professional. Yikes!
I have been thinking about what my life will look like when I finish. How will I earn money? Will I enjoy my work? Will I make enough money? How can I have control over my work? How should I start networking? What kind of services should I provide as a cook?
I am only starting to figure out some answers to these questions, but I need to think more about it. I am planning to develop a personal business plan and even a branding plan complete with website and logo, but there is a lot of meat left to put on the bones of my post-school life. It’s very exciting!
Below: My week got off to a dubious start…my name was on the list of forgotten homework assignments. Ooops!
Thursday we got to work with seitan, sunflower seeds, and walnuts, making vegan versions of several non-vegan dishes (1) fettuccine (2) mayonnaise (3) pesto and a handful of others.
Seitan is a dense, chewy brown colored mass of wheat protein – otherwise known as gluten. Gluten has become a very well-known word in America, although people still don’t understand what it is. At The Natural Epicurean, we are going to be making our own seitan in a future session, but I can tell you it is made from wheat that is ground into a flour and then rinsed and wrought until the starches are washed away and the gluten only remains. What you’re left with is seitan – it’s thick, and it closely resembles meat because of it’s density and chewiness. However, since I am gluten sensitive, seitan was a no-no for me. I did cook with it, but I just didn’t eat any.
Below: Seitan fettuccine.
Below: Sun cheese, made from soaked sunflower seeds. Sun cheese tastes pretty dang good! And nice presentation! Lemon juice adds some of the tangy flavor that you usually get with cheese. A Vita Mix helps it get nice and creamy. All four teams made sun cheese so we got to compare final products and discuss.
Below: Cilantro/parsley pesto with pumpkin seeds instead of pinenuts. I plated this dish and I love the red clay bowl against the green pesto. The yellow lemon zest was a lovely addition, also.
Below: Wild rice stir fry with walnuts.
Below: Sun cheese and pesto.
Below: Seitan saute. The sauce was delicious.
Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, has been on my to-read list for quite some time now. I’ve been a reluctant, uncertain, and on some occasions enthusiatic, meat eater at varying points in my life, and any thing or anyone who takes the time to stimulate my thoughts on the topic is nearly always worth my time.
My mixed feelings about meat probably started when I was a child. My most salient memories of meat were of choking on huge, tough mouthfuls of steak and being saved from death by my parents. A wad of meat lodged in one’s windpipe creates a lasting memory, to be sure. Not exactly a promising beginning for a carnivore in training. The lesson? Meat is tough, dry and it will kill the eater if he or she is not careful. After reading Eating Animals, the idea of meat has me feeling no safer, but for different reasons.
Cover of Eating Animals
Foer is clearly biased against factory farming, which I sympathize with but which doesn’t endear him to me as a researcher/writer, but he makes good points which I happily share with you in bullet format:
- Vegetarians are often accused of being to sentimental about animals. But who is more of an irrational sentimentalist: The person who doesn’t eat meat due to concern over the treatment of animals and the effect of raising animals on the environment, or the person who eats factory-farmed, unhealthy, arguably inhumane, and polluting animal flesh simply because “it tastes good” (i.e., “it makes me feel good”)?
- The frequent use of antibiotics in the raising of animals has had a documented effect on weakened efficacy of antibiotics in humans.
- Factory farming, with its high density of animals in one location, increases the risk of the development of superbugs that can create global pandemic.
- Selective breeding of animals to increase their growth rate can also erode their natural abilities to withstand normal environmental conditions, requiring additional resources to support their survival. An example would be chickens with an over-large breast due to selective breeding whose legs cannot support the weight of their more profitable bodies.
- The biggest ethical concern is not the mass killing of animals, which most people focus on, but the systemic mistreatment they suffer in their raising.
- Why are we okay with mistreating animals to satisfy our taste buds* but not okay with mistreating animals for the sake of art, for example? Would creating conditions likely to result in animal pain for the sake of a museum display be acceptable?
- A handful of reasons to not eat animals are offered: (1) better health (2) ethics of animal treatment (3) environmental impact of animal farming (4) increased risk of pandemic due to bird or swine influenza caused by factory farming.
- Pig farms directly pollute the environment due to the prodigious amounts of feces produced by swine.
For me, the ideas in this book are not about passing judgment against meat eaters. We have to approach each other with understanding and empathy. I am an anxious part-time carnivore myself. It is about being conscious of how meat comes to your table, who brought it there, and what it does to the planet and your body.
* It appears to be sound science that humans in general can do quite well without animal foods by eating with a minimum level of conscientiousness, so I conclude that the only reason for eating animals is for whatever pleasurable experience that may bring. Some supplementation may be required.