Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Heil Seitan.

I've lived in what is essentially the most hipster neighborhood in Maine for a month now. I know, hipster + Maine = does not compute, but just trust me on this. Accordingly, I have a fridge stocked with PBR at all times, I'm attempting to learn to ride a bicycle (yes at 24 shut up), my landlord must think I never leave the house because my car never moves since I always walk everywhere, I wear skintight jeans pretty exclusively, I do a lot of journaling, I listen to music no one's ever heard of, and I throw tea parties. So it was only a matter of time until I became a vegetarian.

I've reached a point in my social circle where it's weird for me NOT to be a vegetarian. I opened myself up to lots of other food options, since I often finding myself attending things like Vegan pot lucks. At first, I was overwhelmed and stressed at the prospect of what to bring to one of these, but now I see that as long as I'm mindful of ingredients, it's not too hard, and there's so much good food out there that's still respectful of animals. I even have favorite brands of veggie burgers now, and I know lots more about Vegan baking and cooking thanks to the terminally adorable Vinny, who I will miss incredibly when he moves to Oregon, having just started getting to know him. Back in college, I decided I wanted to go a week without meat, since I was finally a place where I could control my own food choices. I ate so much grilled cheese I'm surprised I didn't cause a blockage. And the worst part is I made it 6.5 days but then crapped out on the last one because I had a very rare date with my then-boyfriend and I decided, in 20 year old wisdom, "it's lame to eat salad on a date." Granted, if we ever went to places other than TGI Friday's maybe I could have eaten something more substantial. I always wanted to try again, but living with my grandmother, who is an incredibly picky eater, and will not cook herself something I don't want to eat, I just sucked it up for the greater good.

This all got started again after a 95 degree day when I felt it necessary to make a hamburger. I'd bought meat during a "oh my god i have MONEY" grocery shopping trip, and was all proud of myself for deciding to thaw it out, cook it, and eat something besides canned soup. Of course, when I got home from work that night, the damn burger was still frozen. Fuck it, whatever, the oven will thaw it.

This is where it becomes essential to note that I have a gas oven, and have never used one before moving here. At my last apartment, we had a sweet oven with a digital thermometer which was nice enough to count down and beep when the oven was ready. Now I'm pretty much just winging it. So I set the thing on broil, because that's what I've always seen my family do and I was unaware of this "cook a burger in a frying pan" phenomenon. Put the burger in the oven. Done.

As stated, it is 95 goddamned degrees. I'm lying on my fake suede couch, watching Arrested Development on Netflix, sweating to death, and feeling a lot of pain. My eyes are stinging like hell, but I assume that's from the sweat causing makeup to drip into my eyes. As most people assume. It's really getting bad, and eventually I get up to go in the kitchen and see how this burger is progressing, because fuck if I know how long this will take. And oh snap the kitchen is full of smoke. I yell "oh shit my house is on fire," open the windows, turn on the fan, and find myself happy I had never plugged the smoke detector back in after I replaced the battery because that would just be an aggravation I don't need right now.

The best part? I looked at the burger, and the outside was still red. What the hell?

I turned the oven off, but the more I thought about that still-red burger, the more it seemed like a waste. I started googling "how to cook in gas oven," because google is my problem solver. Apparently there is such thing as a broiler DRAWER. I thought I just had a bizarrely small pots n pans drawer. Look at this shit:

Fuck if I know what that's all about.

With it getting later and later and me running out of food options, it occurred to me that I had a can of black beans and a bag of rice. Let's get it on. Since I can't cook, I just add hot sauce to everything to mask the taste of "burnt" (burnt rice smells like peanut butter). I ended up with 3 or 4 meals worth of rice and beans, and I actually found it totally enjoyable. I kept bringing a tupperware of it to my new job (that's a whole other entry) since I no longer had the luxury of just eating whatever's being served. After 3 days of eating nothing but rice and beans for dinner, pb&j for lunch, and cheerios and milk for breakfast, it occurred to me that I was eating like a vegetarian and still totally satisfied. Decided to try the one-week experiment again. I didn't find it too limiting, since I had some good staples on hand. I cooked three servings of pasta and brought those as my work dinner every night, combining them with a can of spaghetti sauce I had as well as some spices I got super cheap at Big Lots. At one point, I cooked ramen, realized that while the chicken packet probably contains no actual chicken, I shouldn't take the risk, and so I threw it out and flavored my noodles with, naturally, hot sauce. Probably greatly reduced my sodium intake, too.

Last night, after having made it a week, and starting to run out of non-vegetarian canned soup, I decided to treat myself to a trip to Whole Foods. Last time I went there I almost cried because everything was so expensive and I felt like this was a life I could never have. Then I got a huge pay upgrade at the new job. I decided as a celebration, I could buy whatever I wanted, as long as there wasn't a reasonable substitute at the regular grocery store. I had a great time picking out tofu and veggie burgers and frozen stir fry mixes. I've finally accepted that even though it's cheaper to buy vegetables that aren't cut up, and do it all myself, I'm just not going to. I always have the best of intentions, and then I forget, and the food gets wasted, and so I feel bad and rarely buy fresh produce. If I have it all cut up in the freezer, I'll not only actually use it, I can forget it for a month and no harm. I have a myriad of ingredients for stir fries, lots of kinds of tofu, and all sorts of snacks I hadn't considered before. It's not like I usually ate meat, meat, and more meat, but just walking around the store was giving me lots of good ideas, like reminding me how much I like grabbing a bagel and going in the morning, and that I'd be treating my metabolism better if I was getting more breakfasts in in the mornings.

So, the obvious question. Why am I doing this?

  • To some extent, it's a personal challenge. With so much else out there, it's kind of lame to default to meat. I want to expand my horizons and try everything.
  • I have so many friends that are Vegan/vegetarian and I want to be respectful of their culture by giving it a shot. While I definitely don't have it in me to be Vegan, I can totally do vegetarianism for a while. And maybe I'm working on wrangling a date by inviting someone over for some tofu.
  • I watched Food Inc. Yeah. Enough said.
  • Before that, I read The Jungle, and I'm pretty sure standards haven't changed since then.
  • I'm concerned about the environmental impact of meat, such as how much grain is required just to get a pound of meat.
  • Although I have no issue with meat eaters, or humanely treated farm animals, I feel a little skeezy encouraging the meat industry through my purchases at the grocery store when I could just as easily make some vegetables
  • I think a vegetarian lifestyle is just healthier overall, since you have to try a little harder, and that tends to result in eating food with much better vitamin and nutritional content

And no, I don't think I'll do this forever, 'cause I really do get into a good buffalo burger with bacon and blue cheese, or some sushi, but for a while, I want to rock this and see how I adjust. So far, I'm not missing anything. If I was trying to go Vegan, chances are, I'd already be dead, but thus far, my willpower has been strong enough to help me avoid the "temptation" of hot dogs from a homeless shelter. Since this all started by accident, it's been easy enough to keep it up, since a lot of this is how I would have been eating anyways.


Goes by the name of Anna said...

Yes! Come join us on the dark side!

No, seriously, it's good. I've now clocked up fifteen years worth of no meat (albeit with the occasional piece of fish when I eat out and there aren't other options, because frankly I'm okay with that, as much as others might find it hypocritical), and it's great.

And hey, it's not the end of the world if you have a buffalo burger now and then. Though I must admit, I don't actually know what that is - does it involve real buffalo (asks the ignorant Australian), or is it like buffalo wings? I digress - I think people get funny in applying dietary labels, but as far as I'm concerned, food is not something to feel bad about. What's wrong with being vegetarian most of the time and occasionally having a burger? Nothing that I can see, as long as you are honest about it and you don't try and justify to others that your burger is somehow vegetarian. It's just your food, you know - why apply rules? (sorry, this is my pet rant)

I don't miss meat at all, it's cheaper this way, I hardly ever get sick, I'm definitely a lot healthier than most people I know.

Jenna said...

Very true, Anna. There's certainly a lot of sanctimony in that crowd, but I totally agree with your assessment that you can still be a vegetarian even if you eat meat once in a while. If I'm eating it once a day, no, not a vegetarian, but just wanting a burger once in a while or going out for sushi isn't the end of my streak or something.

Buffalo can be spicy, or it can be a real animal, also known as a bison. I enjoy both. In this context, though, I was talking about the animal.