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Entries in Vegan (2)

Tuesday
Jul022013

The Italian American Omnivore

The Cured Ham had a lot of fun writing about the superiority of bacon over tofu. I would like to thank Homo Sapiens 200,000 years ago for their HUNTING (you don't hunt soy, you hunt feral pigs) and gathering skills and of course, upright, bipedal locomotion. Although, the last 10,000 years we’ve sort of settled down and improved our agricultural prowess by developing things like tofu and high quality wine.

Condescending? Not at all. We as a species are omnivores, plain and simple. Veganism is a fascinating First World, moral, spiritual, religious debate, nothing more; angels on the head of pin to emphasize my doctrinal studies.

Humans, Josh Tehee of The Fresno Bee and I, are omnivorous, which includes vegetarian cuisine. Things like gnocchi pesto, linguini in red sauce, cheese pizza, eggs on toast and cacio di pepe are all a form of vegetarianism, omnivorous, and delicious.

I, like Josh, eat a wide variety of foods and not all of them are animal flesh. Cheese is a regular part of my diet. But I wasn’t always so lucky.

Growing up, I had a severe lactose intolerance or milk allergy as it was called in the 70s. Josh, I know more about soy products than you can possibly imagine. IMO, the original imitation sour cream is how I participated in baked potato night. Nucoa, the only margarine without dairy in it and the substitute for butter in chocolate chip cookies. Mocha Mix, my breakfast milk till I was age 12 and the only soy milk available in Fresno till probably 1985. Let’s not forget another fan favorite, Cool Whip, non-dairy whipping cream (it has dairy in it these days). When the other kids were eating real whipping cream, I learned to love whipped hydrogenated oil. I even remember trying some of the first soy milk ice cream on the market, horrible; which is why I developed a love for Daiquiri Ice from 31 Flavors; because sherbet in the 70s also had milk.

I haven't touched any of these products since I was about 14. All substitutes for the real thing.

I couldn’t have a pepperoni pizza until I was 12 years old because American pepperoni contained non-fat dry milk solids, (soy fillers are also used) which is why I exclusively ate Italian imported products as a child because they were cured without additions, only salt and natural seasonings.

My mother and I were reading ingredients on packages as a matter of habit and safety since the early 70s. We knew more than the doctor when it came to dietary restrictions.

Substitute is a word I grew up with. And let me tell you, Cool Whip is no substitute for real whipping cream. I love whipping cream, probably because I couldn’t have it for so long and was forced to eat the substitute for so many years. I relish every finger licking experience I can get these days.

It’s the same with bacon versus tofu. Tofu will NEVER substitute for bacon. Tofu is in a class all by itself.

In the world of food Josh, I totally agree, the “vegetarian option” can be horrible. However, a beautifully crafted mushroom risotto with truffles is sublime and 100% Vegetarian (and we can thank the pig for finding those truffles). I’ve had risotto at Schoolhouse, Trelio and Lela’s all vegetarian or pescetarian and all quite satisfying. And on a side note, each of the chefs at the aforementioned restaurants created very different styles of risotto.

Since you mentioned the generic pasta option for vegetarians, I’d like to expand on that topic. I was fortunate to live in Southern Italy, specifically, Puglia. Pasta is eaten daily. One such dish is orrechiette with rapini and grated cheese. Vegetarian, yes. Normal part of the Puglian diet, yes. It’s simply what you eat, it’s the staple pasta dish of Puglia. I continue and my family continues to eat that dish in Fresno. But we would never label ourselves vegetarians, it wouldn’t even occur to us to do so. Pasta with rapini or red sauce is just Southern Italian, nothing more.

I hate to break it to vegetarians…you’re not that special. You’re omnivores with a label. Good for you and the vegetarian marketing department. Please stop reminding me of your vegetarian ways. I like the same food you do and probably prepare most vegetarian dishes with a greater sense of tradition, culture and place than you do, not to mention skill.

Speaking of protein in Puglia, rabbits and game birds are far more likely to be on the table than a rib-eye. Beef is a heavily Americanized item. Secondly, the Puglian-American diet, that which my mother and grandmother grew up with in Fresno, was more heavily influenced by cheese, eggs, and vegetables than beef or pork. I recently posted a picture of a completely vegetarian meal of fried eggplant, fresh cheese, tomatoes, Italian curly peppers, bread, olive oil and wine that will rival any meal, anytime, anywhere on the planet!

My 92 year old grandmother would still rather eat swiss chard, cheese, bread, and olive oil than a steak. My grandmother is certainly not a vegetarian sympathizer. If you tried to tell my 92 year old grandmother that she was vegetarian, she’d say “No, I’m Italian, I eat what I want and I eat good food…and today I want a steak…what’ya think of that?!”

Being a vegetarian IS congruous with being an omnivorous human. Eating soy products is part of the omnivore’s diet. I agree with Josh, tofu will never be a substitute or compete with bacon, chorizo, steak or meatballs; and it shouldn’t.

I follow the same philosophy as my grandmother. Eat whatever you want, just eat well and never substitute for quality or the original product. 

Because Cool Whip will NEVER be whipped cream and tofu will NEVER be bacon.

Thursday
Dec082011

Ubuntu, Napa

I have to reference my recent meal at Greens in San Francisco and my comparison to Barbacco, because, I believe, I’ve just had a similar experience at Ubuntu in Napa.

Both Ubuntu and Greens both have fresh, high quality ingredients prepared with care, but lacking something; pork maybe. Chef Sergio and his wife, both omnivores, were out on holiday from Arizona, fellow foodies who wanted to try something different. Ubuntu seemed like the perfect place.

We shared a wonderful white bean stew at Ubuntu, the highlight of the night. Wonderfully cooked beans, depth of flavor, a rich broth to soak some bread in, but we all looked at each other and said, “Where’s the pancetta?” and laughed.

Sure we had some other food items, radishes seemed to somehow make it into every dish, including dessert. I don’t want a radish for dessert and I don’t care how fresh they are. Frankly, I just don’t remember what we ate. Usually I’m pretty good with my recall, but the only thing that made a real impact was the bean stew.

I realize Ubuntu earned a Michelin Star. I realize it’s local, fresh, organic, and has a yoga studio attached. It’s in Napa. Even Gene Burns from KGO 810, who I listen to faithfully, likes this place. All great. But I’m a long way from being sold that Ubuntu is the place I want to throw down hard-earned money for a plate of veggies and a bowl of beans.

I’d rather eat an avocado taco on a corn tortilla with salsa verde for $1.25 from a taco truck in Napa. There, I’m vegan, gluten free, and $30 richer.