Book Review: Eating Animals

About five years ago I picked up a discounted hardcover copy of Jonathan Safran Foer’s nonfiction book, Eating Animals. I never did end up reading it – I kept putting it off until it was eventually purged in one of my many moves. But, the existence of the book stuck with me, and when I re-committed to living vegan it was the first veggie non-cookbook I picked up. To say that Eating Animals has changed my life would be a bit dramatic. I’ve been obsessed with the injustices of the factory farm industry for the last year, so there was little in the nearly-300 hundred pages that fully shocked me. What this book did, though, was educate me on a system of cruelty in the most intelligent and thought-provoking way.

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If you’re coming into veganism or vegetarianism motivated more by health concerns that anything, you might not know exactly what factory farming is. If you’re an animal lover, but an omnivore, you might have an idea of where your food comes from, but prefer not to think about it. If you’re already an ethical vegan or vegetarian, you might not know the statistics that Jonathan Safran Foer digs up during his research, but you know the gist. Well, this book is for all of us. No matter what your stance on eating meat, you will find words in this book that resonate with you.

Safran Foer does the unthinkable – he, while himself a vegetarian – shares the wealth of information he has accumulated over a three year period with a mostly-unbiased, kindly and entirely human perspective on our own species’ strengths and our faults. He speaks at length on the importance of food to our culture, to our traditions, and the role food plays in evoking and preserving precious memories of the past.

“Our decisions about food are complicated by the fact that we don’t eat alone. Table fellowship has forged social bonds as far back as the archaeological record allows us to look. Food, family, and memory are primordially linked. We are not merely animals that eat, but eating animals.” (page 194)

The author understands that choosing not to eat meat, while being the ethically sound choice when confronted by the nightmarish magnitude of the damage that factory farms are causing to our planet and to the billions of animals slaughtered in its wake, is not as simple as some vegan idealists might like everyone to think. And that is something that I can relate to.

I did not stop eating meat because I didn’t like the taste. Trust me. I’m not one of the lucky ones who is revolted by the smell of a steak barbecuing, the aroma of fatty pork sizzling on the stove, or the scent of a perfectly seared salmon steak. But, I am fully conscious. I am awake to the reality of where those foods came from. I cannot divorce myself from the truth – that the chunks of chicken in my favorite chicken salad sandwich are the bodily remnants of a living, breathing creature. She had a beating heart. She had the ability to experience joy. The desires of my taste buds are not worth the knowledge that I am responsible for her death.

Eating Animals is an incredible read. I am so impressed with Jonathan Safran Foer’s ability to craft a treatise that does not alienate anyone, regardless of where they stand on living meat-free. He even goes so far as to advocate for traditional heritage farming, if only as an alternative to factory farming.

I would recommend this book to absolutely everyone, and will endeavor to share it with whomever will listen as I continue on my vegan journey.

On Sandwiches (or, War of the Cheeses)

UPDATE:  So, the GO Veggie! slices I’ve been eating are NOT vegan. I’ve had several kind people correct me on this. I’ll definitely be sharing a post soon about the importance of ALWAYS checking the ingredients list. I took it for granted from the name that these cheese slices were vegan, but they actually contain casein, which is an animal protein. I apologize for misrepresenting this product.**

 

Okay. SO. I might be one of the few people to feel this way, but I honestly cannot stand Daiya cheese. No more hemming and hawing for me. I have now tried Daiya in four formats (cream cheese, block cheddar, sliced cheddar, and sliced swiss) as well as combined into two recipes and no matter how badly I wanted to be able to, I couldn’t – just couldn’t – stomach it. Maybe my dislike for these products stems from having eaten dairy cheese too recently to not compare the Daiya to it. Does a longer distance between tasting “real” cheese and tasting Daiya cheese make a difference in one’s enjoyment of the latter?  I may have to try Daiya a little further along down the road to test this theory.

For now, though, I’m quite happy to trumpet my enjoyment of a different cheese brand, Go Veggie! Cheese. I buy their cheddar-style cheese slices from Safeway (I’m miles away from the nearest Planet Organic or Earth’s General Store, so I take what I can get) and not only do I find the packages of slices reasonably priced, I also find that they taste almost exactly like the processed cheese slices I used to eat in my omnivore days.

GO Veggie!

I love sandwiches, and the Go Veggie! cheese slices help make for a hearty breakfast, lunch, or dinner (sandwiches are perfect any time of the day, IMHO). When constructing one of my beloved sammies I like to start with some Veganaise slathered atop a vegan bagel (no L-cysteine for me, thanks). Next, I lay on the piece of cheese – or two if I’m feeling fancy-free –  and then I top the cheese with a little lettuce, a slice of tomato, a couple of rings of white onion, and lots and lots of alfalfa sprouts! So good, and so filling. That was actually the only way I’d tried Go Veggie! slices until this week when I FINALLY attempted to make one of my former favourite foods, the grilled cheese sandwich. I love grilled cheese sandwiches, so much so that I don’t even want to tell you how many I could eat in one sitting (hint: it’s not pretty). I had tried with Daiya sliced cheese early last year and it was so awful I hadn’t felt inspired to try again. Thankfully, this much-overdue second attempt turned out fantastic. Crispy, buttery, gooey and perfect, I found myself in grilled cheese heaven. Thanks, Go Veggie! for rockin’ my world.

gilledcheese

“Pulled” Carrots (or, They Can’t All Be Winners)

I’m not sure if I’m unique in this, but I’ve never tried pulled pork. Not once. Not ever in my life. I remember a little while ago it seemed like pulled pork was EVERYWHERE – featured in every fast food restaurant able to afford mainstream TV advertising (Subway, I’m looking at you). The taste never appealed to me though, so I left the phenomenon untouched until recently, when I found a vegan version of pulled pork that used carrots as the main component rather than the flesh of an innocent animal.

The recipe, which you can find here – http://www.thekitchn.com/stewed-carrots-the-new-pulled-pork-old-ingredient-new-trick-215252 – is very simple. So simple that it would take someone pretty ridiculous to mess it up. What has two thumbs and can’t make pulled carrots? This guy!

Let’s start from the beginning. The recipe called for carrots (natch), and uninterested in the time-consuming process of cutting said carrots into matchsticks I thought I’d go for the spiralizer suggestion. Except, I don’t have a spiralizer. So, I used my regular veggie peeler to make long, flat strips of carrot. I sautéed some onion and garlic in oil until it was nicely aromatic, and then added a honey garlic barbecue sauce I found in the fridge (fully vegan) along with the carrots. I made sure there was enough sauce to make a mixture that bubbled as it cooked, and left the pan on the stove for a good fifteen minutes over  medium-high heat.

pulledcarrots

After stirring the carrots a few times, I decided they were sufficiently cooked through. I swiped a touch of vegan margarine on a hamburger bun, then piled some of the stewed carrots on top. Adding the extra thickened sauce as recommended, along with a touch of salt and pepper, the finished product LOOKED good. Sadly, it did not taste the way I’d hoped.

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I’m not sure if I didn’t let the carrots cook long enough, but they were still tough to bite into, not soft at all like I’d been expecting. And, the barbecue sauce I used did not suit the dish – much too sweet when combined with the natural sweetness of the carrots. I finished the sandwich, but more out of duty than enjoyment. I COULD try this recipe again, with a longer cooking time and a different sauce, but really don’t feel motivated to do so. Has anyone else tried something similar that worked?