When I went away to college, I had never touched a stove. I came from the kind of traditional home where my mother and two sisters did the kitchen work. I just ate what they prepared. I liked it all; I was just in a hurry to finish up and get back to my books. In college we ate in the cafeteria. Nothing phased me. I never understood what people were complaining about.
Then Dean David Tilley kicked me out of the dorms for being a bad influence on the other students, a polite way of noting that I was selling pot and hash and acid and... some other things. My girlfriend moved in with me. She was the first terrific cook I ever met. She cared about what she served and never made anything that wasn't both delicious and healthy. And she was a vegetarian. She didn't ask me jf I wanted to be a vegetarian; there was no discussion at all. That's what she made and that's what I ate. I loved it... so I was a vegetarian without ever making a decision or ever giving it any thought.
When I graduated we went to Europe together. She had another year to go but before she went back to America-- the day after the Isle of Wight Festival-- she taught me how to fend for myself as a vegetarian on the road. A few days after she flew home, I started by long drive to India. By the time I got to Afghanistan, I noticed all the travelers were deathly ill-- like violent diarrhea, vomiting... sick as dogs, everyone but me. I couldn't figure out why until I was walking around the market one day and I saw some jostle an animal carcass hanging in front of a stall. The carcass was black... until all the flies flew off it when it was jostled. Ah... it's the meat. If I needed another lesson, the following year, when I rented a house in Goa on the beach (on the right), I told the landlord to take the pigs away. He just laughed-- and left the pigs. The main dish of Goa was pork vindaloo. But that's not why the pigs were on his property, hopefully. The next morning I was relieving my bowels when I heard the pigs feasting under the house. I was already not ever going to eat meat again, but that made it even more certain.
Eventually I washed up in Amsterdam, sick and with no money and no interest in returning to Nixon-America. I found a macrobiotic restaurant where you could eat rice and veggies for a guilder (about 30 cents)-- delicious and healthy and I ate there every night. Eventually they asked me if I wanted a job as a dishwasher. Damn right! It was a democratic kind of place, so I was soon waiting tables, manning the cash register, buying fresh veggies from the organic farmer who delivered stuff every week. And then they taught me how to prepare food and eventually I was a chef... and then the manager, but always a chef.
Since the pandemic, I've been cooking again. Last night I made an incredible vegetable soup, roasted bok choi and the best apple pie I ever made/tasted. Tomorrow the leftover soup will become a Tuscan dish I once had and have since taught myself how to make: ribbollita da delfina. Da Delfina is the amazing restaurant on a hell overlooking Artimino, not far from a house I once rented.
Anyway... Cardi B has come to veganism by a different route and Emily Heil wrote about it for the Washington Post yesterday: Cardi B's Tweets About Going Vegan Stir Up The Debate Over Meat Substitutes. Until very recently I would have reacted to the term "meat substitutes" by making a wrenching sound. I always found them disgusting. But then I tasted a "burger" at Moby's old restaurant, Little Pine, in my neighborhood. And it was delicious. I haven't tried to do any cooking with it, but no more wrenching sounds from me at the thought.
"Cardi B," wrote Heil, "just stirred the pot on vegan diets. The rapper on Sunday revealed to her more than 20 million Twitter followers that although she feels about meat the way she does about million-dollar deals (see the lyrics to “I Like It”), she was thinking about ditching animal products altogether, and asked for thoughts on whether plant-based meat substitutes are similar enough to the real thing."
Like I said, she is approaching this thing very differently than I did back in the '60s. I only read it because... well you know: Bernie.
“I want to go vegan but I love meat,” she wrote. “Are vegan meat replacements similar to meat in taste or not really?”
Predictably, her query instantly prompted responses from every angle of the conversation about animal-product-free diets.
Later, she explained what had made her rethink her diet to a fan who wondered how she could give up beloved seafood boils. It seems that Cardi is less interested in the environmental benefits of eating fewer animal products and more interested in her health. “I had a stomach virus not so long ago and I feel like my digestive system haven’t been the same,” the “Bodak Yellow” rapper wrote. “I been drinking probiotics and I don’t see a change much. I be lookin at raw food pages a lot but that will be a huge change for me to do that.”
The reaction to the rapper’s tweets ranged from those congratulating her on becoming vegan-curious to those urging her not to go down the vegan path at all.
Some suggested she simply drop factory-farmed meats from her diet.
Plenty of people offered their suggestions for brands of meat replacements she might like to try (Impossible, Beyond, Quorn and MorningStar Farms were all mentioned). There was recipe-sharing and product promotion. Others urged her to focus more on the seasoning and preparation of the plant-based options.
...Some fans urged the star to think about vegan foods not as a direct replacement for meats, but as something different altogether.
Of course it wouldn’t be Vegan Discourse without someone making the point that “meat eaters don’t need to make their meat taste like veggies lol.”
And it might seem that Cardi B’s interest in the vegan lifestyle comes at a particularly fortuitous time-- just as she is promoting her line of dairy-free, vodka-spiked whipped cream. And although she’s no cook-- she recently confessed as much on a recent episode of her show Cardi Tries when she cooked Thanksgiving dinner alongside celebrity chef Kwame Onwuachi-- she’s got the recipe for building buzz down pat.
These days, I get in the mood and eat fish a couple times a month. Not a craving, just a... something that happens. I do admit I'm craving another piece of that apple pie but I control my cravings entirely and I won't eat any until after ribollita tonight.