“What is it with you and food?” a friend once jokingly asked.
He was referring to my choice of legal note topics for my journal; last fall I wrote about the Southern Bluefin Tuna Cases, in the spring about the regulation of geographic indicators of food in the European Union [publication forthcoming, spring 2010...eeepp!!!]. I learned about cases revolving around cheese and how overfishing is screwing up the entire ecosystem. The latter supplemented by my environmental law class really pulled at heartstrings. We’re killing the planet, was the general message, do something!
The thing is, while I may have enough ethics to pass the MPRE, and while I may prefer the company of small, furry animals to most human beings, I am fully comfortable with grilling anything I am comfortable killing. I’ve gutted fish in front of friends without batting an eye, only realizing later what a grotesque sight that must have been. I like to think that I would be capable of killing a chicken if I had to. Pigs and cows, probably not.
That begs the question: why? Why set down some arbitrary dietary rules for myself? Why fried chicken and no bacon?
To be honest, I’m not sure. It started with watching what I was eating so I wouldn’t gain 50 pounds over the winter. That turned into cutting out 90% of processed food from my diet. And that has suddenly morphed into the beginnings of veganism.
The worst part? It’s easy to stop buying processed food, but it’s infuriatingly frustrating when you’re expected to explain exactly why. Simply pulling out a ziplock bag full of baby carrots or grapes will elicit the self conscious “I should eat healthier, too,” when I had no intention of making a judgment call on what my friends are eating. Then there are those who express concern bordering on anger over what I’m eating. When I try to brush off questions with the power-to-weight ratio argument, I’ve been met with the vehement [predictably, from girls] “will you STOP trying to lose weight?!”
Food, apparently, has a weird control over us. It’s like my bag of veggies, or the fact that I eat mini-meals throughout the day triggers feelings of dietary self-consciousness in others. The annoying part being that I have no intent to do this…I have no ethical agenda or desire to educate. I just want to eat my food.
Ironically, as the more common “cycling/power-to-weight ratio” argument fails, it seems as if the more extreme “I’m vegan” justification is easier. The stereotype of the slightly crazed ethical vegan seems so intense that people will consciously choose not to ask about it because they want to avoid a lecture on environmental sustainability. Cycling – and the manorexia that’s associated with it – is apparently too normal to avoid prying questions.
The strange thing being that my cycling friends don’t tend to ask those weird questions. When I expressed surprise at finding out that Brett was vegetarian, he looked at me with an air of mock disdain, and asked me if people still ate meat. When I told M1 I was going vegan – or at least trying – and that I wanted to make my own soy yogurt, he gamely asked if I was going to start growing mung beans on my walls next. Small wonder I love those guys.
So I’m trying out this whole vegan thing. Just for a few days. Milk and dairy aren’t a huge problem because my fragile Asian constitution [read: lactose intolerance] can’t take more than 3 tablespoons of the stuff anyway; but cutting out eggs and honey was proving pretty painful. Then Amazon came to the rescue with my copy of Anna Thomas’s Love Soup. The recipes are all vegetarian, but more than half of them are vegan, too. So to power me through a few finals, I cooked up a big batch of her Red Lentil and Squash Soup. Except I used brown lentils instead of red, forgot to buy ginger, and omitted the red pepper, and added leeks.
Yeah, there’s something about me and food.
Vegan Training Wheels Lentil and Squash Soup
Adapted from Love Soup
[I understand the results aren't very photogenic, but I imagine this soup is gorgeous if made with red lentils instead of brown. Regardless of how it looks, it's hearty and thick and sweet without being cloying. I'm already looking forward to dinner for the next few days...]
1 cup red lentils
1 tsp sea salt
1 small butternut squash
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large leek, white and light green parts only, chopped
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes [optional, I didn't use them]
4-5 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups spinach, fresh or frozen
1. Preheat the oven to 375F.
2. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and brush it with olive oil.
3. Cut the squash in half, seed it, and place cut side down on the baking sheet. Roast for 30-45 minutes, until it can be easily pierced with a fork
4. Meanwhile, rinse the lentils and put them in a pot with 4 cups of water and 1 tsp salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for 20 minutes [30 if you're using brown lentils].
5. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan and saute the onions slowly, until they begin to soften [Anna Thomas says 10 minutes, I did it in about 5]. Add the leeks and continue to cook until they are turning soft and golden brown [Anna Thomas says about 20-30 minutes; I probably did it in 10-15].
6. When the lentils are tender, add the onions and leeks, sweet potato, cumin, red pepper flakes [if using] and 4 cups of vegetable broth. Simmer for 25 minutes.
7. Once the squash is done, scoop out 2 1/2 cups of the flesh and add it to the soup. Cook until everything is heated through and add more broth if the soup is too thick.
8. Add the spinach and cover, until spinach is wilted or thawed [if using frozen, just throwing them in is fine, you don't have to thaw them beforehand].
9. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt if necessary. Devour.