Cooking Through Corona

wp-1587516956177.jpgIn this very bizarre time when it is essentially my job to stay at home and interact with others as little as possible, I am so glad that cooking is my main hobby. Besides literally powering my household, it gives me a concrete thing to do every day that doesn’t involve a screen. Meals can be as creative and complicated, or utilitarian as I’m in the mood for cooking (which I’m not always, so then there’s always an opportunity to eat Five Guys sitting in the backseat of my own car in a parking lot – a real quarantine happening). I’m also extremely grateful that I am quarantined in my own apartment, with all of my beloved implements and pantry items.

After doing this for a month now there are some definitely patterns emerging and things I’ve realized:

Cooking what I know brings me comfort. That’s not to say I haven’t been trying new recipes, but I have been relying a lot on old favorites I know I’ll have the pantry ingredients for. When I’m trying new recipes its from cookbooks I’ve used before from cuisines I’m familiar with, so I’m not trying to source a lot of new spices.

Ordering food online is a small joy. In the past I’ve been reluctant to order food online, so if I haven’t been able to find something in a store I’ve just gone without. With “online” becoming the most accessible version of most things now, that barrier doesn’t exist in my head anymore, so it has been fun to order a specialty products I’ve been eyeing (like yuzu kosho, dried chilis, heirloom dried beans, and fancy-ass pasta).

I used to grocery shop way too much. I love meal planning. I love grocery shopping. In normal times I would do both weekly – flipping through cookbooks, bookmarking recipes from Instagram, or getting recommendations from my mom to build a meal plan and making a huge list to fill it. I might do this without fully regarding what was in my fridge, or leaving open nights to improvise with what I have. I’d even suggested we should get a smaller fridge so I would be forced to pare down. I was also in the habit of putting things in the freezer but rarely using things from the freezer, causing for 80% of it to be full of mysteries and only the front 20% items actually getting used in a reasonable time (mostly stock, bread, and tomato paste). Now without other options I’ve actually used a ton of stuff from the freezer (The too-salty ramen broth I made! 3/4 of a pork butt! That random bread!) so I can easily find things AND fit new things in (WHO AM I?). The fridge is a similar situation, with there always being food but never to the point where I am wasting food because we just have too much.

There are many food experiences I am eager to have again: a leisurely shopping trip that includes a stop at the cheese counter, impulse purchases, and maybe a wine tasting, a cookbook club dinner party, eating in an environment that is not my own apartments. But maybe there are also some changes to my buying, cooking, and eating that will stick.

Photo at top is a Caesar salad with my favorite dressing, spicy chicken thighs seasoned with chili powder, cayenne pepper and smoked paprika, and croutons made from leftover foccacia.


What kind of cook are you?

What Kind of Cook /are You? - Vegetal MattersI happen to live in the same state as Alana Chernila, author of the blog Eating from the Ground Up, The Homemade Kitchen, and most recently The Homemade Pantry,  and used her cookbook release party as an excuse to visit the lovely Berkshires and be a blog fangirl. When it was my moment to chat with Alana as she signed my books, she asked me “What kind of cook are you?”. For someone who spends almost every waking hour of her day doing something food related, this should be a very simple question. But I stumbled. More out of shock that no one had asked me this before and I hadn’t thought to ask myself either. “What do you like to cook?” is the more common lead in with an ever-evolving answer. With a line behind me I more answered this question than the one asked, and said I like to cook with lots of vegetables. Not the most eloquent, but certainly a true answer.

Defining what kind of cook I am has been on my mind since the event (which was in October, and I’m sure will be an eternally ongoing question). The answer is still not complete and definitely not succinct, but it is forming. I am a cook that constantly tries new things. New recipes from new chefs with new ingredients. Dishes that I’ve read about but only tasted in my own kitchen. Processed items that I’ve bought and have a curiosity about how their made. Foods I’ve eaten someplace distant or at least inaccessible on a daily basis, and want to have again and again.

Depending on the recipe and mood, I made just read one for inspiration and then go on an entirely different track, half follow one and let my instinct direct me otherwise, or follow it exactly. It entirely depends on what kind of cooking I’m doing, how comfortable I am with the dish, and what my goal is (learn something new? just get dinner on the table?). I have great appreciation for well written recipes and when reading and writing recipes I want exact ingredients (weights please!!!), even if I don’t think you should always follow them (but they should be there for when you need to).

As mentioned in haste, vegetables are far and away my favorite food group to cook with and to eat. I relish the challenge of cooking one vegetable in it’s season as many ways as I can think of, to test out all its potential and keep dinner interesting. This is also how I get other people to eat eggplant repeatedly, even though it is never as much as I want to. Perhaps absurd to those who have to eat rice and beans out of necessity, I cook them constantly. The practicality, cheapness, stability, nutritional completeness, and varied cultural traditions that are packed into such an elementary dish make it endlessly pleasing to me.

I appreciate the art that food can be elevated to, and the influences of high end cuisine on more accessible restaurants and home kitchens. But the kind of cooking that means the most to me is practical home cooking, where you make substitutions with what you have and it is ok to use ingredients a bit past their prime to avoid throwing them out. Food that doesn’t have to be pretty, but is nourishing and more quietly delightful. I may get the most joy out of cooking when given a real life Iron Chef challenge: make something good to eat with only what you have here. Those meals may not go down as the best things I’ve ever eaten, but are when my skills are best used and I’m proudest of what I’ve made.

This may not be the kind of cook I am right now, but it is what I’m constantly aspiring to be: resourceful, creative,  fearless, skilled, and practical. One that doesn’t waste, can adapt to people’s tastes, but also get them to try and like new ingredients and dishes. One that can pass on all of these skills to others. And one who can effectively translate these experiences from the kitchen onto a page. Alana, thanks for asking. What kind of cook are you?

Pancake Day!

Pancake Day - Vegetal MattersI studied abroad in Liverpool, England. I lived in a single room on a hallway of first year students where we shared 2 large communal kitchens. Shopping for myself was a grand weekly adventure. The eggs were not refrigerated. The best cookies had the blandest name (digestives!). Peppers were called capsicum and zucchinis were called courgettes. In one of my first weeks I purchased golden syrup thinking it was maple syrup (they are NOT the same). It didn’t occur to me to think it odd that it was so cheap and also that there were not many maple trees in England.

Since I cooked for myself most of the time, I didn’t work as many British delicacies into my diet, but I learned so much more about the other students and their ways. My meals were commented on for having “lots of parts” and always including salads. I observed one student take a baked potato, and then cover it with canned tuna, beans, and ketchup (though this was certainly not the norm).

In Feburary a friend invited me down the hall for “Pancake Day” celebrations. I thought it incredibly odd that my British peers, who did not have an abundance of maple syrup and did not tend to indulge in large, sweet breakfasts, had an entire day that they dedicated to eating sweet, sticky stacks of pancakes (it took a while longer for me to realize this was the same as our Fat Tuesday). But I was beyond excited for the meal, and looked forward to it all day. I was quietly surprised when I was served the most delicate crepe, with a squeeze of lemon juice and dusting of powdered sugar. It was fantastic, and one of my best food memories from the whole semester.

That was seven years ago, and it took until yesterday for me to tackle making crepes on my own. Even though they were made for me in a dorm kitchen, they have been on my “to cook” list for so long the pressure had built up and it seemed like a daunting project. I went a savory route and used the recipe from My Paris Kitchen for buckwheat crepes. The batter was a simple mix of flour, salt, water, and eggs that needed an hour rest. I don’t have a crepe pan (and will never buy one), and just used a large nonstick pan. The first two were ugly, but the great thing with crepes is you make them one at a time so there are many chances to perfect your process. Last night I was prouder of that stack of crepes than anything else I’ve done in 2015. As a one time crepe maker I don’t have a recipe to share yet, but just wanted to share a story and encourage you to tackle the long time food projects on your list (they’re probably not as hard as you think).

Pancake Day

Diet Soda and Weight Gain

20150211_1657571Full calorie soda is easy to hate. So much of it is made with high fructose corn syrup, plus a whole lot of calories that provide no feeling of fullness or nutrition. What it can give you is a quick sugar rush followed by a hard crash. Diet soda would seem like the magical solution: zero (or few calories), and all the delicious!!!!! Or not.

While beverages sweetened artificially may have fewer calories than their naturally or otherwise sweetened counterparts, studies strongly suggest that they cause an abundance of energy consumption elsewhere in the diet. Artificially sweetened beverages make the body immune to the normal calorie indicators of food, causing a person to consume more energy overall when artificially sweetened beverages are part of the diet. Many clinical and epidemiological studies have set out to prove this point.

In the Northern Manhattan Study over 2,500 participants were questioned about their diet and regular soft drink consumption and then followed up with over the course of 10 years. Then they compared the incidence of vascular events (stroke, myocardial infarction, vascular death) to the amount of diet and regular soda that the participants consumed. While those who were light diet soft drink consumers (1 per month up to 6 per week) did not have a significant risk of vascular events, the heavier consumers (1+ a day) did have an elevated risk of vascular events of 59%. The San Antonio Heart Study did a similar experiment with almost 4,000 participants and also found that those who consumed artificial sweeteners in beverages (soda, coffee, & tea) were much more likely to have an increased BMI at their follow up 7-8 years after the initial questioning. While these studies cannot directly tie artificial sweetener consumption to weight gain, and in fact they do not prove that consuming diet soda is bad for your health, they show that there is a positive relationship between artificial sweetener consumption and increased BMI and risk of vascular events.  So they show a correlation between people who are generally making poor decisions about their health and people who are consuming diet soda.

The study “High-Intensity Sweeteners and Energy Balance” examined rat food consumption after being served yogurt sweetened with glucose vs. yogurt sweetened with saccharin.  The rats that were served saccharin sweetened yogurt ate more of their regular food and gained more weight over the course of the study. This was attributed to the Pavlovian conditioning principles. Since the sweet flavor is no longer an indicator of the caloric value of the food, “the ability of sweet taste to evoke cephalic phase responses would be degraded, with the result being less effective energy regulation and increased caloric intake when normal sweet (and high calorie) foods are consumed.” Therefore, consuming foods where the usual indicative properties (like sweetness) do not accurately represent their caloric values causes an imbalance in energy regulation. This study provides more concrete proof for the various epidemiological studies that have occurred where participants who consume artificially sweetened beverages have more weight issues and are more susceptible to vascular events.

In the article “Gain weight by ‘going diet?’ Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings” Qing Yang argues that sweet taste (either from sugar or artificial sweeteners) causes an enhanced human appetite. He says this is because artificial sweeteners are treated differently by food reward pathways than natural sweeteners. This is an issue since “animals seek food to satisfy the inherent craving for sweetness, even in the absence of energy needs. Lack of complete satisfaction, likely because of the failure to activate the postingestive component, further fuels food seeking behavior.” So because artificial sweeteners are recognized by the body differently than natural sweeteners, and because they make the body used to a certain level of sweetness, they cause excessive energy consumption and make consumers more at risk for obesity and diseases caused by obesity.

The issues with diet soda are more likely psychological than physical. If a person who eats healthfully and exercises regularly consumes diet soda, they are not going to start gaining weight because of it. But this healthful soda drinker is not the norm. Since diet soda is seen as a lesser evil than regular soda, it could lead to other poor food choices….oh since I’m having a diet soda I can have the double cheeseburger instead of the salad! Because there are no calories but sweetness is still present, your body becomes used to that level of sweetness and wants other foods to be at a similar level.  But artificial sweeteners are vastly sweeter than natural sugar. Aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet) is 180 times sweeter than sugar, saccharin (Sweet’N Low) is 300 times sweeter than sugar, and sucralose (Splenda) is 600 times sweeter than sugar.

Sugar cravings are serious, and if you’re constantly satisfying it you crave more and more. Taste buds change, and you can tolerate higher and higher levels of sweetness just like you can adapt to tolerate higher levels of spiciness. But the more sweetness you remove from your diet, the more you will be satisfied by less and less sugar.  I can’t, nor can all these scientists, say that diet soda and artificial sweeteners are the cause of weight gain (because they’re probably not). But, if you are drinking diet soda regularly, you need to take a hard look at the other dietary choices you are making.

If you do want to cut diet soda out of your diet (YAY!), don’t try to do it all at once. Try having one less a day, or replacing one a day with a seltzer, and after a few weeks cut back more (but eventually cut out the seltzer too…it’s just bottled water). Then when you do go back and drink one once in a blue moon, it will be so much more rewarding (or you may not even like it anymore). The same goes for artificial sweeteners like Splenda, Equal, and Sweet’N Low, or even real sugar you are trying to get out of your diet: cut back a little a time.


Artificial Sweeteners.  Harvard School of Public Health.

Fowler, Sharon P., Ken Williams, Roy G. Resendez, Kelly J. Hunt, Helen P. Hazuda and Michael P. Stern. “Fueling the Obesity Epidemic? Artificially Sweetened Beverage Use and Long-term Weight Gain.”  Obesity 16 (2008): 1894-1900.

Gardener, Hannah, Tatjana Rundek, Matthew Market, Clinton Wright, Mitchell S. V. Elkind, and Ralph Sacco. “Diet Soft Drink Comsumption is Associated with an Increased Risk of Vascular Events in the Northern Manhattan Study.” J Gen Intern Med 27.9 (2012): 1120-6.

Swithers, Susan E., Askley Martin, and Terry L. Davidson. “High-Intensity Sweeteners and Energy Balance.” Physiol Behav, 100.1 (2010): 55-62.

Yang, Qing. “Gain weight by ‘going diet?’ Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 83 (2010): 101-108.

Food Resolutions

Vegetal Matters - Food ResolutionsI’m most definitely a resolver. I love the beginning of a new year, the chance to reflect on the past 12 months, and thinking of ways to grow and improve. I always make a list of resolutions, some more about who I want to be or how I want to behave, but there are always a few that revolve around cooking and eating. A few years ago it was to cook more fish (which never really happened, and I’m fine with that). This past year it was to eat less meat, and when eating meat choose the more sustainable options (eating less definitely happened, and I can’t vouch for the happy life for every animal I ate, but I do think it was a larger percentage).

This year I’m focusing on being a better reader overall (taking more notes, reviewing and retaining more), and I want that to carry over into the kitchen as well. I try new recipes a lot, but it happens way more than it should that I read the ingredient list, skim the instructions, and then miss a step. Nothing tragic has ever come of this, but definitely a few frazzled moments. I also want to focus more on simple food. I love trying new and challenging recipes, and don’t plan to stop doing that entirely. But sometimes after making something super simple that turns out well I think ‘why don’t I do this more often?!?’ So, now I will.

The photo above does not exemplify this resolution in the slightest. It is my first ever buche de noel that I made on Christmas (plus the 2 days leading up to it) from Flour, Too. It involved a very flat and not as pliable as I’d hoped cake, amazing white chocolate whipped filling, chocolate ganache, and meringe mushrooms (I didn’t read the bit about leaving them in the cooling oven overnight…so that didn’t happen). It was fun and impressive but quite a bit of work. I will always find joy in doing projects like this, but there is equal merit in doing something simple very well.

PS – Here are a few food related titles I’m planning to pick up in 2015:

An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler

The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture by Wendell Berry

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation by David Kamp

More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin

PPS – Thanks Ken for the wonderful photo and editing!

Waste Not, Want Not

DSC_0022We waste a staggering amount of food. Take an apple for example. This Atlantic article (with an excellent gif) outlines the food waste issue and how much we waste just with apples: “If each of us eats an apple a day, as we all do, and we are all wasting 30 percent of our apples at $1.30 per pound, that’s about $42 wasted per person per year—which is $13.2 billion annually.” Even with enthusiastic demonstrations, I’ve had trouble convincing others (including my own boyfriend), to adopt this revolutionary method of apple consumption. “Apples are meant to have cores” they say! But the more of our food that we eat, the better. Why waste the energy we used to grow it, just because you ‘know’ how to eat an apple already? Reducing our waste will come when we rethink what parts of our food are waste. Yes, food scraps can (and should) be composted, but going into the compost pile is still skipping food’s true purpose: to provide nourishment. If that doesn’t happen, then the energy used was in vain. The old environmental mantra goes reduce, reuse, and then recycle. We have gotten into the frame of mind that recycling is enough, but it is still the least effective of the options (and that’s why it is last!).

Apples are just one example and there are thousands more. Not all foods have edible peels, but why peel any of the ones that do? Fruit and vegetable peels contain tons of nutrients and fiber that are lost with peeling. Stop peeling your apples, carrots, potatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, zucchini, and summer squash. Just give them a good scrubbing, enjoy, and stop buying expensive multivitamins. Try making some carrot top pesto. Chop your cilantro stems up with the leaves and eat them too (as many other cultures do). Parsley stalks are a little tougher, but can be thrown in a pot with a few potatoes, stems from other greens (like collards and kale), a couple carrots, tops and bottoms of celery hearts, a bay leaf, garlic cloves, and a few peppercorns to make broth. Leftover bones from chicken, turkey, beef, pork, or whatever other meat you consume can become stock as well. Save the fat from cooking chicken or bacon and use that instead of oil for your next saute.

Expiration dates are a truth we accept, like apple cores, that need to be rethought. They are really to keep food manufacturers from being sued. Many, many foods last beyond their declared expiration date. Ignore the date, and use your senses to determine if food has gone bad. Does it smell awful? Have mold that can’t be reasonably scraped off? Floating chunks that should not be there? Fine then, dump it. My mom will forever fondly recall the time I bit into a ball of mozzarella that had gone south (it should NOT squish that way), and besides some slight mental scarring I was just fine.  Foods past their prime have other uses as well. Milk gone sour? Use it in place of buttermilk. Food borne illness  is still a serious issue, but thorough washing, proper preparation, and preventing cross contamination between raw and cooked food can go a long way to keeping the bad stuff out of your kitchen.

So buy food from someplace you can trust, try not to buy more than you need, and store it properly. Eat as many parts of it as possible. If life gets in the way and you can’t use it in its peak, try to think of a different use. When all else fails, compost. And repeat.

Further reading: Waste: Uncovering the Food Scandal by Tristram Stuart (and his TED talk), Trader Joe’s Ex-President To Turn Expired Food Into Cheap Meals


Trends: Salmon and Ricotta

As an avid reader of food blogs, sometimes I notice a lot of writers focusing on the same ingredients. Much of the time it is because something is in season, and we all want to use all of the berries or squash or tomatoes or apples of whatever else is busting out of the garden. Other times the mutual point of inspiration is harder to identify, but I would love some added insight to figure it out. Or maybe I’m just crazy and seeing trends where they don’t exist. Anyway. Of late I’ve seen tons of salmon recipes, which I suppose makes sense because it is salmon season, but it is interesting to me as salmon are only local to a few specific regions. The other is ricotta, my best explanation for that being summer is a good time for fresh cheeses and it pairs well with vegetables, but its frequency still seems high. (And as an ice cream ingredient?! Whoa.)


Hunter Angler Gardner Cook – Salmon Burgers

Delightfully Tacky – Salmon with Peach Salsa

Sprouted Kitchen – Cordova, AK

Dinner: A Love Story – Gravlax (This is the highest on my Salmon: To Make list)


Naturally Ella – Einkorn Ricotta Gnocchi with Roasted Tomato Sauce

David Leibovitz – Ricotta Ice Cream

Food 52 – Orecchiette with Zucchini, Tomato, and Ricotta (This was inspiration for one of my dinners this week, except I just roasted halved cherry tomatoes, chopped zucchini and a few cloves of garlic, then stirred it in with the orecchiette, ricotta, salt, pepper, and tons of basil)

Also, this is more of a current event but still worth noting the increase in coverage: a soda tax! I know this probably won’t come quickly or easily, but we’re headed in the right direction (less subsidies that make corn syrup so cheap to produce would be great, too).

Policy Wonka – Soda taxes are just great

Mark Bittman – Introducing the National Soda Tax

Further Reading (updated 8/20/2014): A Sweet Spoonful – Homemade Ricotta: The Food of Summer. I have to agree, homemade ricotta is an entirely different food from what you can usually buy packaged and so delightful. I haven’t tried out this recipe, though I’ve made the version in The Homemade Pantry many times over with great success.

Why juicing is a huge waste of money.

There are so many reasons why a variety of fruits and vegetables should be a large portion of our diets. They taste delicious and have a very high nutrient to calorie ratio (lots of nutrients, few calories). They are the best and most accessible source of many essential vitamins and minerals. And they are an essential source of fiber in our diets. Fiber is the indigestible carbohydrates (including cellulose and lignin) that makes up the structure of plants. But since we can’t digest it, why bother eating it? Wouldn’t it be better just to squish all of the vitamins and minerals out of the fruits and vegetables and just drink them instead?

You could do that. It would provide a very fast, easily digestible dose of some vitamins, minerals and some sugars. But since it is a liquid, it would pass through your system quickly and barely satiate you. This recipe for “healthy green juice” calls for 1 green apple, 2 celery stalks, ½ a cucumber, 3 kale leaves, ¼ a lemon and a ½” piece of ginger for a single serving. That is a full daily serving of vegetables for an adult, and enough to make up an entire meal (which would be a pretty awesome salad). And if you ate that it would keep you full because your body needs time to break down all that tough vegetal matter (oh HEY). While it slowly passes through your system, you absorb more of the nutrients present because they are in contact with digestive system cell walls longer.

So, why would you ever buy enough produce for an entire meal, but throw out all of the parts that actually make you feel full (or spend your money buying juice, when you could buy produce)? Hunger is our body telling us that we need more nutrients, so if you consume something and are hungry soon after then that food is not doing its job. Juicing yourself or just drinking pre-made juice (and especially as part of juice cleanses, ugh) are not the answer to your dietary problems. Eating more fruits and vegetables, without throwing away the bulk of what you buy (or buying just the carbs that straight juice contains), is a much better and more economical approach. Putting fruit and vegetables into smoothies is a slightly better approach, because you are still consuming the whole plant, but whirling it up still makes it much easier to digest so you’re missing out on prolonged fullness. A juice or smoothie every once in a while is fine, but for the most part don’t drink what you could eat.

Further Reading (Updated 9/11/2014): Stop Juicing, Lay Off the Juice Cleanse Diet. You’ve Been Lied to.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

TRATEOTU“Would you like to see the menu?” he said. “Or would you like to meet the Dish of the Day?”

“Huh?” said Ford.

“Huh?” said Arthur.

“Huh?” said Trillian.

“That’s cool,” said Zaphod. “We’ll meet the meat.”

One of the most difficult conversations I’ve repeatedly found myself in is discussing where food comes from, and most often meat. Many people have told me they do not want to know anything about where their meat comes from before it gets to their plate. Or even have to take it off the bone. Preferably there should be nothing that indicates that it was once a breathing creature before it became a meal. This enrages me so completely that I have trouble expressing my views at all, for fear of it turning into a full out berating rant (which I try not to do so people will still want to talk to me). I wasn’t even sure how I would write about it, but then Douglas Adams beat me to the punch by about 35 years in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (the second book in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy in five parts, satirical space travel novels). The characters have just reached the title restaurant, are getting silly drunk (as you do right before the end of the universe), and are trying to decide what to eat:

A large dairy animal approached Zaphod Beelebrox’s table, a large fat meaty quadraped of the bovine type with large watery eyes, small horns and what might have been an ingratiating smile on its lips.

“Good evening,” it lowed and sat back heavily on its haunches, “I am the main Dish of the Day. May I interest you in parts of my body?” It harrumphed and gurgled a bit, wriggled its hind quarters into a more comfortable position and gazed peacefully at them.

Its gaze was met by looks of startled bewilderment from Arthur and Trillian, a resigned shrug from Ford Prefect and naked hunger from Zaphod Beeblebrox.

“Something off the shoulder perhaps?” suggested the animal. “Braised in a white wine sauce?”

“Er, your shoulder?” said Arthur in a horrified whisper.

“But naturally my shoulder, sir,” mooed the animal contentedly, “nobody else’s is mine to offer.”

Zaphod leapt to his feet and started prodding and feeling the animal’s shoulder appreciatively.

“Or the rump is very good,” murmured the animal. “I’ve been exercising it and eating plenty of grain, so there’s a lot of good meat there.” It gave a mellow grunt, gurgled again and started to chew the cud. It swallowed the cud again.

“Or a casserole of me perhaps?” it added.

“You mean this animal actually wants us to eat it?” whispered Trillian to Ford.

“Me?” said Ford, with a glazed look in his eyes. “I don’t mean anything.”

“That’s absolutely horrible,” exclaimed Arthur, “the most revolting thing I’ve ever heard.”

“What’s the problem, Earthman?” said Zaphod, now transferring his attention to the animal’s enormous rump.

“I just don’t want to eat and animal that’s standing there inviting me to,” said Arthur “It’s heartless.”

“Better than eating an animal that doesn’t want to be eaten,” said Zaphod.

“That’s not the point,” Arthur protested. Then he thought about it for a moment. “All right,” he said, “maybe it is the point. I don’t care, I’m not going to think about it now. I’ll just … er …”

The Universe raged about him in its death throes.

“I think I’ll just have a green salad,” he muttered.

“May I urge you to consider my liver?” asked the animal, “it must be very rich and tender by now, I’ve been force feeding myself for months.”

“A green salad,” said Arthur emphatically.

“A green salad?” said the animal, rolling his eyes disapprovingly at Arthur.

“Are you going to tell me,” said Arthur, “that I shouldn’t have the green salad?”

“Well,” said the animal, “I know many vegetables that are clear on that point. Which is why it was eventually decided to cut through the whole tangled problem and breed an animal that actually wanted to be eaten and was capable of saying so clearly and distinctly. And here I am.”

It managed a very slight bow.

“Glass of water please,” said Arthur.

“Look,” said Zaphod, “we want to eat, we don’t want to make a meal of the issues. Four rare steaks please, and hurry. We haven’t eaten in five hundred and seventy-six thousand million years.”

The animal staggered to its feet. It gave a mellow gurgle.

“A very wise choice, sir, if I may say so. Very good,” it said. “I’ll just nip off and shoot myself.”

He turned and gave a friendly wink to Arthur.

“Don’t worry, sir,” he said, “I’ll be very humane.”

It waddled unhurriedly off to the kitchen.

I fully understand not liking the idea of killing a creature and eating its meat. If it bothers you so much, then DON’T DO IT. Pulling the “ignorance is bliss” card is an awful cop out. It’s like turning a blind eye to poverty because it doesn’t exist in your neighborhood. Thinking more about where your meat comes from makes you likely to care more about where it comes from, and in all likelihood that will make you want to consume less of it and a higher quality when you do.

Exposing gruesome aspects of the meat industry has been a hot topic of journalism since Upton Sinclair, but there are still awful and pervasive manufacturing practices being reported. In Fast Food Nation Eric Schlosser interviewed slaughterhouse workers who were grossly mistreated.  Many cows are still fed grain instead of grass since it fattens them up more quickly (a reality I’ve seen firsthand). Livestock are the largest single contributing factor to greenhouse  gas emissions[1] and “producing 1 kg of animal protein requires about 100 times more water than producing 1 kg of grain protein”.[2]

Cows are the largest animal we raise for meat and therefore take up the most resources, and are the ones most written about. But we should consider the environmental implications of all the animals we consume, including pigs, poultry, and all manner of sea creatures. Ethically raised, slaughtered, and fished meat is more expensive because there has to be more care in every part of the process and it is harder to do on a large scale. Buying meat that has been responsibly farmed is the best way to support and encourage sustainable meat production. Like Zaphod, we should lovingly appreciate and get to know the animals that give their lives for our meals. Even if we can’t breed animals to willingly sacrifice themselves for our meals, we can certainly ensure their time on our little planet is as enjoyable as possible. Meeting the animal you are going to eat is not “heartless” as Arthur suggests, but the opposite. It is impossible to meet an animal and not care about how it is living. Distancing ourselves from the process and claiming ignorant bliss just perpetuates the persistence of unsustainable production practices and overconsumption.

Unlike Zaphod says, making a meal of the issues is exactly what we should be doing. Like Zaphod orders, the meat we do consume should be prepared simply and enjoyed, rare.



Book cover photo from here.