Viva La Vegan

Snap Crackle Pike

A father's obsession becomes a daughter's interpretation

by


Sometimes, I swear, all my dad wants is for me to like fish.

The man is a fishing maniac. He subscribes to New Jersey Fisherman magazine and keeps the pages dog-eared. His station wagon always carries his rod and tackle box just in case a spare moment arrives; because of this his vehicle always emulates a strong fishy smell. He loves everything about fish: watching them, catching them, gutting them, cooking them, eating them, trying to get inside their tiny fishy brains. As an professional artist, he even loves drawing them, and fish play a central role in many of his stained-glass window designs. Each Thanksgiving, Dad goes out to cast in the morning, hoping to catch a fresh spread for our table. Even if nothing bites, he’ll pick up some fish from the store to make his annual bouillabaisse. We can always tell though, the years when the additions to the stew are his own. He doles out bowls of thick red stew with special care, encouraging us all to marvel with him at the freshness, and regaling us with the details of exactly how he reeled it in. His pride is palpable.

When I became a vegetarian, my dad was confused. I explained to him what it means, but he still had questions. “You can still eat fish, right?” he implored, and I shook my head, reminding him that I’ve never liked the stuff to begin with. To this he replied, “You never really gave it a chance. Now you can’t even try it.” I’ve been meat-free for almost three years, and a vegan now for almost a year, and still my dad asks. He always asks if I want a piece of fish. MORE

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If I was in charge of All Food Everywhere, I would fire whoever made the decision to name tofu the ambassador of meat substitutes. Now, I don’t want to insult tofu — like a child who gets a puppy instead of a kitten for a pet, I have learned to love tofu after spending a few years with it. But even for me — a tofu enjoyer of five years and counting — there is still something about tofu in its raw state that turns me off. Sure, when tofu converts try to convince the uninitiated, they bring up a very good point: tofu tastes like whatever you cook it in. But while this is mostly true, it doesn’t stop tofu from having a consistency that can vary between pudding and hard cheese, but never retaining the best qualities of either. The worst offender is salad-bar tofu, the tofu that’s put out as more of a visual courtesy than an edible ingredient. Here’s a tip: If you have not tried tofu before, do not try salad bar tofu. It’s like eating a bean-curd-flavored cube of Jell-o.

But then…then there’s seitan. MORE

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Vegetarians have grown to relish—or at least tolerate—fake chicken, mock turkey, soy hot dogs, and flame-grilled tofu burgers. But the noble tradition of fake foods dates back to antiquity. Roman cooks loved to disguise the flavors of their dishes. The ancients relished food games at their banquets, and cooks took great pride in concealing flavors so that one type of meat might taste like another—or like nothing at all. One of the more peculiar recipes that survives from the first extant cookbook, dating to the fourth century A.D., is called, bluntly enough, Anchovy Casserole Without the Anchovies. The author, Apicius, proudly boasted, “No one at the table will know what he is eating.” Artists were employed at banquets to make realistic sculptures of lions out of chicken meat, bulls of fish flesh, camels of venison—anything to tickle the jaded diners. MORE