Okay, let’s lay down some ground rules: I have five of them. I’ve spent some time meditating on them, so indulge me.
When I say “vegan” I, of course, mean free of animal products. No meat, fish, or poultry; no eggs, no dairy; no other animal byproducts.
I’d love for everyone to miraculously choose to eat a plant-based diet, but I’m also a pragmatist: there’s a lot of important, meaningful culture associated with animal products on the table. There’s also a lot of spectacularly awful vegan food out there—and plenty even less appetizing vegan rhetoric. Both facts forestall mass enlistment.
So what’s there to be done, save scream into the void? I’m not a chef, but I love to cook and I try not to be sanctimonious about it. The best way I can imagine to vindicate a plant-based diet is to forge new culture around vegan food—unexclusive, undaunting food that not only doesn’t suck but excites vegans and dyed-in-the-wool carnivores alike.
When I went vegan, I took a solemn oath that my life would not become one endless crudité. It dawned on me later that this was unconsciously more than just a matter of taste: avoiding salad bar hell as a vegan in a bacon-wrapped world was what drove me into the kitchen. I acknowledge that veganism is a restrictive diet by definition, but creative constraints are the scaffolding on which audacious things are built. Any veggie-fueled ingenuity I can summon is what I assume you came for, so I won’t waste your time and patronage on non-recipes. Let this allay any concerns you have that I might ever feature a plate of raw greens or (god help us) a bowl of smoothie.
If you can make it, do.
Even if only once, make it. Nothing you can buy at the store tastes as good as self-sufficiency feels. Bonus: The flavor and texture of homemade are without exception better. If it’s too much effort to be bothered again, now you know and you can buy it next time.
I’m no more a scientist than a chef, but I come from scientists’ stock—which is to say I value empiricism. Building your food from fundamental concepts teaches you how ingredients perform and interact, affording you total editorial control. Your self-esteem and your taste buds (if not your wallet and your health) will thank you.
I don’t expect you to trace your celery’s paternal lineage back to vegetal Adam, nor do I suggest you submit your grocery list for Gwyneth Paltrow’s review. Please don’t mortgage your house to shop “organic,” or “natural,” or “non-GMO” (or in service to any other vexing blather for that matter). I would like to encourage the use of the best quality, whole food products to which you have access. My thoughts on boxed meals and frozen TV dinners shall remain tacit.
Don’t overthink it.
If I can distill my culinary philosophy into a few sentences, it’s these: Have fun. Share your food. Try something new. Remember that recipes are living documents—have a conversation with them. I hope they help you learn to cook for the thrill of it and to celebrate a healthy and ethical relationship with food. And don’t forget to break the rules sometimes (except the first one).
Brilliant. We got that out of the way. Now onto the
meat and potatoes.