A Push for Flexible Morality

If you have five minutes to spare, I invite you to read this article.

Don’t worry. I’ll wait…

Okay, are you back? Good, because I have a lot to say on the topic. But you knew that, right? If you didn’t get to read the article, the long and short of it is that vegetarians shouldn’t beat themselves up with they decide to have a pork chop or two when amongst friends – in fact, they should feel obligated to do so just to show others that veganism and vegetarianism is “flexible.” You know, to make people comfortable around it…and therefore low-key encouraging others to give part-time vegetarianism a try.

There are so many things wrong with the author’s position in this article. Just at the surface, I find the concept of vegetarians being encouraged, nay, guilted into breaking their own moral code for the sake of others to be so misguided. From the article: “So the vegetarian guest eating meat when offered has probably shown the host that it is possible to be a (flexible) vegetarian and, at the same time, occasionally enjoy some meat without feeling guilty.” In reality, could doing so inspire others to adopt the vegetarian lifestyle if they see that it’s not such a rigid or strict discipline? Doubtful. Like with most things in life, people eat what they eat for a reason and they will change their lifestyle only when they’re ready and for reasons of their own, not because they saw a vegetarian breaking their own personal code of ethics at that dinner party last week.

My own response to this article?  It is NOT the guest’s job to convince the host or any other guest to become vegetarian, nor is it their obligation to be flexible in order to show that others can eat less meat while still maintaining a sort-of, kind-of vegetarian lifestyle.

I feel the article gives a negative portrayal of vegetarians, assuming every one of them brings a soapbox to stand on wherever they go because it’s their civic duty to coax people over to their side. But I can only really speak for myself. Do I wish people would eat less meat (or no meat at all)? Yes. Do I tell them to eat that way? No. They’re adults. They can make up their own minds on what they want to eat. But if someone is curious and asks me about vegetarianism, I’m more than happy to give them information as to why that particular diet appeals to me.

But it’s not my job to show others that vegetarianism can be flexible and therefore “easier” to the masses. Why should a vegetarian anyone be forced or encouraged or guilted into doing something that makes them physically, mentally, and emotionally ill — and is contrary to everything they believe in — just to show someone else it can be done?

To me, what should’ve been addressed is the host’s lack of manners for forgetting the dietary restrictions of a guest they presumably like and respect enough to ask to dinner. In case you didn’t read the article, the whole point that started this conversation was that the fictitious host and/or hostess forgot their guest was a vegetarian and therefore gave them a pork chop to eat. I also find it odd that out of all the meats out there in the world, they chose pork chops. But I digress.

Back to the whole “flexibility” thing…every vegetarian and vegan has their own reason for choosing that kind of diet, not least of which is to do their part in ending animal suffering. Contrary to all the jokes and memes out there, this is not a trivial reason. Some people are vegetarians for religious reasons. Does the author expect flexibility when it’s for religious reasons? Or is it only when it’s for other, non-religious, reasons? I wasn’t aware that morals were flexible, or rather, that it’s not a big deal if they are flexible. I mean, basically, the writer is asking a vegetarian to be flexible in their morals just to be polite to a host.

Then, the writer tells vegetarians to take heart in the decision to go against their beliefs and strongly held “code of ethics” because it could — could, mind you — have the positive effect of showing others that vegetarianism can be do-able for those who still want to eat meat sometimes. That’s a hell of a lot of responsibility for one person who simply does not eat meat, if you ask me.

Show and tell on the part of a dinner guest is not and should not be necessary to get this point across and I think it’s appalling to expect otherwise.

 

Free Range Grumbling

Whatever happened to food? In an effort to be hip, chic, “cutting edge,” different, attention-getting, and yes, even pretentious, restaurants and recipes now proudly present their mondo bizarro ideas of new cuisine. Their mantra now seems to be: “If you can concoct it and give it a fancy name, they will eat it.”  And, pay outrageous amounts for it. I’m reminded of a fight between Niles and Daphne on Frasier – where Daphne accused Niles of being pretentious: “You’d eat a worm if I gave it a French name!” Gotta love Niles, he made that show.

“Would mademoiselle care to begin with our house specialty appetizer, Vers de terre pochés served with a reduction of l’eau des marais?” Poached earthworms served with a swamp water reduction.  It’s getting out of hand, I tell you.

The new rage is evident in what can best be called Transparent Pumpkin Pie.  Basically, it’s clear, pumpkin-flavored Jell-O made into tiny pies. They claim to get the pumpkin flavor from its essence. Yes, it’s essence. The essence, or distillate if you will, is extracted in a thing called a rotary evaporator. Usually used in chemistry labs, a kitchen version of one will only set you back a few thousand dollars. That’s a hell of a lot of miniature, transparent pumpkin pies.

click the pic for more info on the restaurant serving this…umm…pie

When I see certain words on menus or in recipes, I feel that Western Cuisine is in a tailspin.  Here are a few of them:

  • Deconstructed – What do they do to the entrée, disassemble it? Why yes, yes, they do. My deconstructed pizza had the green pepper and mushrooms neatly peeled off and stacked on a bed of farm fresh arugula.
  • Essence – I guess this means that they didn’t have enough of something to put it into the meal, so they just waved it over the plate to get that waft of…whatever.
  • Foraged – For example, foraged morel mushrooms…I’m sorry, but I simply don’t envision the chef crawling around in the woods on all fours to find the mushrooms he put on my morel and asparagus salad.
  • Hand Selected – As opposed to robot or cockroach selected. Seriously though, this one is most confusing of all, because if it’s not hand selected, what is it??
  • Artisanal – “Made with loving care by a professional.” If that’s true, this is an artisanal blog! But really, when you think about it, aren’t all recipes artisanal? I mean, they should be unless they’re made by a machine…which I guess is to be expected in mass-produced items, but restaurants, especially of the swanky variety? Not so much. 
  • Foam – I’ve seen this in offerings ranging from new-age drinks to toppings for savory entrees to dessert. Personally, I’ve always thought it was the stuff I spray on my legs to shave them, not a deconstructed essence of foraged lime shot out of an aerosol can.

New restaurants, to remain popular (and open) need to come up with more and more outlandish foods to keep their target audience intrigued. Much of it is driven by two words that I never thought would have any connection to food: Molecular Gastronomy. It is science, chemistry, and physics combined to find new ways to prepare food. Because these types of dishes can take a long time to prepare, they usually come with two things: small portions – as in elf-size portions and high prices.

As cool as the whole process is – from a chemistry-set loving perspective, I’m not sure that I would be happy with a meal of ginger-orange gelatin sheets, pearls made from balsamic vinegar, avocado mousse with soy sauce jelly, a spoonful of tomato water spherification with basil oil infusion, and faux-caviar made from olive oil and ingredients I can’t pronounce that you’d be more likely to find in a science classroom.  Evil things are being done to food to make these dishes, I tell you.

I know, I know. Some people don’t mind paying $250 to $500 for a meal of these things…wine extra. As for me, just give me some plain ol’ kick-ass eggplant parmesan and chocolate molten lava cake and I’m in heaven.

When Good Salads Go Bad

Okay, so picture this. My daughter and I were at our favorite pizza joint in the world.  I’m not going to mention names (*cough cough* Ledo’s).  Our mouths were watering for the best pizza and bread sticks in the world.  Not that there is ever really a BAD pizza, is there?  Even a bad pizza still beats a celery stick any day of the week, but I digress.

My daughter…my 18-year-old daughter… had decided to add a Caesar Salad to her order.

Before I go any further in my traumatizing Caesar Salad tale, let me explain.

This girl loves Caesar Salad.  She has had every Caesar Salad in every restaurant in the state.  She eats Caesar Salad with the same gusto that I have when I eat hot fudge sundaes. So, you can imagine her love for Caesar Salad. She has downloaded every recipe for every dressing she sees on Facebook.  She was given a restraining order from the Kellogg Company because of her suggestion for Frosted Caesar Salads, part of a balanced breakfast.  Her first child will be named Caesar, and rumor has it, she is trying to find a man with the last name Salad.   When she went to donate blood, she was told by the Red Cross that her blood was 90% Caesar dressing and she could not donate. She was crushed. My child has never met a crouton she didn’t like, although she does have her favorites on the salad itself. She definitely knows what is acceptable and not acceptable in the world of salads.  She has a tattoo that proudly proclaims, “I will let no lettuce remain behind.” Okay, so I made that last one up. But she does WANT the tattoo.

 In short, my daughter is a Caesar Salad connoisseur.

The waitress brought the salad and set it in front of her.  My daughter paid proper homage to the gods of salads, and then picked up her plastic cup of dressing.  Eyes full of anticipation, she poured the dressing.  Or, rather, TRIED to pour the dressing.  The dressing was so thick it stuck to the container.  She used an ice pick to chip it out.  Once it was sitting in a congealed glob of goo on top of the salad, she gamely picked up her fork and tried it.  To the horror of every Caesar Salad addict in the world, this dressing wasn’t even chilled.  Still, my daughter would not…could not…be deterred.  “There are no bad salads,” she proclaimed, “they are just misunderstood.”  I watched in horror as she lifted the play dough covered crouton to her lips.  She is the bravest girl I have ever known.

This girl put her fork down delicately, and to my utter amazement pushed the bowl aside.  She wasn’t sure what was in the silly-putty-like dressing, but she suspected it could have been expired yak milk and Gorilla Glue.  The meal continued, and at the end of the meal, the waitress brought out boxes for the leftover pizza.  She had a separate box for the salad, which by now had crawled out of the bowl and was making its way slowly towards me.   I firmly but gently tell the waitress that the salad scared me, as it was then staring at me menacingly.

My daughter, being a nicer person than me, didn’t want to complaint. I had no such issue because, well, I’m me. “That salad was a little off, and I suspect it is plotting our murder,” I told the waitress.  She apologized, and skipped merrily off to get our check.  When she returned, I saw that she was charging us for the uneaten blob that had by now swallowed the salt shaker.  Not one to make a huge fuss, and having already made the salad’s nefarious agenda to take over the restaurant known, I whipped out my credit card and paid for our meal.

Suddenly, we were accosted by a sweet looking fatherly type of gentleman.  He cornered my shy daughter in the booth and demanded – demanded – to know what was wrong with the salad.  So much for fatherly.

My sweet daughter had been so bitterly disappointed by her salad experience that she stood up for herself, despite being a non-confrontational type.  She was speaking up for salads everywhere as she informed him,   “The dressing tasted off.  I think it may have spoiled.  I didn’t trust it enough to eat it.”

The man harrumphed like Ebeneezer Scrooge.  If he’d have had a well-oiled handlebar mustache, he might have started twirling the ends of it.  “Young lady, have you ever had OUR Caesar Salad? Have you ever even HAD any Caesar Salad before?  It’s supposed to taste like that.  It should have a bite to it. I think you just don’t understand the type of dressing it is…”  His tone was condescending and accusatory at the same time, a nun scolding a student for texting in class.  “In fact,” he continued, “I had a bite of the dressing in the back, and it tasted just fine to me.”  At this point, it’s not entirely clear if he ate my daughter’s salad or had some from the kitchen, but that’s not important now.  His performance was beginning to draw a crowd as he continued treating my daughter like a puppy who chewed a shoe.  “Do you even know what a Caesar Salad should taste like?” he asked disdainfully.  This man could have been a manager, or the owner, or some homeless fellow who wandered in off the street for all we knew at that point.  He definitely took things to a whole different level.  He was dismissing her not only as both a customer, but as a thinking adult with common sense.

Having gotten past my initial shock at his take on this situation, I stepped in and told him that my daughter was very much aware of what a Caesar Salad should taste like and theirs was bordering on cruelty to customers. (I may have been a little nicer than that, but not much.)

We walked out with a coupon for a free pizza, but the salad was still charged on the bill.  I wasn’t even questioning the charge, had no plans to do so, so I am unclear why this man took this all so personally.  Perhaps this was a long lost (with good reason) family recipe?  All he needed to do was simply say, “I’m sorry you didn’t care for the salad.”  Instead, he made a huge fuss and belittled my daughter.

On the way home my daughter and I discussed this, and mutually decided that we would rather drive the extra twenty miles to the Ledo’s in the next town over, rather than go back in that store because of the manager’s attitude.  We couldn’t help but wonder if he would have treated her the same way if she was a male.  Any girl who has wandered into Home Depot looking for caulk knows the look, the attitude, and the condescending tone I am talking about.  This man definitely seemed to be “mansplaining.” It was uncalled for and, truth be told, more than a little insulting. I sincerely hope he is just a jerk with everyone, and not just the “little ladies” that come into his store.

Enjoy your arrogance, sir, and enjoy it alone.  Here are two less “little ladies” that will be putting money in your pocket.

Wretched Excess

I saw a late-night TV commercial last night for one of those “all you can eat” buffets. Five hundred entrees, bottomless soup and salad bar, eighty different types of dessert, and four cardiac defibrillation stations. Ecstatic children piling chicken tenders on top of their banana splits. Dad eating enough fried shrimp to threaten the Louisiana shrimp industry. Mom was the only one demonstrating any dietary discretion. She was enjoying a deep-fried kale salad to go with her 10-cheese 7 layer lasagna. Fearing that I would soon witness this family of four exploding all over the restaurant like poor Mr. Creosote in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life, I turned the station and lo and behold, I ended up on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”  I guess I was hungry. Next time, I’ll just head to the fridge earlier for my snack instead of living vicariously through the TV.

This food frenzy got me to thinking though. We Americans consume God awful amounts of food. Every fast food chain suggests you “super-size your order. Casual chain restaurants now tout their “never ending appetizers.” Even Starbucks loves you more as a customer when you pass over the former size-champion Venti and go for the new 31 oz Trenta to go along with that cake pop on a stick (or two) you just have to grab for breakfast. Nothing can get you going in the morning like downing a quart of coffee…literally.  Hmmm.  Just how much food do we consume in a year?

I decided to do some research on this. Cause you know, it’s late at night and sleep is for babies. What started as an innocent inquiry into what we eat every year, turned into a dark journey into terror. Believe it or not, in one year you will have likely eaten one ton of food! Yes, the FDA figures it out to be an average of 1,996.3 pounds. But hey, if you’re a perfectionist like me, just buy those extra two Trenta caramel lattes (with whipped cream!) at your corner Starbucks every week and you’ll get to that perfectly rounded 2,000-pound mark, easy peasy.

I mean, really? A ton of food in a year? That’s more weight than a Mitsubishi Mirage. Thank God for efficient digestive systems!  It got even more terrifying when I checked to see how the weight was split up. I don’t know what possessed me to go looking, but go looking I did.

People apparently love their dairy. As a society, we keep the dairy industry afloat. Each of us, on average – because of course some people don’t eat or drink dairy at all, consumes 781.5 pounds of milk, yogurt, and other dairy products a year. Add in another 31.4 pounds if you eat cheese.

We eat 32.7 pounds of eggs.  That works out to 253 eggs apiece for the math impaired (and just so you know, I used a calculator for that…cause you know, technology).

What about meats? Apparently, each person will go through about 62.4 pounds of red meat, 46.5 pounds of pork, 60.4 pounds of chicken, and 23.2 pounds of turkey in their yearly feasting. I bet most of that turkey consumption is on Thanksgiving weekend alone.

I couldn’t find stats on other types of meat and it’s just as well. Just knowing the above made me sick enough.

As for the veggie side of things, we eat 415.4 pounds of vegetables every year to go with that massive portion of meat already on our plates.  Seriously though, we need these veggies to counter the over 85 pounds of butter and oil we eat per year. Ugh.

If you have a three-year-old toddler (if you don’t then, borrow one), pick him or her up.  Pretty hefty, right?  Now put the toddler down and close your eyes. Now open your eyes and pretend that the cute toddler has turned into a pile of delicious French Fries. Okay, don’t roll your eyes at me…this is just a visualization technique. Good grief.  Anyway, do you see that toddler size pile of fries?  Now know this, each year the average American will consume 31.1 pounds of fries…the average weight of a three-year-old.

It gets worse.  Cause we haven’t even discussed snacks. And who doesn’t love snacks? You’re looking at 23 pounds of pizza, 24 pounds of ice cream (which I could do in one week if my wallet and my doctor would let me), 53 gallons of soda (I think I’m above average on this one…not exactly the goal my mother was shooting for when she claimed I had potential), and a terrifying 3 pounds of salt. Three. Pounds. Of. Salt. No wonder blood pressure is on the rise nationwide.

So, yeah. While I am more enlightened and more knowledgeable, which is never a bad thing, my late-night journey into the realm of our society’s consumption levels left me a little worse for wear. I almost couldn’t finish my bag of chips and pint of Ben & Jerry’s Karamel-Sutra.