Why I Love Vegan Cooking!
Its no new observation that necessity spurs creativity. How many dishes were created in a situation of deprivation that are now considered haute cousine? Southern soul food, Italian pasta dishes, bangers and mash, pad thai- the dishes that are created to feed hungry families with a minimum of expensive ingredients have a way of making their way into our hearts and getting reinvented. Vegan and vegetarian dishes are also often spurred by necessity- but it is a self-imposed necessity.
Whether to avoid animal cruelty, for health reasons, or for mere distaste towards animal products, the vegetarian lifestyle is always a sort of self-imposed exile. The way that a herbivore views supermarkets, restaurants, the homes of our friends and families, not to mention special occasions and religious holidays, necessarily changes, and this shift can be extremely jarring at first.
More important is the change that happens in our own homes. There is no way to be vegan and to be complacent about what you put into your body. Instead, the ingredients of any given item must be examined for animal products, and the results are often surprising. Fish sauce in my favorite stir fry sauce? Chicken broth in vegetable soup? Lard in potato chips or canned beans? Who knew? And this realization is really the key- we don't always know what is in our favorite foods. Once we do, don't we need to create new favorites?
For me, my tastes have completely changed since I went vegetarian. The most important shift is that I vastly prefer food I prepare from basic ingredients to food that comes frozen, canned, or delivered. Not only because I can be sure of exactly what is in it, but also because I have discovered what a constant source of fun and even mental stimulation cooking vegan food can be.
Which takes me back to the creativity thing. The fact that, for a vegan, a craving for say, lasagna, usually can't be fulfilled with a trip to the supermarket or take-out from your favorite Italian place forces you to come up with something yourself. The first time I made lasagna with artichokes it I was amazed- not only that it tasted awesome, but that I had thought of it. And I think this sort of "a-ha!" that you can get when you figure out a perfect egg or cheese substitute, or whatever, is one of the reasons that vegan cooking is so exciting and undergoing such a renaissance. Combinations that people would never think of get tossed into every page of the new vegan cookbooks and on every vegan blog. Coconut milk on pizza? Sweet potato falafel? "Cheddar Cheese" made of almonds? Its like the futurist cookbook came to life. And the best part is that vegan cooking is not only the realm of vegans. The more people that try, say, cashew sour cream, vegan cupcakes, or banana "ice cream" the more they realize that it is easy to make healthier and way more interesting food, as part of a complete diet or as an accent to their omnivore lifestyle. And I firmly believe that people will look back on this era of food history, with heroes like Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Sarah Kramer, and Bryant Terry, as a time of amazing innovation that changed the way EVERYONE eats, not just vegans.
Ultimately, I think that a vegan diet almost always has the result of not limiting your choices, but of changing your entire perspective on what is normal and delicious. That's the remarkable side effect of going vegan: an irresistible expansion of ones tastes to allow for food that is more exciting, more strange, and above all, imbued with the lightness that comes from knowing that no one had to die for your dinner. And that's why I love, love, love vegan cooking in all its forms.
Why do YOU love vegan cooking?