Let me be clear. I am not a vegan nor even a vegetarian. But I have had an ongoing discussion about vegan food over the past three weeks with lots of people and I figure that if I, a non-vegan, am having this conversation repeatedly there must be some meat (so to speak) in it.
So, here’s the deal. Vegan food should taste good. If it does, people will incorporate those dishes into their diets. You may not win a philosophical victory–because they’ll still also eat meat–but you will be introducing people to tasty, healthy dishes. That is a victory.
But so very, very often vegan food looks fantastic and tastes like someone just dumped every spice in the cabinet into it. Take this dish I encountered at the library. S. and I met for lunch at the downtown library and there, in the case, was this fantastic looking vegan bean dish. Just from the looks of it, it appeared to have three or four different types of beans, onions, tomatoes, maybe some kind of squash, all in a kind of hearty thick stew. Mmm, can’t you taste it just me describing it?
Well, the dude behind the counter insisted that I should try it, which I thought was weird, but okay. And try it I did and… ugh… no. Not good. It was as if the cook thought “Oh, hey, mustard goes with beans because you put mustard in cowboy beans” and then thought “But I can’t just use yellow mustard because it’s supposed to be fancy, so I will use this fancy pants mustard.” But, of course, different mustards taste different. So, where as the kind of bland zip of yellow mustard might have been a nice compliment to the sweetness of the beans and onions, the fancy mustard’s spices clashed with and almost overwhelmed the taste of the beans. And it was weird because beans and onions and tomatoes all have good tastes that go together. You might not have even needed anything other than a little salt and pepper.
I had macaroni and cheese instead.
I get that spicing things when you don’t have the option of animal products can, at first, seem tricky. But really, vegetables taste awesome. You don’t have to do anything to them. The other thing is that we live in a world where a lot of cultures eat a ton of vegetarian or very-heavily vegetable based dishes. There is no shame in studying what spices they put together and ripping them off for your own vegan dishes. It’s honesty fine if the innovation in the recipe is just in the non-inclusion of animal products. It doesn’t also have to taste like something that has never existed in the history of the world.
But, on the other hand, a vegan dish shouldn’t be “just like” some meat-based dish. I don’t need vegan pork and beans, you know? Just feed me some yummy vegan bean dish. Hell even with yellow mustard and brown sugar and onions. That’s cool. I don’t need fake pork in it. Plus, I like tofu when it’s prepared as tofu. Again, we have lots of cultures who cook with tofu as a thing itself, not as a fake meat. Please, I beg you. Rip them off.
And then, invite me over for dinner.