A few years back, a new friend proudly announced that she was a ‘foodie’. When I told her I guessed I was too, she smiled and bluntly informed me that since I was vegan, I couldn’t possibly be a foodie. I laughed it off, but took offense and my thoughts have returned to that conversation several times since.
So what is it to be a foodie? Wikipedia defines a foodie as someone with an “ardent or refined interest in food,” and who seeks out food experiences as a hobby rather than out of necessity. In this regard, my friend has a point – since I was vegan, there were certain foods that I would not experience. However this was not due to some lack in my sense of adventure, but rather because I had made a conscious choice.
Interestingly, it was during my four years as a vegan that I gained the most appreciation for what I was eating. At the beginning, I tried to mimic meals I was used to eating, but grilled tofu with potatoes and some greens gets tired really quickly. Rather than try to make vegan variations of my favorite omnivorous dishes, which disappointed almost every time, I began scouring recipes designed to be vegetarian or vegan – making a lot of curries, stir-fries, soups, chilies and casseroles.
Removing meat, dairy and eggs wasn’t the most significant change I made – it was the attention I needed to pay to what I was buying at the grocery store. Because non-vegan ingredients are not always obvious, I needed to educate myself as to what strange-sounding ingredients are derived from milk (casein), or beetles (carmine). Because I was reading every label so carefully, I became aware of the huge number of wacky ingredients, vegan and otherwise, that make their way into the food we eat every day – like polydimethylsiloxane, whatever the heck that is. I informed myself not only about what these ingredients were, but the ways that different foods were produced, how much energy/water/land was required to produce each, and how it affected the country of origin.
Finding uses for every part of an animal or plant is not only a trademark of thrift – it is one of respect, both toward the animal or plant you are consuming and toward those who have less. One gentleman who has mastered the art of appreciating food and avoiding waste is Fergus Henderson, author of The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating – famous for making gourmet, foodie-approved meals from all parts of the animal, leaving none to waste.
Adventuresome or Conscientious?
Although I’m no longer a vegan, I strive to retain the same conscientiousness toward the food I buy and cook (strive being the operative word here). I strive to be grateful for what I have and not to waste, and to consider the packaging and the sourcing of the food I purchase. It can be so easy to slip out of that conscientiousness – sometimes when I’m looking at two cartons of eggs or two bags of beans and the cost difference for the free-range and organic products seems to stand out more than the quality difference. Recently, an Internet meme (of all things) brought the point home to me – that many of us think nothing of spending four or five dollars on a nice coffee, but balk at the idea of a five dollar carton of eggs. By now the message is old hat, but it still stands – we should rearrange our priorities, not just on a personal level, but on a larger scale too.