Our regular dog walk takes us by a chicken coop on one side and a lamb enclosure just across the street. I don’t know either of the families who own these farm animals but of one thing I am sure: no chicken is ever slaughtered for a weekday meal and lamb won’t be served for Easter.
The chickens, that come in different plumages, from white to black and everything in between, are plump, happily clucking away, under the vigilant gaze of the rooster. I am told their eggs are sold at local farmers’ markets. The lambs – two whites and two blacks – are guarded by a German shepherd, and I imagine the family, with young kids, milking them and, maybe, making yogurt and cheese. We live in the age of the semi-urban farm animals that never end on the dinner table, halfway between adored pets and supermarket alternatives.
Last Friday, a friend invited me to have dinner at Crossroads, the most acclaimed vegan restaurant in Los Angeles, the kind celebrities have anointed as the place to be. I was excited, because I have been craving vegan food more and more and I anticipated a great meal. I wasn’t disappointed.
The chef and owner, Tal Ronnen, made a name for himself catering to prominent celebrities but his belief is real: he has been a vegan since he was a teenager. The kitchen sent us some complimentary “cigars”, thin rolls of deep-fried phyllo dough, with a mysterious filling. I bit into one.
“What’s in it?” my friend asked
“I am not sure but it tastes like meat.”
It really did. It’s called Impossible Meat and it’s made by Impossible Foods (if you check the website you will not believe how real the burger looks). The tagliatelle carbonara could also have nearly fooled any meat eater: the egg yolk plopped on top looked real (apparently made with a tomato juice reduction) and the smoked mushrooms did taste like bacon. But, to me, the meal was dazzling in what it could accomplish with the dishes that did not try to reproduce meat: the silkiest and tenderest braised tempeh (made in-house) I have ever come across; the lightly smoked lentil flatbread; the truffled potatoes.
I do see the need, though, for creating meat alternatives that might, just might, convert some omnivores to leave animals alone (and helping the environment in the process). I wrote a while ago about my moral apprehension at eating animals and, two years later, I see things changing. Even if this is just Los Angeles, always at the forefront of such cultural shifts, the change feels real and I hope it will catch on. Veganism is no longer for pale looking hippies.
On one of the latest Skype sessions, sofagirl also confessed to struggling with each chicken morsel (neither she nor I eat any other meat, and chicken very occasionally for me). She told me she looks at animals differently, as more sentient beings than she would have given them credit for a mere ten years ago. Living with a pet would do that. Change the perspective, I mean. Once you see up close the level of sophisticated thought processing and depth of feeling an animal can have, it’s a skip and a hop to applying the same metric to other animals.
The problem with vegan food is that to make it that tasty, that appetizing, the work that goes into it is hard to reproduce at home, unless one’s only mission in life is to prepare meals. But, step by step, as the demand grows, I am confident the food industry will find a way to meet consumers half-way. I recently tasted a coconut yogurt (from fermented coconut milk) that, if not for the price tag, would make me abandon cow’s or goat’s milk yogurt forever. A vegan cheese shop has opened in West Hollywood. Synthetic meat is not so far behind.
It will take another generation, or more, for this shift to take hold but I have no doubt it will. In my little patch of the world, I have been opening up to experimenting with vegan cooking more and more, taking inspiration from some of the excellent – if convoluted – cookbooks by the most renowned vegan chefs around. Changing my cooking process and the palates of those I feed can be slow going (my vegan chili last night was not a hit). My palate has already changed and so has my attitude towards animals. If I used to advocate for more humane killing now I am moving towards no killing at all.
Some things stay muddled or complicated as I get older. Others, though, become incredibly clear.
All images from the Crossroads website