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The changing attitude towards veganism

Posted in Food & Entertaining

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

Should animals have (human) rights?

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12 Comments

  1. Sono praticamente vegetariana. I ristoranti vegani provati qui fin’ora, ecco, fanno pietà

    April 11, 2017
    |Reply
    • Non ho dubbi. Ci vorra’ un po’ di tempo. Quelli di 15 anni fa qui erano terribili.

      April 11, 2017
      |Reply
      • Magari in 15 anni mi converto

        April 12, 2017
        |Reply
  2. As a longtime vegetarian, I gotta say…that burger totally looks just like a meat burger and the pics from Crossroads make a vegan lifestyle very compelling. I look forward to expansion of Impossible Foods in markets and not just in restaurants.

    April 11, 2017
    |Reply
    • Right now they only supply a handful of restaurants. I would imagine they are trying to increase production and looking for distribution channels.

      April 11, 2017
      |Reply
      • I did some looking around on the web about them and remain optimistic they will expand with all the good press.

        April 12, 2017
        |Reply
  3. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot over recent months too (not so much veganism, but at least vegetarianism, and, at the very least, reducing how much meat I eat). I’d like to think that I’ve changed the way I think about meat consumption, but I don’t know if I could ever completely exclude meat from my diet…

    As for artificial meat – something about that just doesn’t seem right. Sure, it might taste fine, but I find it hard to get past the fact that it must be highly processed :/

    April 11, 2017
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    • That is what I thought but I am missing it less and less. But, then again, I was never a big fan.

      April 11, 2017
      |Reply
  4. winstonmoreton
    winstonmoreton

    Years ago when the current President of the US was receiving foot treatment to cancel out his Triple-A military draft rating I was working in a Melbourne abattoir. One lunch break I was exploring the place on my own and heard cattle bellowing; so I climbed an outside stairway to watch dozens of steers being pushed up a ramp, one at a time, to (I’ll spare the details). It was hugely physical and gory and loud; I was shocked and sickened but I forced myself to man-up and stayed to watch. After 20 or so beasts had been processed I became relatively immune to the suffering to the point I became a dispassionate observer. Had I been ordered by my employer to assist I would. It obviously affected me though because the memory remains vivid. I can describe that long ago half hour, down to the colour of the hides and the whites of their eyes. If seen by the general public the sight and sound, and the smell, involved in the production of those shiny red packets we buy in supermarkets, would probably accelerate the growth of veganism.

    April 11, 2017
    |Reply
    • If people knew exactly how animals are killed they might be less willing to eat meat for a while. But the connection between supermarket chicken breast and abattoir is a tenuous one in most consumers’ minds. I am impressed you worked in one!

      April 11, 2017
      |Reply

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