Food is complicated. Too complicated, really. But I love food, so I spend a lot of time thinking about it. And there is no shortage of fodder. Books like Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions, and documentaries such as Food Inc., and Forks Over Knives keep my brain reeling.
Blame the long winter, but I’ve been doing an above average amount of soul searching lately about what I eat and why. And it’s recently struck me that I want to revert back to a vegetarian diet.
Most (but certainly not all) of the animal products I’ve been eating are byproducts of a happy life, raised by people I know and trust. I firmly believe that the small farms I buy meat from, like like Hermit Creek Farm and Pasture Perfect Poultry, create vital ecological systems that are healthy and sustainable. And it feels good to be a part of that cycle. So it’s been confusing to have vegetarianism tugging at my sleeve.
I originally became a vegetarian at the ripe age of twelve. I distinctly remember the day I realized that there even was such a thing. An entire group of people who consciously didn’t eat animals? These, I knew, were my people.
My twelve-year-old logic was twofold. I loved animals almost more than anything as a kid. My heart was (and still is) a giant sinkhole of compassion for anything and everything living. I’m the type that says a silent blessing for roadkill. Additionally, I didn’t really like meat – the taste, the texture – nothing about it turned me on. And that’s saying something because my mother is known for her cooking. I certainly couldn’t blame my distaste on dried out chops and rubbery chicken.
I shared this breakthrough with my mom who only responded with, “That’s fine, but you’re not just going to eat noodles and butter.” She then embarked on learning (and teaching me) how to cook like a proper vegetarian. Talk about a mom on her game.
As I learned more about food politics, my reasons grew more ethically and environmentally based. By college I was dabbling with a vegan diet. Though when life landed me on a small organic farm in northern Maine I dutifully tried reintroducing meat – mostly out of a notion that I should take responsibility and be a part of the ecological loop I was helping to create. But it didn’t stick.
Years later, after working with scores of small, sustainably oriented farmers, meat slowly crept back into my diet. I even came to like it. Kind of. The overall number of meat to vegetarian recipes in the Pig archives should tell you something about where my loyalties lie.
I’ve also been studying the Yoga Sutras this winter. And the first yama, ahimsa – which translates to “do no harm” – really resonates with me. It’s funny, but it took reading it in print to wake up the twelve year old in me. Maybe I’m oversimplifying and skirting details, but if I allow myself to be a kid again, all I can say is that it just feels better not to eat animals – even ones that are impeccably raised.
And for now, that works. I’m trusting my instinct and it feels good. I’ve been rediscovering falafel wraps, hot rutabaga melts, and yes – noodles. But not just any noodles, and certainly not just noodles and butter (thank you mother). I’m talking soba noodles, crunchy vegggies, and flavors so simple that all they can do is shine. I used short sprouted mung beans for this dish, but traditional long mung bean sprouts (or any other sprout) will work just fine.
Fried Noodles with Broccoli & Bean Sprouts
(Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Food)
5 ounces noodles (soba, udon, or curly ramen)
3 Tablespoons peanut oil
2-3 Tablespoons fresh grated ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups broccoli
2 large handfuls bean sprouts
4 scallions, sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese cooking wine (shao shing)
Salt and red pepper flakes to taste
Cook noodles in a large pot of salted water until they are barely done and still toothsome. Drain and toss well with 2 tablespoons oil.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a hot wok or large skillet. Add ginger and garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the broccoli and bean sprouts, cooking for another minute or two. Tip in the noodles and stir-fry for about 2 minutes, keeping everything moving over hot heat. Add the scallions, soy sauce and cooking wine. Stir-fry for another minute and remove from heat. Season with a bit of coarse salt and red pepper flakes to taste. (Serves 2-3)