My friend, Joseph Shuldiner, who wrote a beautiful sexy book called “Pure Vegan” and I decided to a joint book signing for our books (“The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” for me) in the Real Butcher Shop, a new store in Santa Fe brought into being by Tom Delehanty. Tom has been a chicken farmer in New Mexico for the past 20 or so years. The meat he sources for his shop is all from the West, grass fed, raised with care, and definitely not from CAFOs. He also sells the offal, and he also makes vegan/vegetarian stocks, gives space to a baker who is making breads from ancient grains, and he has a few excellent raw milk cheeses and other raw dairy. He plans to feature vegetables as the season progresses (and a farmer was present that day) and the store finds its stride. In short, he’s mixing things up while offering wholesome, nourishing food that’s traceable and has integrity. And since Joseph and I feel that we try to do the same in our work, only without the animals, we thought, why not join forces with Tom? I posted about the event on Facebook and those who were offended were free to let me know. And I do understand.
But I believe in the open table, a place where people can come to eat regardless of preferences, labels, and such, where vegan, vegetarian and omnivore can sit down together and break bread together. Exploring inclusiveness has always been the intention behind my work, and while I thoroughly enjoy the meatless meals I cook, I don’t like a label that pushes others away so I’ve never really felt comfortable with the word “vegetarian.” I don’t use it to describe an exclusive lifestyle, but more as an option. (That’s why it’s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.”) We can all enjoy plant foods and have meals that are without meat whether we do so everyday, only on Monday’s, or on more or less frequent occasions.
Today, more than any other time, plant based way of eating is respected and even seen as valuable to one’s health and well-being. A meatless meal is now a viable option to the usual menu offerings of lamb, salmon, chicken and beef, regardless of who is eating. When recently interviewed by a graduate student who was doing a project on plant-based diets I was taken aback when he said, by way of introducing a question, “Nutritionists today say that with a plant based or vegetarian diet you’ll get all the nutrition you need.” I had to ask him if I had heard him correctly, because that’s a huge change. The questions used to be, “Do you get enough protein?” And the assumption was you weren’t. (Another reason for saying I wasn’t a vegetarian – I didn’t want to answer that question all my life.) Nutritionists, dieticians, and doctors were very concerned about all the lacking elements in a meatless diet. No more, apparently, and that’s terrific. Now it’s a plus not to eat meat.
In the 30 plus years I’ve been involved with cooking dishes based on plants rather than meat, vegetarians have gone from being weirdos who had to defend their diets to something entirely more mainstream. Now it’s not a big deal if you say you’re a vegetarian or a vegan. And one might be a hardcore or simply experimenting. I have a niece who says she’s a vegan because she doesn’t trust or like the animal foods that are offered as part of the meal plan in college. She grew up on a farm and has parents who discern the differences between industrial food and well-raised food. Does that mean she’s really a vegan? For the moment, it’s a strategy. It might stick or not. I’ve taught more than one vegetarian cooking classes in which someone confesses that although they’ve been a strict vegetarian for twenty years they now dream of eating turkey. It’s possible that we change. I also know a 3rd generation Australian vegetarian (unlikely, when you think about it) who doesn’t even know the taste of meat and isn’t curious about it nor does he think of its absence as a lack. Others might be happy little vegetarians until they smell that roast pork shoulder studded with garlic and laced with rosemary or that roast chicken being pulled from the oven, then they succumb to something larger and possibly more fundamental than their ideals.
It’s also quite possible that one can be truly offended by the smell of meat. And the thought of animals being killed. After all, none go willingly to slaughter. I think about this a lot. Such people shouldn’t come to a butcher shop for a vegetarian book signing, but others might come and also take advantage of those vegan stocks, those nutty-chewy breads, that raw milk and amazing raw milk cheeses—even if they don’t eat meat. Hopefully there is room for all kinds in this world. In fact, the event was included a great big happy mix of people. Some ignored the meat. Others ignored me and Joseph. But it all felt good. Kind of like family.