I had two simultaneous realizations as I was making dinner last night: (1) nearly everything I make in the kitchen is vegan. (2) I’ve never actually used the word vegan in this food blog of mine. Why is that?
Classification unsettles me. Not to fit my liberal arts education stereotype too obviously, but it’s true—I never know what to make of a world of “this” and not “that” with no room for the evolution of value and understanding. And while this topic could expand into much more than what foods I choose to eat, I’ll stick to food for now.
Let’s make things clear. I am not a vegan. But I have been a vegetarian for more than half my life now, and have added “dairy-free” to that label for the last seven years. But you know, life is flexible. When I’m in Alaska and my friend offers me his freshly caught salmon or a piece of caribou that he hunted himself, I’m going to eat that salmon or caribou—guilt free.
I could probably trace my thread of vegetarianism back to my dad. In an effort to support life in whatever way he could, my dad became a vegetarian during his service in Vietnam. He kept up the practice more or less for several years and introduced me to yaki-udon with vegetables and tofu. So there you go, in some way or another, his story influenced me and planted the seed for vegetarianism. Kids are so impressionable.
But I’ve stuck with it for 16 years, so it must mean something to me, right? So what is it? Haven’t people been eating animals since homo erectus walked out of Africa? What about subsistence cultures that still exist today who depend on meat for survival? Or farmers (like my brother and his girlfriend) who raise happy, free-range hens, pigs, goats and rabbits for consumption? On a biological level, aren’t human beings omnivores who are meant to eat meat!? All these points are valid, and I’ve given each of them some serious thought. Yet, I remain a vegetarian.
My husband is a vegetarian. A vegetarian who eats bacon but not cheese. Some people find his practice hypocritical and they like to tell him that, to which he simply responds in his dry, professorial British accent: know thyself. Although his answer is often received with a fair amount of humor and exaggerated eyebrow raising, his point is a good one. Food choices, political choices, big fat life decisions, all rest on this point. So when I think about that, when I try to know myself and apply such knowledge to my vegetarian-almost-vegan diet, I come to a simple conclusion. I have a deep interest in what steers us in life—the intangible moorings that hold us to something infinitely bigger than ourself. For me, one of these intangible yet all-encompassing ideas is that of non-violence. Being a vegetarian is something I feel I can do, right now. It is one of my daily contributions to non-violence.
This has been an evolution for me. An appreciation which only I can measure. Meanwhile, more and more people are becoming interested in incorporating less meat into their diet. My hope is that my blog helps with that. If you are accustomed to relying on animal products for all the taste, richness and substance in your diet, then switching to animal-free food can seem not only daunting but really bland and uninteresting. I am in no way interested in such food! Traditional Japanese food is one of the most complete food systems I’ve ever encountered—as a non-dairy vegetarian, I’ve found Japanese food to be really satisfying, easy to incorporate into my life, and just delicious.
So whether you’re reading this blog because you like Japanese food, you are searching for some great vegan recipes, or you are interested in expanding your dietary palette, I hope you find something useful.