Friday, May 9, 2014

To be a vegan or not to be

Reaching the age of fifty plus (please don’t ask plus what) makes one aware of proper nutrition and the importance of veggies. Never mind that they were taught back in prep school; it often takes 5 decades for some learning to sink in, and eating vegetables is one of them.

In theory, I’ve done my homework and know not only the vitamins and minerals, but also the PUFAs and the MUFAs (poly- and mono-unsaturated fatty acids to you). But actually practicing and eating nutritious and healthy food is definitely a much more difficult thing to swallow than theory.

I think it is not a good idea to drum on veggie hotdogs, veggie meat, gluten ham, tofu liver spread – they just highlight the craving for meat. The wars waged against meat, GMOs and processed food sound like overkill to me. I believe that the focus should be more on making veggies and fruits more delicious and appetizing on the dinner table, not by making meats look more evil. And certainly not by making poor substitutes like rubbery gluten ham that does not taste like ham at all – these only glorify the real ham because, the truth is, nothing would taste like ham but the real thing. Veggies and fruits must taste good because they taste good, not because they can be made to taste like something else. (I've even stopped using my best nonstick cookware that has Teflon in favor old cast iron, stainless steel, and old copper pots and pans.)

Well, hard-line vegans will dismiss this as baloney, but going vegan all the way is so unappetizing and unappealing. If the bigger chunk of the populace were to be the target, then that’s no way to promote vegetables. It’s not a feasible idea to turn people used to eating sizzling golden glazed baby back ribs to make a 360-degree turn and eat tasteless blanched greens.

I do my part by eating greens, nuts, fruits, beans and lentils, roots and rhizomes, stems, sprouts, seeds, kernels and grains, vegetable and fruit-based oils, and herbs and aromas. In fact, I think that the secret to making the palate enjoy vegetables and fruits is variation - not only in taste, but variation in color and texture.

Growing up, I saw eating vegetables as a chore and a form of discipline which I had to comply with. Who wanted chores, anyway? Eating vegetables was equated, somehow, with punishment. It is no wonder that children grew to prefer other food. These kids grow to become parents themselves, and unwittingly transfer the same feelings to their children.

I have a big transparent jar of mixed nuts, corn kernels, peas, dates, raisins and corn flakes that I place in the living room. The children demolish them while watching movies on weekends. They don’t even need coaching. Again, it is the variation of taste and texture that they find appealing. I wonder if they’d munch with the same gusto if the jar was filled just with peas. They would take a few handfuls maybe, but not with the delight that they showed every time they dipped their hand inside the jar and came up with an exciting mix.

When we started with our backyard garden, it was with a few boxes of lettuces, kale, collards, mustard greens, and spinach.  The most edible to me, then, were the lettuces. With heavy mayonnaise, the lettuces were usually drowned in the sinfully oily dressing. But later, I discovered that lettuces were just as tasteful as they are; and when mixed with dates, toasted almonds, tomatoes, and a splash of mustard or vinegar, I could feast on them. The fun thing was, when the children saw me eating with obvious delight, they helped themselves with the salad, too, then munched like they would any other food. It has not been difficult to make them eat veggies ever since. 

I’m a moderate vegetarian with love for good meat and poultry. But I could also devour bowls of purely veggie-and-fruit mixes. The secret, like I said, is in the variation playing on your tongue. That it’s healthy for you, too, is a bonus.

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