When asked if I'm a vegetarian or vegan, I'll reply with "No, but I don't eat animals," rather than getting laden with labels and agendas. Never meat, fish, fowl, or eggs, but always vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and fruits, and, occasionally, artisinal cheeses, although no other dairy.
On the occasional Thursday, I blog 'meatless', on matters of an animal-free diet and issues of the ecology. I'll often inveigle beer (or wine or spirits) into the posts. Beer is, after all, at its core, a fine vegetarian foodstuff. It's liquid grain, made from barley, hops, yeast, and water.
I call this column VeggieDag Thursday, in solidarity with the city of Ghent, in Belgium, which first declared a weekly, city-wide "Donderdag VeggieDag", on Thursday, 14 May 2009.
Here's how author Kim O'Donnel, then a reporter for the Washington Post, reported this:
[Mayor] Tom Balthazar has officially declared Thursday meatless in his city of nearly a quarter million people. In an effort to make the connection between meat consumption and greenhouse gases (18 percent of which come from livestock production), Balthazar has asked his fellow civil servants to abstain from meat every Thursday.
Kim O'Donnel ended her Mighty Appetite column on 10 July 2009, going on to other ventures. She wrote a beautiful and powerful final essay. I've excerpted it here.
I have a very special friend named Ethan, and in just a few days, the grownups in his life will be celebrating his first birthday. <...>
In the few months that my friend’s diet has expanded beyond the bottled facsimile of breast milk, I’ve had the privilege of observing his experiences with this thing called food, a front-row seat at the high-chair theater, complete with bowl tossing, high-pitched screams and other primal expressions of gustatory joy.
One night, I cooked a small pot of red lentils, suggesting to his mother that it’s baby food as Mother Nature had intended, self-pureeing in about 25 minutes. She agrees to the experiment, eager for variety beyond sweet potatoes and applesauce, but me, I’ve got bigger aspirations. I’m secretly hoping that on some level the kid will intuitively understand that his auntie is trying to expose him to the world, that lentils just aren’t lentils; they’re culture and history and nutrition and agriculture. <...>
I wait for his reaction. At first, he grimaces, a sign of cranky uncertainty, but he forges ahead, masticating like a champ. He sings that “num, num, num” song and the chubby legs begin to swing in excitement beneath the counter. He grins wide, with all four teeth, and readily receives a second helping. Folks, I think we’ve got a winner.
As I prepared for today’s final entry, I thought a lot about Ethan and the purity of his experience with food. It’s free of judgment and pre-conceived notions and instead filled with wonder, joy and openness, a sensory interaction of the highest order. And now his tongue knows lentils, something my tongue didn’t experience until I was in my 20s.
Ethan may grow up to hate lentils -- and kamut bulgur and all the other things I’ve got planned for him to taste. But taste is all you can do in this life. My father was insistent that we try everything at least once before deciding we didn’t like something on our plates, and I think that’s a good rule of thumb for many aspects of life.
Try everything once. Be open to the flavors, textures and aromas that life presents you, both smooth and velvety as well as sharp and bitter. Open your mouth and taste something new everyday -- or something familiar in a different way.
When was the last time you bit into a radish? Really tasted mustard from a spoon? Listened to the crunch of a potato chip? Smelled the perfume of sauteed onions?
Life is delicious, every minute of every day. Life is also precious. So let’s get busy.