Sunday, August 28, 2011

Anthony Bourdain would like our papaya latkes

That's right, papaya latkes. Substitute shredded green papaya for potato, and you've got a sweeter, more nutritious version of the Jewish soul food standard. You're welcome.

Anthony Bourdain would probably sneer at our sausage and peppers, made with vegetarian sausage substitute, and he'd probably scoff at our delicious beet and carrot slaw, but there's no way he could bite into our papaya latkes without heaping hyperbolic praise on them. They're that good.

Ditto for Paula Deen. I mean, how could she not love something this simple, and this fried?

The point of all this is that our nearly vegan diet shouldn't be seen as threatening to anybody, and we don't see ourselves as morally superior to anybody. That's why we were a bit taken aback by Bourdain's asinine comment that, "Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans ... are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit." The problem for Bourdain is that a vegan diet takes too many tools out of his kit, "To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living." The problem for people like us, who love the taste of all these foods but are prone to high cholesterol, is that they make life a little difficult to live. So we've started weening ourselves off meat, eggs and dairy as a way of preserving our health. And in the process we've stumbled upon another way of reducing our environmental footprint.

So where does Paula Deen come into this? Well, Bourdain recently scolded her in TV Guide, “I would think twice before telling an already obese nation that it is OK to eat food that is killing us.” He has a point there. Deen, the multi-millionaire entertainment figure, shot back, “You know, not everybody can afford to pay $58 for prime rib or $650 for a bottle of wine. My friends and I cook for regular families who worry about feeding their kids and paying the bills . . . It wasn’t that long ago that I was struggling to feed my family, too.” She, too, has a point, even if it is disingenuous.

Both Bourdain and Deen make serious coin celebrating comfort food. He just travels more. Neither of them has any pretense toward eating healthy food, which is fine, and both revel in populism. The problem is that neither can pronounce the word "vegan" without sneering, and here Paula Deen may be more dangerous. When she perpetuates the myth that eating fresh vegetables - preferably organic - is culinary elitism (in the unfortunate phrasing of Frank Bruni), she forecloses the possibility of healthier and more sustainable eating for her huge numbers of fans. Want a challenge, Food Network celebrity chefs? Try making delicious, affordable meals without pork fat, butter and sugar. We'd watch that show.

As for us, we're not really strict vegans, as we proved Friday night. We're cool with the occasional bacon and chocolate combo. And the deep fried pickles aren't exactly on the South Beach Diet. And that's the point, really: diet isn't about denying ourselves, it's about enjoying what we eat.

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