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The Great Seitan??

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“Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, and an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food.” – Anthony Bourdain, “Kitchen Confidential,” p. 70

Tell us how you really feel, Anthony!

Of course, vegetarians and vegan chefs were not about to take this crude, carnivorous cri de coeur lying down, and thus was born Hezbollah Tofu, a blog where vegan chefs are systematically veganizing chef Bourdain’s most celebrated recipes. They plan on selling the resulting compilation, and donating the proceeds to vegan causes (farm sanctuaries, public education, etc) in Bordain’s name. Take that, Anthony!

This topic brings up a whole host of questions for me, as a Jew and as a self-professed foodie who also strives to eat sustainably (although not regularly animal-product free):

pasta-with-morels.jpg-How offended should we be by either side appropriating Hezbollah as a rallying cry? Is this just one step above “food Nazis,” or is it more permissible? What if A.B. had called vegans “Al Qaeda?” “Hamas?”

-Is veganizing meat recipes really the best way to honor the plethora of meat-free choices available to us, via CSA’s farmers’ markets, and other fresh produce? Or, as one of the commenters on Metafilter, where I originally saw this post put it, “Sorbet is great. Tofutti sucks. Pasta with morels and olive oil is great. Spaghetti and mockballs are nasty. Tofu baked in peanut sauce is good. Tofu shaped like a weenie and stuffed in a bun is gross.”

-What about fake treif? Why does Jackie Mason (as stand-in for the observant Jewish world) care if I eat a mock-cheeseburger?

Photo credits:
Tournedos d’Seitan with Poached Figs by Vegan Menu.
Pasta with Morel and Asparagus Cream Sauce by Pro Bono Baker.

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12 Responses to “The Great Seitan??”

  1. Leah Koenig Says:

    Fascinating post, Eric! As a food writer, I often think about how my vegetarian diet limits my career – I could never review restaurants or make it as a travel writer, for example, b/c I cannot eat half the things on the menu, or served in other countries.

    That said, I think Bourdain is not just out of line, but incorrect to suggest that there is no joy in a vegetarian diet.

    As for your “mockballs and tofu weenie in a bun” question – I generally prefer making vegetarian dishes that sing on their own (via the farmers’ market veggies you mention), without the need for “fake” meat. Still, there are some restaurants in New York (and elsewhere), God bless ‘em, that can make seitan do incredibly delicious things. And I’m discovering that it’s not so hard to replicate some of those delicious dishes at home.

  2. Katie Says:

    I am a little irked by the “Hezbollah Tofu” name. Hopefully their cookbook won’t have that name.
    Overall I’d say that like Leah I prefer vegetarian dishes that work on their own – lately I’ve been cooking a lot from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” and he espouses a similar philosophy. However, I think there’s room for the mock meat stuff, especially for people who are changing to a less animal-centered diet later in life (sort of the Linda McCartney approach). I made Bittman’s version of ma po tofu the other night, and my husband had no idea that the “ground beef” was really crumbled tempeh.

  3. Eric Schulmiller Says:

    For the most part, I prefer real veggies to fake meat, too. Then again, Angelica Kitchen makes an amazing seitan Reuben! Mark Bittman’s book is great, but why does it seem like every other recipe he introduces in the NYTimes has bacon-wrapped scallops in it??

  4. mollyjade Says:

    There’s a history of calling vegans (and environmentalists in general) terrorists. Humor has the power to help us turn difficult subjects upside down and look at them from a different angle. It lets us put things into perspective. I think Hezbollah Tofu is meant to be in this spirit.

    As far as mock meats, I think there’s a world of difference between the seitan shown above and a tofu dog.

    As a vegan Jew, I’m really glad I came across this post and this blog. I’ll be back often. (Full disclosure: I plan to contribute to Hezbollah Tofu. And I think I can safely say that the blog as a whole welcomes discussions like these. Thanks for holding us up to the light.)

  5. Michael Croland Says:

    Eric, you say the Bourdain quote and this topic raise a lot of question for you – as a Jew, in part – but here’s the key part of it in my eyes: “To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living.”

    What we’re talking about is veal stock (veal should be a no-no to kosher consumers; see http://tinyurl.com/3cbydn) and demi-glace (typically made with veal stock), pork fat and sausage (definite no-nos to Jews), organ meat (if we’re talking about foie gras, this should be a no-no to anyone concerned about tza’ar ba’alei chayim; see http://tinyurl.com/33txsw), and stinky cheese (I’m not an expert on this, but I’m *guessing* that one thing that makes some cheeses particularly smelly is rennet—typically enzymes from cow’s stomachs that are used to make the cheese—and it should be noted that cheeses with conventional rennet are off limits to kosher consumers).

    So where does that leave Jews concerned about food issues? Far, far away from Bourdain … and maybe even a little offended!

    p.s. Mollyjade, here’s a shameless plug for another blog that might interest you: heebnvegan.blogspot.com :)

  6. Besse Paix Says:

    You wrote, “How offended should we be by either side appropriating Hezbollah as a rallying cry? Is this just one step above “food Nazis,” or is it more permissible? What if A.B. had called vegans “Al Qaeda?” “Hamas?””

    I believe a more offensive term for the vegans would be Zionists. Just saying.

  7. Eric Schulmiller Says:

    Hey, Leah, I believe we have a troll on our hands.

  8. Elaine Vigneault Says:

    “Is veganizing meat recipes really the best way to honor the plethora of meat-free choices available to us”

    As someone who have been an almost life-long vegetarian, I welcome new and interesting veg foods of any sort. I don’t consider veganizing recipes to be anything other than providing me with more food choices.

    More to the point: The only way anyone could ask your question seriously is if they take meat as the default and marginalize veg*n foods.

  9. Eric Schulmiller Says:

    I disagree, Elaine.

    My question is not meant to marginalize vegan foods. Farm-fresh vegetables or fruits from my CSA are as much “vegan foods” as seitan or tempeh. My point was about the application of ingredients. I just find that in most recipes, having one ingredient “imitate” another turns out to be a poor substitute for the real thing – whether you’re imitating an animal, vegetable or mineral, the principal is the same.

  10. Phil Says:

    Much later…

    I simply use the recipes I like as a jumping off point for what I cook. Do imitate fail? Most of the time. I don’t want to create an imitation of whatever, I use the original to create something new and perhaps better.

    It is a very bad cook who is locked into one method of cooking because that indeed is the only way they can cook. For a person to say I have to use XXX ingredients means that might be all the person knows how to cook with and is a total failure at anything else. I would question if Mr. B could cook anything without “veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese” and make that successful.

    Ingredients and combinations are an adventure. Recipes are a jumping off point. Do I sub? Yes but then you aren’t going to get his recipe Veganized or Vegetarianized, you are going to get my recipe with ideas from his and frankly sometimes his recipes are pure gastric reflux no matter how they taste going down.

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