Last week, Gordon Ramsay, the meat-loving celebrity chef, tweeted that he is going vegan. The collective gasp on social media says a lot about how we can never fathom a shift as tectonic as this, a meat lover gone astray.
As someone who always prioritises the non-vegetarian options in a restaurant menu, I also find it befuddling that being vegan — a state associated less with a dietary preference but more with ingrained snobbishness — is actually actively sought out by a carnivore. We have teeth, canines to be specific that are useful for tearing meat. We digest the protein pretty well, and the taste – the divine gamey taste of well cut, cooked or smoked meat is only second to good sex. So which vegan dish takes you to food heaven? Which bean stalk do you have to climb to find magic or maybe a seasoned tofu, masquerading as a meatball?
It is perfectly understandable if you have allergies, but what allergy pushes you to eat Tempey, fermented whole soybeans; or use a dried mix of Seitan, a wheat protein, mixed with water instead of mince meat ? Why propagate a copycat cuisine?
A Faux Relationship
A plant protein that tastes like meat, it is more like a dish that would need the shrink’s couch. What kind of healthy relationship can anyone have with food that pretends to be something else? The “fake meat” industry soothes vegan consciences using modified cellulose, egg-replacers and the likes.
In his book
Kitchen Confidential, ‘bad-boy chef’ Anthony Bourdain shares his qualms, “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...”Well, it is easy being snarky to plant eaters, maybe it is the animal instinct we are all filled with.
Ramsay says he is giving being a vegan “a try”, so possibly could be just one meal, and then he gets back to meat cuts. However it still sounds like a crazy idea. As Jeremy Clarkson, the well-travelled,acerbic broadcaster and writer, put it, “Eating a plate of food that contains no animal product of any kind marks you down as a squirrel. Eating only vegetables is like deciding to talk using only consonants. You need vowels or you make no sense.”I couldn’t agree more.
Malabar Paneer. Seriously?
Back home, going vegetarian is the craze, and our milder, calmer celebrity chef, Sanjeev Kapoor managed to get a tinier gasp from Indian Tweeple, with his vote for “Malabar paneer”. Two words that have never ever been uttered in one sentence. Kapoor posted a picture of cottage cheese swimming in coconut milk, with these lines “A wonderful Malabar dish that has the flavours spices and offers several gastronomic opportunities…”
The chef's attempt at fusion food hit a raw nerve with foodies, especially when meat has been replaced with paneer! It was no surprise he got trolled with recipe requests for “Iyer Vindaloo Pork curry”or “Bengali Theplas."
Our food choices are mostly determined by the mood we are in. Does a Kerala fish fry, tempt you? Or do you want to tuck in to a green salad? It is all about individual taste, so can't a world-class chef bloody well eat what he wants? Sure he can. But when big-ticket chefs let go of meat or attempt terrifying combinations it makes us wonder, what will be served up next on their social media feeds.
Sharon Fernandes is a journalist based in Delhi.