Thursday, January 03, 2008

Beans and Brats

For some reason there are a lot of mixed feelings surrounding the faux-meat/dairy product. And quite honestly, I don't get it. I understand the motivation behind wanting to avoid overly-processed foods. The sexy purity of nekkid fruits and veggies is attractive to me as well (and is obviously a healthy lifestyle choice). But I don't quite understand angst directed specifically at meat/dairy-analogues and people's arguments that recipes using either/or are "lesser cuisines." Perhaps they aren't gourmet. Perhaps they are the herbivore equivalent of an omnivorous meal of Hamburger Helper, or Taco Bell, or hotdogs. But isn't there a time and place for that? I mean, most of the people I've heard having minor freak-outs about faux-meat/dairy products I'm *CERTAIN* at some point or another have dabbled in SOME sort of unhealthy food. So what's the difference really? I mean, does it make sense to favor a greasy serving of french fries over, say, some vegan faux-meat chili just because the french fries are not "poseurs" (despite being much more unhealthy)?

Granted, perhaps we don't want to make meat/dairy analogues a staple in our kitchen. (Particularly after reading the VegNews article "The Great Soy Debate" in their Jan/Feb 2008 issue.) But it can't be denied that meat/dairy analogues often act as the gentle hand guiding someone over into a veg lifestyle, and what's so bad about that? I mean, how many times have you heard someone say with shock and mild horror: "Wait: so this isn't ground meat in this chili? Wow. I wouldn't've known if you hadn't told me." And if this little *zap* of realization acts as an impetus for someone to conclude that perhaps the veg lifestyle can be just as fulfilling for the palate as an omnivorous diet, if it can convince someone to make the leap, then WHY BEMOAN THE FAUX-MEAT? Granted, guiding someone into a veg lifestyle where analogues are the majority-rules of every meal is not necessarily a good thing. But if meat/dairy analogues are just a foot-in-the-door, a kind mother showing her child that perhaps the veg lifestyle isn't so scary and foreign as one would think (and reminding them of this every once in a while), then what's the crime?

To me, the long and short of this debate ends on this:

If meat/dairy analogues can get someone to stop eating animals, then why knock it?

Really, there's no crime in liking the taste of something. There is a certain element of culinary snobbery to say otherwise. There's no crime in liking the taste of meat either, really. It's no different than, say, liking the taste of a banana. It's just a flavor, something stimulating our tastebuds in a certain sort of way. So if someone can scratch the palate's itch with a product that *doesn't* involve suffering, then why the rolled eyes? Criticizing people for digging on a fake-hotdog is like telling someone "I can't believe you like the taste of pickles/onion rings/potatoes/green beans." Who the hell does that?

Tastes vary so wildly from person to person, and that's what makes things interesting. Taste also changes from day-to-day, from year-to-year, for every individual--it is kind of the slut of the five senses. Just a handful of years ago, I hated the taste of beer, soup, and beans. But now I adore all three and can't get enough of them. Our appreciation of the plethora of flavors in the world is a complex one and never remains static. So, seriously: if you wouldn't criticize someone for preferring raspberry jam over blackberry, then why criticize someone for liking the flavor of faux-meat?

If the unhealthiness of someone's faux-meat-laden diet concerns you, then perhaps gently bring that fact to their attention. But to lambast meat/dairy analogues as though they bear the mark of the devil? Well, that's just silliness.

All that being said and done, is today's recipe gourmet? Not so much. Is it sort of the equivalent of, say, a quick Hamburger Helper meal? Yeah. But it's also really quite tasty. And minus the faux-sausages, ain't nothing bad in it for you. Even *WITH* the faux-sausages, it's not incredibly bad for you--no worse than having a vegan beer-brat for lunch, 'cept that this also includes some veggies as well and some protein in the form of beans. It's also quite kid-friendly, I'd venture to argue.

My friend QBL whipped this up for a work potluck recently, and it was tasty enough that I decided to try whipping up a batch on my own this past weekend. And seriously: good stuff. And quick stuff. And faux-meaty stuff. But I DON'T CARE! Because it tastes good, dammit.

  • One 14-oz package vegan bratwurst sausages (such as tofurky beer brats), sliced into 1/2-inch rounds

  • 3 large leeks, halved, white and light green parts sliced into 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 cups)

  • One 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes

  • One 15-oz can no-salt added cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

  • 3/4 c. water

  • 3 T. molasses


Heat large non-stick pan over medium-high heat and coat with cooking spray. Add bratwurst and cook 3 minutes per side, or until browned. Transfer to plate.

Coat pan with cooking spray again, increase heat to high, and add leeks. Cook 4 minutes, or until leeks are brown around the edges, stirring halfway through. Add tomatoes and liquid, beans, molasses, water, and bratwurst. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer 5 minutes, or until heated through and liquid is thickened.

(from the Jan/Feb 2008 issue of the VT, p. 42)

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