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Monday, January 25, 2016

Kale: The Vegan Hair Shirt

Since I started a website for Adventist Potluck Vegetarian cuisine (stuff you can make on Friday
Kale - The "Holiness" Church of Cabbages
and take to church for potluck on Sabbath and reheat and it still tastes good), I have been the periodic target of militant vegans.
These radical vegetarians find my use of eggs, cheese, milk, wheat gluten, soy products and cream of mushroom soup offensive.  Also my lack of outrage over GMOs and my failure to insist on organic products, seems to rankle as well.

Why is it that every time you try to make things nice for folk, there's always someone who comes along who wants to put a hair shirt on it. For those of you unfamiliar with medieval monastic practices, supposedly celibate monks of the middle and dark ages used to believe in a quasi-sexual practice call "mortifying the flesh".  Basically they would cut themselves, whip themselves with cute little whips, starve themselves and generally get naked and hurt themselves in some titillating fashion. Let's face it, monasteries were kind of like asylums for sado-masochists in many cases. They did some good, but there was an awful lot of really disturbing behavior behind those walls, one of which was the hair shirt. A hair shirt was an animal skin worn inside out so the hair was next to the skin. It poked you, made you itch unbearably, and kept the fleas close to you.

Haystacks are way better than hair shirts.
The point of all this self-induced pain was supposedly for the purpose of getting yourself right before God. I cannot imagine, though, how God could look down on a 58 year-old portly naked man slapping himself across his own buttocks with a rawhide whip and think "Now there's a guy who's really right with me!" There's always a human kind of vanity that says, I can do you one better and takes pride in its ability to suffer more than others.  They believe that this earns them special status with God or at least bragging rights for being holier than everyone else.

My favorite Vege-meal: Barbecued Tender-Bits
I believe along with my fellow Adventists that the body is the temple of the Lord and that we ought to take care of it. That's why Adventists pay attention to keeping up our bodies in good shape. Statistically, our lifestyle gives us an extra six or seven years more than typical Americans. We believe our brains are a conduit to God and that if we keep it reasonably healthy we can draw closer to him. It's also a good way to avoid heart attacks and cancer too by happy chance. So we follow scripture-based health practices like avoiding certain kinds of foods, we believe in exercise, and we have a quite ambitious medical work that we support worldwide. 

That said, most of us tend to be vegetarians, or at least what I call "mostly lacto-ovo vegetarians with an occasional tuna sandwich".  My website "The Potluck Vegetarian" is dedicated to the sort of Adventist potluck dinners I grew up with. The food is unique and quite delicious. Adventists invented The Haystack, for instance. It's basically I giant Tex-Mex salad consisting of either Fritos or Tortilla chips (there are minor theological differences as to which is the correct base for haystacks). Atop the corn chip base you then pile, Ranch Style Beans and/or Vegeburger, lettuce, tomatoes and cheddar cheese, maybe some sour cream, Ranch or Catalina salad dressing and a smattering of olives. Other ingredients are added or subtracted depending on the local culture. In Hawaii some churches make haystacks with pineapple in them. I tried that and it's really good. Adventism is a mission-intensive faith and so there are literally thousands of local versions of the haystack around the world. This happened because it's easy to make them for potluck and will feed hundreds on a giant pot of beans and a dozen heads of lettuce.  

King Ranch Vegetarian Chicken (uses mushroom soup)
The standard SDA casserole base is cream of mushroom soup. Used in various oatmeal patty recipes and grain-protein dishes, mushroom soup has been the go-to wet-base for potluck casseroles for decades. Cheese, melted over enchilada casseroles, lasagna, and other tasty reheatable casseroles has long been a standard protein source for Adventists, especially since most cheese is now made with vegetable rennet rather than the traditional pig-based rennet. Anyway, Adventist cooks like my beloved grandmother have come up with thousands of amazing dishes you can make on a Friday and serve on Saturday after church when everyone gathers for potluck - the Adventist version of a feast. And they all use a fairly basic set of ingredients that Adventist keep in their cupboards. She used to make a peanut butter loaf that was amazing.

ENTER THE MILITANT VEGANS! These dour, and usually unhappy people inevitably intrude upon the scene of potluck celebrations and commence to criticizing the vegan orthodoxy of everything in sight. If you use lettuce in the salad, they'll stand over the bowl and loudly enough to be heard at the far end of the hall, announce that lettuce has no nutrients and that you should have used kale!

Kale, I believe, is the vegan version of the hair shirt.

I've tried kale just to make 'em happy.  I firmly believe that there is a reason God made so kale so rare that it's expensive. It tastes bad. I'm sure some caterpillar somewhere loves the stuff and turns into a beautiful butterfly after eating it, but to me it tastes like dirt on an oak leaf.  And I know what oak leaves taste like. I lived most of my formative years in the tops of North Texas oak trees.

Non-Vegan Cottage Cheese Loaf
The Vegans have so far told me not to eat cheese, milk, sugar, cream of mushroom soup, wheat gluten, wheat flour, soy products of any kind,  avocados, bananas or any form of flour that doesn't cost $4.50 a pound. And do NOT let them get started on GMOs! Pretty much anything that tastes good is off the table with these guys. And don't believe them when they tell you something they made that is organic, non-GMO, high-fiber and vegan and brought to potluck is just delicious. Don't taste it unless you are prepared to tell an untruth when they say, "Isn't that just delicious?"  One hates to tell them the dish they slaved over for 13 hours tastes like a plywood and sand sandwich.

Militant Vegans do like the idea of raw kale and carrots and other RAW foods. I capitalized it because when they say RAW foods, it comes out like a kind of roar - imagine charging Mongolian hordes and you kind of get the sound.  But even their favorite RAW foods are not safe.  Recently I saw carrots blasted as unhealthy by one of these Super Vegans.  Apparently someone like me shredded carrots, sauteed them in olive oil (not the expensive kind) and made a sweet base for a spaghetti sauce. It's quite delicious by the way. Probably why it received the Super Vegan curse.

I believe in being healthy so far as you can. I believe God intended for us to enjoy food or he wouldn't have made it taste so good.  Remember he promised us a land of Milk and Honey - both animal products by the way. My principle is that if I can eat something that no animal had to die to provide, then, I'm probably okay with God on that.

One of my favorite Harry Miller creations.
As to Dr. Harry Miller's brilliant use of soy and wheat gluten (something he learned when he was a mission doctor in China), I heartily approve. Lots of his meat substitutes get used in the dishes I post on the potluck vegetarian. Atlantic Natural foods still makes some of Dr. Miller's vegetarian meat substitutes. They even make Vegan versions of some things if your offended by milk and eggs in the ingredient list.  Some of the older non-vegan types are still my favorites over the new gluten free versions. I don't have ciliac disease and don't have a problem with gluten. It's a wonderful plant-based protein source.

As to the kale-eaters who jump on my website to criticize my straying from Vegan purity, I usually don't approve their posts. I think potlucks should be celebratory feasts and should not be haunted by gaunt spindly figures dressed in black and gray who will come to the table and tell you stories about how unhealthy they were till they started eating kale-based organic, non-GMO food and six weeks later passed a cancerous tumor they'd had for years. I can do without that mental picture, thank you and I've had it happen to me many times, so I'm not making this stuff up. There really are people like this out there. And to those of you non-militant Vegans, I'm not talking about you. This is about your fanatic friends. You know who they are. They're like Ron Paul Libertarians only holier than them.

So, I say celebrate the bounty God has provided. Avocado is virtually the perfect food. Bananas are full of nice healthy potassium and soy and wheat gluten is God's gift to Chinese and vegetarian cuisine. In addition, I can tell you from experience that cows are quite proud of their many tasty cheese products. And drop by The Potluck Vegetarian for some ideas for you next church potluck or, for that matter, for Sunday brunch at your house. I think you'll enjoy the joyful version of vegetarianism.

Just saying.

Tom King
© 2016