As a vegan, I am frequently asked what I eat since I have made the choice not to eat any animal foods. With a small frown, and great concern, the question comes: "So ... all you eat are vegetables?"
The tender joy that comes with eating vegetables goes well beyond the perimeter of our plates. Vegetables hold the key to life and robust health. They beckon and intrigue us, in ways that no animal food ever could, with their seductive beauty.
The life of vegetables overwhelms our senses. The delicate beauty of butter lettuce -- its leaves opening like a rose in summer -- the saffron-colored flesh of a winter squash, the exquisitely intricate tendrils of pea plants, the shapes, sizes and varying hues of lush, red, ripe tomatoes, are just the first layer of the appeal of veggies.
The perfumes of freshly picked vegetables, their earthy scents lingering, along with the feel of them in our hands, seduce us further.
And we have not even begun to cook yet.
Imagine a meal made from orange pumpkin, coated in bread crumbs, flecked with garlic and parsley and roasted to sweet perfection, along with a tart of leeks and mushrooms encased in a crumbly crust. On the side, crisp baby bok choy sautéed with fresh ginger, and a risotto dotted with asparagus and tomatoes. Yum, right?
The coolest part is that nothing about cooking vegetables is difficult or time-consuming. They are affordable, accessible and straightforward. If you have fresh ingredients then you have little need for complicated techniques, sauces and other tricks that are used to make less than wonderful ingredients palatable. Mother Nature has provided us with all we need to feed our bodies in the most decadently healthy way.
And while many of us are not interested in taking chicken and steak off the menu entirely, a plant-based diet turns out to be green in more than one way, being better for our health and the health of the planet.
We have damaged the planet we call home, plundered her resources, emptied and polluted her seas and ravaged her land. We have spent decades, if not centuries, taking from her and giving nothing back. The tide needs to shift if we are to get out of this mess alive.
One of the best ways we can give back, make a lighter footprint and allow our beleaguered planet the opportunity to heal herself, is to look at the choices we make. And it makes sense to begin with our food. It's the one thing over which we have complete control. We decide, mouthful by mouthful, what we will eat. And with that decision we create the footprint we will leave behind us.
It's worth looking at the plate in front of you and understanding the impact it has had on the world around you. Where did your food come from? How far did it have to travel? How much fuel did it take to get it to your plate? How much water was needed to produce it? How much land was razed? We must ask ourselves if our food sits well with our conscience, and what we believe good food to be. We must ask, other than immediate gratification and satisfaction, does our food choice benefit us or the planet ... and what damage might it be doing to us ... and the planet?
While I am not sure we can ever completely reverse what we have done, digging our gardens, getting an allotment from a CSA, growing organically and eating sustainably can ease our collective guilt, and give Mother Nature a wee respite from the constant bombardment that human life dishes out.
And when we put in more than we take out, the rewards are delicious. We become hopeful, and maybe deluded. We step away, just for a minute, from the madness that is our modern food supply. We begin to develop a connection to the food we eat. We find delicious simplicity. Our food becomes honest, direct, uncomplicated.
As you look down at your dinner plate brimming with the vibrant life of vegetables, you will see that even as we make a lighter footprint, even as we try to put more back in than we take from our fragile planet, she continues to provide so we can thrive.
We do not have to grow our own food, buy locally or cook for ourselves. We have access to all the food (if you can call it that) we could ever want. But cooking with vegetables gives you an extraordinary feeling of completeness, and a deep respect for ingredients. This is something we are less likely to experience picking up packaged, frozen or canned veggies at the supermarket down the street. Cooking fresh vegetables helps us to appreciate the value of food, and develop a reverence for nature.
I dare say the tender joy of cooking with vegetables will change your life ... in many ways.