Greek Food Month

I didn’t see my parents over the holidays, so when they came down for a visit a couple of weeks ago, we had a Christmas in March gift exchange. Among the loot I scored was the recently-published cookbook Vefa’s Kitchen, by Greek food expert Vefa Alexiadou.

Let me back up.

In August 2002, I went to Corfu and fell in love. Not with the asshat with whom I was traveling, but with the Greek islands. My week in Paleokastritsa, in the middle of the August holiday, was filled with fresh Greek salads with chunks of feta the size of my head, lazy afternoon walks through hillside olive terraces, swimming in the cool turquoise sea, scrambling over hot rocks and heaping ruins, pasty Brits burning on the beach, and sun-kissed Italians buzzing past on mopeds. In other words, I was in heaven.

Paleokastritsa by X3JA on Flickr.

I’ve longed to go back ever since, but found myself repatriated to the USA in 2005. Sadly, I no longer get the six of weeks of paid vacation a year that is standard in Britain (and which is considered stingy by Continental Europeans!), and the closest I have been able to get to the dreamy Golden Fox Hotel pool in Lakones (truly, my favorite place on earth) is my cracked concrete, 1950s apartment building pool in downtown Austin (if you really squint, so you can just barely see the blueness of the water, and if you can manage to drown out the choppers and sirens, you can just about transport yourself…).

As anyone who knows me is aware, I am acutely, chronically homesick for England; and I could go on and on about all the things I miss there. But I think the Greek islands are the ultimate. The climate, the mountains, the food, the sun, the olive groves, the turquoise water, the palpable sense of history, the feral cats, the blue, blue doors – what’s not to love?

So my stepmother, being the observant person that she is, realized that Vefa’s Kitchen would be a very welcome gift. It’s a big block of a book, bright blue and white, filled with diverse recipes from all over Greece, and littered with luscious photographs. Flipping through it, the first one that caught my eye was Meatballs with Yogurt from Thrace. I was determined to make it immediately, and my partner, Eric, was forced to look at the beautiful photograph in the book repeatedly while the meatballs baked.

“But, look at them! They look delicious!”

And they were.

The cookbook is so spellbinding, in fact, that Eric suggested we christen April “Greek Food Month” and cook almost exclusively from Vefa’s masterpiece. Having recently planted our own crop of Mediterranean herbs, tomatoes, and lettuce in our nearby allotment, this seemed like a great way to incorporate them into some new dishes. Vefa’s Kitchen, like traditional Greek food, is also heavily vegetarian, which makes it easy for the omnivore cook (me) and the vegetarian sidekick (him). There are also pages and pages of dessert and pastry recipes, which I look forward to tackling. I can’t wait to try the Ruffled Milk Pie.

Meanwhile, my coworker, Alex (who spent the first few years of her life in Athens) and I have been joking about moving to the Greek islands for the past two years. We often discuss Greek culture and food over our Dublin Dr Peppers, and drool over the daily photographs posted on the Greek Islands Facebook page. When I told her about my Greek Food Month, she mentioned that April was the perfect choice, because the fun could be finished with a spread of traditional dishes for Greek Easter. This idea then evolved into me inviting myself to Alex’s backyard for a full celebration. It’s still more than three weeks until Greek Easter (which falls on the same date as Western Easter this year), but we’ve already begun the preliminary menu planning and started searching for a local source of young goat!

So the countdown to Greek Food Month begins. Check back here tomorrow for the first dish!

Fruit and vegetable market in Corfu, by Lee Cannon on Flickr.


Why I Am an Ex-Vegan

Written December 10, 2009.

Yeah, it’s shocking to me, too.

I thought I would be vegan for the rest of my life.

But in recent conversations and blog discussions, I have been forced to confront some of my own assumptions and values, and I no longer believe that the vegan diet/lifestyle is the most sustainable.

I suppose, to sum it up in a sound byte, I have come to the conclusion that the main motivation for my diet is sustainability, and that eating fossil-fuel-dependent, industrially farmed tofu (and other proteins, grains, and indeed vegetables) is far less sustainable than eating locally raised, organic, sustainably farmed animal products (and vegetables).

I know this will anger the few vegan readers I have. I’m sorry. We have come to different conclusions, either through having different information or because we interpret the information differently. But I can no longer ignore the fact that whole ecosystems are being destroyed for my industrially farmed diet. Oil is being extracted violently from the earth to fuel these massive operations, and to transport these foods thousands of miles to my table. These are not compassionate actions. On a macro level, they are far less compassionate than slaughtering a free range, naturally-fed, sheltered, and cared for farm animal.

I will be doing everything I can to eat local produce. I shop almost exclusively at Wheatsville Food Co-op as it is; I will be making use of their local, traditionally farmed vegetables and animal products. I can only encourage others do to the same.

While I am aware that there is not enough land to support all 300+ million Americans – much less 6+ billion humans – on this diet, it nevertheless remains a fact that we cannot all be fed on industrially farmed soy and wheat, either. There are simply too many people. And, pooh-pooh me all you want, but I do believe we are headed for some kind of crash. Within most of our lifetimes, oil extraction will no longer be cost effective. Without oil, industrial agriculture will fail.

So, as before, I am making decisions from a place of compassion and concern for the planet. I will continue to fight against factory farms, which are killing us with their chemically-soaked pseudo-meats while relegating billions of animals to a life of torture followed by an excruciating death. All for profit. This is unacceptable.

In coming to this decision, I also realized I was making the mistake that is a feature of so-called religious logic, and one that I constantly bemoan. I started with a moral declaration and then sought to justify it: killing is always wrong. But the proper approach to the question of an appropriate human diet is simultaneously much more complicated and much more obvious.

I never thought people were anything other than omnivores; I just thought, like many vegans, that since we could choose not to eat meat, this choice was a moral imperative. I also have to admit, I never really had any problem with people hunting for food, reasoning that it was far superior to grabbing a shrink-wrapped piece of factory meat at the local supermarket.

But the fact is, killing isn’t always wrong. Is it worse for an animal to be raised with care and protection, then – as painlessly as possible – killed for meat, or for an animal to be torn apart by the claws of another animal and eaten alive, which is what happens in “nature”? Why is it okay for other omnivorous animals to eat meat, but not for humans, even though we generally go out of our way to reduce or eliminate the suffering of any animal we’re hunting or slaughtering? Is it really wise to move so far away from the omnivorous diet that our species has evolved, over hundreds of thousands of years, to eat? Do we really want to support industrial agriculture as we depend upon mass-produced processed soy products, out-of-season vegetables, and artificially sourced B12? And without manure, without petroleum-powered (and often petroleum-based) fertilizers, where is all this soy and grain going to come from to feed the starving, desperate world? Ignoring these very real questions is a dangerous luxury afforded only to those of us compassion-driven urbanites who are totally removed from and ignorant of where, in fact, real food comes from.

So, yeah, I’ve changed my mind.

I know many people won’t agree, and I will get angry comments and catty chattering on other sites. However, I respect the impulse of vegans, which is one of compassion. I have just come to the conclusion that they are asking the wrong questions. The vegan diet and lifestyle is not, after all, the solution. Of course it pains me to acknowledge this, and to say it. It’s been a difficult road. But I cannot profess something I no longer believe.

Likewise, I would like to apologize to all my friends. Even though I strongly object to the commonplace claim that all vegans are judgmental and pushy, I have nevertheless been guilty of my share of misplaced judgment. In my zealousness, I no doubt castigated people unfairly and demonstrated a self-righteous attitude. For that I am sorry. None of my friends, be they vegans or barbecue-lovers, are murderous or even unkind. If they were, they wouldn’t be my friends. I find now that the wall of mutual incomprehensibility between me and these friends has fallen away. My disgust at their refusal to admit that killing is always wrong has turned into a humbled shame at my own ignorance of where food comes from, and how.

Yet, because of my nearly two years of veganism, I now know so much more about cooking, and for that I am ecstatically thankful. Herbs, in particular, are a revelation. My vegan readers will no doubt remove this site from their blogroll, and I don’t blame them. My non-vegan readers will probably enjoy the wider range of foodstuffs I’ll be talking about. I hope that readers will patronize their own local, organic, sustainable food producers.


Further reading:
Interview with an Ex-Vegan: Stella
A Vegan No More
The Vegetarian Myth