11.09.2015

Going Vegan, Again, This Time Gluten-Free

Well, it's been about a year since I've posted on this blog, and I'm thinking of starting up again to head in a new direction here. I've posted about food before. It's a thing for me. I do all of the family cooking, and after seventeen years of cooking every single meal for myself and the others in my life, miraculously I still enjoy cooking. I must like to cook *a lot*.

Last spring my son was confirmed celiac, and my husband is gluten-intolerant, meaning that if he eats something with gluten in it, he has horrific intestinal pains for the next 24-36 hours. Happily, his gut seems to make an exception for beer.

We watched "Forks Over Knives" a couple of years ago and nearly went vegan then. Nearly. The problem, you see, is that meat tastes so damn good. Then last weekend husband watched "Cowspiracy." Some tipping point was reached. We are exploring vegan.

I am sure there are purists who are offended by anything but absolute veganism. We may get there. But we may not. We raise chickens, and we get a lot of pleasure watching them happily roam our half-acre. We also get a lot of pleasure from the eggs that they produced. These are the most beautiful, delicious, nourishing eggs available on the planet. The yolks are huge and as deep orange as a pumpkin. There is so much goodness in there. And I have read Nourishing Traditions and I believe in bone broth, particularly given the gut issues we have here. Lastly, we are also fortunate to have access to a local farm that raises a heritage breed of hog in the pasture. I still have about a third of our last hog we bought in my freezer. We are on the fence about whether or not we will continue to buy from our local farmers, who we like very much and want to see continuing to succeed. We are considering a rule of only eating animal products that we raised ourselves, killed ourselves, or that someone we knew killed for us. There is a lot of venison around in Texas, too. Hunted meats seem to be an exception to consider. We're still working this out.

Having said all of this, there is also a lot to recommend a primarily plant-based diet. Substantial evidence connects consumption of animal protein and incidence of cancer. Diabetes, heart disease, blood pressure--all of these things are improved with plant-based eating. In general, the carbon footprint and water consumption necessary to produce plant food is considerably less than to produce meat. My husband flew over a portion of the Amazon Basin five years ago and never forgot the view of a horizon filled with waves of billowing smoke from the continuous burning--to clear the jungle so there would be more room for cows to graze to feed America's beef addiction. Is my desire for braised short-ribs worth the destruction of the planet's lungs? There is also a social justice implication in choosing to eat a plant-based diet. So much of the grain we produce goes to feeding animals for consumption by people who can afford it instead of to hungry people elsewhere in the world. By eating meat, I'm supporting an economy that perpetuates scarcity of food for the rest of the world. That stops me in my tracks. It's unfathomable. It's the food equivalent to the shortage in affordable housing in urban centers where the jobs and opportunities and services are, when developers naturally develop properties to achieve the highest return on their investment possible, by building to the highest price the market will support.

These are all of the things we have thought about and discussed in arriving at our decision to go vegan. The kids, 8 and 10 years old, are reluctantly along for the ride. I'm a pretty good cook, and I do magical things with chicken thighs and pork belly and lamb chops. It's hard to contemplate passing these things up for largely ethical reasons--reasons that require a long-view to see the benefit, while the sense of deprivation is immediate and present. But here we go.

In the last couple of years I have become a bit of a boss at gluten-free cooking and baking. There are others who are better at it than I am. For instance, I don't have the patience to let my batters and doughs stand in the fridge for hours at a time so they lose some of their gritty texture from the rice flour. Instead, I amp up the toothiness of my doughs and mixes by adding ground millet, ground almonds, psyllium, ground gluten-free oats, and gluten-free hot cereal blends. I've got biscuits down. Cakes, quickbreads, pancakes, waffles, gravies, soups, sauces. Working on pizza crust. Sandwich bread, the bastard, has eluded me repeatedly. I am optimistic that I will succeed with pie crust and pastry crust.

I haven't found a gluten-free vegan resource yet who cooks like I cook--sort of southern, sort of Italian, sort of French, sort of Mexican. Also, I'm cooking for a family, which is a different way of cooking. Ingredients have to serve multiple purposes; last night's dinner has to be good as a base for today's breakfast. Recipes that stand alone, whose ingredients don't relate to a week's worth of healthy eating, aren't really useful. Very few people can afford to buy groceries for 21 separate meals a week whose ingredients don't flow one meal to the next. Economy is important, but so is simplicity. Excuse my french, but I fucking hate fussy food. So I'm going to post my successes, and probably some of my failures, here, in case there is someone else out there who has a palate like mine and has traveled down the same road to vegan and gluten-free. And yes, I know that I can't personally claim the label "vegan", but the dishes and recipes that I post here will be.

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