A thought on meat-free dishes

So here’s an idea straight from the popular culture: Meat-free dishes are boring.

Why do people think this? Why is that idea considered so normal?

Getting the obvious hypothesis out of the way first: Maybe people think this because it is correct and meat-free dishes are boring.

Are they, though?

Maybe the primary reason people believe a meat-free dish will be boring is that they have been served many boring meat-free dishes. Lord knows I have been served many boring meat-free dishes.

I am just going to go ahead and assume that my experience, and the experience of people around me, is very common, and it gives birth to a follow-up question:

WHY have we been served many boring meat-free dishes?

Again, the obvious hypothesis: Maybe because meat-free dishes are inherently boring?

But here’s where that train of through jumps the track: I have also been served many really good meat-free dishes, and they have generally not been advertised as meat free.

An example: Pizza Quattro Formaggi – or even simpler, a Pizza Margherita. I enjoy both styles of pizza, and the local pizzerias do not advertise them as Vegetarian. They’re just pizzas that, incidentally, does not have any meat on them, because meat isn’t part of the recipe.

So why are there so many boring meat-free dishes?

My guess is rooted in the new wave of food culture that rose in the late 80′s and early 90′s – fat is bad, animal fat is worse and getting rid of meat gets rid of fat. What do you replace it with? Definitely not anything with fat in it, the horror!

So you get dishes created in a food culture that implicitly assumed a meat product, without the meat, and without a different food culture taking over, just “same meal, no meat.”

Is it any surprise when this gives boring dishes? Is it any surprise that the laboring class, used to eating a hearty meat-based diet after coming home from the factory floor, rejected vegetarianism as an option? “Maybe the paper says this’ll be good for me, but journalists cannot be trusted and either case this has no taste.”

And either case, it turned out maybe fat wasn’t that bad after all.

If the laborer rejects vegetarianism, maybe it is because the laborer has tried vegetarianism and it was terrible, because twenty years ago, vegetarianism was not the introduction of a new interesting food culture,* but the destruction of an old one, with nothing suitable to replace the torn-down edifice which was therefore swiftly rebuilt.

*Imagine the world today! If the ladies magazines of the nineties had articles about how to cook Jain sattvic food, instead of terrible “He won’t be able to tell the difference!” recommendations for replacing butter with Minarine. He could tell the difference.

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