Edible Media takes an occasional look at interesting or deplorable food journalism on the web and off.
I have to admit, when I think of vegan fare, I first picture little lumps of soy curd, swimming in a brown pool of Bragg’s Liquid Amino Acids — perhaps with a spear or two of oversteamed broccoli on the side.
Then, when I think a little harder, I picture all the fantastic food that emerges without direct involvement of animals (though nearly all well-raised produce involves at least some contact with animals).
I can picture the antipasti table at a simple trattoria in Italy, arrayed with all manner of lovely vegetables (including broccoli, a magnificent food) anointed in olive oil and lashed with salt, pepper, garlic, and herbs. Even tofu can be fantastic in the hands of a skilled cook.
And so I like it when vegans make bold culinary statements, rather than succumbing to the culinary fraud that is the Boca burger and its ilk. I like it when vegans attack industrial food not just for its massive cruelty to animals, but also for its frontal assault on flavor.
And that, evidently, is what Kim Barnouin and Rory Freedman have done in their new book Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, according to an account by Julie Moskins of the New York Times. (Note: This is not a book review and I have not read the book; I’m responding to Moskin’s piece.)
According to Moskin, Barnouin and Freedman stirred the pot in 2005 with their polemical diet book Skinny Bitch, a fevered assault on industrial food and appeal to veganism. Specifically, they targeted the diet industry, which tries to convince women to ingest all manner of sketchy stuff in order to stay skinny.
Here’s how Moskin describes it:
The authors … dressed readers down for following low-fat and low-carb diets, drinking diet soda, entrusting their health to the Food and Drug Administration, and most of all for ignoring the miserable realities of the American meat and dairy industries.
Hard to argue with any of that. But like so many folks nowadays, these newly minted food activists (both of whom formerly worked in the fashion industry) had no idea how to cook. Writes Moskin:
The first book barely mentioned cooking, suggesting an eating style based on fruit, snacks and frozen food from the health-food store. It was a vegan version of the fast-food diet the authors say they used to follow equally zealously.
But since the publication of Skinny Bitch, they’ve realized that substituting processed industrial vegan fare for meat-laden junk only takes you so far. And they’ve taken cooking lessons, and come out with a cookbook. Sounds like they’ve done a pretty good job:
The cookbook makes little use of traditional Asian meat substitutes (there is one recipe each for seitan and tempeh) but there is a lot of frozen Italian “sausage” and vegan creamer sprinkled around. Recipes without those foods were tastier, such as spaghetti squash with spicy braised greens, raisins and nuts, a huge hit at my table because of its subtle infusion of chipotle chilies.
The authors have gotten flack for their gender/body politics. By presenting themselves as “skinny bitches,” are they playing into noxious societal norms about what women should look like?
Possibly. But according to Moskin, they also “encourage readers to eat their fill of foods like avocados, nuts and fruit without worrying about calories and carbs.” Or as Freedman put it to Moskin, “We really want everyone to stop doing all this stupid math … Just stuff yourself with things that are good for you, and you will be fine.”