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The Best Vegetarian Recipe Book?

I often find vegetarian recipe books quite boring. They're full of cheese and pie recipes and somehow seem to miss the very idea, and beauty, of vegetarian food - the vegetables. That's where Hugh's book is a triumph - it's not a vegetarian cook book, it's cook book about vegetables. The recipes contained within are simply excellent vegetable dishes which can, if you like, be enjoyed with meat, but can equally be enjoyed on their own as the centrepiece of a meal. They don't seem to have that typical 'vegetarian' look of being pail yellow fatty meat replacement dishes, they are colourful and full of different flavours and textures and celebrate the diversity of vegetarian cooking - one of the prime reasons I'm still a vegetarian (I simply don't find the need for boring meat when there is this range of colours, textures, flavours and interest in the plant kingdom.

If you're new to vegetarianism or just trying it out then I can suggest no better book than this. Be inspired - vegetarian food is not just about replacing the meat in meat-and-two-veg with past, it's a whole inspirational world of adventure.

I'm not much of a fan of recipe books, mostly because I'm not very good at following recipes - I get distracted part way through and then make up the rest.

River Cottage Veg

Here's my best blog post on the subject

Why I'm Vegetarian

After about 15 years of being a veggie I think I've just about worked out why. By attempting to explain this here I'm not out to convert you to my ways but I do hope that both veggies and non-veggies might read this and perhaps learn a little about this particular veggie. Perhaps it will enable those of the omnivorous persuasion to see that not all veggies are hippy tree-huggers and for those who "bowl for the other team" (no, not Australia) to come to terms with how they balance their beliefs in a predominantly omniverous (but sadly increasingly carniverous) climate.

I'm also not out to offend people. My greatest risk here is in offending our farming community. Farmers do an amazing job, getting up ridiculously early and work late through all weathers in order to enable us townies to do other things with our time. Sure I might not agree with their attitude to hunting for fun nor the largly Conservative political persuasion, but without them life would be much harde r for the rest of us. [Though this might be corrected below.] And with that disclaimerin place I'll try and begin in a coherent manner.

A Short History
People have long sinced asked me why I am a veggie and I usualy answer something along the lines of I don't like to eat animans because they are cute and are all living things. I simply don't much like the idea of death and the fact that we kill animals to eat them stikes me as a little sad. I also used to be quite anal about not wanting to touch anything that was meat related and cirtainly not consume anything that had been near meat. To go back further I should point out that is took me a number of yeaqrs to progress to a fully fledged vegetarian. First I gave up pork, then chicken (mostly due to the horrible stomach churning rubbery ligament bits that I used to find. I liked steak for some time as that seemed quite removed from an animal, and I remember the last time I eat one. Then I continued eating McDonnalds cheesburgers (yeah, that's hardly meat) for some time but I remember my last one of those which would have been the last land meat I eat. Fish then remained my only meat source for perhaps two or three years following that and while I don't remember the last fish I eat I do remember the first time I didn't eat fish when I went to the chip shop (Mum was away so that was it). Over this period I gradually became more fussy upto the stage described above where I was in my most fundamentalist veggie phase. This lasted right through till the fourth year of my undergratuate when I found I was going to China. In preparation I reaslied that I'd have to relax a little in case it came to the crunch and I'd actually have to eat some meat while I was out there. This never happened but that began my relaxation spiral to where I am now.

So to the present, and like I said, I'm still veggetarian - I've not eaten any meat (i.e. fish) for 8 or 9 years. But my attitude has relaxed somewhat and I can liken this to the stages of spiritual development that I've read about. I began as an omnivore (my parents core 'belief') but then reacted against this to become veggie. Over some years this became a very strongly held doctrine and almost religion, which structured my life (for example complete separation in food preparation). For many years this was easy to follow as - its rules gave black and white laws to easily live - but over recent years this simple ideology has been found wanting and so gradually relaxed or broken down (with China being a large factor) and become more of a mystical appreciation of the 'truth' and understanding of my vegetarian nature. What I seem to have missed is a stage of apathy where I loose my veggieness and slip into meat eating. In a sence I guess my preparation and expectation of China might account for this apathy despite never being implemented.

So now I'm in this more 'mystical' state where I've come to accept that being vegetarian is a considdered decision and something important to me. I'll add a caveat here to the effect that I might not actually be this far on in my journey, but rather still on the slippery slope to apathy where I take up eating meat again when I loose the will to resist. The reason I mention this is that recently I've been tempted in the chip shop on Friday night to get a fish along with my chips (as my house does) for our traditional Film & Chips night. So far I've not given in, but the temptation is present. Furthermore I'm generally coming round to the idea of eating fish again. It's not that I don't consider them animals but I don't have such an afinity for them (they are not so cute and cudily) and they do provide many essential oils and fatty acids that are hard to acquire from alternative sources. However, my main reason against eating fish is my discomfort about our methods for farming the oceans - compared to land farming it seems a little more like raping and pillaging of the oceans.

My Vegetarian Reasoning
So this begins to lead to my newly considered reasoning behind being a vegetarian and I'm afraid the target is farming. Like I said, I'm not out to get at farmers in particular, nor as a body, but rather how society has influenced and twisted our methods of farming beyond unethical.

The greatest realisation I've made recently is that I am not against eating meat. I don't believe it is wrong or that it should be stopped. Eating meat is important both physically and spiritually and theologically there is no reason for being vetetarian. So if I believe that meat should be eaten why don't I got out and get me a steak for dinner? Well that's the very essence of my reasoning - it should not be that easy. It is that ease which is wrong beacuse it indicates that we are out of balance with nature.

Interestingly the problem is not simply that there are too many people in the world - if we worked together we could still feed everone - the problem is our western greed and selfish lust. We want everything and we want it easy and to hand. We use the excuse that this enables us to spend more quality time with family, but that is less true with each passing year. Rather we desire more time to earn more money to acquire more stuff. I notice this trait in me too, it seems to be inbread into our minds. How this relates to being vegetarian is that as our society continually desires more, cheaper and easier food so the farmers and producers are required to come up with the goods. Somewhere along this cycle a sad shift was made from the understanding of meat as something special to the seeing of meat as a right. It's this shift that I'm reacting against.

I do not believe that meat is a nessesity - hay, I'm living proof - rather meat is a celebration. In the Jewish culture animals are (or rather 'were' until the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, friggin Romans) used as sacrifices. This very fact indicates that their life has worth. Animals simply are not just a consumption product, they are alive and if you follow the bible then that life is clearly God-breathed. Therefor in order to eat meat it is necessary that an animal must die. Essentially that life is sacrificed in order that another live. Frankly I'd love to see humans have a natural preditor but it would appear that we are at the top and so the natural direction is that something dies for us to live. And this is fine with me. I don't object to killing an animal in order to consume it's flesh, be that for minute-be-minute survival or for celebration (and the fact that meat is tasty). But what it not OK by me is our implementation of this in our pre-packaged and remote consumer culture. While I am more concerned over our treatment of producers in developing nations through unfair trade rules, I think that there are similarities to be drawn back home. In both cases we, the western consumer, is so far removed from the reality of the product (what animal it was or the conditions of production) that we don't care; not a thought is given as we toss whatever it is into our basket and head for the checkout.

Furthermore, there is the problem (as I see it) in our over dependance leading to over consumption of meat. Somehow meat has become the staple of our diet. "Meat and two veg" is a standard meal where meat is accompanied by some random vegetables as almost an afterthought. This simply isn't a balanced healthy diet (and Atkins can just give up now) acording to history, faith and health experts. Take a look at the following diagram showing a blanaced diet and see what a tiny proportion meat (in red to make it easy to spot) makes up. Then look closer and notice that even the meat section is half made up of beans and pulses! The current meat-dominated diet just isn't sensible (I'll resist mentioning the disturbing rise in obesity here) and is no doubt a result of our present afluence mixed in, I suspect, with a rather greedy meat industry.

So I'm quite happy on the scientific and health side about being vegetarian as I consume a lot of pulses (umm, dahl) to fill my 'meat' quota. But I've still not really unpacked why I'm still a vegetarian when I'm quite happy with people eating meat. So lets get onto that...

Balanced Diet
Take a close look at the 'meat' section.
Used with permission from NHS Health Scotland.

What is it then that stops me getting a steak and gorging myself on it, enjoying the rich flavour and suculent fats? The weakest reason is simply that I've lost the taste for meat, I've stopped desiring it, whereas a fine aubergine - that really gets me going (yes, sad I know). That pretty much handels the day-to-day situations I face like ordering in a restaurant or walking round the shops - oh and the smell of a butchers does turn my stomach I'm afraid (though I am far more in favour of getting meat from a butcher than a supermarket). But for special occasions, where meat is part of a celebration what then? I guess this is more tricky as I believe this is an appropriate use of meat, so why not take part? Well the issue I'm sad to say becomes the production of the meat. Granted it could well be a nicely produced organic steak, but I'm just not happy with the separation that still exists between animal and meal.

I'm in danger of becoming an idealist here, but ideally I want to go out, hunt and kill the animal that I'm going to consume. I need to make that effort and risk as part of the payment for taking a life. I need to know that something has died, to feel the weight of that death and be thankful for my life in order that I can cellebrate with the meat. The whole idea of having a meat industry seems so wrong and grotesque, too far removed from nature and the natural order.

Now I appreciate that hunter-gathering is a time long since past in our society, and would be impractical to re-instate (pissing off a lot of farmers in the process), but is there no way of finding some balance here? For a start a focus away from a meat-staple diet would be a good thing for health and animal welfare, and a complete removal of unethical farming methods would help increase the basic value we put on an animal's life. Neither small tasks but perhaps you see where I'm going. Interestingly the muslim method of Halal gives some degree of this value to the animal - a prayer is said as the animal is killed. Unfortunately this blessing is still performed on an industrial scale and I wonder to what extent the prayer looses its significance in the face of profits and mass production.

So that makes me a hunter-gatherer vegetarian. I am a veggie due to the fact that I've not hunted any food of late. I will eat whatever I kill as that is how I find the balance in nature. In order to eat meat you have to take a risk - removing the ease of today's pre-packaged society. That risk might be from death (for example hunting an animal that could kill you) or that risk might be that you will expend energy trying to hunt an animal that eventually gets away (thus making the kills you do make that much more rewarding and a celebration) - but whichever it is, that communion with the meat before and after it's death is important. Death is a significant act, a decision that you make and live with and part of the process. You end the life of another so that you might live. There is balance. That is how the rest of the natural world operates. Why should it be that we have some godly right to operate in the unethical and unatural way that we do.