Humanity, if it’s to surive, needs to change. That much we all agree on.
Well, most of us. I’m sure there are people who think we can keep on living, producing, and consuming the way we have been and everything will turn out fine, just as there are surely those who believe JFK was killed by Big Foot on the Grassy Knoll under the instructions of Bill Gates operating out of a pizzeria filled with pedophiles.
That subset aside, I think most of us believe the numbers that say we can’t keep driving/consuming oil or meat as much as we have. It’s simply not sustainble. Cars and cows take up way too much space and pollute too much.
As much as I’d love to harness the powers of the universe and compell humanity and its governments to do everything possible to make the necessary, difficult changes to ensure our longterm survival, I’m no Marvel superhero (or villain, depending on your willingness to drive less and eat less meat). Meat-eating and driving are too ingrained in Western society for it to vanish overnight. People in the US instinctively give travel times based on driving and a dinner without meat is by and large seen as lacking something. That’s not going to change overnight.
That’s why I’m an advocate of encouraging people to accept the necessity of adaptability. What I did this week is a decent example of that. Early in the week, I fell down the rabbit hole of learning about aquafaba. Long story short, it’s the liquid leftover in a can of beans or chickpeas that was recently discovered to be an easy egg replacement in baking.
Nothing about it sounds appetizing. Then again, does eating a raw egg sound tasty?
I’ve made it a personal mission to essentially eliminate meat from my diet and lower my reliance on animal products to as little as possible without going full vegan. So, why not give this aquafaba business a shot? It’s not like I’m using it for an omlette where the egg is the star. I just need those binding properties when I bake. To not give it a shot would be, in my view, stubborn. Using an egg for the sake of using an egg isn’t a good enough reason for me.
There’s some reasonable-sounding concern about using the aquafaba from cans because of any chemicals that might be in the liquid to help preserve the beans or chickpeas. Because it’s a relatively new culinary discovery, there’s not a ton of research on it. For those reasons, I opted to make my own rather than get the goodness out of a can. (I used this Food52 video for inspiration.)
Tuesday night, I soaked some chickpeas overnight, cooked them on Wednesday, and created my own batch of aquafaba. I left it in the fridge overnight to become gelatinous. By this morning, they looked like egg whites. As a test, I used the equivalent of two eggs in a simple banana bread recipe.
Guess what… It worked and I didn’t noticed a difference in taste. Does that mean I’ll never cook with eggs again? No. But why shouldn’t I lower my use of animal products if I can with such minimal effort? Plus there’s a high I get using as many ingredients as possible that I make myself. It’s a win-win for my fragile ego.
Like all things, there’s of course a privilege that comes with being adaptable. I’m not pressured to work at an office at the moment, so it’s easier for me to cook the chickpeas for a few hours to make the aquafaba. I’ve generally been fortunate in my adult life to work at companies in centralized locations with access to public transportation or simply walkable from home, so I never needed a car.
Not everyone has that flexibility. That said, a lot of people who can make changes to how their presence and consumption impacts the world do have the flexibility to embrace adaptability.
Of course there are those who will accept nothing less than full orthodoxy, who will continue to passive aggressively posts photos to social media of horrific photos of factory farming as if to say you, person reading the post, are responsible for the fate of this cow or that pig. They will say that merely adapting how you eat, how you travel isn’t enough.
Maybe they’re right. Our global response to climate change has been pathetic at best. We’re like a basketball team down 20 in the fourth quarter with a coach whose got a gameplan to narrow the lead to 18.
But I don’t fault individuals on a large scale. Jack and Jill down the block don’t personally send the meat and dairy industry a check for $38 billion to subsidize them. They’re not subsidizing highways to the tune of $40-plus billion. There are systems––short-sighted, corrupt, mind-boggingly stupid systems––at play that keep these realities afloat. I above all blame them and the governments that enable them.
That said, I don’t think we as individuals are entirely off the hook. I don’t think that just because we see a house on fire, we should use the heat to grill some meats instead of maybe grabbing a bucket of water. But too often I anecdotally find people, particualrly of older generations who’ve seen these sytems run as modus operandi for their entire lives, shirk any personal responsibility because, well, “Why should I if they aren’t? This is just how it is.”
(They being the vague go-to scapegoat to justify personal inaction.)
The obvious answer for “why should I” is that we all surely have kids, nieces, nephews who we want to live healthy and happy lives rather than toil under some apocalyptic scenario of late capitalism.
Ominous Intelligent Computer Overlord (aka Alexa): Hi, Greg. It appears you did not work your full 12 hours today, which is now compulsory since the dismantling of labor laws in 2030. Your water credit for the week has been revoked. Have a nice day and thank you for making Amazon great!
Unfortunately I can’t offer much advice in terms of embracing adpatability with a smile. I sold my car because I genuinely disliked driving and felt unhealthy doing it. A study could come out saying that driving is good for the environment and I still wouldn’t want to. The morality of it all worked out to my personal preferences.
The same goes for essentially giving up meat. Besides Mexcian chorizo, I never actually craved meat or particularly enjoyed it anymore than I can enjoy a well-made vegetarian meal these days. I genuinely prefer a black bean burger over a beef patty. Thanksgiving turkey was a tasteless, chewy endeavor that I put up with so I could get to my mom’s applesauce and stuffing.
In recent years, I realized I only ate meat with any kind of regularity because I just assumed that’s what you did. I was a culinary lemming, following the hungry American in front of me to the nearest cow, chicken, or pig.
Now that I can cook with some competence, I can make vegetarian and even vegan meals taste better than I ever recall meat dishes tasting. I don’t miss meat in the slightest.
The problem with expressing such sentiments that go against the norm is that people inherently hear it as a critique of what they do. I never once asked, “wHy Do YoU sTiLl HaVe A dEaTh MaChInE!?” Same as I don’t ask people now, “WHY ARE YOU CONTENT MAKING AN ORPHAN OF SOME INNOCENT CALF!?” But back in the States, people felt compelled to explain why they need a car whenever they found out I sold mine.
The flip side of the coin is when people try to point out the faults in not having a car or not eating meat.
“You don’t have a car? Well, how did you get here? How are you getting home?” they’d ask, as if I were a lost puppy who hadn’t thought ahead.
“I don’t know how I’m getting home… I guess I live here now.”
Or when it comes to meat, the question is always, “How are you getting your protein?” as if meat is the sole supplier of healthy protein. It’s amazing how many amateur nutritionists you meet when it comes up that you don’t eat meat with regularity.
The thing is, I don’t think the people who’ve asked me such questions belong to the group of JFK-Big Foot conspiracy theorists. I think they know we need to adapt and embrace change if we’re going to surive. So why not embrace it? You might even like it in the end.
Thanks for coming to my Substack Ted Talk on why you should consider eating less meat. Now check out my recipe for chicken paprikash.
Before you hit “reply” and tap on your caps lock button, recall when I said that I’ve essentially eliminated meat from my diet. My personal philosophy is that I’ll still accept a meat dish if I’m traveling, I’m a guest, and someone offers.
But I order and cook vegetarian––except for this chicken paprikash. I justified this because I found out that my grandmother used to make it and I enjoy exploring the culinary history of my family and Austro-Hungarian Jews. Before this, I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I had meat. But I think it still proves my point. I’m not looking for orthodoxy. Just adaptability.
In wildly different news, I published this piece with Alma that’s a beginner’s guide to Yiddish music.
Since sharing the haluski and veggie burritos, I’ve made a couple more recipe videos. Last week I shared a video for aranygaluska and a couple of days ago I published my wife’s vegetarian pastitsio––a wonderful example of where I legitimately prefer the veggie version to the meat and thus a great way to end this week’s… rant? Diatribe? Whatever it was. Anywhozzles, have a good weekend!