Friday, May 30, 2008

Evolution of a Vegan Taste Bud

We've all said it:
"Even my omni boyfriend/friend/dad loved it!"

I've been thinking about it lately. At first, when I was just starting to be a vegan, it was really exciting to make something that tasted "just like the real thing." And even still, it's very exciting to cook up a vegan meal for an omnivore, and have them like the food. We all want to show those omni folks in our lives how filling and fulfilling vegan eating can be.

But, on the other hand, do people who eat all that meat and dairy really have more important/refined taste buds than vegans do?

This takes me back to one of my original complaints about vegan food. My motivation for following a vegan diet is really based in the ethics of animal treatment. When I first started eating vegan, I kept saying "Just because it's vegan, doesn't mean it need to be healthy!" It drove me nuts that every time I managed to find a vegan cookie somewhere, it was made with sunflower seeds and applesauce and whole wheat flour.

Since that time, the vegan world has really evolved (thank goodness!), but so have my taste buds. It cracks me up now to hear the question "You're a vegan? What do you eat?" - Because I eat *such* a wider variety of foods now (as a vegan) than I ever did as an omnivore or vegetarian. Eating vegan encouraged me to really explore the world of veggies, greens, grains, fruits, spices, different kinds of flours and sweeteners... the list goes on and on.

Now, after years of eating vegan (maybe 8 years? I don't remember exactly), my tastes are broader - but also a bit healthier. All those years of reading the labels to make sure something is vegan also just makes you come to terms with what's in all these packaged foods! Gradually all that label reading has definitely made me prefer healthier eating. Plus, discovering the joys of produce and the farmer's market has led more and more in the direction of preferring fresh, whole foods. I've become more and more adventurous with trying out any new fruits or veggies I can get my hands on. And within all of that, I still feel strongly that vegan food should taste fantastic, and hold up to the flavors and textures of foods that omnivores enjoy and are used to.

And, I'm especially grateful to all these great vegans who have written up such amazing cookbooks to help me cook up such yummy & sophisticated foods for my own enjoyment, and that of all the beloved omnivores in my life.

Tonight I made a dinner that was so yummy that even my vegan aunt and her vegan boyfriend loved it! Oh, and my not-yet-vegan Grandpa loved it too!

That picture is tonight's dinner - a reasonably faithful adaptation of "Black Quinoa Cakes over Smoky Calypso Bean Sauce, Curried Squash, and Mango Habanero-Coconut Sauce" from "The Artful Vegan." Whoa! How's that for a title?? It was truly a splendid meal and, with all those components, took less than an hour from start to finish. Instead of bothering with making quinoa cakes, I just made a quinoa pilaf with all the ingredients in the recipe. The onions in the black beans were meant to be smoked, but I don't have a smoker (imagine that!), so I used a few dashes of liquid smoke to get that smoky flavor.One last quick variation, I just steamed up some chard from our garden, rather than bothering with the special collards in the recipe. Overall, the flavors, spices, and textures of this dinner were so harmonious and interesting - it was great dinner. That mango sauce really brought it all together with a cool, rich, creaminess. Fantastic.


  1. Yummy! I just love meals like this one! I also feel that I eat way better as a vegan than I ever did as an omni or even when I was a vegetarian (for 17 years before becoming vegan!) So many more choices! And, of course, I envy you all of your California farmer's markets. Most of ours in the midwest won't start for another week or two! thanks for all of your great posts!

  2. That meal looks fantastic. I'm amazed that it only took an hour to put together!

    I totally agree about the refined taste buds, too - I eat SO many more foods (and healthier foods) now being vegan than I would have ever dreamed as an omni or even a vegetarian. I never used to like beans or greens or even broccoli! Now I can't imagine life without them. :D

  3. I couldn't agree more - when I was an omni, I was SOOO picky and literally ate the same 5 foods, haha. Now I'm SO much more open to fresh, new, exciting foods, and I love cooking and baking now as well!! Hooray for veganism :0)

  4. Great post :) And boy, it this so true: "All those years of reading the labels to make sure something is vegan also just makes you come to terms with what's in all these packaged foods!"

  5. I had a really similar experience going vegan--I really moved toward a broader spectrum of foods and shifted slowly into a way of thinking about my eating as part of my health and body in general.

    I think there's this sense out there that vegans especially don't or even can't have refined palettes and that's put to the test every time we're served sub-par food and accept it because "at least it's vegan." Anyway, I'm grateful too, for all the people who are expanding notions of what we eat as vegans and taking on new flavors and textures and interesting elements. I'm also grateful to you for reminding me of that recipe in the VV--haven't made it in years, but it's a great one. Thanks for the inspiration.

  6. :)

    This post made me so happy! I find it ironic that, in my experience, the majority of people who ask that question "You're vegan? What do you eat?!" are usually the ones who live off of meat and potatoes themselves. I once had a friend shocked to discover that I made and eat pies. "I didn't think you could eat that kind of stuff!" I guess in many people's minds, vegans exist on the same field of grass as the cows they slaughter, eating nothing but grass and bales of hay.

    And I agree-- leaning more towards a vegan lifestyle definitely broadened the horizons of my shopping cart. Growing up I was extremely picky and didn't even try a lot of common foods. Cooking vegan is helping me play catch-up, and then some :)

  7. Anonymous10:33 PM

    I agree! I am tired of feeling like vegan food isn't as good as "other" food (as though omnivores can't appreciate vegetables and grains). It's not like we're asking them to eat sauteed grasshoppers.

  8. Hi, I just discovered your blog ... Wow, you've been a vegan for 8 YEARS! Amazing! I'm still trying to become a vegan and I certainly hope that I can be a vegan one day AND be one forever! I'm still struggling with the desserts in restaurants though :0(

    Your meal looks scrumptious by the way :) Have a great day

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  10. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts about this. I am the same way... I eat so many more different kinds of foods than when I was a picky omnivore!

    Oh and your dinner looks beautiful! This gives me some motivation to try something out of the artful vegan because they always seem so time consuming!

  11. I have broadened my realm of eating as well. And now that I try to be wheat and soy free, even more avenues have opened up. I love to say "It's great to be vegan!"

  12. amen! veganism has done nothing but stretch my food boundaries wide open. I used to eat fried egg sandwiches every single day for dinner, can you believe that? Up until the day I switched.

    More importantly though, that dinner looks sensational, and I'm in awe that it only took you an hour! smart shortcuts, too. :D

  13. I also have become a more adventurous eater and have a really varied diet since going vegan.

    Another pet peeve of mine in addition to wondering what vegans can possibly eat, is the one where some people think we're vegan because we just don't like food. I LOVE food, love to eat, and love a great dining experience. I don't enjoy my food any less as a vegan.

  14. hi!
    your blog is awesome.ive been a vegetarian for 10 yrs and a vegan 4 weeks, so ive been spending most of my days (shh, dont tell) hopping from vegan blog to vegan blog... how exciting to find yours! im on the california central coast and some of your posts have answered ?s ive had about where to shop, so it's great to know that i can go there too, and this meal looks so mouth watering! thanks for the inspiration!

  15. Anonymous4:47 AM

    Did you know that Oprah is currently on a 3-week vegan diet trial?


  16. This post made me smile, and I agree with a lot of what you said. If I was presented with the food I eat now 8 years ago I wouldn't have thought it crazy and probably gross. I think people are too busy eating whatever they want and grabbing fast food to slow down, listen to their bodies and figure out that they actually want healthy food.

    That meal looks awesome by the way, a complete meal with a great mix of tastes and textures.

  17. re: Oprah. will be very interesting to see if she sticks with it, or if it's just a publicity stunt. how can anyone ever go back after having their eyes open to the truth?

  18. I'm right there with you with food being GOOD, not good vegan food or good for being vegan food, but DELICIOUS food regardless! Everyone has eaten food that is vegan, so why do people trip out so much?!
    That meal looks lovely!

  19. I agree, in the 3 year I've been vegetarian (2+ of which I've been vegan), my taste has changed a lot. I still enjoy the junky stuff from time to time, but I eat way more vegetables and fruits--many of which I never wanted to try when I was omni. The "restrictions" of veganism have actually served to expand my palate.

    That meal looks delicious!


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