Tuesday, September 6, 2005

I've discovered Edamame.

It's time to speak of things carnal. Like Carnie's, in LA. Or con carne south of the border. (Or, actually, LA too.) Yes, omnivorous friends, it's time we talked about meat. It's a provocative topic - if you're a dedicated member of PETA - and worthy of a blog or two or countless activist websites. So allow me to brief you on how carnology weighs on my life currently.

I'm no dyed-in the wool vegetarian, and like any good American, I'm addicted to fast food and am a frequent customer of Omaha Steaks. Oh, I claimed vegetarianism for a month in seventh grade, when the Eco-club was full of delicious older women (eighth-graders), but when the Principia Middle School cafeteria dropped their vintage '91 chicken strips on that ass, I was outed. There's something about a mechanically separated strip of chicken that is just irresistable when it's been battered and fried and twice dipped in Heinz.

My family has an interesting history in meat alternatives, however. In the mid-'80s, Mom and Dad signed up for the burgeoning trend called "Royal American". As seen on PM Magazine, this freeze-dried line of soy-based meals and beverages was really taking off as a convenient, healthy alternative to KFC. We had "tasters", small parties where friends and acquaintences could come over, taste, and sign onto someone's downline for the network marketing. That's right... Royal American was not sold in stores.

Nor were they particularly tasty. In fact, their soy-based powdered milk was awful. My brothers and I used to gag on it nightly, begging our parents not to make us drink it. Somehow, my eldest brother Jon managed to convince my parents that he had become a vegetarian, and thus did not drink milk. Which included soy-based Royal American milk. Ummm, I'm not quite sure how my parents bought it, but Jon got out of drinking powdered soy milk because he was a vegetarian.

The company folded. Perhaps it was the network marketing approach, perhaps it was their dreadful freeze-dried soy stroganoff, perhaps it was my brother's cunning logic. Either way, my dad still has his navy Royal American tie, tiled with small golden sowers. He even wears it from time to time, proving that at heart, he knows Royal American was just ahead of its time. Or that he has a tremendously understated sense of kitsch.

Much of family has toyed with vegetarianism. Like most intelligent people, I think we know that vegetarianism makes more sense than the meat-heavy diet espoused by most of America. Economically, physiologically, ecologically. But hanging your hat with the herbivore party isn't a casual thing. It's a lifestyle decision, like buying a Hummer, using Emoticons, or listening to Phish. You're either in, or you're out.

I'm definitely out. I love the reasons to be a vegetarian. But I love eating cow more. Whether it's Burger Kang nationwide, Dick's in Seattle, In 'N Out in Cali, or Five Nice Guys in DC (who I've yet to try, actually), a hamburger feels like home. I'll even slum it at White Castle if the mood is right. A hamburger is just more American than, say, Lee Iacocca, or George Bush. (Not that the latter's a stretch.) And try as I may to reduce the intake of meat into my diet, I always return to a good burger.

And Taco Bell. And General Tso's Chicken. And bacon.

You see my dilemma. Recently, however, I've discovered Edemame. "Edemame" is crazy talk for "soy bean," a distinction utilized to great effect by Whole Foods to leaven the sticker price. (It might be Japanese, not crazy talk. According to edemame.com, it means "Beans on Branches." I don't know.) The first time I had these, I thought, like any good American, "Why would anyone eat these?" Eating them seemed to be more about a cultural experience than any kind of savory delight.

But the taste grew on me each time someone forced the cultural experience on me. Now I've started buying them for myself, they're so good, particularly with sea salt.

This spike in edemame consumption coincides with an internal monologue I've been running. It's just struck me as odd recently that we kill an animal and eat it. Only cultural mores dictate that dog or horse is any more taboo than cow or pig. But isn't it kind of odd that we kill an animal and eat it? Like if you were in the wild, you'd have to approach an animal, kill it, peel its skin off, cook it, and eat the tasty parts. If you think about it long enough, it seems sort of koyaanisqatsi. Obviously, the opposite argument that species overpopulate without predators could seem just as well out of balance. But something don't sit right with the idea that we'd milk a cow for most of its useful life, then thank it by chowing down on the rest of it.

No easy answers tonight. Until I find some, I've got edemame and a nation of fast food at my service.

No comments: