On Instagram, the followers of a chef couldn't understand why I was upset. I had tapped on the thumbnail image because it looked good. It seemed to be a creamy pasta with fresh peas with a steak fanned on on the side.
When I looked at the larger image, the steak looked rancid - it had a nice char, but the exposed flesh was a strange texture and a slimy brown colour. From my experience as a chef, I knew something was amiss. I saw "flank steak" in the description and knew that too was incorrect because of the muscle structure that this "steak" lacked.
Then I realized I was on a vegan's account and that the description went on to say that this was a "flank steak of portobello mushroom"
(pause for effect and adequate gasping time)
I was a vegetarian for 15 years. I believe in the mantra, " Do what you will and harm none". Calling a mushroom a steak can be forgiven because the term steak is now colloquial for 'a hunk, a meaty piece'. But calling it a flank steak goes too far. Here's why:
Butchery is a craft. It is a respected tradition and it honors the animal. A human takes the time to cut the meat from the bone with little waste. It brings us closer to nature. It helps us respect the whole animal. Taking a term for a specific cut of beef to describe a vegetable is not only an insult to the effort of all butchers ( and also farmers who raised that animal with love and care) but also to the mushroom. It is not respecting the mushroom for what it is. It is not honoring the mushroom's unique characteristics.
Which brings me to my next big problem with calling things what they are not: That chef bent to the whines of the public. He wouldn't have called it a flank steak mushroom if he didn't sell more because of it. He was answering the whines of the public. This is a world where people want everything and want it now. It's the same reason we have tofu chicken fingers and bean chips. Our desire to eat whatever we want, whenever we want, is actually pulling us further away from food. We are eating substitutes and imitations. In doing so, we lose a bond with food that should be innate.
I get upset because food tradition is incredibly important to me. We share stories through food. I can understand populations around the world better based on the food they eat. Food is a way of life everywhere in the world (it seems), except for in North America. In North America, food is just something else we consume.
Food is special because it helps us hold onto our roots and respect our ancestors. We don't have to imitate them, but to look back and understand why they did things the way they did helps us live life better now. Let me explain with yoghurt. Yoghurt is more than one thousand years old. It has no single origin. It was made (probably by accident at first) by people who kept livestock. They wasted nothing. It was a time when dissemination of knowledge was through story, passed down from guardian to child, from mentor to mentee. It was important to listen carefully lest you lose that yoghurt recipe and disrespect the animal by wasting something it gives freely.
It probably only took 5 years for it all to change. Yoghurt was in demand as a low calorie snack. People wanted something creamy and had the luxury of wanting to buy calorie free food. Soon, 'Yoghurt' was being made with skim milk, carrageenan, gelatin, guar gum, splenda (which is so processed that I am appalled it can and still is labelled 'yoghurt').
It wasn't the companies, it was the people, the demand that changed things. It was the " but I want it" attitude. Where did this attitude come from? Was it globalization? By sharing our food and ideas, we actually diluted them into a big grab bag of 'pick and choose'.
This is something I have talked about before. I get pretty aggravated because I do love food with such a passion. When you eat food that is imitating something else, you are taking the story away. By buying something that imitates what you actually want, you are separating yourself further from the source. The more processed . packaged food is, the less involved a human is. You are voting at the cash register. Companies will respond to what you buy. They care about profit. If you don't respect real yoghurt, it will eventually disappear. Thousands of years will disappear.
If you want to be a vegan, go for it. Love the vegetables and legumes for their history; for the decades they have been nourishing people. Don't make a mushroom seem special because it can look like a steak, know that it is special for the qualities it already has.
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but we're not talking about roses.