Bored with protein. You’ve echoed something that I’ve discovered over the past year, while doing a terrifying experiment. About a year ago I went completely plant-based, at first to comply with my wife’s desire for an animal-free kitchen, and thereafter to match my environmental awareness of plant-derived food (what has no feet but has a small footprint?). To be absolutely truthful, the feeling of deprivation was hard at times, but this tended to happen in two situations — going out to restaurants and having don’t-feel-like-it evenings in the kitchen (where the latter usually resulted in the former). Caseomorphin opiate withdrawals aside, a lack of imagination in the kitchen was a stumbling block, and still is at times. The training since birth has been to identify meals by the protein. Ask anybody, “What’s for dinner?” and they will rime off beef, pork, chicken or fish; all else is a “side dish” and hardly worth mention. Our national nutritional experts have tried to rectify this with food pyramids and pie-plate graphs to illustrate that the protein should be taking up a mere 20% of our volumetric intake, but if you have a plate with a steak “the size of your palm and the thickness of your pinkie” amidst a plate half filled with vegetables, the appetite, if not the cerebral cortex, will complain loudly. If such a sight was presented to you at a restaurant the establishment would be summarily punished on Yelp.com. Even vegetarian and vegan restaurants are wise to replicate the proportional illusion of the plate your mama put in front of you, even if the “meat” of the meal is a cleverly prepared eggplant or formed out of food-group-bending quinoa or edamame beans. But is it wise for you to cling to the protein-based meal? Especially, if you think about it, the craving for meat is for its saturation of fat (or in the case of bacon or ham, salt). There is a texture and what food scientists call “mouthfeel” that is missing when our traditional gorge on protein is compromised. A craving might arise if we don’t feel satiated, or “filled,” but certainly that should be the role of the carbohydrate that should take up 30% of your plate. This could be the key to the obesity epidemic (from which I’m not exempt) where to “get full” we have seconds and thirds of protein, way beyond any measure of recommended intake.
After a year of plant-based living the cravings for fat and salt have not disappeared, but that hasn’t been the experiment. I’ve heard of raw vegans who say that fresh produce takes on a whole new depth of flavor when you break the “what’s for dinner” spell. I have been eager to prove that a plant-based diet does not need to equate an ascetic lifestyle of suffering; I feel healthier in general and I’ve lost about 10 pounds without trying. But what I’ve discovered is a whole new understanding of cravings. Free of the limited beef/pork/chicken/fish pallet, I find myself craving different flavors and textures — sugar snap peas one week, avocado the next. Sometimes it’s in combination: celery sticks with peanut butter, or anything wrapped in crisp romaine leaves. I’ve been on weight loss diets in the past, and trying to get excited about vegetables while the stomach is empty is tough. This experience has been quite different, and the answer to the question, “What’s for dinner” could lead anywhere — kale croquets, yam poutine, lentil chili or tempeh and cucumber spears wrapped in nori wrapped in a tortilla smeared with vegemite and toasted in a sandwich press. I’m eating leftover taro burgers as I write this, and wondering if the monkey head mushrooms I saw in the Asian market would be something that I’d ever serve to my vegan friends!