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MIT student blogger Sam M. '07

My life in the bush of ghosts by Sam M. '07

The long-awaited chronicles of my life as a vegetarian.

Heya!

So, from 7:00 PM on 7/11/05 to 7:30 PM on 8/8/05, a total of four weeks, I was a card-carrying vegetarian.

Why?

So I’d have something to write about on my blog someday. Kind of. Over the past year, I’ve been trying to give up certain things and routines I take for granted so I’m not so reliant on them. I gave up shaving for IAP and now I can go about two weeks before I start to feel shaggy. I stopped showering for 8 days during finals week last term and now I’m down to an average of three days a week. I say it’s for water conservation, but it’s totally laziness. So, since I used to rely a lot on eating meat with pretty much every meal (plain spaghetti and sauce just never felt right), I thought it’d be interesting to give it up for a month and see if my life could seem complete and fulfilled without it.

My secondary motivation was to learn how to cook better with vegetables and tofu–I cook for myself a lot during the school year, but it usually just involves cutting up a chicken breast, tossing it into a skillet to brown, and throwing in whatever vegtables I happen to have on hand, then heating until it’s all done. It’s usually a balanced meal, but not too imaginative.

Well, it was an odd experience. I definitely missed eating meat nonstop for the first week, but after that I didn’t have much of a problem–I’d only be struck with a craving when I passed a free barbecue going on somewhere on campus or saw somebody getting a chicken gyro in line ahead of me. I’d also get cravings only for the weirdest low-quality meats that I almost never eat, like corn dogs and scrapple. Strangely enough, I did develop a slight revulsion to the foods that I used to consume most frequently–Goosebeary’s teriyaki chicken with brown rice (comes with vegetables and cabbage salad; a balanced lunch for $4) and an Anna’s Taqueria chicken burrito (small, no cheese, black beans, salsa, hot sauce, guacamole, lettuce). Even now, I can’t remember why I liked the teriyaki chicken so much.

I usually only take lunch break for about half an hour and there’s no refrigerator or microwave in my lab, so I tend to get food truck pretty much every day. So, for this month, falafel was my savior. At 77 Massachusetts Avenue, there’s a greek/middle eastern truck with a really friendly large lady, and you can get a falafel/baklava/soda combo for only $4. Plus, if you buy 7 sandwiches, you get the 8th free! It’s such a good deal! I don’t know how they make money. I never ate there until they started this promotion, but since then I’ve filled up three cards. You can tell I’m not an econ major.

Goosebeary’s, a South Asian food truck outside of building 68 (the biology building) also had some pretty good cheap and balanced vegetarian lunch options. Lunch from Goosebeary’s pretty much consists of three scoops of rice, two scoops of hot entree, and one scoop of really cold steamed vegetables. They’ve got three average tofu entrees in their daily, and about once a week they served a great peanut tofu dish that was really the only reason I went. However, the line was so long that I could never tell if they had peanut tofu, so I relied

So, that was my lunch for a month. I used to get Anna’s sometimes, but their vegetarian burrito isn’t recommendable–though the seasoning is nice and they use a wide variety of vegetables, the turnaround on the steamed vegetables is so low that they almost always go into the burrito at room temperature, and Anna’s burritos, unlike revenge, are not a dish best served cold.

I was much, much hungrier as a vegetarian than I am as an omnivore. Earlier in the summer I’d do about two meals a day. Last month I’d have to do breakfast, lunch, pre-running snack, sensible dinner, and late night snack with hot tea or else my stomach would start to devour itself. So, with quick snacks. Luckily, one happy week Star Market had mangoes on sale for 50 cents each (67 percent off), so I bought 8 and that solved my breakfast and snack problems for the better part of two weeks.

Still, I don’t think this is something that I could keep up during term just because my options eating on campus during the summer seemed to be so limited–maybe if I had gone longer, I could have enjoyed salads or veggie burritos for lunch. Still, I kept sane mainly by cooking for myself. Here’s three recipes that kept me sane for a month without meat.

Alton Brown’s Fillet o’ Fu

Alton Brown is totally my TV boyfriend…

alton2.JPG

…and he has a pretty good, very general tofu recipe, if you take the time to squeeze all the water out as he suggests in it. While the tofu “fillets” had a pretty nice texture, I preferred to cut up the tofu after marinating, coat it with egg, and then stir-fry it with some sauce and vegetables. The egg just gives the outside such a crispy, contrasting texture that I really enjoyed cooking tofu for the first time in a long while.

Have you seen Good Eats? Such a great show, especially for MIT students. Oh, wait, we don’t get Food Network. Thanks, MIT Cable.

Rachael Ray’s Salsa Stoup

Rachael Ray is not a watchable television personality. She’s on the Food Network about 40 times a week, flailing her way around America on a budget of $40 a day or careening through her patented 30-minute meals in real-time, always using plenty of “EVOO” and “nicesmokycumin” along the way. On the episode that she prepared this, she made sure to breathlessly explain that stoup is “thicker than a soup, thinner than a stew” seven times, in case you just tuned in. Anyway, I made a pot of this one week and got five pretty substantial meals out of it.

I didn’t make the accompanying quesadillas becuase it wasn’t a baking kind of summer, so I filled out the soup with a can of black beans, some fresh corn taken off the cob, and some chopped-up fresh mango. With that, it went great with garlic toast or anything else I had around, and her fresh guacamole (or “avocado smash”) convinced me never to go back to the prepared stuff.

Giada de Laurentiis’s Gnocchi

I love gnocchi, and this recipe takes about 40 minutes from start to finish. I never thought of microwaving the potatoes before. Her butter-thyme sauce was pretty good, but I ended up adding a lot of different things–sometimes tomato sauce, sometimes broccoli and zucchini, sometimes just some olive oil and cheese. It’s somehow more satisfying than just spaghetti and sauce, and the gnocchi keep really well in the fridge. If you make her recipe, though, I think you need to add a little more flour than she suggests to keep the gnocchi together.

TRIVIA: Giada is the beautiful, yet large-headed daughter of famous producer Dino de Laurentiis.

Other Stuff I Made A Lot

I made a spinach salad with pears, walnuts, and balsamic vinegar. I think spinach is really bitter, but the walnuts really helped mask the bitterness, and I liked the balsamic on the pears. A little feta might have made this even better, but I’m a college student.

I made a zucchini frittata that turned out pretty well. Just chop or shred a zucchini, fry it with some scallions/onions/garlic/whatever until most of the moisture gets out, then scramble two eggs and add those to the pan, flip it, and serve it with toast.

I also overcame my fear of Special K. Special K is by far my favorite cereal. For those of you who have seen how I eat Life, my passion for Life doesn’t even come close to that for Special K. However, I’m afraid to buy it because I know its target audience is dieting and menopausal women–honestly, for me it’s the same as walking into a supermarket and buying a box of Secret antiperspirant. Special K is delicious enough for a man, but clearly made for a woman. Seriously! Just look at the Special K website as compared to, say, Corn Flakes. Crispix: “Join the party!” Special K: “Lose those thighs, sister!” Well, this month, since I was a vegetarian, I had no food shame, so I bought three boxes. Yeah, that lasted like two weeks. I don’t know if I can go cold turkey.

And, also thanks to Alton, I’ve discovered a new dessert–bread with sour cream and honey.

The Summation

In retrospect, I don’t know what the purpose of this entry is, but I suffered without meat for a month, and now you’ve suffered reading about it.

“It took me fourteen years to write it, and so should it take you fourteen years to read it.” –James Joyce, on Finnegan’s Wake

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