Freedom From Flavours

Epiphany is probably too strong a word. Stepping back a shade it’s enough to state that yesterday I had a Cornish pasty for lunch. I know what you’re thinking, in this neck of the woods there are more pasties than you shake a surfboard at. And that would be correct. The difference yesterday, and the reason I almost went all the way and called it an epiphany is this particular pasty wasn’t your classic meat and bits of veg, nor even the growing in popularity cheese ’n onion. My pasty of choice, primarily because it was on sale at the reduced price of 74p not having sold at the previously discounted price of £1.50, was a vegan quorn pasty – arguably the most right on pasty not very much money can buy. 

For those unfamiliar with quorn it’s a microfungus – fusarium venenatum – that was discovered somewhere in south east England in the 1980s and thence incorporated as a meat substitute. Sound tasty? No, it doesn’t do much for me either. Vegan was the word that  resonated for me. The knowledge that nothing previously scampering around an intensive livestock farm had been slaughtered to satiate my appetite. A warm glow of culinary pride passing through me as I slipped the the pasty into a reusable carrier bag. 

A golden puffed up pastry case with a thick crimp along one side emanating an aroma during its 20 minutes in the oven filling my olfactory glands with eager anticipation. Having shifted my infrequent pasty consumption to the vegetarian option some time ago, being especially partial to a Rowe’s pasty made with feta cheese, I was ready to take the next step toward saving the planet and eliminate animals and animal by-products altogether. In other words – go vegan.

And that’s when it struck me – vegan food doesn’t taste, of anything. That vegan quorn pasty was the most tasteless bland thing ever to pass my lips. I’ve eaten meals that were downright dull until being lathered with anything from Branston Pickle to Encona very hot sauce. Even the most insipid plateful can be made into something notionally edible with the culinary equivalent of a spicy defribillator. Believe me – not this vegan quorn pasty. It was way beyond saving. The contents looked good. Bits of green and orangey vegetable and saucy looking moistness giving it an acceptable texture. But bite it and – urgh. I’ve seen more tantalising party political broadcasts. 

But perhaps that is the point. To be vegan is to make a pact with our senses to renounce the decadence of flavour and taste. Veganism isn’t about exciting our taste buds it’s about providing the maximum amount of nutrition without slaughter or sensory indulgence. It’s practical, and there is a lot to be said for that – just not flavour. 

The argument for going tasteless is persuasive. Food production creates some 17.3 billion metric tonnes of greenhouses gases annually, of which 57% comes from meat production. Then factor in the methane gas, more deadly than carbon dioxide, caused by millions of cows burping and farting. In fact there are climate change scientists who assess that meat eating has a  more detrimental effect on global warming than car driving. 

So how about it? Remove fashion and style and shifting seasons from our daily dress sense and think instead purely about modesty and warmth and keeping dry. Then apply this rule to food. It’s simple. Not as much fun perhaps but better both for our health and the planet. 

There’s been a steady drift towards tastelessness. It hit home in Lewis, in West Sussex a couple of years ago when Kim and I were sat with Asta at a coffee shop just off the high street. We’d ordered coffees (opting for oat milk because they didn’t serve dairy milk ought to have raised the alarm). And because Asta has a thing about croissants we ordered one of those to share. Asta developed her taste for French patisserie when she was a puppy en France to the extent that I buy one for her whenever we have them. She can smell them warming in the oven, it being the only occasion she rises up to join of us for breakfast. 

But something was wrong. She sniffed the hunk of croissant Kim offered and turned the other cheek. Kim tried again with another piece. Asta looked like she’s rather be anywhere but there. I tried and she turned away and lay on the floor. 

I knew a bit about gluten free baking – another aspect of the vegan/vegetarian experience – due to a growing number of friends having given up gluten on health grounds. It’s a protein found in most grains that helps with ‘structure’ during baking, I think. Anyway, our croissant we later learnt upon inspection of the menu was gluten free. 

Being something of a past the sell by date bargain shopper I bought a Pizza Express American Hot. Only something wasn’t right. It didn’t taste of much – least of all an American Hot. That’s when I noticed the small print on the box in the bin – gluten free. A pattern is emerging. 

Fast forward to the holiday apartment downstairs at The Red House. An artist friend who has stayed there more than any other left some Linda McCartney soya mince in the fridge. Unbeknown to me spiced up with Worcestershire Sauce and seasoning Kim produced a very tasty Shepherd’s Pie – or at east I thought so. She didn’t fool Asta though. We got the same reaction from her to the Shepherds Pie as she given to the croissant in Lewis. A major paws down!

Cutting to the chase almost any vegan, gluten free, quorn, soya what you will dish can be made munchable with a generous dollop of spice. It won’t taste of anything but chillie and that’s fine if you like hot food that doesn’t taste of anything but chillie. But if chillie isn’t your thing and you plan on saving the planet and animals bring on the bland. Embrace a food that does nothing but fill you up and provide enough vitamins and roughage to keep you going.  Freedom from flavours.

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