Sunday, May 30, 2010

The DanJaniFoodieFesto – Why I Became a Vegetarian Last Friday Night

I’ve been a vegetarian now for about 36 hours. I had a hot dog yesterday, but it was at a Memorial Day barbecue, and that’s just what you’re supposed to do at holiday barbecue. And I had a few strips of bacon this morning, but it was my wife who had ordered it, so that doesn’t really count. Not sure how long this personal trend will last. I’ve dabbled in vegetarianism before, but I’m pretty lax about it. My record was three days, but that was when I was sick and didn’t really eat anything.

I’m also not much of a foodie. I like good, fresh, locally grown produce and nicely presented, carefully crafted meals. But I also don’t mind eating food of the highly processed, factory produced variety. Just not more than six or eight times a week. I’ll be honest. McDonalds is one of my favorite restaurants. But since every enlightened, cosmopolitan scholar worth his salt seems to have adopted a personal philosophy about food production and consumption, I suppose I should too. So here is my personal foodie manifesto. The DanJaniFoodieFesto.

As I mentioned, I have become a vegetarian. It began Friday night. In preparation for a long run on Saturday, as is my carbo-loading custom, I ate a seriously huge chicken parmesan. I don’t use the term “seriously huge” lightly when I talk about chicken parms. Ask anyone who knows me. A lot of people have been fooled by my scrawny stature. But for a 5’6” guy who weighs a buck forty, I can put down some chicken parm. Anyway, Friday’s portion of chicken parm was shocking, even to a man of such vast experience in these matters. I considered not finishing it, but then regained my focus, committed, doubled down and polished that bitch off. It was impressive.

Then I went home, eased my bloated self down onto the couch, and watched Food Inc., a documentary by Robert Kenner and Eric Schlosser about the meat packing industry. My overall takeaway: damn, that shit is gross. The film was a little preachy and over-reaching. A large, general indictment of capitalism, immigration, corporations, environmental policy and world health. But what resonated most with me was the shots of what really goes on in a meat factory.

I know as well as anyone that the cute red barns depicted on food labels and the corny, friendly down home farmers on TV hawking chicken are pure bullshit PR creations, but over the course of 36 years, they have sunk in a little. I just don’t spend much time contemplating where my food actually comes from. But damn, taking any kind of close-up look at how cows and chickens and pigs are manufactured for food production – and manufacturing really is what happens – is highly disturbing. If chickens ever somehow took over the world and started treating us the way we treat them, we’d be screwed. The live chickens in industrial coops are pretty much stored in huge, pitch black warehouses and have been engineered to grow so quickly and to produce such a disproportionately high percentage of white meat, that their bones and organs can’t keep up. They can’t walk more than a few paces without falling over. Same kind of nastiness with the bovines and hogs. There’s only a tangential relationship between naturally occurring cows and pigs and the things are bred for our consumption.

So how have I made it through this much of my life happily and enthusiastically eating every variety of beast? The same way I deal with most unpleasant things – not thinking about them. Living in a first world city – where food on a plate has lost all association with its origins – you really don’t have to be confronted at all with how your burger became a burger. You can just focus on it’s thick, juicy, cheesy, bacon strip covered deliciousness. And c’mon. Burgers are delicious.

So that’s what been on my mind for the almost the past two days. We’ll see how long this all remains the focus of my attention. We’re having dinner tonight with some vegetarian friends, so my new anti-meat regime will probably last at least until mid-morning tomorrow. Come Tuesday, when my mind will become re-cluttered with work issues and regular life stuff, memories of those poor chicks and cows may recede. But for now, I’m a convert.

On an unrelated note, since I’m on a manifesto-ing food rampage, I need to update my last posting with some more current information. Last month, I mercilessly mocked KFC’s newest creation – the Double Down (the bacon, ham and cheese sandwich whose outer layer – bread – has been replaced with fried chicken strips). Well I learned from a article, that in terms of pure, distilled, unabashed gluttony, the Double Down has got nothing on some of the dishes from one of my other favorite restaurants – Cheesecake Factory. CF’s pasta carbonara dish has 2500 calories and 85 grams of fat, which is the equivalent of – are you ready for this – FIVE KFC Double Downs. That is somehow more than just disgusting; it’s incredible. I say hats off to Cheesecake Factory. Gluttony is their business model. And if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. Leave room for dessert!

Here are some fun and informative links:

For an outrageously mammoth portion of chicken parm, next time you’re in Boston, head to Delfino in Roslindale:

For more information about the documentary Food, Inc., check out:

Here’s the full article about possibly the most egregious, over the top, fatty, life-expectancy-rate-reducing restaurant in history – Cheesecake Factory:

Here’s a video of Meatfest 2009 – before my awakening:

Here’s my rant about the KFC Double Down:

And finally, if you’re still in the mood for a Double Down sandwich, here’s a link to some KFC printable coupons:


Unknown said...

Interesting. If you go back to eating meat, consider switching to happy meat (free range and the like). Its a little more expensive but that's ok bc you end up eating it less.

mediaslinger said...

i went to see food, inc. thinking that afterwards i would go to the grocery store next door. i couldn't even walk in the door. i just peeked through the windows and thought about the scene where they show how few companies and ingredients are really behind the huge 'variety' in our stores. and how the needs of mcdonald's has really driven the size, color and content of our food. tonight i'm gonna grill.

Michael Zank said...

Just looking at the website addresses of these links made me sick. I didn't have the hard to click. (The rhyme is unintended. Maybe I am like that guy who faked his way into Harvard and started spouting poetry! Just a thought)

Unknown said...

Grocery stores are bullshit. Esp in summer when you can get good food grown near home. If you are in metro boston, then check out this link:

good food

Unknown said...

Dan, I admire your commitment to vegitarianism.

Tracy said...

If you change your mind, you might want to get in on the Stillman's meat CSA. We pick up once a month behind the bank in JP. Local, grass fed, much happier animals. If you want to try it out for a month, take our August share because we'll be away all month.

P.S. Love the column. Hate the word "foodie." Hate it. Worst word created in ages.

Unknown said...

Gunso and I haven't sat down to watch a movie together since I was pregnant over 2 years ago. We finally had time to do that last week and what does he pick? Food, Inc. Gee, thanks. Now our food bill is sky-rocketing as I will only buy free range and grass-fed. (For now.) Ya ever see the scenes in the movie "Baraka" where they break the wings and melt the beaks of baby chicks. Compelling. Found it:

Unknown said...

So proud of you Mr. Janis! At this link, a few more reasons to keep the faith, or at least cut back!

Leslie said...

What?!? Now that you convinced me to eat meat, you go veggie?!? Sheesh.

Abhijit "Beej" Das said...

Dan, are you still vegetarian? Great post as always!