My Elitist Vegetarian Cookbook

I am not a vegetarian or a vegan. I am an unrepentant omnivore. Yet, I still like vegetarian cookbooks. I am always on the lookout for recipes that will show me new ways to prepare vegetables so that I can more easily incorporate them into my everyday menus. Years ago when I lived in Ann Arbor, I found a cookbook on sale, but only found one recipe that I used on a regular basis and continue to use: Greek cheese and potato patties. It introduced me to feta cheese, which I had never heard of before I found the recipe.

The one thing that stood out to be from this book is that it was written with a UK terminology: rocket was arugula, coriander was cilantro, etc. I don’t remember what press this was or if it was written for the UK audience, but something about it told me that it would intentionally be marketed to a primarily American audience in either case. There was actually a UK to US glossary in the back, which was how I found out that coriander and cilantro were the same thing.

However, this is a really small thing when it comes to the cookbook. I now have a far less extensive cookbook from The Pampered Chef for quick vegetarian main dishes. While some of the recipes look easy enough, many of them contain ingredients that are WAY out of my budget. Sometimes this is not a problem because I substitute frozen vegetables for fresh ones or dried herbs for fresh ones. Still, this sometimes changes the way the dish can be made and prevents me from even attempting some of them.

Then there are the tools needed to prepare them properly. I don’t have saute dishes or saute tongs. I don’t even have a stackable cooling wrack or many of the other materials found in recipes. I know that enterprising minds can make do with what they have, but when you are lacking in key ingredients and utensils, you just may get the impression that these recipes were not made with you in mind.

And yet, this is only a small part of the problems with many vegetarian and other “healthy” eating lifestyles. Many people who preach the gospel of vegetarianism/veganism often do not take into consideration that these are just not options for many people. I would love to incorporate more vegetarian options into my diet, but so many of the ingredients I find are just too expensive to buy on a regular basis. Others are just plain unfamiliar and sometimes not even available where I live.

Every so often I come across posts on Tumblr discussing the ways foods that indigenous and marginalized peoples have eaten for years are suddenly “discovered” by the mainstream. (In fact, someone wrote a Tumblr post about the quinoa phenomenon and someone plagiarized the entire article for a mainstream website, but that’s a different post.) The demand for these foods become so high that the people who have eaten them for years can no longer afford them. The acai berry originally comes from the South American Amazon, but who can actually afford the berries that have become a favorite of the superfoods movement?

When I lived in a small city in Tennessee, I only had choices with the basics: carrots, potatoes, broccoli, spinach and other similar types of foods. However, now that I’m in a much larger and more “affluent” city in Wisconsin, I see foods I had only read about. I can find kefir in the grocery store. There are at least two full aisles of organic options and they also sit alongside processed options. I live down the street from a co-op, but not only is the markup higher on their selections, but they also charge non-members an additional 5% rather than give members a discount.

I have to admit that for someone with such a low budget, I am a choosy eater. I don’t like tomatoes, lettuce or pretty much anything used to make a salad. I tried to get into arugula a few years ago because I found a recipe for rocket and pear salad. That didn’t work out. I don’t like nuts and the vegetables I do eat have to be cooked, sometimes beyond recognition. This is why I love cookbooks so much. I see recipes for something called polenta and find that it is just a cornmeal porridge. I find new ways to make things I already cook so that I don’t get bored with the foods I can afford.

Still, it is distressing to get so excited about a cookbook only to find that out of thousands of recipes, I may only be able to afford to make less than 30 of them. Polenta was actually once considered peasant food, but now it is valued among chefs for its versatility. Imagine how much it costs to include it when it’s featured in that upscale restaurant or Whole Foods and Trader Joes. Structural inequalities are important to address when it comes to what types of foods we have access to and the cost of those foods as well as the assumptions that come when thinking that everyone has equal access to “healthier” foods.