My wife is always saying that she is ambivalent about meat. She will eat it because that is what I cook but in the end she would probably be happy eating a non-meat diet.
Last summer while visiting Chicago we happened to be at Eataly during the lunch hour. If you haven’t been to this place I don’t even know how to begin to explain it other than it is a foodie’s wet dream. It is gourmet grocery, wine shop, butcher, fish monger, cheese shop, cafe and multiple restaurants rolled into one. We decided to stay for a bite.
We were looking for something light, maybe a nice salad and a glass of wine as we had already and would likely continue to be eating our way through the Windy City. The pasta, pizza and heavier offering of most of the eating venues did not appeal to us.
Then we ended up at Le Verdure, the vegetarian restaurant. I ordered the Verdure Alla Piastra which was a seasonal blend of flat top grilled veggies with farro finished in a light vinaigrette. The dish was AMAZING especially when paired with a bottle of Peroni.
As I finished this dish, immensely satisfied, it dawned on me: this is what happens when you elevate vegetables from an afterthought to the main course. This dish, really this whole restaurant, was dedicated to doing just that. This is what it takes to eat and really enjoy a plant based diet!
We’ve been bombarded with the messages from the Pollanists and Food Incans that meat is bad and veggies are good. OK, I get it. We all need to eat more plants in our diet. However, I am overcoming decades of what can best be described as systematic oppression of vegetables.
I’m sure my experience is quite similar to others of my generation in that fresh vegetables were not a staple at our dinner table. Our cupboards were full of vegetables…in cans. Our freezers had their fair share too. I just don’t remember eating many fresh vegetables other than the crisp iceberg salads dripping with bleu cheese dressing and covered with croutons on steak nights. Oh, I almost forgot the most popular fresh ‘vegetable’ in the Midwest: sweetcorn! That marvelous ‘vegetable’ sweetcorn, roasted to perfection on barbecue nights, the kernels on the edge browning ever so slightly with carmelized goodness. But I digress.
I go to the supermarket and carefully choose the ribeye steak I will eat for dinner. I look it over from every angle from behind the butcher case glass. I check for marbling and color. I assess the thickness and compare my object to her brood. I want the best steak.
Contrast the above ritual to my hustle through the produce section. I grab and go. I have been known to come home with peppers that have noticeable mold on their undersurfaces only I never noticed because I didn’t care enough to look. It’s a vegetable ferchrissakes! It is an afterthought. Garnish. Nothing to put any thought whatsoever into. Well…that has been the problem. And I suspect many treat their vegetables in a similar manner.
In the months that passed since our visit to Eataly, my wife has incorporated more veggies into her diet. Our cupboards are full of all kinds of stuff…some things I have no idea what they are. She cooks these veggies in such a way that I am sometimes tempted to put down my steakknife and indulge. They are good. They satisfy. They are interesting. Why? Because she gives them the attention they deserve.
I guess our relationship with food can be likened to that of our interpersonal relationships. The more satisfying ones come from attention, devotion and caring. You get out what you put in. So maybe it’s time to give our vegetables a bit more attention. Give them that 50% of the real estate on your plate. Try an interesting recipe. GASP! Go meatless on occasion! Perhaps we will all be better off.