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Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Soy, Not Oi, 20 years later

Posted May 14 2009 5:01pm
Time was when a young vegan couldn’t just hop on the internet to tap into blogs and other digital compendiums of veg recipes and ideas. It used to be more likely that an introduction to veg cooking came in the form of some post-hippy parent’s copy of The Enchanted Broccoli Forest , recovered from a dusty shelf, rather than the shiny gleam of the post-punk kitchen’s bestseller, Vegan with a Vengeance. And in that time, before all of these contemporary resources, there was Soy, Not Oi.

ravaged by the ages, my 1996 copy of Soy, Not Oi
How do I tell you about Soy, Not Oi? I can distill it factually, tell you that almost 20 years ago Soy, Not Oi, a cook zine collectively assembled by the Hippycore Collective in Arizona, was put out as a punk rock treatise on veganism, a cut and paste 100+ page masterpiece of recipes, playlists and illustrations: punks carrying grocery bags full of produce, anthropomorphic avocados in anarchist capes and gauntlets, angry vegetables hell-bent on destroying the government. It was a champion of do-it-yourself veganism and politics, a cookbook that abandoned of the idea of recipes as rules which require allegiance. If most cookbooks are linear driving directions, Soy, Not Oi was a full-color map that offered inspired company along the way to whatever destination you were able to dream up. Unintentionally, it was a quirky catalyst for a generation of punk vegans who found meaning in what they cooked, how and for whom. Soy, Not Oi was a reference point, a cultural standard bearer. In my youthfully arrogant, self-referential punk space, it seemed that there were few people worth knowing who didn’t know the Soy, Not Oi chocolate peanut butter cookies.

veggies storming congress, the back cover of Soy, Not Oi
After the factual summary though, I'm left with a more complex task of drawing out the personal. Maybe there's profundity, of a punk rock measure, in Soy, Not Oi, but on the whole it's a collection of jokes and inside ribbings, silliness and scrounge-around cooking. It makes me pause and weigh what's actually there in its pages against the meaning it has for me, wondering how these sides of the scale can balance out. Balance though--it's in the ripped up pages, the packing tape binding repairs, the splatters of meals from long ago with people I loved and those I didn't, the smears of cookie baking with bands and travelers and assorted others who I met in passing or lived with here and there, and in the little notes from a teenaged me, thinking in the margins, becoming someone who found something in cooking: creativity, community, compassion. On the side of Soy, Not Oi there are years of experience and memory and a whole path carved out toward finding care in the kitchen, becoming autonomous and experimental, creative and questing. And lest I sell it short as a cookzine, I should say up front, there are many useful, creative and delicious recipes too, that you may follow, as you will.

Jack Kahn, a Soy, Not Oi editor in his band Desecration, photo by Wayne !
So, yeah, it was a bunch of culinarily questionable punks who taught me how to cook. I don't think I would have ever found myself in the kitchen if I'd spent those formative years really following recipes. It was passages like this in Soy, Not Oi that got my mind working
...what kind of a vegan are you, having to read a book to cook or prepare food! ...You have been socialized. You think that 1/2 cup less of this or 1/2 cup more of that will render your dish inedible. You think that a written recipe is the optimum balance of are bummed.

Different combinations will bring different tastes and different textures; a wonderful array of tastebud experiences that will bring you joyful, romantic, painful, funny, gratifying and humiliating memories...the merging of the soul and the pallet [sic]. So my friend, break free from the rigid limit of your food habits and turn your kitchen into a playground of creativity.
A founding principal of Soy, Not Oi seemed to be that veganism was actually about forging new paths and being creative, being adventurous and not only asking why things had to be the way they were, but trying out new methods, just to see what might happen. It was an essential element of my own identity as a vegan. That I later started studying more classic techniques, becoming fairly certain that a 1/2 cup more or less of anything could do some serious damage in a recipe, and learning about the chemistry involved in certain culinary ventures doesn't negate any of the freedom that I found in Soy, Not Oi. It's all part of the journey.

Jack Kahn and me: older, wiser, 2009
In its way, Soy, Not Oi has been my constant companion these many years, so it was a fun twist of fate when a couple years ago, while I was neck-deep in a sociology PhD program and cooking like crazy to find blessedly footnote-free solace, a friend suggested I would like to meet someone she’d been working for, a psychology professor interested in gender. In Boston, that’s a little like saying you know an aspiring actor in Hollywood (we're chock-a-block with academics who study in all sorts of interesting areas), so sure, I’m interested but, you know, mildly. Did she also mention that he had been involved in the punk scene and once did a vegan cookzine…called Soy, Not Oi? Fast as you can say “recipes designed to destroy the government,” Jack Kahn (that's J@ck for those of you in the Soy, Not Oi know) and I are sharing dinner and then tea at a nearby coffeeshop and then before you know it, we’re really friends and it’s hard to believe, as I cook his 40th birthday party dinner, that all those years ago, before we could ever have imagined meeting, he was teaching me to cook. Sort of.

In honor of my friendship with Jack and the strange centrality of Soy, Not Oi in my life I took this opportunity offered by Foodbuzz to throw a meaningful dinner party for Jack and some of our friends. Obviously, I had to go back to the source, my ragged copy of Soy, Not Oi, but to stay faithful to its influence in my life, I had to go off road; finding inspiration in its pages and marrying it to all that I've learned, practiced, succeeded and failed at through the years. No recipes, no masters! We started with soup, minestrone alla genovese, a recipe for which is actually in Soy, Not Oi. Its instructions and ingredients are a little suspect and I remember, if not it in particular, bland, undercooked vegan soups like it. The wisdom it shared with me though was the addition of pesto to the minestrone. Being vegan meant that commercially prepared pesto was generally out of the question, so I had to learn to make my own pesto, something I'd never even had before. It transformed that soup (and many others), even as poorly as I may have made them at the time. Now, understanding a little more about how to coax depth of flavor from soups, the addition of fresh made pesto just takes it that much further, for a perfectly comforting bowl of rich, deep flavors.

For the minestrone, though the original recipe doesn't call for them, I added in broad beans and bortolli, soaked and cooked from their dry forms, another trick I picked up from Soy, Not Oi. No health-food vegans were the Hippycore Krew, but they did share the notion that big business foods and overpackaged items did damage. Plus, it was cheaper, vital when you needed that extra three bucks for a 7" record. And of course, there was the do-it-yourself (diy) ethic--why pay for something you could do yourself?

In that vein, I made us a homemade loaf of rosemary olive oil bread. Working from a full winter's earned knowledge of bread baking that has finally made it a complete intuitive process, I started a poolish a day before and used the heat of a cozy kitchen, alive with cooking, to coax a nice rise out of my loaf in its basket, which accounts for the nice little lines on this pre-baked dough.

How many permutations of poorly made bread lay between my first experiments doing diy loaves in college and now? Who can say, but the will to try and try again and learn was definitely established in a punk rock spirit, even if the keys to success actually lay in learning techniques from Bread Alone and Peter Reinhart .

Whether you're a serious gourmand or a serious punk, sometimes, you have to take diy to the next level, as with these homemade baked potato chips, one of the few recipes that Soy, Not Oi shares with Gourmet magazine. With the oven cranked to turn out a crispy crust on the rosemary bread, we sliced up russet potatoes and tossed them with a little olive oil and salt. Into the oven to crisp up and sprinkled with a few twists of sea salt: it's a chill snack, it's a fancy little appetizer, it's both!

For the chips, a couple of dips. This, a roasted red pepper and fried sage dip was made creamy with a raw cashew base, tangy with a little balsamic, earthy with the sage and sweet with the peppers. A fairly random suggestion in a Soy, Not Oi recipe taught me to roast my own sweet peppers, a usefully thift-conscious exercise that I've always been thankful for. I've emphasized the freedom and flexibilty that is to be found in Soy, Not Oi, but for every time I was invited to play around with a recipe or actually not really even provided with a recipe, there was also a bit of concretely useful advise and instruction: from learning to make dolmas to brewing your own beer, it opened up worlds and demystified things I thought I would never cook with. I think it goes to show that everyone knows something specific and interesting and passed down from family and friends about how to cook and what to do with a wide variety of ingredients. Looking through this zine, there are recipes from around the world, with no self-consciousness about presenting any particular sampling of dishes and no gesture toward relegating certain ingredients to a either a particular ethnic group or gourmet-minded yuppie territory.

As Jack points out in Soy, Not Oi, pretty much every vegan gathering needs a bean dip, so I couldn't let this be an exception. My house-dip is a straightforward cannellini puree, this time though, I punched it up with smoked Spanish paprika as a promise to myself to pick up a new diy skill this summer and build a little smoker in the backyard: smoked tofu, smoked mushrooms, smoked peaches, smoked peppers...coming soon to Somerville.

Oh, and yeah, we had an entree. I took the tofu burger recipe, a very '70s style veggie main and embellished it with roasted garlic, caramelized cipollini onions, fresh English peas, herbs and broth-cooked bulgur and wild rice. Dipped in fresh bread crumbs and lightly fried, these reimagined burgers became croquettes and were topped with a pinenut-based basil and black pepper cream. Served alongside some purple kale and what is actually probably my favorite thing in Soy, Not Oi, fried cauliflower. There was a time in college when I worked on a three-four head a week cauliflower habit. As Kamala notes in the recipe's intro, it's simple but it takes "finesse" to char it just so and keep the florets intact. I liked that about it--the barest of ingredients combined with time and attention transformed into sometime perfectly satisfying and delicious.

For dessert, I took off from the following recipe for baked apples, found in the lunches section of Soy, Not Oi: "hollow out some apples. Fill them with almond paste, raisins, almonds, hazel nuts and marmelade" [sic]. I'd never thought of using marzipan to stuff fruit and baking it. Inspired, I sketched out this dessert of pear halves with a filling of marzipan, marcona almonds, quince paste and rosemary, drizzled with olive oil and baked until soft. The sharpness of the rosemary, tang of quince, richness of marconas and the sweet almond candy flavor that seeped through the soft pears was miles down the road from any baked apple I'd ever made "back in the day" and it was a real illustration of the all the road traveled.

To accompany the pears, I took a note from the pastry chef at Oleana , Maura Kilpatrick, who makes an amazing dairy-free cremolata with just almonds and sugar. I wanted to turn to the Oleana cookbook, but had to keep it real and made a version that starts just as I knew their's does, with fresh made almond milk. I soaked the blanched almonds in water and then pureed them along with a scraped vanilla bean pod and a pinch of sea salt to a smooth, milky consistency that was then poured into a cheese-cloth lined mesh strainer where the almond pulp was collected.

Then it was simply a matter of squeezing the remaining milk out of the almond pulp, whisking in some sugar and freezing in my ice cream maker. The result is so ethereal, so much more than any commercial almond milk you could buy, so much lighter and more delicate and purely flavorful than any frozen dessert from the store. While I'm definitely thankful that there are more frozen vegan desserts than I ever could have imagined when I first became vegan, it's good to be reminded that cultivating the skill to do things ourselves is a treat that nothing else can match.

A freshly toasted bit of almond brittle finished the dessert, which we all finished while listening to old records and sharing stories of days gone by.

If you were inspired in your own life by Soy, Not Oi, are moved to check it out now, or have other diy sources of vegan inspiration, I'd like to welcome you to contribute to what Jack and I are hoping will be a 20th anniversary edition of Soy, Not Oi. After much conferring, it was decided that Soy, Not Oi is in fact in its 18th year now. In the next year, we're hoping to collect new recipes and non-recipes, jumping off points for diy explorations to fuel a new generation of vegan masterminds. If you'd like to join in, email me at
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