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VeganMofo 2010 day 1 | Mark Bittman | Madhur Jaffrey

Posted Nov 01 2010 5:03am

Well here it is, day one of veganmofo 2010. I toyed with various one-week plans like a week of raw foods, a week of book reviews, or a week of macrobiotic dishes, as well as month-long alphabetical plans and color-themed plans. In the end, I couldn't come to a decision, so I decided for now on a "surprise" plan. In other words ... no plan. Perhaps an organized plan will still surface, but for now it's more or less the great "random plan." It starts with two well-known authors on tour to promote their new cookbooks.

Last Thursday evening we heard the New York Times food writer Mark Bittman speak as part of a book tour promoting his latest cookbook. It's not just a book about how to cook, it's a book about how to eat. Ten years ago I wouldn't have gone to hear him, but his ideas about eating have changed so much in the past few years, I was curious about what he would say, and I wasn't disappointed. He gave quite an impassioned talk about the necessity of moving towards a plant-based (vegan) diet. As you probably know, Bittman eats a vegan diet until 5 p.m. and then he eats animal products if he wants to. But even his consumption after 5 p.m. has changed to using animal foods as a seasoning rather than as the main course. For example, he makes mushroom stew with a little meat instead of beef stew with mushrooms. He believes that we will all be vegan in 50 years because the planet cannot sustain an animal-based diet.

He also believes we must abandon junk foods, including soda, if we are to regain and maintain our health. He thinks animal foods, and junk foods should be so expensive that they will be consumed rarely. Although not a vegan, he was quite militant about the need to move in that direction, and he encouraged the audience to take baby steps, if necessary, until they were eating a mostly, or totally, plant-based diet. Most of his talk centered around health (his health has improved dramatically since he altered his diet) and the environment, rather than animal rights issues, though he touched briefly on the cruelty inherent in the animal-based foods industry. He bashed big business, and the tremendous power it has in influencing what we eat.

Although he's not a vegetarian or vegan, he is an influential, well-known, mainstream media personality exposing people to positive ideas about eating a plant-based diet, and he seems to be moving closer and closer to becoming a vegan himself. Go hear him if his book tour brings him to your city.

The next evening, we went to hear renowned cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey speak about her newest cookbook. I didn't realize she had published 31 books, and was also an actress. The two cookbooks I'm familiar with are both vegetarian, though Jaffrey's latest book is not. We loved hearing her speak about her childhood in India and how she developed her palate. She also spoke about her love of cooking, and how she has tried to simplify traditional Indian recipes to make them accessible to the modern cook.

I knew there were going to be food samples so I assumed Jaffrey was going to do a cooking demonstration, but what actually occurred was that several store employees decided it would be fun to prepare a meal from the cookbook to serve after the talk. So, when the talk ended and Jaffrey headed off to the airport, a complete meal of Indian food appeared on the counter and we all had dinner! Several of the dishes were vegan — I think there was one chicken curry — and we had mushroom and pea curry, cucumber salad, rice and the most delicious raw cauliflower salad.

This experience took place at Third Place Books, an independent book store in the Seattle area. My husband was so impressed by what the store had provided by way of the speaker and dinner, he decided he had to purchase a book. He bought a cookbook (not the Madhur Jaffrey book) and made several dishes from it. Stay tuned!
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