For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about food. Not just perusing recipes to figure out what to make for dinner (although that is one of my major hobbies), but about what I choose to consume.
It all started with Michael Pollan and In Defense of Food. Oh, Michael Pollan, you make me want to be good! You terrify me with your statistics and amaze me with your stories of Aborigines who reverse their Western diseases by returning to a traditional diet. You tell me to eat only food that could potentially rot. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” You tell me to shop from the perimeter of the grocery store, to patronize my local farmers’ markets. Josh and I already visit our favorite farmers’ market almost every Saturday, and I have been trying to eat more salads. It can’t be that difficult.
Of course, then I had to go and see Forks Over Knives last week with a friend. It’s a documentary that makes Michael Pollan seem like he’s giving me a slap on the wrist. There are even more terrifying statistics, more fascinating stories of reversing Western diseases (like cancer….what?!), and a famed doctor from Cleveland to ante up the personal connection. He and the others tell me to eat a whole foods, plant-based diet. So, almost only plants.
Well. Okay. They do have some pretty compelling reasons.
But, as my friend and I discussed after the show, how do you change your diet over to an exclusively vegan one when you’ve grown up eating meat and dairy? Even if you can get your protein from plants, how do you change your mindset? And how do you resist the hot dogs at the farmers’ market, the fish tacos and barbecue from the food trucks that are taking over Providence?
And how, for God’s sake, do you accommodate your minor obsession with baking?
Maybe you have to adjust a little bit at a time. Maybe your grocery cart will be filled with mostly plants, but also with a carton of milk and a package of salmon, because you just love salmon. Maybe you’ll go to the farmers’ market every Saturday, and buy up all the root vegetables you could possibly need for the week, but you’ll still stop by the hot dog truck and the bakery truck (because you just discovered their apple cider doughnut holes).
I’m not a person to make changes overnight, or lightly. I’ve thought a lot about adding more plants to my diet, and limiting the amount of animal products because I probably don’t need as much as I think I do. And Pollan’s book and the documentary were both sobering and inspiring. But I’m nervous about getting enough protein, and I know I’ll need to adjust to the changes in my diet and shopping habits over time.
So this is how I’m going to do it: one recipe at a time. Reducing the meat here, adding a vegetable there. Giving myself permission to still use milk and eggs, because that will be a much more difficult transition.
Last night I returned to my enemy, the parsnip. It was time we had a serious discussion about how to make it more palatable. If I’m going to eat more vegetables, then they’d better start tasting delicious. And I wanted to see if I could align my plant goals with my historical cooking goals.
I turned to a simple Williamsburg recipe for mashed parsnips. You boil the parsnips until tender, then mash them up and “remove the strings” (I wasn’t sure how to do this, so I just cut out the core). Return them to the pot and reheat with “Milk or Cream as necessary.” Stir in a bit of butter, and you’re ready to serve.
Not the healthiest way to serve a vegetable, that’s for sure, but like I said, this is a slow and gradual process. Sometimes you have to trick yourself into eating more vegetables. And the result?A creamy, nutty mash, with hints of boiled milk. It was almost like parsnip porridge, in the most satisfying way.
I’m not sure how feasible it will be to eat more plants at the same time as cooking historical recipes (which call for lots and lots of animal products), but it’ll make this project even more interesting…
(adapted from The Williamsburg Art of Cookery)
four small parsnips
1/4 – 1/2 cup milk or cream (I used a bit of both)
1 tsp butter
pinch of salt
Peel and trim the parsnips and boil in a medium pot until tender, about 20 minutes. Pour out the water and cool. When cool enough to handle, mash up the parsnips and remove the center core. Over low heat, cook the mashed parsnips with the milk or cream (whatever amount seems right to you) until thick. Stir in the butter and salt. Serve.