“Unless you’ve been living under a rock,” I read on a food blog, “you’ve likely heard of aquafaba.”
Oh dear Lord, I thought. What fresh hell was this?
Having plunged deep into vegan cooking sites in search of a treat to make for my sister’s upcoming visit, I discovered several promising recipes requiring this unknown ingredient. In my experience, such outliers generally require a road trip to Whole Foods, an expenditure of upwards of $25, and an hour of YouTube tutorials. Still, the banana bread looked yummy, so I read on. Astonishingly, aquafaba turned out to be nothing more than the juice from a can of chickpeas, apparently a good substitute for eggs. Hmm, I had a can in the cupboard that was only two months past its use-by date. This could work!
As I opened the chickpeas, I reflected that aquafaba might be new to me, but it wasn’t all that peculiar; in fact, in the context of America’s loonier food fads (many originating here in California) it was downright upright. While mashing the bananas, I thought about my college roommate who got swept up in a — would we call it a cult? Let’s say a group of kids following a self-help guru who insisted purple foods were karma boosters. Everyone in our house ate a lot of purple cabbage, blueberries, and raspberry ice cream that year. And no, I didn’t feel any closer to nirvana — except when eating the raspberry ice cream, of course.
Prior to her purple foods phase, this particular roommate was always trying to lose weight. She posted a sign on the refrigerator that read, “Minutes of pleasure equal hours of guilt, weeks of discomfort, and years of life lost.” The rest of us cheerfully ignored the warning, munching as much chocolate as our slender budgets would allow, while the dieting roommate insisted she’d rather eat grapefruit. Thus proving once again the wisdom of the adage, “When people go on a diet, the first thing they lose is the ability to tell the truth.”
The late twentieth century saw plenty of other goofball slenderizing regimens, such as the Sugar Diet ("keeps your energy up — and your appetite down") launched by — you guessed it — the Sugar Association. The Cookie Diet worked on much the same principle. Observing that you can’t eat while unconscious, the Sleeping Beauty Diet advised extra slumber and no stinting on sedatives. Elvis Presley tried it and snoozed for days, skipping his favorite nosh, Fool's Gold Loaf — a loaf of French bread filled with a pound each of bacon, peanut butter, and grape jelly. Yes, bypassing that 8000 calorie meal had to be a step in the right direction.
Vogue publicized the dubious Wine and Eggs Diet. For breakfast you had a hard-boiled egg, a glass of white wine, and black coffee. Lunch was the same but with two glasses of wine. Dinner was grilled steak, black coffee, and the rest of the wine. Supposedly in just three days, you’d shed five pounds. And you’d probably find yourself following the Sleeping Beauty Diet while you were at it. Two diets for the price of one.
It's easy to laugh at those old-school ideas now that we know how unhealthy and ineffective they are. (Sorry, were you planning to try the Cookie Diet? Don’t bother; sadly it doesn’t work.) No doubt future generations will have lively opinions about today’s trends, such as fasting, paleo, and keto. And remember those fake meats, Impossible and Beyond Beef, that were going to save our health and the planet’s? They’ve fallen from grace now, mostly because consumers found them unconvincing imitations. What’s next? That would be lab-grown meat, authorized for sale in Singapore in 2020 and headed soon to US supermarkets.
Proponents like to call it “slaughterless meat,” pointing out it eliminates animal cruelty as well as the environmental damage of intensive farming. How does it work? Cells extracted from a living creature are grown in stainless steel vats until they becomes muscle tissue bulky enough to be cooked and eaten. “The process of making cultivated meat is similar to brewing beer, but instead of growing yeast or microbes, we grow animal cells,” said Uma Valeti, founder and CEO of Upside Foods in Berkeley, CA. While I respect the potential benefits, I can’t really get past the yuck factor. I keep picturing that scene from the Matrix.
Another food regimen that smacks of sci-fi run amok replaces meals with nutrition capsules. “Our goal with the Food Pill Diet is to make it incredibly easy to lose weight by eliminating hunger while on a lower-calorie, planet-friendly, plant-based diet,” says the website. “This science was developed at the NASA Ames Research Base in Mountain View, CA, where we discovered that hunger could be eliminated if food could be delivered to body without tasting or smelling it.”
OK, no. I have to draw the line here. It’s not just the cost, a hefty $449 for the starter kit and a monthly fee of $698, presumably for the rest of your life. What really sticks in my craw is the idea of eliminating the pleasure of eating. The smell and taste of a good meal is a joy that nourishes body and soul. If we’re lucky enough be gathering at the table with congenial companions, while we’re passing around the platters we’re also sharing the sweet, savory, even sour notes of life, letting us taste the full range of human experience. Comforting, delicious meals remind us life can be fun; they bring us the kind of pleasure that smooths life’s rough edges and mellows out a nerve-wracking day. “After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody,” said Oscar Wilde, “even one’s own relatives.”
Our lifelong love affair with food is as complex and rewarding as any personal relationship. There’s nothing wrong in flirting with alternative diets, even the nutty ones, so long as you make sure they are non-toxic. As I slid the bread dough into the oven, I found myself wondering whether chickpea juice would turn out to be a keeper or just the latest banana oil (Roaring Twenties slang for frivolous nonsense).
“The bond between food and me is like other relationships in my life: complicated, evolving, demanding, and in need of constant work,” said Ashley Graham, a plus-size model and activist advocating body positivity and self-acceptance. “But together we’ve come so far, moving from my childhood obligation to clean my plate, to a mindless need to fill up, to a truly nourishing and pleasurable exchange. That’s the real reward.”
As I learned during those long-ago college days, you can feel full of angst before you eat raspberry ice cream, and again afterwards, but while you are actually spooning it into your mouth, you know for a fact that life really is a glorious miracle. And that afternoon I discovered you can say the same thing about a really good vegan banana bread. (And yes, you can find the link to the recipe below.)
Seriously the Best Vegan Banana Bread
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5/10/2023 05:47:19 pm
Rich looks like a true master chef singing his opera favorite after creating his favorites paella…looks so delicious! I keep wanting to make a paella, “jambalaya”’ in my culture, but then forget to do so.
Karen K McCann
5/12/2023 01:30:42 am
Rich is convinced that singing along with Italian music, especially by crooners and opera singers, makes any meal turn out better. And I have to agree.
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
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