Bad Olivia. Bad. I totally missed my post yesterday and I had a great recipe to share but alas my job has been ramping up and sore throats have been passing around…so I’ll keep the subject of yesterday’s post in my pocket for another time. Today I really wanted to get into a cornerstone recipe that really anyone should have, but that will be especially useful in building vegan recipes: a beefy vegetable stock. This is a great recipe to have because it’s full of flavor without any meat products and even the most carnivorous fiend could find uses for this. I fully attribute the beef-like flavor to my trick, and not so secret, ingredient which I’ll reveal below. But before the recipe a little detour and there might even be a trivia question along the way.
I was researching the idea of being a social vegan and discovered a new breed of eater: the flexivore. It turns out that there are other omnivores like myself who have looked around and decided to continue to eat meat, but make a conscious effort to reduce their consumption overall out of objection to how the meat industry is currently run. I suspect this aligns a great deal with the publishing of Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” which managed to really open my eyes to a variety of issues in the world of food—both exposing new problems and flushing out ones I was already familiar with. I’ve read a lot on the topic of food (shocker!) but this is still one of my favorite books to hand off to friends because I think it manages to be both entertaining and compelling while being highly informative. Plus it profiles my favorite farmer in the whole wide world. No not McDonald – a libertarian hippie out of Virginia by the name of Joel Salatin. (l)ibertarian hippies are the best and I’m probably just saying that because I am one *wink* Therefore I openly admit a little bit of a political bias to my love of this book.
But even with that in mind you can’t fight the facts. My number one reason for eating vegan when I eat out is summed up in one, surprising word: Corn. As it turns out that one word—corn—is synonymous with another word in our diets—Oil. No not the kind you cook with. The kind we drive and have land wars over. Let me explain. No there is too much. Let me sum up. **Name that movie for a prize!!** I know my readers have short attention spans so I’m not going to give you a detailed book report because really it would take pages so let me just explain my issue with meat and how it relates to corn and oil.
Why the scientist, nutritionist and health conscious me objects to the modern meat industry:
- Agribusiness raises our meat on a diet of corn because corn is cheap and cows get nice and fat off it. Fat means lots of saturated fats which taste good to the consumer and cheap corn feed for the cows means high profits.
- Cows can’t digest corn properly. It makes them sick. So sick that we pump them full of antibiotics—not to cure the disease mind you because it’s not bacterial. No we use the antibiotics to cure the symptoms of their gastrointestinal distress. The antibiotics also make the cows bigger and fatter. Win for agribusiness!
- But wait…doesn’t misuse of antibiotics mean resistant bugs? You are a winner. Yes it does. And there’s more…see the antibiotics actually change the chemistry of a cow’s stomach. A cow’s stomach is distinct from a human’s and should not normally incubate bacteria that can make us sick. The antibiotics change that. Now the cows harbor germs that can make us ill, and are breeding resistant version of them. All this while they are kept in highly unsanitary conditions…like standing in 6 inches of cow poop all day instead of grazing.
- Agriculture accounts for 60-70% of our antibiotics in this country and largely for these unwarranted applications.
But wait there’s more….why the economist, libertarian and peace loving hippie me object:
- Corn is cheap to produce, the bulk of what we grow is inedible to humans as well as cows and gets sold at a loss to these big farms yet we grow more each year. Why?
- It all started with a post-world war 2 surplus of U.S. government owned ammonium nitrate for making bombs. Ammonium also makes good fertilizer. Since the government was out of the war business it went into the fertilizer making business instead.
- Corn became King, or as Pollan puts it Queen (as in the Welfare Queen) since it was cheap to grow and could be converted to a number of things like high fructose corn sugar, ethanol and utilized as food for chickens and pigs who can digest it. Excess fertilizer on the market meant cheap fertilizer and the advent of monoculture. (Simplified definition: Monoculture refers to the practice of farming where fertilizer is used to replenish soil deprived of nutrients from over farming of a single crop)
- Corn flooded the market because it was such a good seller…at first. Then we had too much and prices went down. Farmers started growing more to try to sell more to make up for previous year losses.
- Today the cost of producing corn is subsidized by 50%–that’s taxpayer money and translates to 6 billion a year. And the cost keeps going down. We’re investing in a loss year after year. Why? Because big agribusiness and Uncle Ronald McDonald depends on the stuff.
- ¼ of the goods you buy in a supermarket contain corn products. A chicken nugget which is comprised of 38 ingredients is almost a third corn and no that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Sorry Dad.
- Oh and by the way, the fertilizer to make that corn each year? It requires oil. That stuff we get from the middle east. Conservative estimates show that 1 bushel of corn = ¼ gallon of oil. How much corn do we produce in a year? Well in 2007 we grew over 13 billion bushels. The number has come down to closer to 12.5 in recent trends. That’s still well over 3 billion gallons of oil in a year…to grow a crop we have too much of and lose money on. And that doesn’t even account for the other hidden oil costs—like how much we need to run the plants that process that corn into things like corn syrup; the cost of the machines to farm it; the cost of healthcare as consumers eat excessive amounts of cheap sugars and get fat and sickly.
- Don’t get me started on how this impacts our healthcare system. I’m already at two pages. But while the corn investment cost might not be much (6 billion is nothing compared to our military budget) if you consider the impact of cheap sugar/fat foods on health and our health care costs this becomes all the more shocking.
And I’m still not getting into it all. Now admittedly going vegan doesn’t really mean you stop supporting this overuse of oil for fertilizer since the other two gas guzzling crops are wheat and soy—a staple in most vegan diets. It is however a start. I also avoid soy as much as possible for other reasons I’ll explore on another day. Tomorrow I’ll hopefully get into a little bit more of the environmental impact of factory farming, the meat industry and the corn connection but for now I’ll move onto this soup stock—something which is definitely worth investing a little thyme into. Soup stock is essential not just for soups but as a way of adding a boost of flavor to an assortment of dishes. It provides the backbone for a number of sauces and gravies. A good stock is central to any kitchen pantry…or in my case a freezer. You can make a huge batch of this stuff and then freeze it in various quantities.
My favorite trick? Ice cubes. Pour this into an ice cube tray and then store into baggies once frozen. This creates perfect 1-2 tbsp allotments that you can use in a pinch without having to thaw a huge batch or keep fresh stuff on hand all the time. This is the only stock tip I’ve ever taken from Martha Stewart. My ultimate vegan vegetable stock uses dried mushrooms–and don’t skimp on the porcini! No it doesn’t taste like mushroom soup thanks to the plethora of other vegetables but what the mushrooms do is impart an undeniable beef-y flavor quality which will leave your guests asking many questions. Questions like “Who made this amazing soup/gravy?” and “You mean this is VEGAN?!” but never will you hear “where’s the beef?!” Do not fear the fungi. It’s your best friend in this recipe so even if you don’t normally like to eat mushrooms, try this out. It might start to turn you….
Olivia’s Beefed up Vegan Broth
An Olivia Original – Makes about 8 to 10 cups Read more