Before launching into today’s post and recipe, I’d like to congratulate Melissa Kallick, the winner of my giveaway for a pack of savory, vegan, gluten-free snack bars from Slow Food for Fast Lives!
Back in mid-June, shortly after I had set myself up in Brooklyn for the summer, I published a review of a restaurant in my new neighborhood and promised many more over the course of the next three months. However, on the next occasion I sat down to type up a Brooklyn restaurant review, I stopped myself mid-paragraph and questioned, “Do I really want to post this review on my blog?”
Why, after offering my take on dozens of vegan-friendly eateries around the world, did I suddenly decide not to do so? I don’t feel comfortable publishing restaurant reviews anymore. Dining at fabulous eateries on a regular basis (or at all) constitutes an enormous privilege afforded to me by my family’s well-off background and my social standing as a non-marginalized individual.
Indeed, if one considers that, after paying rent and taxes, someone who works full-time on the minimum wage enjoys only $77 per week to spend on food and transportation, a single dinner at an average restaurant in New York City would eat up (oh, puns!) about a third of the money that someone has to spend over the course of seven days (i.e., 20 more meals). I imagine that anyone who has experienced this skimpy weekly budget – 3.3 million workers, or 4.3 percent of all hourly paid workers – would not only feel completely unable to identify with me as a person, but would also feel rather offended that I was essentially rubbing in their face the class gap that allowed me to eat at a high-quality restaurant at least once a week while their food choices remained severely constrained.
As someone who advocates veganism – a lifestyle often associated today with upper-middle-class white folks, and thereby regarded as classist – I seek not to perpetuate the frequently true stereotype of vegans as people focused solely on staying up-to-date on the latest animal-free food trends, waxing poetic about expensive specialty products, and acting in other ways that obscure the heart of veganism: saying no, wherever possible in the contemporary world, to consuming products that rely on animal exploitation (meat, dairy, eggs, honey, fur, leather, silk, animal-tested cosmetics, etc.). While I understand the importance of sharing with not-yet-vegans the wide variety of familiar, veganized foods – both packaged and in restaurants – that make many individual’s transition easier, I feel that relying on these aspects of one form of the vegan lifestyle contributes to the capitalist system that both oppresses marginalized groups everywhere and fuels the animal agriculture industry.
Veganism is about so much more than the food we eat, no matter how ridiculously delicious it can be, and centering our (and thereby the general public’s) attention on the food to which we have ready access contributes to the perception of a vegan diet as viable only for the most privileged groups of people. I certainly don’t mean to say that we shouldn’t continue to share vegan food with others – I write a blog with plenty of recipes, for goodness sake – but that we should be careful to not present vegan specialty products and restaurant food as the only important aspects of a vegan lifestyle.
Of course, in addition to this shift in attention, we should support measures to get nourishing food into communities damaged by systemic inequalities, such as community garden initiatives, efforts to minimize food waste, and the programs of such groups as the Food Empowerment Project. Lack of access to healthy food options is also intimately connected to structural racism against which we must unite, though these efforts prove much more complicated and multifaceted. Check out my Resources section to learn more about structural racism and how we might combat it.
Obviously, my choice to no longer publish restaurant reviews on my blog will not fix the lack of access to nourishing food in low-income communities, nor does it mean that I’ve ceased to play into the classist rhetoric of the current vegan movement. However, I feel that it will comprise a small, semi-symbolic/semi-material step on the path to a less classist vegan movement. If you’re interested in vegan restaurant recommendations in a particular city, check out my Travel section or shoot me a message using my Contact form.
And anyhow, why take up blog space writing about food I didn’t even make, especially when I and anyone with a bit of practice have the ability to create just as tasty fare? Indeed, it doesn’t take a culinary genius to blend up some cashews into creamy bliss, stuff it inside the flowers that grow on the end of summer’s bounty of zucchini, and fry it all intro crispy morsels of summery yumminess. This recipe represents Italian peasant food at its best – a reminder that the origins of plant-based food lay not with cost-prohibitive items, but with unpretentious produce-centric dishes. Pff, who needs restaurant reviews?
Cashew Cheese-Stuffed Fried Squash Blossoms
Makes 15-20 blossoms.
1 cup raw cashews, soaked for at least 4 hours (preferably overnight), drained, and rinsed
1 tbsp sweet white miso
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemons’ worth)
1/2 tsp maple syrup
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup tightly packed fresh tarragon leaves
15-20 fresh squash blossoms, gently rinsed
1/2 cup arrowroot powder or cornstarch
Coconut or vegetable oil for frying
In the bowl of a food processor or the carafe of a high-speed blender, combine all of the cashew cheese ingredients except the tarragon (cashews through salt). Process/blend until very smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl/carafe as necessary to get everything blending nicely. Once the mixture is smooth, pulse in the tarragon so that it flecks the cheese, rather than turns it green.
Spoon a tablespoon or so into the hollow middle of each blossom, handling the delicate blossoms carefully so as not to tear them. As you stuff the blossoms, lay each one on a large plate.
Place the arrowroot or cornstarch in a medium-sized bowl. Lightly coat each stuffed blossom in the starch, tapping the blossom against the side of the bowl to knock off any excess starch. Lay back on the plate.
Heat over high heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a large-ish skillet with about a 1/2-inch of oil. While the oil heats, place two layers of paper towel on another large plate. Once the oil is very hot and starts crackling (350°F), place half of the stuffed and coated blossoms in the oil. Fry for 2-4 minutes on each side, or until both sides are golden brown, using a tongs to turn the blossoms over. Once the blossoms have finished frying, turn off the heat and carefully transfer them with the tongs to the paper towel-lined plate. Place the skillet back over the heat, and add more oil as needed to bring the level back up to about a 1/2-inch of oil. Fry the remaining half of the blossoms, placing them on the paper towel-lined plate when they’ve finished frying. Serve immediately.
In solidarity, Ali.