A few years ago, I gave a one-day memoir workshop whose focus was food writing. One of the students, Elizabeth, wrote an essay about the meals she cooked and ate in Tibet, where she lived in a house with several revolutionaries during the 2008 uprising against China. Her piece answered the question, “What do you eat at the revolution?” What they ate—simple communal meals with occasional flashes of subversive decadence in the form of chocolate—turned out to seem, in her hands, inextricably linked to what was going on politically.
Even in times of turmoil, upheaval, and resistance, we still have to eat. Since the recent presidential election, I’ve found myself thinking differently about what and where and how I eat, and I doubt I’m alone in this. Eating at the revolution is different from eating during a time of peace of mind and prosperity of culture. When everything I value is under siege, when an ignorant, lying madman is issuing daily and hourly decrees that threaten this country’s basic rights, it’s hard to get worked up over the search for the perfect steak tartare or the most amazing bouillabaisse. I’m keenly aware of the millions of people in the U.S. alone who can’t afford to eat well or have no access to good food. I seem to have lost my zest for lavishness.
Everything right now, including food, feels politically charged: I don’t want to support corporations whose policies and actions I oppose, so I boycott their products. I want to stay strong and healthy because I’m not sure what the hell is going on with health insurance in the near future, and we need energy to resist and protest whatever’s coming. Cooking is a source of comfort and distraction, and eating in restaurants is very expensive, so I cook and eat at home most of the time, nourishing meals that are easy to digest amid biliousness and stomach-churning anxiety.
Recently, as a sort of 2017 resolution, I quit eating red meat. I made this decision, I regret to say, not out of compassion for animals, those dear cows and sheep and pigs, so intelligent, so emotional, so deserving of mercy and tender feeling. I didn’t do it for them, and I didn’t do it for my health or my budget, either. I love animals, but I also love eating red meat. No, I did it because I learned that cattle raising is devastating to the environment. Vast swaths of rain forests have been cleared for grazing. Billows of methane are released in the form of cow farts into the atmosphere, contributing hugely to global warming. In fact, the cattle industry, worldwide, causes more damage than all the carbon emissions from cars, planes, trucks, and factories put together.
Somehow, knowing this, I can’t hungrily ogle a steak or hamburger or pot roast with much justification. I can’t find it in myself to eat something that’s so undeniably detrimental to our overpopulated, overheated, overstressed planet, especially something I don’t need and can easily forego. So I’ve quit outright, except for a piece of holiday roast with family or plate of wild-caught game from a hunter friend. Becoming a quasi-vegetarian feels like a tiny drop in an earth-sized bucket, but so is any individual effort—we make decisions every day about what to eat, what to do without, what to buy, what to avoid. We do what we can, and I can do this.
Today, after a morning of bad, surreal, terrifying news, I marched to the kitchen and hauled a heap of raw vegetables out of the crisper and chopped up a plateful of carrots, celery, jicama, and red cabbage. I threw together a dipping sauce out of tahini and yogurt, with mustard, dill, garlic, lemon juice, honey, and chipotle powder. Eating this loud, fibrous lunch didn’t solve a damned thing, but my jaws chewed something tangible instead of clenching with impotent rage, and the creamy, savory sauce soothed my taste buds, which had been coated all morning with bile and the sourness of fear.
Still, like Elizabeth and her Tibetan revolutionary housemates, we all need something decadent once in a while, and there’s nothing more festive, thankful, and comforting than pumpkin pie. This recipe has a twist—it’s got a nut crust, and the filling has no milk or eggs. But don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. Traditional American cooking has always been able to withstand change.
Pecan-Crust Coconut Pumpkin Pie
For the crust:
- 2 ½ cups pecans,
- 3 tablespoons grapeseed or other mild-tasting oil
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- ¼ cup brown sugar
In a Cuisinart, mix all ingredients together until the pecans are well ground. Press into a pie plate. Chill for an hour in the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prebake the crust for 12 minutes or so. Then remove from the oven and fill with the following mixture:
- 1 ½ 15-oz. cans of pumpkin (give the other half of the 2nd can to your dog)
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- ½ 15-oz. can coconut cream (save the other half to put on top instead of whipped cream)
- ½ cup almond or coconut milk
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- Pumpkin spice: 2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp each ginger and nutmeg, ½ tsp each cloves and allspice, mixed
- 1 tsp salt
Mix all ingredients together well with a hand mixer and pour into piecrust. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Let it set in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving. Slather with coconut cream and devour.