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A couple of weeks ago I slid into a rant about tofu. Someone asked me about my daughter’s diet and wanted to know if we feed her meat. I said no and thought I knew in which direction the discussion was heading. I thought the next question would be “But how does she get any iron if you don’t feed her meat?” So I mentioned that we gave her legumes and tofu.

And this is what I learned: If you don’t want to discuss your child’s diet with meat eaters, mention the word “tofu”. It will distract them completely and they will probably no longer want to discuss any harm you are doing to your child by putting it on a vegetarian diet. Instead they will probably rant about how disgusting, tasteless and weirdly textured tofu is.

I have been vegetarian or vegan for the most part of my life, I have a hard time understanding why many people seem to hate tofu “and other meat substitutes” so much. They probably don’t get why I would eat something “bland and weirdly textured” when in fact I am just craving meat. And I don’t get why they think that meat is such an important food. I haven’t eaten it in over 20 years. I don’t miss it. And I don’t see tofu as a substitute for meat, but as an independent food, used in a variety of recipes that are not imitations of meat dishes.

I sometimes think I live on a different planet or speak a completely different language. And I usually fail at explaining that I don’t eat meat not because I don’t like the taste but because I don’t want to eat animals for ethical reasons. I think this has to do with the fact that it is so normal for everyone around me to exploit animals, to use them or their parts as “products” and that they have a hard time challenging this concept. When I try to explain my reasons for being vegan it sometimes feels like there is a big wall between me and the people I am talking to. This feeling has become much stronger since I became a parent.  Almost every time I tell meat eaters that we don’t feed our kid meat, all they ever ask is: “Don’t you think this is cruel?” “Don’t your think she will miss meat or feel left out?” And then they say: “She’ll want to try it one day!” The question “Don’t you think this is cruel?” sounds so absurd to me, when someone first said it, I thought they were making fun of me. But unfortunately they weren’t.

I have given up explaining. I don’t know what to say to questions like this except for a sarcastic “cruel indeed”. But instead I say “We’ll see.”

I wrote down this tofu incident because it made me realize how my discussions to meat eaters have changed over the years. I just don’t want to get into certain arguments anymore. I know my decisions are the right decisions for me and I also think they are the right decisions for our child. I am not going to defend them because I don’t have to.

When it comes to food, I think I found a pretty good strategy to avoid certain arguments. I don’t argue about sausages made from plants vs. “the real thing” anymore. I don’t try to recreate a vegan version of my mother in law’s famous cheesecake anymore.  I simply gave up creating the perfect vegan version of any omni food. If people think they cannot go vegan because they will miss product x too much, I know that it’s not in my power to change their views.

What I can do instead is to offer them food they don’t associate with stereotypes and negative feelings. Many vegans eat so differently from the rest of the population, they know so many awesome foods and recipes, why should they waste their time coming up with “the best vegan version of an omni food”? If instead we draw the attention to something new, people will probably ask about the food and its preparation instead of ranting about how a plant-based sausage is “fake” or how tofu “is just not the same as meat”. At least this has been my experience and I think it has become the basis for most of my recipes.

So if people hate tofu, let them eat tempeh! Most people I know have never eaten it before and sometimes they have never even heard of it. They don’t see it as a meat substitute and I made the experience that they are interested in learning about its preparation and they usually don’t refuse to try it. I also think it is easier to prepare than tofu, because it already has a great taste and texture of its own. There’s no need to press it or even marinate it.

This recipe is great both directly from the oven or served cold with a salad. I think the crispy tempeh and the spicy cilantro sauce go together perfectly.

Crispy Tempeh with Cilantro Sauce (serves 2)

For the cilantro sauce:

1 bunch (40 g) cilantro 2 tablespoons almond butter 2 tablespoons water 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice 1/2 teaspoon smoked salt (or regular salt) 1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder (or more if using regular salt) Place all ingredients in a blender and food processor and process into a sauce. Set aside.

For the tempeh:

200 g (7 oz.) tempeh, sliced into rounds or rectangles (1/2 cm thick)
90 g (3 cups) corn flakes, finely crushed (e.g. in a mortar and pestle)
2 tablespoons cornstarch or tapioca starch
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt black pepper
1 cup cold water

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the corn flakes in a soup plate. In a second soup plate combine cornstarch, paprika, salt, pepper, and water. Whisk to dissolve the cornstarch. Submerge the tempeh slices in the cornstarch mixture and coat in cornflakes. Place on the baking sheet (spray with oil, if you want) and bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Serve over rice, with a salad on the side and dip in cilantro sauce.