May It Please the Palate: What do you eat and what do you call yourself? Nick explains . . .

What do I call myself?

One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons depicts a man knotting his tie before a mirror, off to some event, and practicing what he will say if asked "What do you do?"

He tries, "I'm a lawyer. The law. I do law. I practice law. I'm an attorney. Something legal."

(Sounds like that man is badly in need of a session with frequent Legal News contributor Elizabeth Jolliffe, "Your Benchmark Coach," who urges lawyers to always have their 30-second "elevator speech" at the ready.)

So maybe you have the lawyer thing down. But what do you say if someone asks what you eat? What label do you use?

My youngest daughter can say, "I'm a vegan." A vegan avoids all animal products, including eggs and dairy. But my daughter eats honey; some vegans don't. Other vegans eat only raw foods. Fruitarians eat only raw fruit and seeds, believing that eating vegetables is harmful to the environment through agriculture.

Vegetarians - generally shorthand for lacto-ovo vegetarians - eat dairy products and eggs. My wife eats fish and seafood, but no eggs. What does that make her? A lacto-fisho vegetarian?

Carnivore can be a misleading label. Meat-eaters range from traditional meat-and-potatoes eaters, to "omnivores" who eat a much more varied diet.

"Flexitarian" is a newish term that refers to someone who eats a semi-vegetarian diet, or eats meat only occasionally.

Oprah Winfrey, who was once sued by the meat industry for "food disparagement" after a show about mad cow disease, recently promoted a vegan diet, challenging her staffers to eat vegan for a week.

A guest on her show, New York Times bestselling author and wellness guru Kathy Freston, said that her husband was "veganish," eating vegan at home but occasionally eating meat or fish when they went out.

Oprah brightly responded, "Maybe that's what I'll be - veganish!"

Many true vegans were horrified, protesting that one can be no more "veganish" than a "little bit pregnant," and that it was just a nice way of saying "omnivore."

Enter Michael Pollan, the bestselling author who wrote "The Omnivore's Dilemma."

In a nutshell, how can someone who eats meat do so morally? Pollan offers a critique of industrial food production, and urges support for eating food that is locally, naturally, and ethically raised.

Pollan was criticized from both ends - Big Food producers who see nothing wrong with their methods, and vegetarians who cannot reconcile eating meat with morality.

In a more recent book, "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto," Pollan condenses his message into seven veganish words: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." (By "eat food" he cautions to avoid processed products that "your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.")

Writer Mark Bittman, who recently retired his New York Times food column "The Minimalist," has also undergone a bit of a transformation.

This long-time gourmet, who enjoyed bacon and egg breakfasts and cheeseburger lunches, now advocates what he calls "less-meatatarianism." (Take that, spell check.)

In recent articles and his book "Food Matters," Bittman explains how many world cultures use meat as a meal enhancer rather than the centerpiece (i.e., the American hunk o'flesh with two sides).

Less meat consumption not only translates to better health, but helps the environment. Meat production uses 70 percent of the world's available farmland and contributes to greenhouse gases, a factor in global warming.

Bittman himself now eats vegan until 6 p.m. and then "whatever he wants" after that. He cut his animal protein consumption by two-thirds and lost 35 pounds, lowering his cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

To boot, the weight loss eased strain on his runners' knees, and he feels good about leaving a smaller "carbon footprint" in the world.

Mark Bittman's granola recipe follows. If you balk at the price of the store-bought stuff, it's easy to make your own.

You can also follow Bittman's suggestion to adapt this recipe with "just about any dry ingredient imaginable: other grains, like flakes of rye or wheat; dried fruit; spices, from cinnamon to vanilla to nutmeg to cardamom; orange zest, crystallized ginger, peanut butter, even chocolate chips. And of course, any nut or seed you can think of."

Crunchy Granola

Ingredients:

* 6 cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant)

* 2 cups mixed nuts and seeds: sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, chopped walnuts, pecans, almonds or cashews

* 1 cup dried unsweetened shredded coconut, optional

* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste

* Dash salt

* 1/2 to 1 cup honey or maple syrup, or to taste

* 1 cup raisins or chopped dried fruit, optional

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine oats, nuts and seeds, coconut, cinnamon, salt and sweetener. Place on a sheet pan and put in oven.

Bake for 30 minutes or a little longer, stirring occasionally. Mixture should brown evenly; the browner it gets without burning, the crunchier the granola will be.

Remove pan from oven and add raisins or dried fruit. Cool on a rack, stirring once in a while until granola reaches room temperature.

Transfer to a sealed container and store in refrigerator; it will keep indefinitely.

So what am I? My breakfast today included a salad from a local farm, and my dinner finished with cake and Peanut M&M's.

Let's just say, "I do food."

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation.

He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine.

Published: Thu, Jul 14, 2011

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