Is Mad Cow Disease a Boom for Vegetarians? (Health) : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

Of course, poultry and fish are not without their dangers also. Even I concede almost all poultry (and pork) is not raised under humane conditions and fish are subject to pollution and over-fishing.

February 9, 2001 Paris Journal: Gastronomes Have a Beef With a Renouncing Chef By MARLISE SIMONS -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Philippe Schaff for The New York Times Alain Passard, right, admits mad cow disease has influenced him. "I have given up eating meat, so I don't want to go on cooking it."

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- At a Glance • Behind Europe's Frenzy: A Disease That Affects the Brain (Dec. 1, 2000) Related Articles • International: Europe Home • International Home

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ARIS, Feb. 8 — When life in the French kitchen was still normal, before mad cow disease appeared, the chef at Arpège would singe the choicest T-bones and bathe his fattened goose livers in a mixture of caramel and raspberry.

The chef, Alain Passard, called himself a rôtissier, a man who confronted lamb, steak and duck with open flames. His inventions gained the admiration of his colleagues as well as three stars in the Michelin guide, the ultimate accolade.

So it was all the more startling when Mr. Passard recently announced that he had — even foie gras. He declared that from now on, he would devote himself to vegetables.

"I want to show that French cuisine based on vegetables is possible," said Mr. Passard, in a statement quickly taken as blasphemy. "I'm rethinking everything because of the turn our food is taking. French cooking is modeled on meat, but I have given up eating meat, so I don't want to go on cooking it."

In a country where vegetarians are few and considered rather abnormal, his leap across the food barrier has become the gastronomic talk of the moment. The media have examined it with attention usually reserved for political scandal.

By now, most French people have learned that cows suspected of having the brain-wasting disease must be put to death and that the animals, naturally herbivores, may have been infected by a diet of contaminated bone meal. French consumers have heard that there is more salmonella in today's chickens and that feed used on fish farms might be laced with hormones or dioxins.

But there is still respect for tradition. And this means that every civilized meal should include fish, fowl or beast. The arrival of "le fast food" from overseas was already a blow. But now that such pillars as "le steak" are under attack from one of France's own cardinals of food, even blasé Parisians are demanding explanations. Some have berated Mr. Passard as if he were a warmonger.

"Surely you are offending your colleagues who are still cooking meat," said a caller, interrupting an interview in the chef's crowded office.

Moments later, a radio reporter called, asking, "Is this not an act of blatant opportunism at a time when French farmers and butchers are suffering?"

Mr. Passard, a soft-spoken man of 43, less of a prima donna than some of his culinary brethren, said he had mulled over his decision for some time and had been phasing out meat because he was bored. "I've gone as far as I can go in this cuisine," he said. "It's difficult to be creative with meat."

He admitted that mad cow had influenced him. "We humans have caused a problem turning a grass- eating ruminant into a carnivore," he said. "I myself feel like chewing something that is fresh and tender."

No other top chef has gone quite as far as Mr. Passard, but as the appetite for red meat has fallen in France, other restaurants have expanded their fish and fowl dishes and gone out of their way to reassure clients that their supplies come from healthy cattle.

The Michelin guide, the culinary bible, is noting other changes. "We see a comeback of rustic vegetables," said Jean-Frédéric Douroux, a spokesman. He cited rutabaga, pumpkin and tuber artichoke along with salsify, a fleshy root, and spelt, a wheat variety. These all used to be out of fashion, Mr. Douroux said.

"Some were used as substitutes for other vegetables during the war, so maybe they had left bad memories."

What about vegetarian cooking? Mr. Douroux was asked. "We don't think there's more, but it is improving," he said, hesitating, and then revealed, "We will include a few more vegetarian restaurants in our guide."

Food writers see the return to tubers, squashes and chards as a search for wholesomeness from the land — for a kind of stability in a shifting world.

Rough, fermented country bread is now in demand even in chic patisseries. "The French soul is still connected to the countryside, and people are looking there for reassurance," said Mort Rosenblum, author of a new culinary travelogue, "A Goose in Toulouse."

Still, the countryside is some way from Mr. Passard's chic Parisian restaurant on the rue de Grenelle.

Paul Bocuse, one of France's most famous chefs, showed mixed feelings about Mr. Passard's total embrace of vegetables. "Perhaps he can succeed — that boy certainly has a lot of talent," said Mr. Bocuse, who is 75. "We'll talk in a year and see if he has convinced people."

Mr. Bocuse, who is based in Lyon, the heart of carnivorous France, said that because of health concerns he had removed organ meats like brains, kidneys and sweetbreads from the menu, but that he was still serving beef filet and calves' liver.

"I've seen a lot of changes in my time," Mr. Bocuse said. "But what's going on now with the cattle is a catastrophe. Even scientists don't agree on what to do."

But the big question now, as he put it, is: can one charge the usual price for a meal of mainly vegetables?

Mr. Passard's three-star establishment is of course no conventional veggie place with heaps of rice and lentils. Lunch costs around $100, and a 10-course dinner close to $200. Invariably full, Arpège has a two-week waiting list.

"No, prices will not change," said Mr. Passard, explaining that he uses costly ingredients like white and black truffles, the best mushrooms, aged balsamic vinegars. Vegetables are labor-intensive, he said. For a chunk of veal or lamb, a few minutes less or more may not make the difference. "But with a leek you can ruin the texture or the flavor in a few seconds."

Long before he shocked Paris gastronomes, Mr. Passard was admired for his experimentation. On a recent day he was doing just that at his stove, gleefully folding ripe pear into sautéed yellow onion and sprinkling on a dash of homemade verbena oil.

"Since I started to rethink my cooking," he said, "I've found a multitude of choices. Vegetables are much more colorful, more perfumed, more luminous." He uses the flavor of flowers, like nasturtium and pansies, and says he likes borage "because it tastes like oysters." He is perfecting a pastry shell with a filling of parsley and black truffles.

As the experiments go on, some are already on the menu: poached egg in maple syrup; celeriac with baked chestnut; whipped avocado on smoked herring eggs perfumed with pistachio oil. There will be a few nonplant exceptions like morsels of squab and, when available, a limited choice of seafood like carpaccio of cured lobster.

Other cultures, the chef concedes, appreciate the art of vegetable cooking, but "in France we still have to invent it."

Will he use a wok? No, that's far too aggressive, he said.

What about steaming?

"Horrors," he replied, declaring that steam can ruin color and perfume, and leave things overcooked. "We will do gentle, slow simmering and liaise with a little butter."

"People say I'm crazy," he went on, now picking up a new candidate for a tryout, a branch of lemony geranium leaves.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (, February 09, 2001


Very cool. Thanks, Ken!

-- Shannon at Grateful Acres Animal Sanctuary (, February 09, 2001.

So Ken, are you actually contemplating raising veggies instead of cows? A bit premature, but I know a worry a lot of us livestock owners have with a possible panic among consumers with this media frenzy going on.

-- kate Henderson (, February 09, 2001.

Not garden-type vegetables. If I did sell the herd about the only things which would grow on my land is corn and/or soybeans. Since I have no interest in doing that myself, I would rent out the fields. Rent has held at $30 per acre per year, which would be more than I make off of my herd with a whole lot less work.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (, February 09, 2001.

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