Food Paparazzi

11 Nov

As I loaded my plate yesterday at Mumbai Bistro’s buffet-by-the-pound, I eagerly took out my camera to photograph it before eating.  As the flash flickered in the dining room, I paused and wondered, what am I doing?  Who takes pictures of their food?  Why?

As I asked myself these questions, I also had one answer — I do, I take pictures of my food, and so do many of my vegan/veg-curious friends.  I have definitely been in vegetarian restaurants in which our whole table whipped out cameras to photograph beautiful meals as they arrived.

What compels me, as well as my other vegan friends, to take these pictures?  I have yet to meet or dine with a nonvegetarian who does the same thing.  As I think of my relationship with food, I realize that I simply view it differently now, as a vegan, than as I had before.  I plan menus at home around seasonal produce, and note the passage of time as these fruits and vegetables come and go.  My bookshelves have completely been overrun by vegan cookbooks, pushing out my English and Spanish literature books long ago.  My travel plans include decisions about where to eat — even a trip to New York or Philadelphia is ten times more exciting now, with the anticipation of eating at a vegan restaurant.  My memories are anchored around what I ate and where: “Remember that day when we had that chocolate infused chili on vacation?”

Years ago, when I still ate cheese, if I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich or mozzarella sticks at a diner, the food was not so fascinating, colorful, or tasty enough to remember.  I ordered, I ate, I left.  But now my experience with food has changed.  Many times, especially in the beginning, my restaurant food choices were very limited (iceberg lettuce and tomato, anyone?). But as time has passed and a few new restaurants have sprung up in my area, I have improved my ordering skills.  I peruse the menu for ingredients, and often design my own satisfying dish.  These are my memories and experiences that I enjoy documenting and sharing as other people might photograph vacations and dance recitals.

As a vegan, my food choices may have limited me from the animal products world, but in turn it opened up the vastly larger plant world.  I look forward to trying new vegetables and fruits unknown to me, but also rejoice in recreating the familiar ones in more and more ways with each season.  Ethnic foods in particular have added diversity to my palate, and have become an exciting option for when I cannot find a vegetarian restaurant.

Having this much significance in my life now, my conscious eating is something I experience daily and thus becomes central to my life.  Of course, not all vegans care this much about their food, and I’m sure there are plenty of meat-eaters that will claim the same joy I’ve described.  I can only speak for myself and for my fascination with food’s power.  Chosen poorly, it has the power to harm; chosen consciously, it has the power to heal.  Its flavor has the ability to bring joy or disappointment.  It brings people together to connect over their celebrations and common desires.

After thinking about it last night, I decided today to go through my picture files for other examples of foods I’ve either cooked myself or ordered at restaurants over the past few years, and describe what I remember.  Here are some photos of some of the foods I’ve made or ordered and felt were important enough to photograph.  (Some of the images are low quality, especially if I took the picture with my phone camera, so I do apologize — I am no photographer!)

Vacation Pictures

My honeymoon in Saint Martin.  Left:  my favorite mango daiquiri drink garnished with a starfruit and gooseberry.  Right:  Ital food from a Rastafarian restaurant called Freedom Fighters Ital Shack, serving an all-vegan natural menu.  Cucumbers, avocados, sprouts, plantains, barley, and seasoned TVP.  It was served with home-brewed sarsaparilla tea, somewhat visible in the corner.

“Second” honeymoon in Jamaica.  My options at this resort were very limited, since they were cooking everything with butter.  I was actually sick for three days before realizing it.  Then I just ate mostly fruits and fresh salad for the rest of the week, along with unlimited rum.  Left:  a fruit called guinep.  It’s eaten by biting the skin so that it cracks open, removing the pulp and sucking on it, then spitting out the seed.  We bought two bunches and kept them in our room to snack on throughout the week.  Right:  typical decorative fruit displays at the resort restaurant.  I would have chowed down on it if I could!

Washington, DC.  Lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian, where the cafeteria serves many native foods categorized by region.  This meal included purple potatoes from Peru, as well as wild rice and mushroom entrees.  It was my husband’s uncle’s idea to eat here, and it was fantastic!

Lancaster, PA.  A wonderful family trip in which ten of us stayed for President’s Day weekend.  It happened that Valentine’s Day also fell on the same weekend.  Left:  my Valentine’s Day meal of capellini pasta, marinara sauce, grilled veggies, and an edible orchid — which I did eat, and found to have a surprisingly buttery texture!  Center:  huge fruit salad for breakfast at a neat little cafe.  Right:  an awesome fried tofu, hummus and veggie wrap served at a brewery.  It was amazing, but unfortunately when we returned the following year, they no longer had it on the menu.  After anticipating it as I planned the trip, and of course thinking about it all day while sightseeing, it was quite disappointing to not have it that night!

Lititz, PA.  A great mid-week getaway just this past summer, where we stayed at the Speedwell Forge Inn and Wolf Sanctuary.  It was quite an awesome bed and breakfast, which deliciously accommodate vegan guests (or any dietary needs) — the food was terrific but I had forgotten my camera for breakfast.  Instead, this picture is of a chocolate chili and wild rice risotto I had at Cafe Chocolate.  They have several delicious vegan entree options, and some of their chocolate is vegan — like their amazing truffles!  We also had chocolate-strawberry shakes with chunks of dark chocolate floating in them.  These were my best memories of this trip!

Restaurant Pictures

Green Cuisine in Stone Harbor, NJ.  Eggless “Egg Salad” on pumpernickel bread with fresh fruit.  Yum!

Thai Basil in Piscataway, NJ.  A vegetable yellow curry.

Horizons in Philadelphia, PA.  Peruvian Mushroom Crepe with squash, really big Lima beans and a really yummy sauce.  Perfect restaurant to celebrate our second wedding anniversary.

All the Way Live in Philadelphia, PA.  A  medley of five raw appetizers on a bed of baby greens.  Green wakame salad with sesame seed oil, nutmeat made from walnuts and savory herbs, BBQ baby bella marinated mushrooms, quinoa with cilantro and fresh vegetables, and black bice with kale, onions, peppers and burdock root.

Careme’s in Mays Landing, NJ.  The second all-vegan gourmet dinner co-sponsored with American Vegan Society.  Read about the third one here.  (In order from left to right) first: butternut squash soup with pumpkin-spice croutons garnished with vanilla almond milk froth and baby watercress.  Second:  green asparagus tempura with pickled radish lime zest, and a warm tamari chili soy sauce.  Third:  ruby beet tartare with watercress, endive, green apples, pistachio nuts, and Dijon mustard.  Fourth:  garbanzo bean panisse with young carrots, sweet onions, cumin, crispy shallots, barley, and tomato-currant relish.  Fifth:  dark chocolate caramel sorbet with chocolate streusel, puffed rice, and an almond milk froth.

Potlucks!

Tons of fabulous food at a raw food potluck this past summer.  Left:  the salads and savory foods.  Right:  the awesome desserts!

(In order from left to right) first:  potato salad.  Second:  mac and (not) cheese!  Third:   peanut butter chocolate pillows from a Vegan Cupcakes Invade Your Cookie Jar recipe.  Fourth:  chocolate orange spice cake with dulce de batata from a Viva Vegan recipe.

Celebrations

First wedding anniversary party.  Left:  a huge spread of all vegan appetizers including cabbage salad, fennel salad, cucumber salad, hummus, vegan ranch dip, guacamole, fresh salsa, fresh veggies, and tons of other stuff that aren’t even in that picture.  Right:  the top of my wedding cake (vegan) from the previous year, and just peeking in the bottom of the picture are two desserts from recipes in Ani’s Raw Desserts.  Those desserts were much better than my cake.  On our wedding day, the caterers gave us our cake top sealed in a cardboard box, which we kept in my in-laws freezer for the year.  When we opened it, I realized it hadn’t been wrapped in plastic or anything — it just sat in the cardboard for a year and tasted awfully freezer burnt!!  We ate a bite anyway, just to celebrate, and moved on to the good (and fresh) stuff.

For my thirtieth birthday, my husband made this tempeh chili for the party — all by himself using a recipe he found on the Internet — and he ordered this vegan gelato cake from Dreamz Cafe in Millville, made with mango and strawberry flavors.

At Home

Some random foods I’ve made in the last year or so.  (From left to right) first:  butternut squash and orange soup.  Second: pumpkin waffles.  Third:  veggie pizza with Daiya cheese.  Fourth:  “meat” lovers pizza with Daiya cheese, Smart Ground, Tofurky sausage, Yves Pepperoni slices.  Fifth:  grilled Daiya cheese and tomato made with a panini press.  Sixth:  Chocolate banana cake with chocolate ganache on top.

Now with this blog, I intend to continue documenting good vegan food in my own kitchen as well as in restaurants in and around New Jersey.  With opportunities three times per day, I’m sure I’ll never run out pictures for this blog!

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One Response to “Food Paparazzi”

  1. Christine Scalfo-Glover November 11, 2010 at 6:11 pm #

    Mary,

    What an awesome blog. I loved the topic. You make a very interesting observation. I don’t know of any non-veg folks who photograph their food either….unless they’re a food photographer. I think your reasoning for why this is the case is right on the money.

    Love your photos. Beautiful. After viewing them I’m hungry and must eat something.

    Looking forward to more of your work.

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