Anticipated Reproach, And Why Vegetarians Are Such Jerks

Readers, I'm doing some travelling right now, so please enjoy this post from back in Casual Kitchen's archives. See you in a couple of weeks!

I've never in my life met a vegetarian who was a jerk.

But whenever the subject of vegetarianism comes up--even highly flexible and inclusive versions like CK's Part-Time Vegetarianism--there's usually at least one or two vehement responses from meat-eating readers who presume that some jerk vegetarian wants to take their meat away.

Why is that? I mean, anyone spending five minutes at Casual Kitchen would quickly figure out that we're not vegetarians. We're not a threat to the meat-eating world at all. We're just trying to eat a little healthier and save some dough.

Here's the thing. When a meat-lover responds in an aggressive way to a post on vegetarianism, they expect to be pilloried for their food choices. They think a "reproach" is coming from a pack of tie-dyed vegetarian kooks, so they act accordingly.

That, in a nutshell, is Anticipated Reproach. Essentially, people are expecting missiles to be fired at them, so they fire their biggest missiles first--in a pre-emptive strike to protect themselves.

Anticipated Reproach explains how arguments spontaneously appear out of thin air. All you need is to have one person fire a defensive verbal missile, another person to react, and it's on.

I don't mean to pick on meat-eaters (although admittedly, I'm using them as a rhetorical device in this post). And obviously, the veggie/vegan/meat debate is just one of a million places where you can see anticipated reproach in action. It shows up in all kinds of discussions: in political debates, in debates on taxes and entitlements, in debates on corporate power, about the level of government involvement in our daily lives, and in every other hot-button issue we face as a society today.

It helps explain why otherwise well-behaved people start up insane arguments on Facebook, and why people will waste hours attempting to correct the views of people they don't even know.

And if you think it's only other people who do this, think again. All of us are guilty of anticipated reproach from time to time.

But here's the thing: when you anticipate a reproach that hasn't yet been made... well, you're actually imagining something that doesn't exist. You are making it up. And of course it goes without saying, you haven't furthered the discussion by one millimeter, you've taken it backwards into name-calling and defensiveness.

There's a couple of takeaways here. First, for fellow bloggers: try not to take reader comments personally, particularly the nasty ones. Those comments are almost always about the commenter, not about you. Most likely they are thinking of other times when they've been reproached for their views, and they're simply anticipating still more reproach from you.

Second, don't fall unwittingly into the various anticipated reproach traps. Don't pre-emptively escalate your language. Try to use humor, but avoid sarcastic humor (this is a particularly tough challenge for me). Don't make declarative and pontificatory statements. Instead, ask questions, and try, sincerely, to learn the thought process of the people who don't agree with you. Hey, you never know, you might even learn you were wrong!

Nahhh, probably not. :)

In any event, here at CK, you won't find yourself reproached. Ever. This is my solemn promise to you, dear readers.

I created this blog so that we could all have a "no-reproach zone" to talk about cooking, our diets and the food industry. Yes, you will find your assumptions questioned here, and yes, you'll be challenged here to think differently--sometimes very differently--about things.

But don't anticipate a reproach... because that reproach ain't coming.

Readers! What are your thoughts?

Why I Clip Coupons

"I don't do coupons."

I hear this statement from time to time from various people, usually middle-class consumers.

I suppose if you're really rich you don't need to bother with coupons... although nobody's stopping you. And if you don't have a lot of money, couponing might be something you need to do.

Which indirectly implies yet another point, something Thorstein Veblen might say: if you clip coupons you risk sending a signal to others that you need to. Which, perhaps, explains why people might tell everyone around them they don't.

Well, I do clip coupons. And I do so for several reasons. At the most basic level, couponing (and occasionally flipping through store circulars) helps me remember the prices of things. As a result, it helps me keep context for value whenever I'm out in the consumer marketplace. What should a given product cost, what does it normally cost, and is the price I see right now a good value or not? Is it a great value, as in should I buy a year's supply of it at this price?

There are some early retirement/investment blogs out there that mock couponing. The point usually made here is that we're better off concentrating on the income side of the ledger (see for example Wall Street Playboys), or to focus on bigger or recurring savings wins (see for example Ramit's I Will Teach You To Be Rich).

These perspectives aren't wrong, exactly. But I look at the act of couponing differently, and this brings me to the most important reason why I do it. I consider couponing a practice of the skill of recognizing value, and I use this same practice in the larger-scale world of personal investing.

In fact, to borrow a term from the martial arts world, I consider couponing a type of kata, a daily practice or discipline, and practicing it helps me stay in shape for larger investment opportunities that could impact my personal wealth on a far greater scale. I look at stocks in much the same way that I look at items in the grocery store: What should this stock cost, what does it normally cost, and is the price I see right now a good value or not? Is it a great value? The two disciplines of shopping and investing are strikingly similar in this way.

In other words, couponing doesn't just save you money. It indirectly makes you rich.

You can save a few bucks here and there with coupons, and that's great. But in the longer run, you can make tens or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of dollars with your investments as your investment capital grows. If you knew the former helped you with the latter, wouldn't you coupon too?

Food vs Feed

The other day I was wandering from blog to blog and I stumbled onto an interesting concept: the idea of "food" versus "feed."

It was here, at an unusual blog that covers a range of topics, most of which have nothing to do with the content here at Casual Kitchen. But this blogger's idea of thinking of the food industry's processed, packaged and shelf-stabilized food products as "feed"... I mean, it's a just an excellent metaphor, a really useful lens to think about the kinds of food I want to avoid.

According to this blogger:

"Soda, chips, candy, cookies, crackers, cakes, pastries, frozen meals, microwavable fare and most fast food and chain restaurant gross national products all qualify as FEED...

Food is grown, raised, harvested and processed--and if not consumed while fresh--preserved in as natural and organic a state as possible to keep most of its nutritious and nourishing qualities intact.

Feed is mass produced by a few large multinational corporations using bio-technological innovations to quickly and efficiently manufacture product units ready for global distribution and a near infinite shelf life. Its primary traits are using genetically modified grain products to create a marketable product that is usually adulterated with preservatives and flavor enhancements designed in a laboratory to stimulate the taste buds to fool the human body into thinking it's something good for you."

Former FDA Commissioner David Kessler, author of The End of Overeating, couldn't say it better.

Here at Casual Kitchen, we use the term second-order foods to describe packaged and processed foods-made-from-other-foods. But the word "feed," with its overtones of factory farming, of the literal fattening up of human beings... it's a far more interesting and rhetorically powerful word. And using this word, thinking about food in this way, it helps put extra power and agency back into consumers' hands. After all, we're not barnyard animals. Who wants to eat feed?

Finally, one more quote relevant our many discussions about branding here at Casual Kitchen:

But above all, the primary difference between Food and Feed can be discerned by this: most real food requires little (if any) corporate mass media marketing campaigns to sell product and expand market shares and waistlines alike.

In other words, branding and advertising is a key cue to distinguish food from feed. It's not always the case, but in general, if a food needs to be advertised and marketed to you, you don't want to eat it.

READ NEXT: The Do-Nothing Brand
And: All-Time Best Articles on Branding, Advertising and Consumer Psychology [ARCHIVE]

If Big Food is So All-Powerful, Why Aren't They Increasing Prices More?

I was going through some old papers from my parents' home recently and, randomly, stumbled onto a page from an old weekly free newspaper I delivered in my early teens. Here's a blow-up of a tiny square of text from the bottom left corner of the paper's front page:

Not too shabby for my very first job!

Unfortunately, this post isn't about my beginnings in the business world. The truly interesting thing about this piece of paper was on the other side, where an old local grocery store listed sale prices for various foods:

William's was a smallish, family-owned grocery store, and it happened also to be my mother's favorite. She thought it had the best prices in town, and she shopped there consistently each week. Until it closed, driven out of business in the late 1980s by larger chain grocers.

But what's stunning about this ad is how little many of these prices have changed. Some prices are nearly the same today as they were in 1985: think chicken or frozen veggies. Other items--once you think about how long a period much time 32 years really is--represent surprisingly low levels of per-year inflation. For something to double in price in 32 years, you'd have to have an inflation rate of about 2.2% per year. Quite a few food items on this page (apple juice, Polish sauce, bacon, tomato paste) would fit roughly into that category or better.

Keep in mind, this is like a list of promoted items, which means prices you see in the photos above are sale prices. Compare these prices to sale prices today at a typical grocery store, and you'd find even less inflation.

And, sure, some products are more meaningfully more expensive: today, onions in my store cost around $1.99 for a three-pound bag, haddock fillets cost perhaps some four times more, and now that Pabst has become a hipster throwback brand, forget about it, that price is off the charts. But those are exceptions. At the bottom of it all, it's quite stunning to see so little inflation in food prices over such a long period of time.

Now, there are plenty of food bloggers and food pundits out there who use "the greedy food industry is trying to make us all fat" as a default explanation for everything.

But if the food industry were really that greedy, wouldn't they raise prices far more relentlessly? After all, food is a basic necessity. We have no choice but to buy it.

If food companies were as all-powerful and domineering as many food pundits seem to think, why wouldn't all food prices go up at the rate of, say, university tuition costs, which have increased a haddock fillet-like three to four times over this same 32 year period? Makes you wonder who's really greedy, doesn't it?

Recipe: Chicken with Potatoes

Once again, Laura is stepping in this week to share another recipe... and some more of her thoughts on what's fast becoming her cooking specialty: Indian cuisine. Enjoy!

A discussion of Indian cuisine is not complete without a mention of spices. The spices! Oh how my nose runs, my eyes water, how I love that burn in the back of my throat.

In my previous post, I mentioned I was the lucky recipient of two fantastic Indian cookbooks. And a spice grinder.

But why, I asked myself that Christmas morning, would I need a spice grinder to make Indian food? Mystified, I flipped through the recipes in both cookbooks. It didn't take long to realize that nearly half of all the ingredients in each recipe were spices. And though many recipes called for whole spices, just as often the spices were ground. Coriander, cumin, peppercorns... all these can be bought whole--but ground when needed--to bring out their full, fresh flavors.

Clearly, I would be using the spice grinder a lot. But where to get whole spices, and more importantly where to get them at a reasonable price? Our solution, one discussed elsewhere at Casual Kitchen, was to visit a local ethnic market in our community. Try it yourself and you’ll be blown away by the quantity and quality, as well as the price!

Several years ago I did just that, lumbering home from a Parsippany Indian grocery store with two enormous grocery bags of spices for about $50 total. It may seem like a lot of money to spend on spices, but years later we are still using them to make incredibly delicious food.

And: Don't forget the old lie about throwing out old spices, particularly if you buy spices in whole form rather than ground.

Though this week’s recipe is more involved than in my previous post, it can easily be doubled and savored for longer. I hope you enjoy it!


Chicken with Potatoes
From An Invitation to Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey

3 medium potatoes
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
5 Tb water
1 ½ lbs chicken thighs, skinned
5 Tb canola oil
1 inch cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
4 cardamom pods
2 whole hot dried red chili peppers
2 whole black peppercorns
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ cup tomato sauce
2 cups chicken broth
½ tsp salt

1) Peel and quarter potatoes. Boil potatoes for 25 minutes, drain and set aside.

2) Place onion, garlic, ginger and 5 tablespoons of water in a blender, and blend to a smooth paste. Set aside.

3) Rinse chicken and pat dry. Heat oil in a large, deep-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add cinnamon, bay leaf, cardamom, whole red peppers, and peppercorns. Cook 1 minute, then fry chicken pieces quickly on all sides until golden brown. Remove chicken with slotted spoon and set aside.

4) Pour the paste from blender into skillet, add turmeric and stir for 3 minutes. Add tomato sauce and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then cover and lower heat, simmering gently for 15 minutes.

5) Add potatoes, salt and browned chicken pieces to the sauce. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low for 20-25 minutes until chicken is tender, stirring occasionally. Serve over rice.

Serves 4.

A final note: Many Westerners associate Indian food with curry. But did you know that curry is not even a spice? Rather, it is a blend of ground spices that varies from one household to the next. As Madhur Jaffrey bluntly says in her classic cookbook An Invitation to Indian Cooking, "no Indian ever uses curry powder in his cooking."

Garam masala, like curry, is a spice blend called for in many Indian recipes, and you can create it yourself with a trusty kitchen spice grinder.

READ NEXT: Why Spices Are a Complete Rip-Off and What You Can Do About It