on the table

Some things to lay here:

I love to eat. I was raised in a Chinese family with a deep appreciation of good food with a grandma who spends more time in the kitchen than anywhere else (which led to a granddaughter who spent more time at the dinner table than anywhere else, heh).

I love to cook. I’m attracted to the full sensory experience of preparing food: the shapes and colours, arresting aromas, the sizzling and bubbling, textures under the knife, tastes on the tongue.

As much as I enjoy dining out and indulging, neither my body nor my wallet can afford to do it all the time. So I try to make and eat most of my meals at home (unless I’m travelling of course), a preference that has been strengthened by my ever-growing distrust of food safety in China. My kitchen in Shanghai is a bit minimalist by most standards: no oven, no wok, no meat, low on essentials taken for granted in the West and next to nothing in the freezer. But what I lack in tools, ingredients, and skill, I try to make up for with enthusiasm and flexibility.

meatless in shanghai

Barring a few exceptions at the beginning, our kitchen has been meatless since my boyfriend and I moved to Shanghai, though we had still been omnivores outside the home — until March 2011, when, having read a lot about the detrimental environmental impact of animal farming and meat eating, we decided to give up meat entirely for Lent. While vegetarianism is not a new practice in China — devout Buddhists have been doing it for ages — the population seems to be moving the other way as more and more people can afford more and more meat. We wanted to see how hard it’d be to buck the trend.

Easter came and went and, barring one gluttonous weekend in June when my family came to visit and the occasional inevitable veggie dish laced with meat crumbles, our vegetarian endeavour is still going strong. As for the long run, because my concerns are chiefly environmental, and because my belief, if you will, is in significantly reduced meat-eating — rather than vegetarianism — for all, I see myself remaining an everyday meatless eater who would be willing to consider exceptions for special occasions. Criticism from purists is expected, but that’s basically where I’m at now.

This blog began as a general “China experience” journal that, due to lack of focus, faded in and out of activity. It was reborn in early March 2011 as a food journal documenting my move towards vegetarianism — and a generally healthier, simpler lifestyle — in Shanghai. It captures my explorations and indulgences both in my little kitchen and outside the home in restaurants, at markets, on the road. Avoiding meat doesn’t mean I don’t still absolutely love to eat — I still drool at the sight of succulent chicken, but I’ll also smack my lips at a plate of tofu.

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