On Cyberpunk, the Verge of Vegetarianism, and Schnofu

Over the last two months, I have been having an adventure.

Now its not the traveling the world seeing new places kind of adventure, though that has also been happening. I’m currently in Edinburgh. That may come up again later in the article.

Its also not the looting a tomb and then battling the dragon that for some reason lives twenty floors below ground kind of adventure. Actually that happened too… well, not exactly that, but you get the picture. Lousy gnomes and their magic.

Anyway, this adventure I’ve been on is a culinary one; I’ve been running a little experiment on myself and my very understanding partner, and so far it has been going well.

Over the last two months I have eaten a grand total of five dishes containing meat.

As a bit of background, this is not really what I’m used to. Growing up in Australia, you tend to find yourself eating meat with a regularity that would make the people of history, and indeed a number of people in less developed countries, blanch at the extravagance. Admittedly, I’m probably making it sound worse than it is; when I visited Japan, people were surprised that my family and I didn’t eat meat every meal of the day, before proceeding to feed me chicken and salad for breakfast. Anyway, you grow up in a meat eating household in Australia, and from my experience at least you’ll probably have at least one meat dish a day. So this is new to me. I’ve not been, I suppose, a hard core vegetarian, as I know that if I draw an absolute limit for myself I will almost instinctively buck against it through a sense of pure grumpy subversiveness.

Admittedly, this is not the first food experiment I have engaged in, though we might save the stories of Sheep Hearts (and How to Devour Their Courage) and The Strange Case of the Pig’s Head for another time.

Now I personally have struggled a little to put my exact reasoning into words. For the sake of staying succinct, and since nobody else is around to ask questions, I figured I’d do a little interview with myself to try and show this as it is, and not just as a mad experiment that I’ve carried out on my own digestive system.

So… not eating meat huh? You worried about your weight?

Well, not so much. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never much had to worry about my figure, though due to my recent transformation into a windblown drifter I will say that I’m not training as hard as I used to. If I were still doing fifteen hours of Judo a week, I might need the protein. But I don’t think that’s the big reason.

You ran out of money, didn’t you.

No, but there was a moment there between paying some bonds and getting my first paycheck where I was eating a lot of lentils on rice.

Aha! You’re in Scotland! You’ve been driven mad by disgust at the local delicacies.

Well, this is my second time staying in Edinburgh, and on the first run I tried all the stuff that tends to freak out the tourists: The haggis, the black pudding, the various fried iterations of various other foodstuffs… can’t say any of it bothered me all that much. Haggis is really just like any other sausage with a higher oat content, and black pudding tasted no bloodier than the average steak. A few folks I’ve heard complain of “having to think about what their made from”, and the answer, like your steak or (ostensibly) your chicken nuggets, is that their made from bits of dead animals. So they didn’t bother me any more than other meat consumption.

Well if that’s not it, why? Have those animal rights activists finally got to you?

Wow, this projected id is turning out to be a real jerk. This was part of the reasoning. I run into a bit of a contradictory element in my brain here, as I think that empathy for animals is important, but fundamentally I don’t have a problem with people eating them. On a pragmatic level, I know that a healthy human being is valuable enough to justify the sacrifice of animals. On the other hand, I’ve yet to see a more striking vision of Hell than a factory farm, so there’s a degree of respect and moderation that I think has to play into it.

And I think that moderation is becoming even more important. As incomes in developing nations grow higher, more people are demanding a piece of that meat-rich Western diet. And given the amount of energy it actually takes to produce meat, then the Human race is going to wind up shooting itself in the foot one way or another. My guess is through either over-exploitation of resources or an antibiotic resistant epidemic that grows out of some very short term focused factory farming practices.

Wait… this is going to become one of your apocalypse rants isn’t it?

Not this time, actually. Of all things, this time it comes back to Shadowrun.

You’re kidding right?

Well, maybe its not the main thing, but it is one of the biggies. Now for those who aren’t familiar with Shadowrun, and don’t feel like tabbing over to Wikipedia, its a weird sort of cyberpunk/fantasy rpg. The kind of setting in which the statement “Cybernetically enhanced Ork wizard and punk rocker” can actually make sense. Its not a fictional world without its problematic content, but one of the things that struck me was the setting’s take on the food we will be eating in sixty years time.

Everything is soy.

Due to a combination of population pressure and lack of viable arable land, meat consumption has become non-viable for the vast majority of the population. To quote “tofu is to our dinners what chicken was in the twentieth century” (Shadowrun 5th Ed. pg 41). And this is an idea that intrigued me.  So, driven in part by wanting to kick the decadence of the Western diet in the face, and in part by wanting to see what I could achieve in this meat free culinary field, I basically got started on a Cyberpunk Diet.

Cyberpunk diet? That’s the stupidest-

Alright, I’m going to dismiss the interview id now. Anyway, I decided that I’d try to make this cyberpunk themed diet viable, in part due to curiosity, and in part because I have faith in Humanity’s capacity to dig its own grave and in ten years time maybe this will be all we have to eat.

So, the following is my experiment to see if tofu really can be chicken. And beef, incidentally.

Tofu Katsu Curry (aka Schnofu)

The drop of the evening. Some of it went into the food.

Now I suspect those who know me will know of my love for Japanese Katsu Curry, which is basically a chicken or pork schnitzel served in curry sauce. Now the sauce is usually made from a curry roux mix on a beef stock base, so that was the first thing I had to work around. I wandered the aisles of the Scotmid, trying to think of the closest thing to beef that I could that didn’t contain meat.

“Red Wine!” came the answer into my brain.

“A reasonable start,” I replied to my brain, “but the sauce already has some white win in it. Might be counter productive.”

“You’re right…” my brain took a moment to consider, “Mushrooms? They’re everybody’s favourite carnivorous micro-tree!”

“Now we’re talking,” I thought, and started loading up on closed cap white mushrooms.

With my wine, onions, carrots, mushrooms and tofu slab in hand, I returned to the flat.

The Cooking

Look kinda like cheese doesn’t it?

Slab of tofu? Check. Veg and curry roux mix? Check. Wine? Where isn’t there wine… Crystal Castles 1 and 2 cued up as working music? Oh yes.

Lets Neuromance the hell out of this.

So, I sliced the tofu and fried it in some oil, garlic, salt and pepper so that it would hold its shape a bit better. Turns out this slab was pretty firm anyway, so it wasn’t too hard. The heel of the slab got chopped up and went into the sauce to help the mushrooms pretend to be beef.

The Schnitzel line, a proud tradition of my people.

After letting it cool a moment, I coated the tofu in flour, eggs and then finally breadcrumbs, and fried it to a golden brown and slightly burnt finish. Because as it turns out you need to pay attention to these things.

As for the sauce, dead simple. Chop and fry mushrooms and onions, add curry roux mix (available from all the East Asian grocery shops I’ve been to), wine and water, hoik in spare tofu and some chopped carrots and we are golden.

The sauce in all it’s bubbling glory!

So that was pretty much that. If I could have Takeshi Kaga maybe shout something at this point that would be great.

The Verdict

I think it turned out pretty nicely. I hear that snarky Interview Id sneaking back to accuse me of not having a sense of taste and thus not being fit to judge these things, but screw that guy. I subjected a number of the people I live with to the result, and the feedback was generally positive. Tasted just like chicken schnitzel to me, which makes me wonder if I was just tasting oily breadcrumbs and protein all along.

The resulting Schnofu

Not long ago I also made a Chilli Con Tofu, but I feel like that’s a story for another time. The feedback on that one I believe was something to the effect of “could have used some salami”, so maybe further experimentation is required…

So that was that. Happy Soy Food everybody.

The finished product. I might have eaten some of it. And it is sitting on my laptop. Because I’m a professional that way.

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