I love tacos! Chicken tacos. Shrimp tacos. Ground turkey tacos. Fish tacos. Hard shell tacos. Soft shell tacos. Even tacos with just rice, beans and cheese. Or better yet a taco salad. Now, you get the point on how much I love tacos. I decided recently to start adding more plant-based foods in my life and that includes tofu. So, could I make tofu tacos?
Tofu Comes in Crumbles
Well, I was up for the adventure and decided that I could do it. I called upon my vegetarian friends, did some online research, went grocery shopping and got to cooking. I discovered that tofu comes in various options and I am still learning the myriad ways I can purchase it. But for my tacos the best was in crumbles. I found them in the frozen health food section at the grocery store. To my confusion but delight I found a variety of tofu crumbles already seasoned. Since I was not initially aware they came this way, I wasn’t prepared and didn’t understand my options but the store clerk told me that one package had a picture of, you guessed it, A taco! Bingo, sold! That is the one I wanted.
Next, I called up my vegetarian friend to figure out how to cook my new treasure. She said cook it just like you would ground beef, chicken or turkey. Well, that was easy breezy! I knew how to do that. I also asked about adding taco seasoning. I usually grab a packet of seasoning found next to the shells in the store adding it to my meat. She said to taste first and see how you like it. If you add the taco seasoning maybe just half the packet. Well, I kind of followed her advice but kind of didn’t. I got a little too happy and ended up using the whole seasoning packet. This made my crumbles too salty. But once I added my toppings of lettuce, salsa, tomatoes, shredded cheese and pickled jalapeño peppers I could barely taste the salt. I mostly used hard shells for my tofu tacos, warming them up in the oven on my specialized taco rack, but I tried one or two soft shells too. I served them up with a side of Mexican-flavored rice and black beans.
Perfecting Tacos and Trying Other Dishes
Ah, yes! As I sat eating my delicious meal, I was feeling pretty proud of myself for taking on this new challenge. I realized it was easier than I imagined and I was emboldened to take it higher the next time. I also realize that part of my no salt spice collection was one that would be perfect for tacos. It’s called Mexican Aromatics and instead of using taco seasoning I am going to use that instead. I think once I perfect this tofu dish, I am going to expand my palate and try tofu in other ways. I am excited about the possibilities.
I recently made some changes to my meal plan and have moved more into a plant-based diet. This change surprisingly has not been too hard because fruits and vegetables are my jam. Even before I started working from home, I would take a salad to work just about every day for lunch. It would be filled with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli and even green bell peppers and onions with a sprinkling of chopped nuts. My co-workers would be eyeballing my lunch as I quickly moved out of the break room and back to my office to eat my crunchy rainbow feast. So, when I heard about The Invisible Vegan documentary by Jasmine Leyva I just had to watch it. Now, before I give my two cents let me give you the summary.
Summary of Invisible Vegan Documentary
The documentary begins with the personal story of Jasmine Leyva, a 30-year-old black actress and filmmaker currently based in Los Angeles. Over the past seven years, Jasmine has committed herself to veganism, both in lifestyle and research. Taking Leyva’s unhealthy childhood growing up in Washington, DC as a point of departure, the film interweaves her narrative with the professional and personal experiences of a prominent group of vegan activists. The film integrates interviews with popular culture luminaries including Cedric the Entertainer (actor and comedian), John Salley (former NBA player and wellness advocate), and Clayton Gavin (aka Stic of the hip-hop duo Dead Prez).
The Invisible Vegan also explains how plant-based eating is directly linked to African roots and how African-American eating habits have been debased by a chain of oppression.
Africa, Slavery and Soul Food
AS I sat and watched the 90-minute film, I was nodding my head and saying, “Yes, that’s right, that’s right!” Sounding like people in the amen corner at church. She was speaking truth to power and I was not too surprised by nothing coming out of this young lady’s mouth. She started out explaining how a plant-based diet came from Africa and how it is not just for white folks. She ticked off the names of Civil rights activists who are vegetarians like the late Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, and Dick Gregory. She mentioned Angela Davis too. This was enlightening because I only knew about Dick Gregory as I had read about his diet plan before. He was a firm believer in better health just as much as in civil rights.
She talked about how our enslaved ancestors were forced to eat the scraps on the plantation. How they made meals out of the leftovers. Yes, this is so true. I remember reading the book Roots and many other slave narratives where scenes played out just like this. Because of this situation Black people passed down this type of eating from generation to generation. It is embedded in our family and culture.
So, when she started talking about losing the “Black card” I knew exactly what she was talking about. I am nodding my head again. The type of food our ancestors ate on the plantation evolved into what we call today as soul food. This includes favorites like fried chicken, collard or mustard greens, okra, cornbread, sweet potatoes or yams and blackeyed peas. It also includes some kind of pork product like ham, pig’s feet, hog head cheese and the all-time favorite for many Black folks – chitlins! So, if you are a Black person and don’t eat soul food then you can lose your Black card and be called out. That is not a good situation. Believe me I have been there myself. Not for being a vegan, like Jasmine, but for my efforts in trying to lose weight. Many of these items are not healthy and/or not cooked in a healthy way. So, believe me, I get it. She also talked about how eating soul food is not just the food itself but about a sense of being and belonging. These foods are comforting and connect us to our family, history and legacy in this country. If you don’t think so, go back and watch the classic 1997 movie Soul Food.
Challenges of EatingHealthy
With this being said, it is hard for people to change and move to a healthy diet or even become a vegan for that matter. She shared about her journey to become a vegan and the ups and downs of that experience. When it comes to diet and nutrition our doctors are not well equipped to help because they get little education on it when they are in medical school. They are sometimes more apt to write out prescriptions or recommend surgery. I experienced this myself when talking to my PCP and was fortunately referred to a nutritionist. There I learned about food groups and how food impacts the body. She also talked about food deserts and lack of access to healthy foods. As they say, “No Whole Foods in the hood!” I could also relate to that too. I have had to get on the bus and travel miles away to find healthier options. And don’t forget about the cost of healthy food! OMG! Why does organic cost twice as much? Crazy! It takes a lot of work and energy to do all of this which I find very stressful at times. No wonder it is so easy to grab a hamburger at McDonalds. One thing I found interesting and a bit surprising was how meat processing plants are located near minority communities. I didn’t realize that. I mean I knew about how they treat animals, the hormones and the runoff; but not the location.
No Judgement to Become a Vegan
The last thing about the documentary is that it was not judgmental. Jasmine shared her life journey, laid out the facts, and had other people share their experiences. It was not this hard-line approach. She encouraged you to start where you are. I am not ready to go totally vegan but I thought I could do something like meatless Mondays, tofu Tuesdays or salad Saturdays. You know, ease my way into a plant-based lifestyle.
Although this film is not audio described for people like me with vision loss, I still got so much out of it. I encourage you to check it out especially if you are trying to change your eating habits and curious about a vegan lifestyle. The Invisible Vegan is available to watch now on TubiTV and stream on Amazon Prime
I would be remiss to let this month go by and not talk about braille. Although I use it sparingly it is a part of my everyday life and this month is Braille Literacy Month. This is also the birthday month of its inventor, Louis Braille. In my very first post on Triple E I shared about Braille, how he created the code and how I use it daily. I won’t rehash it here but feel free to click on the link and read it.
Back in December or maybe November I ordered a set of no-salt spices from Amazon. I was getting bored with the three options I was cooking with: black pepper, kosher salt and paprika. Sometimes I would include other seasonings but I needed to spice up my life a bit. So, I ordered this set of 24 spices and got excited about the possibilities. I know, 24 seems like a lot to get started but I can be ambitious and adventurous when I want. Once they came in the mail I had to sit and figure out how in the world I was going to keep track of all of them. I had a lot of spices to choose from and I didn’t want to make mistakes and pick up the wrong one to season my food. I mean, adding extra black pepper is one thing, but adding extra ground cinnamon or cumin is totally another. Sometimes I would use my sense of smell to determine the differences like sniffing garlic or chili powder. But that is not always reliable especially if I am working with spices I am not accustom to using on a regular basis. This led me to an idea! I decided to use my little braille skills to solve the identification problem.
Creating Braille Labels and Spice List
First, I pulled out my brand-new handy dandy braille label gun. I bought that too in December and boy did I need a new one! The old one had problems releasing the Dymo tape, the printed alphabetic numbers and letters were rubbed off and the thing was just old as dirt. Second, I got a sighted friend to come over and help me out. The one cool thing about using a braille label gun is that a blind or sighted person can use it. It has braille and printed numbers and letters on the dial. We tagged teamed the project. We created the spice list in alphabetical order to make things easy. She created labels of 1-24 and I typed up a printed list on my laptop computer. She would tell me the name of each spice and I would type it on the list. Then I would give her the assigned number and she would create the braille label.
Need Additional Info on Unfamiliar Spices
Now my spices are ready to go. Each one has a braille number that corresponds to my electronic printed list that I have stored on Dropbox. Yet I still gotta little more work to do. As I mentioned I bought these spices to attempt something new and there are definitely some I haven’t tried or even heard of. “Anyone know how to cook with ground turmeric?” “Has anyone heard of Provencal aromatics or seafood aromatics?” If you are scratching your head or furrowing your eyebrow, join the club because I am right there with you. This means back to my computer to do some research. Next, I will be going online and searching around the internet for info on the ones that are unfamiliar and learning how to cook with them. Watch me learn and get ready to burn in the kitchen! Intimidation is not in my vocabulary and I am up for the challenge. I am excited about this new phase; and how using a little braille has added some spice to my life.