“You’re So Fake!” A Very Abridged Look at the Long History of Plant-Based Dairy, Meat and Eggs
In the early spring of 1999, my husband and I went to Negril, Jamaica. It was a lovely, low-key, off-season trip, one where we spent most of our days on the beach or on the cliffs, riding bikes and wading in the dazzling turquoise ocean with a perpetual contact high. We were there ostensibly to gather information for a feature I was writing for a local magazine so we went up and down the beach town with my spiral notebook and our Canon pocket camera. I also had a little, dog-eared directory I have long since parted ways with of places to check out, written with the decidedly unspecific, endearingly casual directions you use when places don’t have addresses: Go to 7-Mile Beach and keep walking until you see a painted sign of a sunset. Tell Mike we say hi.
We were there at the end of the 20th century to explore and describe Ital food for the magazine’s readers in the most quaint, now outdated of ways. Ital (also spelled I-tal) is the food of the Rastafaris and though it differs a bit from interpreter to interpreter, it is generally a plant-based diet with an emphasis on simple, whole foods and often looks like a Caribbean plate of rice, beans, cooked vegetables, salad and tropical fruit. We loved these super fresh and lively meals — so very local, many cooks simply pulled ingredients off the trees when we ordered — and we enjoyed breadfruit, callaloo and soursop for the first time, but it was one plant in particular that really rocked our worlds: Ackee.
By the time we visited Negril, John and I had been vegan for four years so we had not had eggs in that long, obviously. The Ital diet was perfectly amenable to our dietary needs and expanded our culinary lexicon and worldliness but nothing was as revolutionary to our palates as ackee, which, like lychee, is a fruit in the Sapindaceae family. Ackee has a look and taste eerily reminiscent of scrambled eggs when prepared. Usually served alongside saltfish as one half of the national dish of Jamaica, we were a few days into our visit before ackee found its way onto our plates. My husband’s eyes widened as he speared some on a fork and then into his mouth: It was firm but chewy and had a naturally buttery, rich and mildly savory flavor. It was weirdly like eating scrambled eggs again but according…