My friend Andrea is, I think, like a lot of aspiring vegetarians/vegans out there. She’s highly intelligent and super compassionate – heck, she teaches special needs kids! She knows all the reasons she “should” go veg. But … she’s a very busy lady. She’s a teacher in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system, which means she’s not paid nearly what she deserves! She can’t afford “convenience” veg foods from Earthfare and Whole Foods on a regular basis, or to have meals catered to her each week from Nourish (Charlotte’s groundbreaking vegan delivery meal service). She’s had some really bad vegetarian and vegan food before (haven’t we all?) which can be discouraging. And sometimes, when she’s in the kitchen, it’s tempting to reach for the old familiar comfort foods. She’s made great strides, but for her the veggie path is a still sometimes a challenge.
Which is why I was delighted to give Andrea a private Indian cooking lesson. The same woman who thought she didn’t like lentils (the nasty brown American kind) fell in love with masoor dal, or red lentils. Andrea was even fired up enough to venture into India Grocers before I wrote my post full of advice, and sent me this email:
“Hey! I went to India Grocers today. You are right, it is a nice little shop. I couldn’t remember all I was supposed to look at so I just looked at everything. I bought a 10 pound bag of Basmati Rice on sale for $8.99, a 4 lb bag of red lentils, and some Sesame Brittle (not on the list but looked delish:-). I was a little concerned about all the products around the store that aid in digestion … makes me wonder about the whole Indian Cuisine thing!”
I had to laugh. It is true, Indian stores do have a lot of “digestive” products. I can think of two reasons why. One, Indian food is based heavily on beans and lentils, which (in addition to being fantastic sources of protein!) are also full of fiber and certain sugars (called oligosaccharides) many people have a hard time digesting. Bart Simpson probably said it best, “Beans, beans, the musical fruit – the more you eat, the more you toot.” For some reason these sugars tend to affect certain people tremendously and others hardly at all … Fennel is AWESOME for fighting gas and aiding digestion – that’s why you see a basket of candy-coated fennel seeds and a spoon at the exit of many Indian restaurants. The mixture – called mukhwas – may also contain anise and/or sesame seeds and essential oils like peppermint. Which brings me to reason two …
Indian food usually has plenty of onions and garlic, and sometimes other “smelly” spices as well – such as asafoetida or hing (also known as devil’s dung – for a reason!), or black salt (actually more gray/purple, but very sulfuric smelling, like an egg a bit past its prime). Smelly spices can equal smelly breath. The same herbs and spices that aid with digestion will also help freshen your breath.
If you have a problem with gassiness (whether or not you eat Indian foods), I think it’s worthwhile to look into natural remedies like fennel, anise, or ginger – and also try such gas-reducing procedures such as soaking your dried beans overnight before rinsing and cooking them. Beano, a product ironically often recommended for vegetarians, IS ACTUALLY NOT VEGETARIAN AT ALL – it contains fish gelatin. Ewww.
On a positive note, beans produce much less hydrogen sulfide as they break down in your colon than eggs, fish, or meat, which means your farts (AND your breath!) will be much less stinky than an omnivore’s. So, even if you find yourself tooting a bit more, you’re not going to be clearing out rooms like the average meateater.
And, in case you were wondering – yes, it is possible to light farts. I do NOT recommend this as you could face injury and a possible embarrassing (and bare-assed) emergency room visit. But according to Wikipedia, “Fart lighting or pyroflatulence is the practice of igniting the gases produced by human flatulence, often producing a flame of a blue hue, hence the act being known colloquially as a “blue angel”, “blue dart”, “making an awesome”, or in Australia, a “blue flame” … Other colors of flame such as orange and yellow are possible with the color dependent on the mixture of gases formed in the colon.”
So now you know. The veggie path is not always easy, but it can be unexpectedly interesting … and entertaining. Till next time – Tootles!