Day 24: What [insert well known person] would eat if they were vegan.
Oh, this is a prompt that I just love! There are so many directions to take it: current pop culture figure who’s super-duper not vegan, politico who you’d like to imagine as vegan, historical figure who would probably have been vegan if s/he were alive today… so many fun thought-experiments! I briefly toyed with the idea of focusing on a distant relative of mine, John Greenleaf Whittier. He was a Quaker poet and an outspoken abolitionist during the mid 1800s, and I like to think that he would have been more than receptive to veganism, thanks to his deep and abiding compassion. Just look at this Wikipedia quote (emphasis mine):
“In 1833, Whittier published the antislavery pamphlet Justice and Expediency, and from there dedicated the next twenty years of his life to the abolitionist cause. The controversial pamphlet destroyed all of his political hopes — as his demand for immediate emancipation alienated both northern businessmen and southern slaveholders — but it also sealed his commitment to a cause that he deemed morally correct and socially necessary. He was a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society and signed the Anti-Slavery Declaration of 1833, which he often considered the most significant action of his life.”
Awesome as Whittier was, I ultimately knew there was a different author I wanted to choose: the one, the only, Jane Austen. I’m currently reading Jane’s Fame, an exploration of how her fame has waxed and waned over the years, and it’s fascinating. There have been so-called Janeites from nearly every walk of life, and her novels have made their way into unlikely places — like the trenches during the first world war. The evolution of literary criticism — and how those changes affect Austen criticism — is fascinating to me as a one-time English major. Jane it is!
I was tempted to choose an Austen novel for the book/film prompt, but her books include a surprisingly small number of explicitly mentioned foodstuffs, and nothing really appealed to me. This prompt is a much better fit, though: Now I can play around with the entire Regency period’s palate! As it turns out, the Regency period ushered in some fairly substantial changes in dining habits — like the introduction of lunch (because breakfast was eaten earlier and dinner later). Most of these changes, of course, started with the upper class, the people who were in high society and needed to keep up with their trendy neighbors. The Austens were solidly middle-class (some higher-class acquaintances thought Jane herself a bit low-class and vulgar), so it’s hard to say how many of these changes would have trickled down to her family.
The good news for our cause, though, is that Jane was an avid letter-writer. Although her steadfast sister Cassandra destroyed many letters before her death, those that remain give us a little glimpse into what we might’ve found on Jane’s table. There are also two extant cookbooks used by friends and family close to Jane. Dining with Austen uses those resources to recreate recipes from Jane’s time. It promises to be a great resource for food Jane herself might have eaten; although it’s still a work in progress, the ultimate goal is a Jane-centric cookbook. For this prompt, I’m going to take it from the top and share my ideas on what vegan delicacies a day in the life of Jane might have featured. I’m trying to stay true to ingredients that the Austens would have been able to access — no Chao cheese or hemp milk here!
The Austens probably sat down around 9:00 or 10:00 with a pot of tea. Although breakfasts used to be heavy (I’m thinking of the full English breakfasts Jenny has been tantalizing us with!), by this time, they were probably simpler. Jane might have had some homemade bread with jam, canned from the previous year’s harvest. Or maybe she would have had something a little heavier, like a piece of spiced cake or a scone or two.
My recipe calls for spelt flour, coconut milk, and vanilla extract, but the Austens’ cook could substitute regular wheat flour, homemade oat milk (since oats would be easier to access than almonds and could be manually ground), and any other extract they had on hand. Jane’s tea could be sweetened with a lump of sugar and some of that oat milk, if necessary.
Jane’s midday meal wouldn’t have been anything fancy — maybe some small cold sandwiches of homemade bread and any vegetables that were on hand. The Austens would have eaten these sandwiches with knives and forks after they’d been cut into small triangles. On the side, Jane could snack on fresh fruit and leftover cake from breakfast. This was a light meal to tide her over until dinner. Perhaps the cook could have experimented with something like my Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup Sandwich!
Other than the nutritional yeast, I think they would have been able to manage something similar! Even the pickles on the side would have been welcome — pickled veggies were quite the fad.
This was the largest meal of the day, and by the early 1800s, Jane’s family had begun eating it around 5:00 pm — a big change from their previous dining time of 3:00! Dinner would have consisted of many courses and much variety, including something like my Warm Lentil & Brussels Sprout Salad with Roasted Radicchio Wedges.
With a few simple substitutions, this nourishing, warm dish would have been entirely possible. Or maybe they would have served a soup.
The cook could have managed Kale and White Bean Soup easily enough! Jane might also have eaten whatever veggies were in season, sauteed in oil instead of the rich, buttery sauces that were popular at the time. She would have sipped wine with her meal, and rounded it off with dried fruit, nuts, and some kind of sweet — maybe candied ginger or something heavier, like cake.
If Jane stayed up late, she might have another bowl of soup around 10:00 or 11:00 pm, along with another glass of wine — or maybe negus, a nasty-sounding gelatinous beverage made with water, wine, lemon juice, spices, and, traditionally, calves-foot jelly. Jane’s vegan version would strip out the jelly and be more of a mulled wine. ;)
That was fun! And now I’m inspired to research what ingredients were available to Jane so I can recreate some of her family’s recipes. Maybe that will be next year’s MoFo theme!
2 thoughts on “Jane Goes Vegan”
That’s fantastic! Breakfast scones sound great, and I love the idea of them using a knife and fork on their sandwiches. I also love Jane Austen, and I’m a little disappointed to learn that there isn’t much mention of food in any of her books. Maybe that leaves us free to imagine that all the characters were vegan!
WHOA. This is a totally epic post. I love the nerdy and scholarly research here!! “The introduction of lunch”???? I never even thought of life without lunch. The giant dinner at 3 pm seems like such a weird rhythm. Like, wouldn’t everyone just end up all food-coma-ed out right in the middle of productive daylight hours? How odd. And it’s funny that food doesn’t come up much in the books, maybe middle class English food of yesteryear was just truly not worth mention. Interesting. Great pose!