Halloween & the Revenge of the New Soy Technology

It was, once again, time for the annual Halloween carnival at my kids’ elementary school. And once I again, I was asked to make vegetarian chili.

The author in taco costume with friend Lucy at the Halloween carnival, 2012

The author as Señor Taco with friend Lucy at the Halloween carnival, 2012

As I mentioned in my last New Soy Technology post, my vegetarian chili was gaining a following. My pal Ernie had recently suggested I make it for the Topanga Chili Cook-Off — he was a judge last year. (Actually, now that I recall, I was supposed to be a judge too, but was out of town.)

“Listen,” I objected, “I’ll make it when I’m asked, but I don’t want to be known as the vegetarian chili guy. I’m inclined to throw a pork shoulder in there just to deconstruct this growing mythology.”

Have you, dear reader, ever had a vegetarian chili?? The ones I’ve encountered, much by accident or cruel twists of fate, have been watery, tomato-y affairs — something more akin to a failed minestrone or bean soup.

The key to the success of my vegetarian chili was that you couldn’t tell it was a vegetarian chili. Using ingenious surrogates like “Grillers” pretend burgers, soy chorizo, tortilla chips and American cheese, I could recreate both the toothsome meaty quality of chili and the greasy richness.

“Vegetarians aren’t vegetarians because they want to be,” I said, explaining my chili to another friend, “They’re vegetarians because of dharma or karma or their yoga lifestyle or whatever. They want you to trick them into thinking they’re eating meat!”

This was my theory and I was standing by it.

Not that I take any particular pleasure in tricking vegetarians. I prefer to convert them outright. Although I will admit that at the carnival, from my vantage point of the 4th grade “Hall of Mirrors” booth where I was working, I kept my eye on the food stand to see if anyone gagged and flushed white after taking a bit of chili — the sure sign of a duped vegetarian.

The author as a pretty fairy with friend Henry the Cupid.

The author as a pretty fairy with friend Henry the Cupid at the Halloween carnival, 2013

I witnessed nothing out of the ordinary — the chili was a big success and sold out fast. Although when I went to pick up my large stock pot afterward, one of the food stand ladies — my friend Mary Ann dressed as a giant squirt bottle of mustard — said someone had asked if there was soy in the chili.

“Last I checked,” I replied, “the soybean was a vegetable.”

Further adding to the vegetarian conundrum, many vegetarians now also eschew soy with a  conviction bordering on the religious. (“Have you ever heard the scream of a young soy pod being ripped from the vine!??”) Google “problems with soy” and you get an array of left-wing conspiracy-type hits with names like “The Truth About Soy,” “The Dark Side of Soy” and “Soy Alert!” that include the dire predictions of medical “experts”, laundry lists of grievances and even the lurking presence of the Dark Overlord of the food industry, Monsanto. I did notice that many of these websites were also strong proponents of the medicinal values of marijuana.

Another year would pass, and I’m sure they would ask me to make vegetarian chili again next time — except maybe it would have the caveat, “Oh, and no soy please.” Then it would be no cheese, no tortilla chips…

And pretty soon my chili, too, would begin to resemble a watery, flavorless bean soup infused with cumin and chili powder. And maybe that was okay — maybe that was just the arc of the way it goes with vegetarian chili.

When good Cupids go bad

When good Cupids go bad

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23 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Andrea thimpson
    Oct 29, 2013 @ 01:02:17

    Soooooo cute, dude!

    Reply

  2. Nikki
    Oct 29, 2013 @ 02:54:59

    Another goodie!! Thanks for sharing

    Reply

  3. Mom
    Oct 29, 2013 @ 03:35:44

    You make an alarmingly cute fairy.
    My veggie chili is very popular too although I think it’s mostly the spices I use.

    Reply

  4. Jessamine in PDX
    Oct 29, 2013 @ 06:54:36

    Eek! That’s a seriously slippery slope. From vegetarian chili to vegan chili to who-knows-what-comes-next — a “raw food” chili perhaps? Stick to your guns and toss in that pork butt!

    Reply

  5. linnetmoss
    Oct 29, 2013 @ 16:13:54

    Hey! A lot of us vegetarians have a major jones for soy foods. I would not dream of making chili without some nice savory meat analogue crumbles. In fact, my basic recipe is a can of chili beans, a can of tomatoes, a can of diced green chilis, a fresh green pepper or two, and whatever little meaty crumbles I have about the place. Usually it’s so thick, I have to add water. The resulting product is then enhanced with loads of sharp grated cheddar and judicious amounts of chopped red onion. Somehow I don’t think Thomas Keller would approve, but I love it! And it’s very quick to put together.

    Reply

  6. linnetmoss
    Oct 29, 2013 @ 16:18:21

    Whoops, I forgot that there’s also a can of kidney beans. Yep, the salt factor is way out there. One of the reasons it tastes so good.

    Reply

  7. Amy Sawelson Landes
    Oct 29, 2013 @ 17:38:23

    To make any chili more delicious, add 1/2 oz (1/2 a square) Baker’s unsweetened chocolate. Now you know my secret!

    Reply

  8. Michelle
    Oct 30, 2013 @ 00:34:13

    So, how will you top 2012’s and 2013’s costumes? (And, please, get Henry an agent asap. Clearly, he has quite a future ahead.)

    Reply

  9. Greggie
    Oct 30, 2013 @ 02:39:48

    The whole “is there soy in the chili” reminds me of trying to organize a holiday party at work taking into consideration the vegans, lactose intolerant, non-alcoholic drinkers, Weight Watchers and cilantro haters. Just wants to make you have an Anthony Bourdain menu.

    Reply

  10. glennis
    Oct 30, 2013 @ 04:46:47

    We miss the Topanga Halloween Carnival now our kid is grown up. Or, wait, maybe we are glad we don’t go to the Topanga Halloween Carnival now our kid is grown up. I’m not sure!

    Reply

  11. pal-O
    Oct 30, 2013 @ 19:02:18

    Yer a brave soul to be sporting around in a fairy get up serving up soy chili with a half dressed cupid boy in a diaper as sidekick. You are the Pork King my brother! Survey & own your Kingdom and serve dominion over your domain! Dual chili pots (one veggie, the other “gasp” meat) to encourage & tempt the veggie crowd next year into succumbing to their deepest, darkest desires, “Oops, this is the meat chili? My bad, but I can’t un-eat it now can I?”
    I think I’ll dress as the devil for Halloween!

    Reply

  12. Leo
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 06:34:45

    Thanks for sticking up for soy Sean. I think its mostly the dairy industry that likes to spread bad rumors about it because they don’t want people to buy soy milk. Our little food company makes some excellent organic soy based meat alts under the Helen’s Kitchen brand. Our chorizo is the best tasting one out there and we just launched an amazing carnitas and a italian sausage last week. Had I known you were a fan I would have dropped some by last week. Perhaps when you come to visit we’ll do a veggie taco night (although we should throw in a pork shoulder just for comparison’s sake)

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Nov 05, 2013 @ 17:42:19

      Sure thing, Leo. Next time you can shower me in soy. And I’d gladly come for veggie tacos if you promised me there would be some pork in them.

      Reply

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