People and Places

Julia M. Dendinger

A very long time ago, in a different life, I was at my mother-in-law’s house waiting for her sister to get into town. She was moving from California to one of the Carolinas. (Please don’t ask me to remember which one.)

It was a short visit on a long drive, but I remember it for two distinct reasons. The first, I was very pregnant with my first kid at the time and she told me I glowed. When you’re the size of a tiny home, you can’t hear that kind of thing enough.

The second was her absolute joy at the cold cut spread we’d put together for an easy dinner and declaration of her need for protein before digging into the roast turkey.

Protein, animal protein specifically, has pretty much always been a part of my life. The body can’t stay alive without it, so it’s a nutritional necessity.

When most people think of protein, we think of meat. That’s kind of the default. When I was very young, meat was not the primary protein source for my family. It was a period of time when buying meat from the grocery was too expensive and my father hadn’t become proficient at hunting. So protein came from other places — eggs, lentils, a wide variety of beans and large amounts of government peanut butter.

No one died, no one was malnourished. My dad became a better shot, finances changed and meat appeared on a semi-regular basis.

Don’t get me wrong though — vegetables were still a huge part of our daily diet. Growing up, we always had a garden. I would guess our first garden was about 300 acres or so. This is based on the amount of weeding I was forced to do as a child, so that number may be a little off.

Growing up on a farm and raising beef cattle eliminated the mystery of where food comes from. Meat, eggs, milk, potatoes — I understood the process for the most part. As I got older, I learned more about commercial meat and egg production. I didn’t need undercover YouTube videos to tell me it wasn’t a kind, gentle industry. I pushed that information to the back of my mind and separated what I knew from what was on my plate.

When faux meat hit the market a handful of years ago, I was curious but not curious enough to hunt it down. Hunt it down…that’s kind of funny, right? Anyway, when plant-based proteins came out it wasn’t something that was easily available to me.

That quickly changed and plant-based protein even infiltrated fast food. I’ve tried the Impossible burger and it’s pretty darned good. Using plant proteins instead of animal products has been kicking around in the back of my head for some time now, but I just hadn’t made the effort.

I don’t know what changed exactly, but in the last few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with faux meats. I’ve cooked a grand total of three meals now and no one has died. The first try was spaghetti sauce with ground protein. Pea protein to be exact.

I’ve tried out brat wursts and a second ground product. The brats were a huge hit with the teenager, so we’ll be getting them again.

I will be honest though — they all kind of vaguely smell like canned cat food. I don’t know what that says about the products, or canned cat food for that matter, but the great experiment will continue. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.