Recently, my manager decided to have a Chili Cook-Off within the IT department. As it turns out, people are pretty serious about their chili recipes, and IT folks are competitive by nature. Who can code the fastest? Who can close the most help desk tickets? Who can cook the best chili? Surprisingly, the winner was not what everyone thought it would be.
We have one vegan on our team. We also have ten dedicated carnivores, each pledging lifetime allegiance to meaty meals. Following stereotypical IT standards, we are a grease-loving department. We love the food trucks that line up outside of our office, each supplying a daily dose of heart attack on a bun. We love our burgers, our cheesesteaks, our gyros, and our pulled pork sandwiches. We thought we loved our meaty chili, but our one vegan had plans to blow us away this cook-off.
The candidates spread out their dishes on the table, each looking tasty and hearty, as a good chili should be. There was:
The Meat Bomb: This one looked more like a bunch of ground beef with maybe one cup of tomato-based sauce added to the mix. There might have been an onion too, but all I could see was a tub of meat with a slightly red tint to it. We probably considered this the favorite to win.
The Healthy Turkey Option: Someone decided to go all healthy on us and substitute lean turkey meat for the typical greasy stuff we are used to. It looked like white meat floating in watery red liquid, but actually ended up tasting pretty good. Lots of vegetables.
The Store-Bought Safety Chili: My manager was not sure how many people would actually make and bring chili themselves, so she purchased some Whole Foods chili in order to feed the masses should everyone show up hungry to a Chili Competition without anyone actually bringing chili to judge. A regular contingency plan chili.
The Pork Tenderloin: I don’t really know why this was there, but among all of the chili options, someone had cooked a pork tenderloin. It lay on the table, glistening with barbeque sauce. We didn’t judge this one with the others since, well, it wasn’t chili, but the extra meat was much appreciated throughout the department.
The Vegan Chili: Here it was. The final contestant. Essentially, it looked like a lot of beans and veggies all mixed together into a chili. Nothing too special, just your run-of-the-mill vegan option.
What surprised us was how good the vegan chili was. So good, in fact, that it won. It was rich and tasty, with the perfect amount of salt balanced by the sweetness of tomato. The textures of the beans and veggies provided the perfect mush and crunch that we’d never had in a chili before. Everything before this point had been overcooked meat with beans and overcooked onions, but this was something else. This was a winner. (Apologies that I do not have the recipe, but it seems to be a well-kept secret.) \
Anyway, this brings me to the point of my article. Why is it that people are surprised when the vegan choice is the tastiest and most preferred? The universal reaction to the Chili Cook-Off not only that the vegan chili was the best, but also that the fact it won was a huge surprise.
I heard people talking to other departments about the chili, saying things like “Oh my god, I never thought something without beef could taste so good,” or “The winner? Yeah, it was vegan; can you believe it?” And responses ranged all the way to “I don’t believe you, how could it win if there was no meat?” \
Why do we as a general body of people immediately associate vegan food with inferior taste? It seems to be the general consensus that eating vegan is a sacrifice, and that vegans are so strong to eat bland and tasteless food in order to abide by their beliefs. I’m not saying eating vegan isn’t a sacrifice, but vegan food can definitely taste delicious.
It’s a small place to start, but at least our IT department is no longer part of the group that believes a vegan chili can’t possibly win a Chili Cook-Off.