Read a Book! Brooks Headley on Soy Not Oi
Soy Not Oi! 2
Edited by Hippycore Krew
312 pgs • $20
Review by Brooks Headley in MRR 386
A few months ago I did a collaborative dinner with a chef in New York City. This guy, well, he’s a champion of sustainable agriculture and generally a pretty sharp dude in terms of that kind of thing. The dinner we were doing was a conceptual thing that night utilizing mostly wasted and trash food scraps to bring awareness to the sheer amount of food that restaurants throw away. We got to talking, the wasted food idea thing lead me directly into veganism. This fellow, a proud meat eater and meat cooker, looked at me perplexed and asked, “punks are vegetarians…weird?”
The original Soy Not Oi! introduced me to vegan cooking when it came out over 20 years ago, arriving in an envelope at my mom’s house, mail ordered of course. And this new volume, both a collection of new recipes from the Hippycore folks and their friends, and a tribute to Hippycore founder Joel Olson is just plain fucking wonderful. The back cover of the original Soy Not Oi! shows some pissed (get it?) cartoon eggplants and radishes storming a capital building with the subtitle “Over 100 Recipes Designed To Destroy The Government.” Good stuff, stared at that back cover a lot over the years. This new volume shows a cabbage, a cucumber, and an onion hurling off shackles with the subtitle “cast off the chains of corporate food dependency!” Also, good stuff.
The foreword is written by Isa Chandra, who along with Terry Hope Romero are two of my professional punk vegan cookbook writing heroes. Isa confesses her love for the original Soy Not Oi! claiming it as the zine that taught her about food and cooking. Same goes for me. When you read the intros to those recipes, you discover that same goes for almost everyone who contributed a recipe.
In the pre-internet early ’90s, back in the days when the vegan and vegetarian meccas were the East Village of New York City and Berkeley, CA, you had to search out decent veg fare. And unless you lived in one of those two places (I didn’t, I grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore) a lot of times you were cooking the stuff for yourself at home. The original Soy Not Oi! was my guidebook to learning about arrowroot (it’s a thickener, made from a tuber), how to freeze and thaw tofu to get this cool spongy texture, and how to find the best burrito in 1991 (the recipe tells you to fly to San Francisco and go to 16th and Mission). Lots of good, solid information all over Soy Not Oi! 2, too. The primer on what kinds of sugar are cool to use is worth the price alone. And that’s only a single paragraph. Sugar is indeed a minefield, and responsible eating of and sourcing it is something we all need to think about, just like coffee and chocolate and all the stuff that grows far away from where you and I probably live.
Some of the recipes lack salt. I’m assuming this is an oversight. Keep a tin of sea salt or kosher salt nearby along with some freshly ground black pepper and a few lemons. If your finished dish lacks some umph, this stuff can always help. Like a good comp LP, there are contributors trying to show off their chops with complicated multi-step numbers, and others who sent in a nearly non-existent recipe (like the simple tomato sauce recipe….but come to think of it, there’s really no reason ever to buy prepared tomato sauce at the grocery store or the food co-op, so this one is a keeper.) There’s a very workmanlike and almost gruff recipe for steamed vegetables with “steamer sauce” from Ian Mackaye that recommends washing your steamer and pot as the food “cools” so there’s less to clean up later. It’s the most utilitarian and therefore straight-up healthy recipe in the book, and quite possibly Mr. Mackaye’s first recipe contribution to the public domain since the super healthy oatmeal recipe from the “Cooking With Fugazi” article that was in a late ’89 issue of Flipside.
Word-wise, hegemony, conspiracy, and patriarchy all make appearances in the text. As do transnational, corporatist, and “agenda of enslavement,” but when juxtaposed next to a cartoon rutabaga with a Larm hoodie it’s hard to not enjoy the smash the state vibes. There’s a broccoli biscuit recipe that’s a total cinch and references George H.W. Bush’s broccoli aversion (remember that? what kind of motherfucker doesn’t like broccoli??). There are music recommendations for lots of recipes. Some of which are great (The Nips!, Rudimentary Peni!), some questionable (the Doors?), and a few just complete what-the-fucks (sorry, no Rush, ugh, never). But there’s even a suggestion for that popular Amy Winehouse hit from a few years ago (which is actually really good) so it’s not just straight up collector nerd punk stuff. The recipe for whole wheat blueberry flax pancakes recommends a long single song (such as the live version of “Slip It In” from Who’s Got the 10 ½?) due to the fact that they won’t take very long to cook so you don’t want to get distracted with multiple groups.
I got a kick out of the lovingly penned tributes to Joel Olson in the back of the book. One specifically stated with reverence that Joel liked records from bands that were once good but that he liked the groups’ “three records past” when they were actually good. This made me laugh and relieved some shame from my own love of say, the Wartime EP and Cut the Crap. The recipes here are real and written and contributed by folks who are actually vegan and have obviously been cooking this stuff in their home kitchens for a while, which gives the book a really genuine feel. I’ve written a cookbook, and I hang out in the cookbook sections of big goofy bookshops often to browse new recipes. These days there are shitloads of vegan and vegetarian cookbooks out there, a lot of which are written for big publishing conglomerates by people who are most likely not vegan. A book like Soy Not Oi! 2 stands way out from these irresponsible wastes of paper and resource.
My only beef are the seitan recipes that are peppered throughout. Seitan kind of trashes your stomach. I don’t recommend eating it that often, or ever really. But that’s fine, because there’re scads of other great recipes in this volume, so that’s cool. Tempeh is one of the most delicious things out there, so try the buffalo tempeh recipe on page 55 if you are looking for a tasty non-animal protein source. And shit, well, seitan is kind of like smoking cigarettes. Some folks are into it even though they know the health risks. So, fine, go ahead make some seitan, I won’t judge. The tomato canning method on page 274 suggests listening to the Extinction LP by Nausea. I can get behind this. It’s a fantastic record that still sounds great 24 years later. But then the accompanying photo shows someone canning without shoes on. Don’t do that. Wear shoes around boiling and sharp stuff. For me? OK? Wait, so, uh, punks are vegetarians?