Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway
For people searching for ways to eat healthier and slow climate change, veganism has become a popular route. This has prompted a new generation of bloggers, writers and chefs to attract new converts by distancing veganism from both the overtones of ascetic extremism and of anhedonic drabness. Thug Kitchen 101: Fast as F*ck combines these approaches; the third book from the franchise, it focuses on quick dishes from a distinctly Californian and largely gluten-free menu, punctuated with so much profanity that “sh*t” is literally the third-most used word in the book.
To address the food first: it’s tasty. It might be hard to find some ingredients outside of southern California, but almost everything should be achievable for those willing to venture into Asia Market or a health-food shop. It’s in the sweet spot between “innovative” and “I know what that is”, with recipes you might not expect from a vegan book: a handful of cocktails named for friends and pets; desserts like chocolate creamsicles and “Wine Cake” (a variation on rum cake); salads that might make you friends, like the jalapeno-and- cilantro-dressed “Firecracker Salad”; and entry-level Asian food like dan dan noodles and japchae.
But the tone is troubling. Eating is an essentially political act, and vegans acknowledge that more explicitly than most — either by embracing it, or by attempting to distance themselves from it. Thug Kitchen has chosen to label itself with a slur used almost exclusively against young black men as justification for oppressing and murdering them; the founders, a young white couple from East Hollywood with a Gwyneth Paltrow GOOP endorsement, are in no danger of that. While the authors claim that “thug”, the authorial persona, and the liberal cursing is an empowering, anti-elitist gesture, it seems especially trivial to blow a racist dog-whistle to flog brussels sprouts and nacho cheese. Thug Kitchen 101 represents the marriage between modern vegan food and young white hipster ironic racism in which Black, Latino and Asian people are invoked but notably absent.