A Catastrophic Confession: Theme Month

Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, where one big ol’ goofball just does his best to not fuck up food. I’m your Goof ol’ big-ball, Jon O’Guin. And today’s topic is…honestly, I may have overplanned it. Like, it’s really not all that long of a conversation, but I gave myself a whole post to go over it, so now I’m kind of stuck with it. What’s going on? Well, as noted, I’m announcing a theme month for the site. But with a twist: it’s already over.


Someone else is gonna clean this shit up, right?

Yes, you see, we are JUST wrapping up (MOSTLY) MEATLESS MAY!  None of the recipes we’ve posted over the last month required meat! Go back and check, it’s true. Miso-Butter Soba Noodles had starch, veg, and fat, but no meat. Then came the Cauliflower Gyros with Tzatziki sauce. Follow-up with Horchatas, and Monday’s Braaibroodjie, which OPTIONALLY includes bacon, but does not REQUIRE it, and in the last month, I’ve written up EIGHT recipes, none of which were meat (though half of them were drinks, so…less impressive than it sounds. There are relatively few drinks that use meat. Not zero, weirdly. And even more weirdly, I’m hoping to explore at least a couple of them in the near future. But, still, not a deeply tapped well of ideas.)


Other than our previously visited Bloody Mary, of course.

Why did I do this? Well, that depends on which part you’re asking about. Why did I have the theme month, why did I pick that specific theme, or why did I hide it? And I have answers for all of those questions. Maybe not amazingly great answers, but they DO exist. And I want to briefly go over them. Which, yes, is basically all we’re doing today. A couple jokes, a couple explanations, a couple links. Look, I’ve been carrying out a secret plan for an entire month, I need to have a day to step back and take a breather, alright? So if you’re uninterested in vegetarian and vegan foods, or why and how I think, well, there’s not going to be much else for you in this post. Surprise, there was a secret theme month, have a great time, see you on Monday with a dish that STARTS with Nate and my mouth heaving into the kitchen sink.

For those who ARE interested, let’s start with the simplest part: why do a theme month at all?


And This Weak and Idle Theme, No More Yielding Than a Dream

Quick side note: one of the enterprises I am legitimately the most proud of being a part of is the 4 years that WSU’s Student Theatre RSO STAGE did Shakespeare in the Park. Every year, I held SOME fairly important role in the proceedings (and often one in the show as well), and while they were often chaotic messes of productions, I legitimately also felt they were some of the most engaging and fun I’ve worked on.


Which is definitely why I look like a hobo here. I’m acting.
In fact, if at any point it looks like I’m not particularly well-dressed, assume I’m acting.

So, theme months. What are they? Why do them? A theme month, as you might conclude from the name, is a month where we on the site focus our efforts around a central theme. This marks our third theme month, with September of 2017 being Diner Month, May of 2018 being Mash-Up May, and now May 2019 being Meatless May! And the theme itself is the goal: for one of a couple reasons, you want to force some kind of pattern or guidance on what you’re talking about that month. And, to me at least, there are three primary reasons to do something like this:

Firstly, you might have the reactive impulse to connect existing elements or ideas. When I did Mash-Up May last year, it was because I had determined I wanted to make Bloody Mary Penne alla Vodka, and Mongolian Beef Burritos, and was interested in the idea of Ramen Burritos. With 2 and a Half recipes already set-up, it wasn’t much work to say “screw it, let’s just make 1-2 more, come up with some ideas for Thursday posts, and make a month out of it!” That’s a pretty easy one.

Another is to reach for something that you think isn’t 100% in your wheel-house, but you want to experiment with, by making it a part of this special event. This one Is best explained through an example I was actually batting around: originally, I was thinking of making May “May-ncient Times”, and only cooking recipes that were over 100 years old, and as far back as millennia old. Could I randomly drop a recipe from Colonial America on you all? Yes. Hell, I probably HAVE. But if I want to be able to really dig into historical minutiae and detail, giving myself a theme serves as an excuse: we can talk about Rome, as long as we focus on the food. (Note: the “theme month for older era foods” is still an idea I’m considering/planning, as we’ll discuss later. )


Next time on Lunchbox of the Ages: what did King Arthur eat for lunch?
Weirdly, this picture came up while I was looking for examples of “meat drinks” for the Bloody Mary earlier.

The third reason is more internally focused: it gives the author a scope for their work. I actually alluded to this back at the start of the month in our Miso-Butter Soba post, before shutting it down for being too negatively phrased. See, as a content creator, I choose what we talk about here. Yes, I consult with people, and yes, there are a series of boundaries (anything we make has to, logically, be something we can afford, that Is within or at least near my culinary skill-level, and has to be something that myself and/or my family will at least entertain the idea of eating) and yet, even within those, there are thousands, MILLIONS of options. And when you’re the person in charge of deciding on a matter that HAS no criteria, it can get daunting. My family has DOZENS of cookbooks now, and cooking magazines. What do I choose? A theme month focuses your efforts even more. Not only do your dishes have to be good, not-too-difficult, not-too-expensive, and have to avoid specific ingredients, but NOW they have to match this other criteria! And that really does help.

So that’s why you’d want to pick a theme month in general. But why Meatless May?


The Meat of the Matter

The answer to that is, well…a lot of reasons. Firstly, it is my personal belief that too many animals are killed for human consumption and then NOT eaten. I have nothing against eating meat, but there are millions of chickens every year killed to be eaten whose meat will be wasted. And, as someone who has been around small-scale farming endeavors for much of my life, I do find that distasteful.


My loving attention to my own animals is well recorded.

Secondly, it is my personal belief that climate change is an issue, and reducing meat consumption is one way we can help combat it. I’m not going to go on a long treatise here, because even if you don’t believe it, or don’t believe our actions are adding to it, I would hope the other arguments still hold water, so to speak. It’s just a thing that should be noted is in my mind.

Thirdly: the evidence has shown that the average American eats too much meat, especially processed and red meat. It has deleterious effects on our health, and is connected to a lot of illnesses. So helping people think of and consider non-meat options that are interesting, easy, and tasty, is a way to help people help themselves, in my book. If you end up liking, say, the Cauliflower Gyro so much you have it every couple of months, then hey, I’ve knocked 6 or so meat-based meals out of your diet. And that’s a healthy step.


Would more steps be healthier? Yes, but I’m not a great proponent of stairs.

Fourthly: to help your friends and loved ones. I myself am not a vegetarian, or a vegan. (Though I was almost convinced to become a vegetarian in college from a 10 minute philosophy podcast about utilitarianism I listened to in order to pass a class I definitely should not have; long story, now is not the time.) But I know vegetarians and vegans. I played board games and drank at a vegetarian’s house this last weekend. My brother (who may or may not be a paid actor) is dating a vegan. I spent 5 weeks of last year living as a guest in a house with a vegan roommate, who I know reads the site. And when I was in college, I worked with and made food for cast members with a wide array of dietary needs. There’s little reason to not find ways to try and include people as long as you have fore-warning. (Of course, If they don’t warn you about their needs, don’t worry, they’re the asshole in that situation.)

And sure, it can feel like you’re being judged for eating meat, hell, maybe you’re EXPLICITLY having your stance challenged or questioned by the vegan guy at the pizza party. Which brings us to the third point.


We wizards are subtle, and quick to anger

Why hide it? If there’s plenty of good reasons to have meatless meal options, why not announce it loud and proud that this is what we were doing right from the start? And the answer has a couple components, as every answer today did:


I am almost pathologically incapable of weighing options and faffing about.

Firstly: because it amused me. Nothing complicated here, I just thought the idea of ‘surprising’ people with a theme month was funny. It doesn’t hurt anyone, and it let me feel like I was being sneaky. “Heh,” I’d mutter “I wonder if they’ve even noticed that something’s weird yet.” “Yeah, throw a bunch of drinks in there! That’ll throw them off the scent! And let us make a cocktail.” Because it’s nice to feel like you know something others don’t, in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone.

Secondly, because I hoped to illustrate a point, one hinted at by past me’s chortled mutterings. I wanted to show how unremarkable it is, and can be, to eat in such a way. A lot of people, when they think of vegetarian food or vegan food, think of elaborate meat-substitutes, or salads. But a lot of people’s average breakfast is vegetarian: eggs, toast, cereal, juice and/or milk. A lot of cheese based foods, like Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, Mac and Cheese, etc. Most desserts are vegetarian, too.


Not a lot of meat in the average milkshake.

In fact, about HALF of our recipes last year were vegetarian, or included vegetarian options. And, thanks to our horchata post having 4 recipes, as of the end of this month, we’re split half-and-half vegetarian and non- for this year so far! I didn’t PLAN these things this way! Hell, if I had TRIED to plan it this way, I’m sure I would have fucked up the count somehow. That’s how easy it is: you don’t even notice when you’re doing it, a lot of the time.

That’s why I wanted to surprise you with it this time. To highlight it. Because it’s easier than you think to eat more plant-based foods. And it tastes pretty fine too.

So, I’m torn on how to end this. On the one hand, I want to plug some of my favorite vegan/vegetarian posts from the site’s history, on the other, I wanna talk about potentially doing ANOTHER theme month soon (Ancient August, as a re-skin of the May-cient Times idea, or maybe Asian August. Or like, a “Simple Summer” theme, where say, in July, no recipe is allowed to have more than 7 ingredients.) But on the third hand, which is named “Thing” and is a long-standing family helper, this post is already almost 2,000 words and it’s 1 AM, so I think I’ll call it a night, and work out those details another time.

If you want to guarantee your voice be heard in any discussions on what we do for the site going forward, the easiest way is to join our Patreon, where I tend to ask such questions before all others. Of course, you can also keep abreast of what we’re doing and thinking by following our Facebook page, Twitter Account, and Instagram feed. Though, so far our Instagram is like, 50% pet pictures, so bit of a misalignment there.