Plant-based meats: What’s old is new again

Yom Kippur is over, so we can talk about food again. On my mind: a certain kind of food…
I’m amused by all the hoopla about plant-based meat substitutions. Have you tried a kosher burger yet? I haven’t, and here’s why: I don’t have to! My story once again proves to that old adage, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”
The year was 1948. The time was July. We were still celebrating the establishment of the State of Israel just two months before when my father decided we needed to think of something else: a trip to Miami Beach! Dad was a doctor, and very concerned by my sister’s recurring “northerner” bronchitis; a month in the sun would do wonders for her, he believed. Of course, he wouldn’t go himself; as a redhead with the kind of complexion that’s better off indoors, he’d stay at home and take careful care of both himself and his precious rose garden — in short bursts of outdoor time in much less threatening weather than sunny Florida.
(Side info: I‘ve learned that doctors are often horticulture hobbyists; the idea, and the reality, of planting and growing something beautiful and alive helps with that other reality: losing a patient to something incurable. My sad personal experience: When an oncologist loses someone to something that we all knew almost from the get-go would eventually be fatal, he or she often walks away without a word to the deceased’s family. I wish someone would address this in today’s medical schools; truly, the survivors are not laying personal blame on the physician, just on the cancer. And as for dentists: They are often wood or soap carvers; the honing of small decorative items uses – and sharpens – their finger dexterity.)
So off we went – mother, sister and – by train. Dad drove us from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., where we boarded a plush rail car, the kind just about out of existence these days. I remember very well being shocked that the cost of a simple sandwich in the white-glove-service diner was a whole dollar; I was used to a counter stool at Woolworth’s or Kresge’s, where a sandwich and coffee cost a quarter!
There are some things from that trip that we never recovered from. My sister’s bronchitis became less of a problem, but was not cured. I disregarded all warnings to take it easy in the Florida sun for the first few days; as a teen with disdain for such practical advice, I spent the first day on a beautiful beach, sipping “Sambos” (and who, these days, would dare name a canned chocolate beverage that?!) and the next day or two lying on my stomach in a hospital to spare my very sore back; I had totally ignored the fact that my skin coloring was so much like my father’s. Mostly, we agreed many years later, that we had never seen anything like the flimsy, tarpaper shacks we saw from train windows as we passed through the deep south — knowing people lived in them, but not knowing until years had passed why they lived in them…
Well, I didn’t go back to the beach much after that; instead, I went to the Y and learned to play Ping-Pong, becoming very good at it. Years later, I was in a regular lunchtime doubles game with two ministers and the man who directed our town’s Human Relations Commission. I still have my paddle, but the skill lives on only in my memory.
But I digress. It was food — vegetarian hamburgers — that got me started on all this remembering, so here it is: First: I ate my very first pizza that month in Miami — a sloppy mess. Second: I had a delicious “meat” dinner in a kosher restaurant, finding out only later that the tasty “beef” had actually been formed of soy protein! Another truth: Often what is old becomes new again. Burger time now, maybe?

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