Hymenostilbe nutans

Hymenostilbe nutans

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Cordyceps and Vegetarianism

I have been asked by more than a few people who are vegetarian as to whether they can eat Cordyceps. Hmmm. I'm a dedicated meatarian who only eats vegetables because I was told they are good for me! So where do I begin? The simple answer to that question is a question: How vegetarian are you?

I have met vegetarians who will eat fish. When I first moved to Thailand I bought a Thai cookery book that had a beef dish recipe. An asterisk next to the beef ingredient noted: vegetarians can use chicken or pork. Thai Buddhism manages to get round the 'not eating meat' angle by reckoning that only a working animal such as a buffalo is technically meat. And then, of course, there are vegetarians who will eat veggie burgers, veggie sausages and even veggie bacon.

I once looked after a vegan in Thailand. It was only after a few days that I realised with horror that I had been getting him dishes that contained fish sauce. I admitted this to him and was relieved when he said that he was a pragmatic vegan. If something like fish sauce ends up as an ingredient that he did not know about he could live with that. For the rest of the trip, however, I made sure there was no fish sauce in his food.

So, how vegetarian are you? The Cordyceps that you might want to think about eating is 99.9-something-plus percent fungus. It is related to a standard supermarket mushroom or (even more closely) to something such as a morel that many vegetarian friends love to go hunting for in Europe and North America. That tiny little other percent? That WAS the insect – emphasis on the past. Cordyceps is a pathogen of insects. It infects the insect, grows inside and eventually kills the insect. The only part of the insect that remains is its cuticle – its skin. And 99.9-something-plus percent of that is made of chitin. Chitin is also what makes a fungus fibrous. Plants have cellulose while fungi and insects have chitin.

And so. How vegetarian are you? If you are a Thai Buddhist who will happily proclaim being vegetarian while eating chicken and pork – no problem. If you are a 'western' 'non-Buddhist' vegetarian who happily eats fish – no problem. If you are a pragmatic vegan? Vegetarianism, to me, is a sliding scale from one extreme to the other. As a meatarian all I can advise any vegetarian who wants to eat Cordyceps is: Where along that scale do you put yourself?