A visit to an exhibit of Philadelphia's culinary history reveals incongruity in the "city of brotherly love."

"Ages of Eating in Philadelphia," read the title to the cover story to the food section of the Philadelphia Inquirer. "An overview of 300 years of Philadelphia cuisine, "The Larder Invaded: Three Centuries of Philadelphia Food and Drink' is a gustatory tour by means of 1,200 paintings, utensils and cook-book…" the article read. As Back to Godhead's cuisine writer, I decided to go, although not without skepticism Philadelphians undoubtedly had been eating for three hundred years, but that didn't necessarily mean they knew anything about eating.

Mix Vegetable

The exhibit was located in two adjoining buildings, one belonging to the Library Company of Philadelphia the oldest cultural institution in America and the other to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I entered the prestigious buildings at Locust and Thirteenth Streets and was politely ushered past four galleries of classical paintings to a sign "Philadelphia's Taste Displayed" marking the beginning of the exhibit.

"Turtle meat has been a highlight of Philadelphia cuisine since pre-revolutionary days, …" the caption on the first display case asserted. I moved on to the next exhibit. "Philadelphians were more oyster crazy than most. They ate them raw, fried, stewed, pickled, broiled, even frozen (as a hangover remedy)…." I skipped "Fish" and went to the "Scrapple" display. Beneath the glass case an ancient-looking cookbook was propped open to an ancient scrapple recipe. "Scrapple: take all the useless parts from a pig's head; add the lungs, liver and heart; put into an iron pot over the fire…"

I thought I shouldn't have put so many coins in the parking meter the exhibit was grotesque beyond my imagination. Philadelphians should be embarrassed at their history of eating, not proud of it.

Since I had time I meandered on, feeling rather disgusted, past the exhibits of catfish, sugars and spices, ice cream molds from the eighteenth century, early cookbook writers, the first Philadelphia restaurants and street vendors until a painting in a corner caught my eye.

It was a watercolor of a parade coming down Chestnut Street, just a few blocks from Locust and Thirteenth, were I was. Men, women, and children crowded the broad streets and leaned out of the three-story houses that went off as far as one could see. They were all witnessing the "Procession of Victuallers of Philadelphia." Hundreds of uniformed men on horseback surrounded a horse-drawn double-decker cart. A band was playing on the first deck, and a man stood next to a large brown ox on the second deck. Above the ox a flag waved with the words "Fed By Lewis Clapier."

I read the caption below the painting:

On the 15th of March, 1821, the butchers opened the most notable meat fair the city had ever known. After a week's exhibition, most of the 63 head of cattle, 42 oxen, 4 bears, 3 deer, 10 goats, 8 mammoth hogs and countless sheep were slaughtered. Alive or in dressed room, the 86,731 pound of meat were paraded through Philadelphia's streets and sold within 24 hours.

I was the only person at the exhibit that day, and I stood for a long time looking at the painting. I read the artist's ornately calligraphic words beneath his painting: "The occasion that gave rise to this splendid procession was conveying the meat… which, for number, quality, beauty and variety has never been slaughtered at any one time in this, or probably in any other, country…."

As any devotee would, I saw this event as cold-blooded murder. It was immoral and heinous, and it would wreak havoc for all its vacuum-hearted participants and supporters. Srila Prabhupada writes:

Slaughter is the way of sub-humans…. The animal killers do not know that in the future the animal will have a body suitable to kill them. That is the law of nature. In human society, if one kills a man he has to be hanged. That is the law of the state. Because of ignorance, people do not perceive that there is a complete state controlled by the Supreme Lord. Every living creature is a son of the Supreme Lord, and He does not tolerate even an ant's being killed. One has to pay for it. So indulgence in animal killing for the taste of the tongue is the grossest kind of ignorance. A human being has no need to kill animals, because God has supplied so many nice things. If one indulges in meat-eating anyway, it is to be understood that he is acting in ignorance and is making his future very dark…. Human society is advancing in the wrong direction and is clearing the path to its own condemnation.

I moved on, past the exhibit of "Those Who Had Plenty and Those Who Did Not" and past the wines, ciders, and kitchen utensils of yore. I stopped again when I saw the next-to-last exhibit "Good Holy Food." Prominent was a cookbook published in 1683 by Thomas Tryon titled The Way to Health, Long Life and Happiness entirely vegetarian. Nearby was a small tract published in 1850 called Penny Vegetarian Cookery, which "the Philadelphia Bible Society had distributed hundreds of to uplift the working masses by means of a vegetarian diet."

After I'd returned home, I called the curator of the museum and asked her why the vegetarian section of the exhibit had been labeled "Good Holy Food."

"Partly because it fit so well with the title of the last exhibit, 'Wholesome Good Food' [medicinal and mostly vegetarian]," she said. "And partly because all our vegetarian tracts in the Historical Society are religiously oriented."

I told her something of what I do and my reaction to the Procession of Victuallers. "I'm not a vegetarian," she said, "but still I found that celebration strange. After all, now we get our meat wrapped up in plastic from the market, and we don't have to encounter or think about the animal that it came form. But to have such a parade and then a slaughter it just seems barbaric."

So now that the animals are removed from the public eye to be killed, it is not barbaric? I thought. This is more civilized than killing the after a "splendid procession" through the city streets? The logic eluded me. Death is death, whether before the eyes of hundreds on the city's streets or behind the closed doors of the slaughterhouse. Is it not all barbarism? Yet here was an educated, well-positioned woman speaking with patent illogic.

The museum's ghastly display of violence made me think how much more people could profit form an exhibit called "Lord Krsna's Cuisine: A Timeless Transcendental Tradition." We could show the hundreds of dishes that can be made form milk and its products, and the fifty-odd enticing and enhancing spices that we use. We could give an introduction to the hundreds of thousands of meals that can be prepared from grains, vegetables, fruits, and milk products.

We could explain how this diet is more healthy, economical, humane, and conducive to spirituality than a diet that includes meat, fish, or eggs. We could explain the mentality of a devotee as he buys, cooks, offers, and serves the food, and the mentality of Lord Krsna, who accepts the vegetarian food offered to Him with love and devotion. And we could provide samples samosas, pakoras, laddus, sandesa.

There would be nothing barbaric here, nothing illogical or inharmonious with nature. And no one would feel sorry about putting so much money in the parking meter.

(Recipes from The Hare Krishna Book of Vegetarian Cooking, by Adi-raja dasa)

Bandgobhi alu sabji

Fried cabbage and potatoes

Preparation and cooking time: 30 min

Servings: 4-6

1 lb cabbage (a small head)
4 medium-size potatoes
4 medium-size ripe tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cloves (or 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves)
2 cardamom pods (or 1/4 teaspoon ground)
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 1/2 teaspoons salt 
1/2 teaspoon sugar 
5 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil
1/2 cup water

1. Wash the cabbage, shred it, and let it drain. With an electric coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle, grind the cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon stick into a powder and set aside.

2. Peel and cube the potatoes, and cut each tomato into 8 wedges.

3. In a non-stick saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons of the ghee or vegetable oil over moderate flame. Put the cubed potatoes in the pan and stir-fry them, scraping the bottom of the pan frequently, until they are lightly browned. Remove them from the pan and set them aside.

4. Put the remaining 2 tablespoons of ghee or vegetable oil in the same saucepan and stir-fry the grated ginger. Add the cayenne pepper and turmeric, and continue to fry for a few seconds more. Now add the shredded cabbage and fry for 3 or 4 more minutes, stirring regularly to mix it with the spices and prevent scorching. Add the tomatoes, fried potatoes, salt, sugar, and water. Cover the pan and simmer over a low flame until all the vegetables are tender.

5. Before offering to Krsna, sprinkle the previously prepared ground sweet spices over the top and mix gently.

Chick-pea-flour bread

Besan roti

Preparation time: 15 min

Standing time: 30 min

Rolling and cooking time: 5 min for each roti

Servings: 12

1 1/2 cups sifted whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 cups chick-pea flour 
1 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 fresh chili, minced
3 tablespoons fresh coriander or spinach leaves
1 tablespoon ghee or butter
1 1/4 cup (150 ml) warm water

1. Combine the flours, salt, spices, and coriander leaves in a large bowl. Rub the ghee or butter into the mixture. Gradually add warm water while mixing and kneading, until you have a smooth and elastic dough. Cover the dough with a moist cloth and set aside.

2. After 30 minutes or more, put a heavy griddle or over a medium-low flame. Break the dough into 12 parts. Take each part, form it into a ball, and roll it into a disc. Brush it with melted butter and fold it in half. Butter and fold in half again making a triangle. Roll it into a thin triangle. When the pan is hot, place a besan roti on it and cook each side for 2 or 3 minutes, using a little ghee or butter if the roti sticks to the pan. Then spread 1/2 teaspoon of ghee or melted butter over one side and rub it into theroti with the back of the spoon. Do the same with the other side. The besan roti is finished when both sides are golden-brown and freckled with red spots. Cook all 12 the same way. Offer to Krsna.

Mung Beans in yogurt sauce

Mithi ghani dal

Soaking time: overnight

Sprouting time: at least 24 hrs

Preparation and cooking time: 1 hr

Servings: 4-6

1 cup whole mung beans
1 cup yogurt or buttermilk
2 tablespoons chick-pea flour
3 tablespoon ghee or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
3 fresh chillies, seeded and minced
1/4 teaspoon asafoetida
5 curry leaves (if available)
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons salt 
2 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 heaping tablespoons fresh coriander leaves, chopped
2 cups water

1. Wash the mung beans and soak them overnight. The next morning, tie them in a moist cloth and hang them for 24 hours before cooking, so they can begin to sprout. Check from time to time to make sure the cloth does not dry out.

2. Mix the chick-pea flour with the yogurt or buttermilk and set aside. Heat the ghee or vegetable oil and fry the cumin, ginger, chilies, and asafetida. When the cumin seeds darken, add the curry leaves, turmeric, salt, and sprouted mung beans. Pour the water into the pan and cook over a medium flame for 30 or 40 minutes, adding a little more water if necessary. When the beans are soft, add the yogurt or buttermilk; then add the sugar and cook for 5 more minutes. Garnish with the chopped coriander leaves. Offer to Krsna.

Mixed Vegetable Rice

Sabji pulao

Soaking and draining time: 30 min

Preparation and cooking time: 35-40 min

Servings: 4-6

2 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks, crushed
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds
1/4 teaspoon asafetida
1 cup basmati rice 
1 tablespoon ghee or butter 
1 fresh chili, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
4 ounces fresh peas 
4 ounces green beans 
4 ounces cauliflower buds
4 ounces diced carrots
2 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
3 firm ripe tomatoes, washed and chopped
2 bay leaves
2 lemons or limes, cut into wedges

1. Begin by wrapping the cloves, cinnamon sticks, cumin, cardamom, and asafetida in a small piece of muslin (like a tea-bag).

2. Wash the rice, soak it for 15 minutes, and let it drain for 15 minutes. Heat the ghee or butter in a medium-size saucepan and fry the chili, grated ginger, and turmeric.

3. Now add the vegetables (except the tomatoes) and fry for 4 or 5 minutes more. Add the rice and stir for a moment. Then add the water, salt, tomatoes, and bay leaves. Stir again and bring to a boil. Suspend the little bag of spices in the rice, cover the pot, and cook over very low flame until the rice has absorbed all the water.

4. Remove the spice bag and squeeze it over the rice. Turn the rice onto a pre-heated serving dish and garnish with wedges of lemon or lime. Offer to Krsna.

Pineapple chutney

Anannas ki chutni

Preparation and cooking time: 30 min

Servings: 4-6

1 medium-large pineapple 
1 tablespoon ghee 
1 teaspoon cumin seeds 
2 fresh chilies, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
4 tablespoon water
1 cup brown sugar

1. Hold the pineapple upright and pare off the skin with a sharp knife; then dig out the eyes. Cut the pineapple lengthwise into quarters, and remove the core from each quarter. Then cut each quarter lengthwise into three strips, and cut each strip into chunks. Set the pineapple aside in a bowl.

2. Heat the ghee in a saucepan and fry the cumin seeds and chilies until they darken. Toss in the turmeric; then immediately add the pineapple chunks. After stir-frying for 4 or 5 minutes, add the water. Cover the pan. Cook over a low flame for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the cover and continue to cook until most of the liquid is cooked off. Finally, stir in the sugar and cook over the same low flame until the chutney thickens again (about 10 minutes). Offer to Krsna.