Just a geek who lives in Olympia, WA with my wife, son, and animals. In my free time I play board games, write fiction, and make stuff.
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“Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting,” Ten Years On

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John Scalzi

Ten years ago this week I thought I would write a piece to offer a useful metaphor for straight white male privilege without using the word “privilege,” because when you use the word “privilege,” straight white men freak out, like, I said then, “vampires being fed a garlic tart.” Since I play video games, I wrote the piece using them as a metaphor. And thus “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is” was born and posted.

And blew up: First here on Whatever, where it became the most-visited single post in the history of the site (more than 1.2 million visits to date), and then when it was posted on video gaming site Kotaku, where I suspect it was visited a multiple number of times more than it was visited here, because Kotaku has more visitors generally, and because the piece was heavily promoted and linked there. 

The piece received both praise and condemnation, in what felt like almost equal amounts (it wasn’t; it’s just the complainers were very loud, as they often are). To this day the piece is still referred and linked to, taught in schools and universities, and “living on the lowest difficulty setting” is used as a shorthand for the straight white male experience, including by people who don’t know where the phrase had come from.

(I will note here, as I often do when discussing this piece, that my own use of the metaphor was an expansion on a similar metaphor that writer Luke McKinney used in a piece on Cracked.com, when he noted that “straight male” was the lowest difficulty setting in sexuality. Always credit sources and inspirations, folks!)

In the ten years since I’ve written the piece, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, the response to it, and whether the metaphor still applies. And so for this anniversary, here are some further thoughts on the matter.

1. First off: Was the piece successful? In retrospect, I think it largely was. One measure of its success, as noted above, is its persistence; it’s still read and talked about and taught and used. Anecdotally, I have hundreds of emails from people who used it to explain privilege to others and/or had it used to explain privilege to them, and who say that it did what it was meant to do: Get through the already-erected defenses against the word “privilege” and convey the concept in an interesting and novel manner. So: Hooray for that. It is always good to be useful.

2. That said, Upton Sinclair once wrote that “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” In almost exactly the same manner, it is difficult to get a straight white man to acknowledge his privileges when his self-image depends on him not doing so. Which is to say there is a very large number of straight white men who absolutely do not wish to acknowledge just how thoroughly and deeply their privileges are systemically embedded into day-to-day life. A fair number of this sort of dude read the piece (or more perhaps more accurately, read the headline, since a lot of their specific complaints about the piece were in fact addressed in the piece itself) and refused to entertain the notion there might be something to it. Which is their privilege (heh), but doesn’t make them right.

But, I mean, as a straight white dude, I totally get it! I also work hard and make an effort to get by, and in my life not all the breaks have gone my way. I too have suffered disappointment and failure and exclusion and difficulty. In the context of a life where people who are not straight white men are perhaps not in your day-to-day world view, except as abstractions mediated by television or radio or web sites, one’s own struggles loom large. It’s harder to conceive of, or sympathize with, the idea that one’s own struggles and disappointments are resting atop of a pile of systemic privilege — not in the least because that implicitly seems to suggest that if you can still have troubles even with those many systemic advantages, you might be bad at this game called life.

But here’s the thing about that. One, just because you can’t or won’t see the systemic advantages you have, it doesn’t mean you don’t still have them, relative to others. Two, it’s a reflection of how immensely fucked up the system is that even with all those systemic advantages, lots of straight white men feel like they’re just treading water. Yes! It’s not just you! This game of life is difficult! Like Elden Ring with a laggy wireless mouse and a five-year-old graphics card! And yet, you are indeed still playing life on the lowest difficulty setting! 

Maybe rather than refusing to accept that other people are playing on higher difficulty settings, one should ask who the hell decided to make the game so difficult for everyone right out of the box (hint: they’re largely in the same demographic as straight white men), and how that might be changed. But of course it’s simply just easy to deny that anyone else might have a more challenging life experience than you have, systemically speaking. 

3. Speaking of “easy,” one of the problems that the piece had is that when I wrote the phrase “lowest difficulty,” lots of people translated that to “easy.” The two concepts are not the same, and the difference between the two is real and significant. Which is, mind you, why I used the phrase “lowest difficulty” and not “easy.” But if you intentionally or unintentionally equate the two, then clearly there’s an issue to be had with the piece. I do suspect a number of dudes intentionally equated the two, even when it was made clear (by me, and others) they were not the same. I can’t do much for those dudes, then or now.

4. When I wrote the piece, some folks chimed in to say that other factors deserved to be part of a “lowest difficulty setting,” with “wealth” being primary among them. At the time I said I didn’t think wealth should have been; it’s a stat in my formulation — hugely influential, but not an inherent feature of identity like being white, or straight, or male. This got a lot of pushback, in no small part because (and relating to point two above) I think a lot of straight white dudes believed that if wealth was in there, it would somehow swamp the privileges that being white and straight and male provide, and that would mean that everyone else’s difficulty setting was no more difficult than their own.

It’s ten years on now, and I continue to call bullshit on this. I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor and I’ve been in the middle, and in all of those economic states I still had and have systemic advantages that came with being white and straight and male. Yes, being wealthy does make life less difficult! But on the other hand being wealthy (and an Oscar winner) didn’t keep Forest Whitaker from being frisked in a bodega for alleged shoplifting, whereas I have never once been asked to empty my pockets at a store, even when (as a kid, and poor as hell) I was actually shoplifting. This is an anecdotal observation! Also, systemically, wealth insulates people who are not straight and white and male less than it does those who are. Which means, to me, I put it in the right place in my formulation.

5. What would I add into the inherent formulation ten years on? I would add “cis” to “straight” and “white” and “male.” One, because I understand the concept better than than I did in 2012 and how it works within the matrix of privilege, and two, in the last decade, more of the people I know and like and love have come out as being outside of standard-issue cis-ness (or were already outside of it when I met them during this period), and I’ve seen directly how the world works on and with them. 

So, yes: Were I writing that piece for the first time in 2022, I would have written “Cis Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.” 

6. Ten years of time has not mitigated the observation about who is on the Lowest Difficulty Setting, especially here in the United States. Indeed, if anything, 2022 in the US has been about (mostly) straight white men nerfing the fuck out of everyone else in the land in order to maintain their own systemic advantages. Oh, you’re not white? Let’s pass laws to make sure an accurate picture of your historical treatment is punted out of schools and libraries, and the excuse we’ll give is that learning these things would be mean to white kids. You’re LGBTQ+? Let’s pass laws so that a teacher even mentioning you exist could get them fired. Trans? Let’s take away your rights for gender-affirming medical treatment. Have functional ovaries? We’re planning to let your rapist have more say in what happens to your body than you! Have a blessed day!

And of course hashtag not all straight white men, but on the other hand let’s not pretend we don’t know who is largely responsible for this bullshit. The Republican party of the United States is overwhelmingly straight, overwhelmingly white, and substantially male, and here in 2022 it is also an unabashedly white supremacist political party, an authoritarian party and a patriarchal party: mainstream GOP politicians talk openly about the unspeakably racist and anti-Semitic “Great Replacement Theory,” and about sending people who have abortions to prison, and are actively making it more difficult for minorities to vote. It’s largely assumed that once the conservative supermajority of the Supreme Court (very likely as of this writing) throws out Roe v. Wade, it’ll go after Obergefell (same-sex marriage) as soon as a challenge gets to them, and then possibly Griswold (contraception) and Loving (mixed-race marriage) after that. Because, after all, why stop at Roe when you can roll civil rights back to the 1950s at least?

What makes this especially and terribly ironic is that when game designers nerf characters, they’re usually doing it to bring balance to the game — to put all the characters on something closer to an even playing field. What’s happening here in 2022 isn’t about evening up the playing field. It’s to keep the playing field as uneven as possible, for as long as possible, for the benefit of a particular group of people who already has most of the advantages. 2022 is straight white men employing code injection to change the rules of the game, while it’s in process, to make it more difficult for everyone else. 

So yes, ten years on, the Lowest Difficulty Setting still applies. It’s as relevant as ever. And I’m sure, even now, a bunch of straight white men will still maintain it’s still not accurate. As they would have been in 2012, they’re entirely wrong about that. 

And what a privilege that is: To be completely wrong, and yet suffer no consequences for it. 

— JS

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5 days ago
Both this essay and the one it’s referencing should be required reading. I use this metaphor a whole lot.
Cambridge, Massachusetts

The impotence of the long-distance trillionaire

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(In other news, I finally send off the novel manuscript I've been working on for the past 18 months. Taking a couple of days off before getting back to work on a novella I started in 2014 ...)

(Disclaimer: money is a proxy for control or power. I'm focussing on money rather than political leverage only because it's quantifiable.)

To you and me, a billion dollars sounds like a lot of money. It's on the order of what I (at peak earning capacity) would earn in 10,000 years. Give me just $10M and I could comfortably retire and live off interest and some judicious siphoning of capital for the rest of my life.

So are there any valid reasons to put up with billionaires?

There's a very fertile field of what I can only describe as capitalist apologetics, wherein economists and others try to justify the existence of billionaires in terms of social utility. Crude arguments that "greed is good" are all very well, but it begs the question of what positive good billionaires contribute to the commonweal—beyond a certain point the diminishing marginal utility of money means that every extra million or billion dollars changes nothing significant in the recipient's life.

For example, Steve Jobs had pancreatic cancer, as a result of which his liver was failing (after he underwent a pancreaticoduodenectomy ). As a very rich man, he could afford the best healthcare. As a billionaire, he could do more than that: he reputedly kept a business jet on 24x7 standby to whisk him to any hospital in the United States where a histocompatible liver for transplant surgery became available. (Livers are notoriously short-lived outside the donor body. Most liver transplant recipients are only able to register in one state within the USA; Jobs was registered in two or three.) But at that point, it did not matter how many billions he had: once you've got the jet and are registered with every major transplant centre within flight range, no extra amount of money is going to improve your chances of survival. In other words, in personal terms the marginal utility of money diminishes all the way to zero.

So, personal wealth has an upper bound beyond which the numbers are meaningless. Which leads to the second common argument for tolerating billionaires: that they have the resources to undertake tasks that governments decline to address. For example, there's the Gates Foundation's much-touted goal of eliminating childhood diseases of poverty in South-East Asia (which I haven't heard much about since COVID19 hit—or, for that matter, since the allegations of a Gates-Epstein surfaced in the press). Or Elon Musk's avowed goal of colonizing Mars.

Contra which, I would argue that in planetary terms a billion dollars is peanuts.

Gross planetary GDP (GWP—gross world product) is on the order of $85Tn— that is, $100,000 billion—a year. It's hard to pin it down because it's distributed among multiple currencies with varying PPP, so it could be anywhere from $70Tn to $100Tn.

Anyway. Those insanely rich guys, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos? Each of them is worth less than the growth of GWP during 2019. The richest billionaires are barely visible when you look at wealth on the scale of GWP. Collectively, along with Gates, the Waltons, Putin, et al, they represent only about 1% of GWP.

They can fund lobbying groups and politicians, rant about colonizing Mars, and buy midlife crisis toys like Twitter or weekend getaways on a space station, but their scope for effecting real change is actually tiny on a global scale. Even Putin and Xi, who are at the state-level actor end of the scale (individually they're multi-billionaires: but they also control nuclear weapons, armies, and populations in 8-9 digits) have little global leverage. Putin's catastrophic adventure in Ukraine has revealed how threadbare the emperor's suit is: all the current gassing in the Russian media about using nuclear weapons if he doesn't get his way actually does is to demonstrate the uselessness of those nuclear weapons for achieving political/diplomatic objectives.

So I conclude that they probably feel about as helpless in the face of revolutions, climate change, and economic upheaval as you and I.

Which in turn suggests something about the psychopathology of billionaires. They're accustomed to having their every whim granted, merely for the asking, as long as it exists within the enormous buffet of necessities and luxuries that are available in our global economic sphere. But they're all going to grow old and die. They can't really avoid the threat of creeping disablement within their own body, although they can buy the most careful attendants and luxurious bedpans and wheelchairs. They can't insulate themselves from objective reality, although they can pretend it doesn't exist and buy their very own luxury apocalypse bunker in New Zealand.

So they're likely to succumb to brutal cognitive dissonance at some point.

Elon Musk turns 50 this year. He's probably finally realized that he is not going to have a luxurious retirement on Mars. If the Mars colony isn't established within 20 years, he'll probably be too old to make the trip there (and I'm betting 20 years isn't long enough for what he'd want).

Vladimir Putin turns 70 this year. He's been treated for thyroid cancer, and may well be quite ill. Only one former Russian or Soviet leader lived past 80 in the past 400 years, and that's Mikhail Gorbachev (who was out of office, and insulated from its premature ageing effects, after only 5 or 6 years). My read on the situation is that Putin hadn't been impacted by external reality for decades before his Ukraine "peacekeeping operation"; his 70th birthday present to himself, intended to secure his legacy by re-establishing the Russian empire, has turned into a nightmare.

Jeff Bezos is 58; keep an eye on him in January 2024, that's when he's due to turn 60. (He seems to be saner than Musk and Putin, but his classic midlife crisis year falls around the start of a presidential election campaign in the US and he might succumb to the impulse to make a grand gesture, like Mike Bloomberg's abortive run on the presidence.)

More to the point?

Granting individuals enormous leverage can sometimes be socially useful. But before you point at Musk and Tesla or SpaceX, I need to remind you that he didn't found Tesla, he merely bought into it then took over: SpaceX's focus on reusability is good, but we had reusable space launchers before—the only really new angle is that it's a cost-reduction measure. Starlink isn't an original, it's merely a modern, bigger, faster version of 1990's Teledesic (which fell victim to over-ambitious technology goals and the dot-com bust). Meanwhile, billionaires can do immense damage: the Koch network has largely bankrolled climate change denial, Musk's Mars colony plan is fatally flawed, and so on. We inevitably run into the question of accountability. And when one person holds the purse-strings, we lose that.

I can't see any good reason to let any individual claim ownership over more than a billion dollars of assets—even $100M is pushing it.

Can you?

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14 days ago
"I can't see any good reason to let any individual claim ownership over more than a billion dollars of assets—even $100M is pushing it.”

Yes: Number goes up!

That really seems to be a main driver for a lot of people, even below the $100 Million mark.
iPhone: 49.287476,-123.142136

Are miniatures improving board games? | Analysis

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Are miniatures making board games better? Certainly, a look at our shelves may make us wonder how they could not. Some of the largest and most celebrated titles of the last few years feature them and they are always the centerpoint of the biggest and most luxurious remakes. But this wealth of highly-detailed components isn’t all positive. Artistically, there are four main problems with the way miniatures are used in board games.


Miniatures can be beautiful pieces. However, they are not the best to play with. By nature, miniatures are larger and bulkier than pawns or tokens. They take more space on the board and can easily obscure it or other pieces. Above all, their finer details are brittle and must be handled with care. In combination, this slows down play in a bid to avoid damage.

The use of miniatures also imposes some limitations on game design. Unlike cards or wooden bits, they can’t be stacked, easily hidden or put away in a bag. They are rarely a good surface for text and marking who controls them can become a problem. If a game is tasked to support miniatures, designers may lose some invaluable tools in the process.

Miniatures remind me of cutscenes in video games. Nobody is opposed to them, in principle, but they are often given too much focus. Some video game genres seem to have devolved into “interactive movies”, which try to mix both but end up not succeeding at either. In the same way, miniature-centered titles often sacrifice quality of play in favour of sculpts that are only noteworthy because they are compared to pawns, tokens and cardboard.

After all, the point of games is to play, not just see them in the distance. Miniatures don’t give them depth, improve the tactical card play or create a communal narrative. So while the visual aspect matters, it ought not to overcome the actual mechanics. If we want games to be as great as they can be, putting their own strengths on the backseat isn’t the best way forward.

There’s another elephant in the room, which is their high cost. Board gaming is an increasingly expensive hobby. Kanban, Vinhos and other Lacerda games have doubled in price from one edition to another and spending 200€ on a single Kickstarter no longer raises any eyebrows. Miniatures are largely responsible for these awe-inspiring amounts and I’m glad Dune didn’t have them, or I wouldn’t have been able to play it at all.

Lastly, it’s not even possible to carry many of these games without a car. They are too large and heavy to carry by foot and they are not much better on the metro, either. Kingdom Death Monster weighs about 8 kilograms and even humbler titles, like Ankh and Cthulhu Wars run for about three kilograms per box. What good are miniatures if they are physically tied to our shelves?


Another problem is incongruity. Miniatures are not a natural fit for each and every style of game. Like every other artistic choice, the role they play determines whether they’ll be a net positive or negative. Sadly, their overuse often puts them at odds with the rest of the art direction, if not the actual play mechanics.

Take Rising Sun by Erik M. Lang. Like other CMON products, it features a large number of miniatures, all sculpted in a fairly realistic, highly detailed manner. However, the board is drawn in the opposite manner. It follows a far more less representative style, with pastel coloured lines separating one region from another. And while both approaches could work, mixing them together in one game doesn’t.

The same is true of units. Their abilities are rarely in accordance with their visual design. It has an awesome dragon figurine so large that barely fits in most spaces. It’s hard to see it and not wonder what kind of power it has. But all it does is provide a flat, unimpressive bonus in combat. There are even two different miniatures for the same type of unit, which is very confusing.

Compare this to Battletech. The 1985 classic of robotic warfare is known for its painstaking attention to detail, down to the rounds of ammo, the exact weight and the precise location of each point of damage. It portrays its weapons of war as unique “kings of the battlefield”, fielded in very few numbers and heavily personalized. Their look, setting and background is captured perfectly by miniatures.

It’s all about consistency. It’s not that miniatures can’t add to a game, but that they must work towards the same goals as the rest of the design. If Stefan Feld makes the most frugal, less excitable efficiency puzzles, adding sculpts to Castles of Burgundy won’t change them for the better. At worst, they take away valuable mindspace from the number-crunching that defines his body of work.


As a general rule, miniatures come unpainted. Sadly, they aren’t at their best in that state, which negates much of their visual appeal. Raw plastic is not a beautiful substance, much less in the grey, yellow or greenish tones it comes in. This lack of colour makes their intricate details harder to appreciate as does their often reflective nature.

I find that, without paint, miniatures blend together. Humanoids all look the same, at least from the usual playing distance. Their body parts and clothes are often indistinguishable and their faces, if actually represented, become linked to their helmets and other accessories. Above all, it becomes harder to know what team they are supposed to be in. Color is the most powerful tool in an artist’s arsenal to communicate that vital information.

Of course, one could argue we are meant to paint them. But few actually do. I play hundreds of games a year with all sorts of different groups and, yet, the number of miniature games that have been brought painted to the table can be counted with one hand. Miniatures, as they are actually seen by the vast majority of us, look worse than they are meant to.

There’s also the question of how worthwhile it is to paint the average board game. Few of us have the skills, materials or time to make them look decent. Even then, painting the likes of Blood Bowl or Warmachine makes sense. You’ll be spending a lot of time with it, as those games can become their very own hobby. But most board games getting miniatures don’t have the same expectations.

In fact, it’s an open secret that those most interested in buying Kickstarter games full of miniatures aren’t the type to give their games repeated plays. The focus is on the visuals, on the amount of content and the table presence. Eric M. Lang said it himself “Our goal is to make games that look awesome”. Not play awesome or have awesome depth, just look good.


In fact, the most pervasive myth of miniatures is that they look better than other components. This is not necessarily true. Not all miniatures are aesthetically pleasing. The vast majority are as forgettable as all other board game art. They are generic to a fault, content with representing whatever popular cliché was stolen from movies, literature or roleplaying.

Take Blood Rage. Its vision of vikings is the same as every other form of media. It has the same one-dimensional focus on violence, the same trolls and tropes. Its portrayal is identical to the quickest Google search of “viking video games“. Its most notable aspect is that three factions are composed exclusively of men while the last one is composed, in full, by women in bikini armour.

I’m also reminded of Scythe, the reigning champion of board game kitsch. Its hodge-podge mech designs include a knockoff of Battletech‘s Timberwolf and a yellow tractor with only two wheels. Unable to support itself, it also has two legs, neither of which give it any ability to turn. Given how much of it was copied from other sources, though, its poor art direction shouldn’t be a surprise.

Stonemaier also produced Tapestry, which did come with painted miniatures. However, not only were they mere paperweights as far as gameplay is concerned, they were downright garish. Its buildings have doors larger than the floor they are in and always feature little knobs, even if they are the opening to skyscrapers. The production quality is so low that none of their walls are straight. Truly a bargain at 90€ per copy.

Sadly, games are judged on their maximalism and there’s nothing more maximalist than plastic. Hence, miniatures are seen as attractive by default, regardless of their actual merits. And yet, the best looking component of the last decade, the most iconic and artistically important are the wooden animals of Root. They are living proof that miniatures are neither the only nor best way to make games appealing.

In the end, miniatures are just a tool. While there’s room for them in gaming, they currently aren’t used well. Like all aspects of game design, their presence must add to the interactive elements that define our art form. They ought to be use, not as a blind appeal to consumerism, but as a way to bring what we love the most about games forward.

Are miniatures improving board games? | Analysis was originally published in Erik Twice.

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14 days ago
Can’t disagree, it’s easy to get miniatures wrong in a medium built entirely around abstraction. Even the most realistic and detailed games are still simplifications of reality, and the quality of a game is more about creating a stylized metaphor than a 1:1 representation of reality.
Olympia, WA

I Saw a Cool Truck Today

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53-foot semi-trailers are prohibited on the vast majority of the streets of New York City. The city’s rules for trucks can get fairly complex, but this one is simple and unambiguous. The state Department of Transportation has a helpful website for those unsure if their 53-foot long semi-trailers are allowed in New York City. It says: “53-foot long trailers are not allowed to make pick ups or deliveries in any of the boroughs of New York City.”

But 53-foot semi-trailers do not let the simple fact that they are prohibited from driving around the various streets of New York City stop them. This simple law is also simply not enforced. Especially (but not exclusively) in the outer boroughs, oversized semis are a regular sight. While it can be difficult for the untrained observer to quickly and accurately gauge the length of a trailer, sometimes an offender leaves some telling clues.

There is even a Twitter account dedicated to documenting examples of illegal semi-trailers on our streets, just as there is one for defaced license plates, one for cops parking on sidewalks, and (granddaddy of them all) one for parking placard corruption.

Obviously the lack of enforcement of this rule is part of a broader municipal trend of Not Caring About Stuff If No Wealthy Homeowners Or Business Interests Are Currently Complaining About It. (Street safety could actually become a priority in our cities if, instead of cities spending money on awareness campaigns for drivers, agencies spent those funds on awareness campaigns for landlords and small business owners, in order to convince the agencies’ political leaders to let them do something about it.)

There are many reasons why a city would bar the largest semis from their streets, from weight to noise, but the main one is simply that they don’t fit. They can’t take the narrow turns vehicles need to take here without endangering other vehicles and everyone else around them. They have terrible sightlines and are dangerous to pedestrians. Crowded city streets are best and most safely navigated in small vehicles. Semis are literally designed for freeways.

The incisive reader has probably gathered by now that I do not like these trucks. (I have an entirely one-sided email chain with the flack for a national food distribution company asking if they are aware of this law. Yes, I am a crank.) 

But, today, I saw a cool truck. It was not out on the streets, blocking a crosswalk for an entire light cycle because it had no room to execute a right turn without hitting five other vehicles and several strollers. It was on the internet. Twitter user “Alan” (he describes himself as “literally just some guy”) brought to my attention that the European truck company Volta Trucks plans to bring its “class 7” electric trucks to the U.S. market next year.

Electric trucks are a good thing all on their own. But what makes this company’s offerings interesting are that they are specifically focused on safety in urban environments. As Ars Technica explains: “The truck features a central driving position, with a minimum of blind spots, that places the driver at an appropriate height to spot vulnerable road users like cyclists.” Safety isn’t an incidental consideration, either. Volta is foregrounding safety—for people outside the vehicles—in its official marketing, as seen on the company’s Twitter feed.

Now, has Volta designed a safer truck for urban transport simply because European companies are more enlightened and civilized on these issues than Americans? I mean, let’s be honest, part of the answer is yes, culture matters and they have basically a multi-decade head start on caring about this stuff over there. But the Volta Zero was not developed and brought to market out of altruism. As Alan notes, this model was designed for a specific reason: To meet London’s “Direct Vision Standards.”

London has adopted fairly rigorous safety standards for trucks (or Heavy Goods Vehicles/“HGVs” in EU-speak) they call the “Direct Vision Standard.” HGVs over a certain weight now require a new permit to enter London, determined by standardized safety ratings based on visibility from a truck’s cab. This mandate applies all day, every day, on every street in London. And they are enforcing it.

American traffic engineers and city planners are not unaware of these sorts of policies. They are just too powerless or chickenshit to push for them. Streetsblog reported last year on a panel at the Vision Zero Cities conference on the topic of truck visibility and safety, attended by well-meaning planners from across the U.S.. The “chief fleet officer for the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services” was one of the panelists. “We know we want these trucks,” he said on the panel. “Now, we want to see the trucking industry move to supply them… They know how to make them. They’re already selling them. They’re just not selling them here.”

Volta, now, would like to sell them here. That’s great. But they’re not producing these trucks and trying to sell them here because New York City planners wanted that to happen. It’s only a possibility because London forced an industry to produce and sell safer trucks, if businesses wanted to continue driving trucks in London—and it turned out that businesses did want to continue driving trucks in London. The city created a market for a new kind of vehicle, and then a company emerged to create the vehicle, not through subsidies or nudges or even direct purchases, but by giving commerce no other option but to create it. It is almost impossible to imagine any large U.S. city exercising its own power the same way. New York (or  Los Angeles, or Houston) could’ve done this at any point, but over here we can’t even enforce an already existing ban on the most dangerous trucks.

I hope to see these cool trucks in my city soon (especially because I expect drivers in them will have an easier time seeing me). I don’t expect to see many until the people with the power to do so understand that they actually can and must get the uncool trucks off the road.

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13 days ago
These are great trucks!

How I Got from Mastodon’t to Mastodon


I finally wrapped my head around Mastodon, a social media platform, this past week. On Monday, April 25, I was beyond annoyed by how confusing I found Mastodon to be — and a similar exasperation was expressed by numerous friends of mine. For a while, I embraced this camaraderie of disinclination. But the more I worked to understand Mastodon, the more my perception changed, and my attitude along with it.

Tuesday was still more of the same. By Wednesday afternoon, however, I was quite active on Mastodon, and I began to run into some of those same friends, as well as familiar avatars from other social media platforms. I also met, in internet terms, new folks — and new-ish folks (one introduced themselves as the person who wrote a bot I interact with on another social media platform). That bot-to-human incident is just one anecdote, but anecdotes can be orienting, even if only as stories. The story here was that I’d traversed from a highly public social network to a relatively more circumspect one, and upon arrival I met not a bot but the person behind the bot.

By Friday, April 28, I had emerged as something resembling a Mastodonian. I’d moved through the three common stages of digital adoption: from annoyed through engaged to engrossed. That evening, when a friend casually asked, via a group email thread, if Mastodon was worth paying attention to, I began to reply — and I only finished after unexpectedly writing a roughly 2,000-word explanation to help my friend, along with the other participants in the thread, understand how Mastodon functions. Or more to the point, how I understand Mastodon to function, and why I think Mastodon might matter.

Grains of Salt
To begin with, I can’t say with assuredness that I’ll be sticking around on Mastodon. My general rule of thumb with online tools is to simply sign up and see if it sticks. I’ve tried so many social media tools, and very few have stuck. I quickly ditched Mastodon twice in the past, but it certainly makes more sense to me now than it did then. And since I found Mastodon difficult to make sense of, I wanted to share here my sense of what Mastodon is, why it can be hard to initially comprehend, and how one might go about both comprehending and engaging with it.

Yes, I know the complaint: if a social media platform requires a 2,000-word explanation (more like 4,500 words, as of this essay, which expands upon my original email), it is doomed to fail. I’m not here to say Mastodon is the future. I’m just here to say Mastodon is very interesting — and that while a lot of the perceived bugs may be bugs, and a lot of the conundrums are just subpar design and inefficient communication, some of those seeming bugs are features (or the residue of features), and much of that subpar communication is because of just how different Mastodon is from the current dominant forms of social media. In other words: Don’t miss the paradigm forest due to the bug trees.

If Mastodon succeeds (define success as you wish), it won’t simply be because the service became popular. It won’t even be because a significant number of people got over the same conceptual hump I did in order to understand Mastodon. It will be because an even more significant number of people won’t ever recognize the conceptual hump, because what right now, at the start of May 2022, seems downright odd about Mastodon actually will have become the new normal. That potential outcome is quite interesting.

And if you want to experience Mastodon before reading my attempt at an explanation, check it out at joinmastodon.org.

Reminiscing About the Early Pliocene Era of Computer Communication
Some personal context might help. And you can skip this section entirely. It’s just background on who wrote this thing you’re reading.

I’ve been on enough social media platforms that it feels as if their combined logos could fill a yearbook. My first experience online, broadly defined, was a nascent form of social media: a dial-up BBS, or bulletin board system. This would have been roughly around the time The Empire Strikes Back was released. Back then, I didn’t think much about the “self-enclosed-ness” of the BBS. The notion of dialing into a system and then communicating directly with people on the other end, and only those who had likewise dialed in, mapped easily to the idea of a phone call, even if we were communicating by typing rather than speaking.

The mental mapping from BBS to phone call was all the more easy to comprehend because an actual phone line was required to hook the computer — a RadioShack TRS-80, in my case — up to the world outside one’s home. (This wasn’t my home. This was a friend’s. An extra phone line cost real money, as did the phone call itself. Such expenses were beyond my childhood home’s norms for decision-making. My parents were not entirely clear on this BBS concept at first, but they did tell me about the emergence of phones in their own youth. The idea of a “party line” — or “party wire,” vis-à-vis the Normal Rockwell illustration of that name — helped all of us understand the BBS more than we might have otherwise.)

Then high school and college happened, and I didn’t log on again until the early 1990s (not counting the limited school network, which was just for programming, when I was an undergraduate flirting with being — and then being flummoxed by the demands of — a computer science major). If I had to put a date on it, I imagine I logged on for the first time in April or May of 1993 — so almost exactly 29 years ago. This would have been the direct result of the debut issue of Wired magazine. If archaic phone systems helped me understand social media, then it was paper that helped me go digital.

Two Steps to Understanding Mastodon
As I said at the opening, I had already tried Mastodon previously, since it launched in 2016. Back then, though, I wasn’t frustrated by it. I was simply unenthusiastic. Mastodon’s interface felt as if a long-running food co-op tried to recreate Twitter or Facebook: it all sorta worked, but was utilitarian at best, and mired in complex systems at worst. You could almost smell the carob brownies. The benefits of Mastodon were unclear to me. At that early phase of my adoption, Mastodon reminded me of so many wannabe SoundCloud replacements whose sole apparent purpose was to replace SoundCloud. “SoundCloud done right” is a self-denuding rallying cry. They brought nothing new to the party, and few if any of them gained steam.

I was also reminded of a certain geek ethos, the one in which a computer-minded individual expresses interest in, say, having a blog, but actually takes far more active interest in creating, from scratch, their own blogging software. They never end up blogging. Mastodon felt, initially, to me like it might have been made by people with more interest in making a micro-blog network platform than in actually micro-blogging themselves.

This past week, however, was quite different. This past week I wasn’t unenthusiastic; this time, actual frustration kicked in. And while frustration is, well, frustrating, it can also be an engine of intrigue. I had not been that confused online for some time. It was sort of intoxicating. I’d like to say I simply put concerted effort into “getting” Mastodon, but that wasn’t quite how it played out. At first, all I did was complain, and the variety of responses to my complaints informed my experience. I’m fortunate to have a lot of patient and informed online friends.

Also helping in the process of getting acclimated: user error on my part. I ended up somehow with two different Mastodon accounts. In part this was a hassle, because their URLs were just similar enough that I took one to be an abbreviation for the other. But having two Mastodon accounts, each with its own unique URL, helped me understand something that had not, to me, been obvious previously: there are numerous Mastodon URLs. There is no twitter.com or facebook.com for Mastodon. The concept of Mastodon doesn’t merely contain — as Walt Whitman taught us to verbalize — multitudes, but is founded on them.

The interface can be maddening as you come up to speed. If privacy is a concern, you might find yourself wondering why you can change a public account’s individual posts private or but not a private accounts individual posts public. You might change an account from private to public, and then wonder why your earlier posts remain private. When you try to figure out how your posts show up on some other instances, you may end up looking at a chart, one that a friend has rightly likened to something out of the brain-frying time-travel film Primer (note: I love the movie, and it fried my brain). All these things eventually make sense, but the difference from the widely experienced, carefully designed chutes and ladders of Twitter and Facebook is palpable. I’ll get more into this in the next section, but suffice to say: people would maybe less often confuse Mastodon’s posts with Twitter’s tweets if Mastodon didn’t refer to its posts as “toots.”

Indeed, Mastodon’s current communications really don’t help matters. As of this writing, when you sign up for a new account on the main Mastodon URL, you are immediately asked to choose one of myriad “servers,” which are broken into “categories.” What is not clear is that all those servers are in effect communities and that they are each separate “instances” of Mastodon. (This is stated on the page, but “stated” is different from “clear,” and clear is different from “apparent,” let alone “self-evident.”) Much of the rest of this article will involve unpacking that single word: “instance.” Once I got that word, that concept, everything about Mastodon that had previously been frustrating began, instead, to make sense. I then deleted my two conflicting Mastodon accounts and I started a new one.

As whenever you make it through a thick conceptual window, this experience of finally “getting” Mastodon was fulfilling. For the first two days, my attitude was: this is the stupidest interface I’ve ever used. And then it made sense. To explain how it came to make sense, I retraced my steps. What felt at the time like an extended process of trial and error could, in fact, be reduced considerably. Partially that is because numerous of my steps were missteps, such as those recounted up above. In the end, I think there are two steps to understanding why Mastodon is special.

Step 1 of 2: Mastodon Looks like Twitter but It’s More Like WordPress
It’s very important to not think of Mastodon as simply a replacement for Twitter. Why? Because Twitter is a single globe-spanning instance of software that every user is inside together. Mastodon, however, is software more along the lines of the way WordPress.org provides software. When you install WordPress’s open-source software at your own URL, it’s its own self-contained instance of WordPress. WordPress is software in a practical sense, whereas Twitter is software only in the sense that it’s a digital service. My own website, Disquiet.com, is on WordPress (I am vaguely familiar with the geek ethos mentioned earlier: from 1996, when I founded Disquiet.com, until 2007, when I commissioned someone to port the site to WordPress, I published the entire site with hand-coded static files, every single .html page, even the RSS feed). If someone posts a comment on disquiet.com, that’s happening in my specific instance of WordPress, not on “WordPress as a single globe-spanning platform.”

So, let’s break this down: Make sure you get the difference between WordPress and Twitter. Now, imagine Twitter not as a company with a single platform, but as an installable-on-the-internet piece of software like WordPress. That’s a step toward understanding Mastodon. Mastodon lets you set up your own self-contained instance of the software, just like WordPress does, and you can run it on your own (server use costs money, and the more users you have, the more it costs; it’s more expensive than WordPress). No one can join your Mastodon instance whom you don’t want as a member. You can set the rules as you like. You can make it open to anyone who wants to read it or wall it off entirely — and even if you make it open to anyone who wants to read, you can allow each of your instance’s individual users to choose to hide their own posts from anyone but the people they choose to see it. (If you’re handy with code, you can even fork Mastodon and make your own version — so long as you post the source code online, per the open-source licensing agreement.) Also, you don’t need to set up Mastodon yourself. You can just join a pre-existing server/community.

This took days to comprehend, and then even when I got it, it took a while to grok it. My head hurt. I got angry. Then suddenly it clicked. A big reason I got angry is there are a lot of know-it-all Mastodon-heads out there who condescendingly ask regularly, “Why aren’t you just on Mastodon?” when people complain about Twitter and Facebook. The answer to that question, as it turns out, isn’t just “Mastodon isn’t easy to understand.” It isn’t even “Mastodon isn’t as clean and efficient as those heavily funded websites that are literally designed to algorithmically reflect parts of our consciousness we’re not even aware of.” No, the more full answer is, “To really use Mastodon, you have to step through a conceptual window that’s akin, perhaps, to, long ago, someone who’s only ever used AOL then trying to use the Internet. Except even harder to comprehend, unless someone is patient and takes the time to explain it.” I’m trying to explain it, first to myself, and then to anyone who wants to read this.

Step 2 of 2: Mastodon Communities Can Easily (if Currently Clumsily) Connect with Each Other
This is where Mastodon gets interesting — like, really interesting. It’d be enough if Mastodon were just “WordPress for self-contained social media groups.” But before talking about Mastodon’s built-in interconnectedness, let’s return to the concept of blog comments above.

Do you remember a piece of once ubiquitous online software called Disqus? (I’m not sure how broadly utilized it is anymore.) Disqus provided connective commenting between separate blogs and websites. For example, if I went to some experimental-music blog, and someone said something interesting in the comments, I could click on their avatar, and I’d see other stuff they’d commented on all around the internet. So if they had commented on another blog, I could then click through and see what they had commented on. Maybe I’d discover another experimental-music blog, or maybe I’d find out they also like recipes for Estonian cuisine, or maybe I’d come upon the music made by the very person who possesses that avatar.

The phenomenon of Disqus was more than blogs cross-linking through so-called “blogrolls.” Disqus was also more than a portfolio of blogs owned by one company and using a shared platform. This was seemingly truly (but not actually, as I’ll explain in a moment) ad hoc — and it was exciting. Disqus just happened: you show up on one blog, and there’s your avatar — you show up on another, same. (Now, it wasn’t quite as easy as I describe, which is part of the reason it didn’t take off as much as it might have. Which is part of why what I’m getting around to describing about Mastodon is so interesting.)

I once saw one of Disqus’ two founders, Daniel Ha, give a talk, early on in the company’s existence, and he made a comment I think about a lot to this day. He said something along the lines of how comments people made online were just as valid a form of publishing, of self-expression, as was the writing of a post or article. That’s not quite how he put it, but I feel like much of the subsequent explosive growth of social media shows just how accurate his observation was. (If this seems self-evident to you, I will note this was not a widespread perception at the time.)

You may be thinking, “Well, that’s cool, but how is that blog commenting scenario different from Mastodon?” The thing with Disqus was it was centralized. You had all these different blogs, but the only way they connected was through Disqus. You had little to no control as a Disqus commenter. If someone started saying crappy stuff to you or just crappy or inconsequential stuff in general, you couldn’t unfollow them or hide them on blogs where you might stumble on them (at least when I used the service — it may have gained such functionality). There were issues for blog owners, too, but let’s just pause there and move on. The key thing was it was centralized: if Disqus went down, all of Disqus went down. If Disqus made a big change, it immediately impacted the entire network. Had Disqus ever gone under (which it hasn’t), it might well have disappeared.

A cool thing about Mastodon is the software is created so that anyone on any single Mastodon instance (like, say, mastodon.social, which appears to be the biggest one, or post.lurk.org, where I eventually signed up, despite me not totally liking the somewhat creepy tone of the word “lurk”) can still communicate with people on other Mastodon instances. Even as I type this, I can’t quite understand how it works, but it does. (A friend explained to me helpfully that the underlying protocol, ActivityPub, which Mastodon and other online services, can be thought of as “kind of like two-way RSS,” which is to say the protocol most of us know as a way to track a bunch of blogs through one tool, such as Feedly, Inoreader, or the sadly defunct Google Reader. I don’t know much about ActivityPub, but I’ve been reading up. And I put this section in parentheses to emphasize that when you start seeing terms like “RSS” and “ActivityPub,” it’s a bit beyond the technical literacy — even the technical curiosity — I’ve assumed for a reader of his essay.) If I log onto post.lurk.org/@disquiet in the morning, I might see replies from other Mastodon accounts at places like digforfire.org or queer.party or cybre.space or merveilles.town or mastodon.art or metalhead.club or kith.kitchen or sonomu.club, all real unique Mastodon instances, and I can communicate individuals who call such places home. I can even, in a subtly signaled way, see who in my feed is part of “my” home instance (i.e., post.lurk.org) and who isn’t: accounts that share my instance appear by their avatar names, whereas accounts from other instances appear with their avatar name appended by the name of their alternate instance (e.g., I appear as @disquiet@post.lurk.org on the feed of someone at any Mastodon instance other than post.lurk.org; for anyone on post.lurk.org, I appear simply as @disquiet).

If these other accounts turn out to be bots or merely inconsequential to what I’m interested in focusing on, I can mute them. If I find that a particular instance of Mastodon (like ihate.ambient — not a real instance) is filled with bots or hateful humans, I can save myself the Whack-a-Mole effort and just mute the whole instance — and, this is another clincher, I can do so as a user. Read the previous clause again: as a user. I don’t need to depend on the Mastodon instance in which I am located to filter whom I communicate with.

Think about it this way: each Mastodon instance can become its own little community without necessarily being cut off from the broader world. (The term for this sort of arrangement is “federated.” The word, which predates Mastodon, is one that the service features repeatedly on its joinmastodon.org home page, even though the same page offers no definition for curious newcomers.) The managers of a given instance can certainly say, “You can only chat here, and the rest of the internet can’t see in unless they have an account.” However, the real power of Mastodon is how you can have your own little instance for a distributed community of individuals to discuss folk dancing, or living at sea, or modular synthesizers, or vintage sports equipment — likewise, you could have one for your family, or your college class, or your neighborhood volunteer clean-up group — and the participants can connect with each other as well as with users beyond your instance, as each user sees fit.

Witnessing these varied instances of Mastodon communicate with each other is kind of amazing. I do a lot of stuff online, and I love being online. I still think of IMAP, an internet standard protocol that powers a lot of email, as magical. Mastodon is cool on that order of magnitude. It’s science-fiction cool.

The Next Steps
That was really helpful for me to type out, because doing so helped me understand Mastodon more clearly through explaining it to myself. This documents my experience and perception. Like I said, I passed through a conceptual window this week, as far as Mastodon is concerned. And a funny thing happens after you pass through a conceptual window: you can’t always see clearly back through it. It took almost as much effort to retrace my steps as it did to take those steps in the first place, albeit minus any of the frustration. (Fortunately, I have my sequence of tweets from that week, and the trajectory is pretty clearly delineated if you read them in order.)

So, will Mastodon take off? It’s done well during the current Twitter-evacuation, or at least current “Twitter trial separation,” but Mastodon still needs to do a lot of hard work. It needs to work on that interface. It needs to infuse its “federated” underpinning with deeper meaning and purpose so that the term is unifying and clarifying rather than merely vaguely differentiating. And Mastodon needs to do a much better job of explaining to new users how it works. It needs to help newcomers start off. As mentioned earlier, when you show up you have to blindly choose a community — and it doesn’t explain clearly that it’s an arbitrary choice, to some degree, because you can communicate across instances. The whole concept of inherently interconnected instances is not self-evident, or easy to immediately comprehend. To understand the solution, users must first appreciate the problem. “Getting off Twitter and Facebook” is a problem for many, but it’s not really the problem that Mastodon is trying to solve. Per my comment about SoundCloud earlier, it doesn’t do justice to what Mastodon (along with other experiments in federated and decentralized social networks) is pushing toward.

The issues aren’t merely about language. If you’re on mastodon.social and I’m on post.lurk,org, and I “follow” you, this is how it plays out: first, I jump through a few somewhat opaque hoops to follow you, and then on post.lurk.org it shows that I’m following you. However, anytime I happen to find myself back on your mastodon.social page, I’ll still see a big “follow” button, which naturally makes me wonder whether or not I’m following you. This is not a big problem at first, but I don’t know how sustainable it can be in the long run when I and a growing number of people are following a lot of accounts. This sort of disconnect may just become an accepted online norm, or it may provide just the sort of cognitive dissonance that keeps a service from reaching a broader audience.

And that about covers it. As is clear, after these nearly 4,500-ish words, those being a revision of a nearly 2,000-word email, the qualities of Mastodon hold a lot of promise and appeal to me. I spend a lot of time online, and I don’t do so alone. I joke regularly that Facebook is where I realize how little I have in common with my friends, while Twitter is where I realize how much I have in common with people I don’t know. I’m not sure where Mastodon fits in that formulation, and I’m slowly sorting out that a whole new formulation may be required.

A lot of my online imagination is tied up in the Disquiet Junto, an online community I’ve moderated since 2012, and it was preceded by a half decade spent organizing online collaborations between musicians. The Junto isn’t a “place,” not even a virtual one in the sense we think of virtual places currently. It exists on numerous platforms, key among them: SoundCloud, Slack, Twitter, and lllllll.co, the latter an instance of Discourse, another online discussion platform. (This platform diaspora, so to speak, largely occurred following the suddenness with which SoundCloud, many years ago, removed its “groups” functionality.) Using Mastodon has helped me understand how that current constellation of online Junto locales may not be truly “federated.” Part of me wonders if a Disquiet Junto instance of Mastodon might be worth pursuing, but right now the onboarding process (both practical and conceptual) is too arduous. I want the Junto to be welcoming, and Mastodon isn’t welcoming — at least not enough, and at least not yet.

Both through speculative interest and practical application, online networks are where I spend a lot of time. Six years into its existence, Mastodon registers as a potentially important step forward. Perhaps some service other than Mastodon will have eventual widespread, ubiquity-equivalent success with this “federated” model. Perhaps some even more autonomous identity — closer to an email address or phone number — will arise in the process. (This lengthy post is not in any way comprehensive, but if a lingering question is “Would it help to have more than one Mastodon account?” then the answer may relate to the question “Do you need more than one phone number?” Not everyone does, but there are work and life circumstances when it may be useful, and even necessary.) Perhaps the internet will achieve something even more “decentralized” than a “merely” “federated” model — which is to say, a situation in which no one need “join” a server, and can simply participate (one hedge would be a groundswell, I imagine, of usage such that everyone has their own individual Mastodon instance, but that feels more like a hack than an intentional system).

No matter what comes in this regard, it will have been Mastodon that helped rewire my brain for such things. Rewiring can be a painful procedure, but it was worth the effort.

In any case, if you do join Mastodon, you can find me, at least for the time being, at: https://post.lurk.org/@disquiet.

Acknowledgements: Special thanks to Todd Elliott, Kamen Nedev, Matt Nish-Lapidus, C. Reider, and Jason Wehmhoener, among others, who helped me get on Mastodon, helped me sort out Mastodon, and/or read this at some stage of draft form, and to Bart Beaty for having asked the initial question via email. Any broken metaphors or just plain incorrect information is my fault alone.

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Vegan Carne Asada Tacos with Soy Curls

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Satisfying, savoury, tangy and fresh; these vegan carne asada tacos are so delicious and simple to put together! PLUS they’re naturally gluten-free!

carne asada tacos made with soy curls on a yellow corn tortilla topped with onion cilantro relish

We’re back with another poorly photographed recipe because I have a baby haha. I’ve been prioritizing good food and recipes over well photographed food because all my equipment is harder to put together. So phone photos it is! You might have seen my street taco phase from my Instagram stories.

I’m not sure what it was about the beginning of April, but I went HEAVY on a street taco phase. I was playing around with a regular ground “beef” one, a carne asada version, and fish tacos. I veganized a more authentic version with curtido since I always loved peach salsa on top of fish tacos before. The pickled cabbage slaw is addictive and one of my favourite ways to eat cabbage now!

I hadn’t ever had carne asada tacos before so I was really curious about what the flavour would be like. Although I had expected the flavour to be a lot more savoury and heavy, but I was delighted to find that carne asada is savoury but really tangy and refreshing. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, because in my experience, Mexican food tends to be savoury, satisfying, and balanced with acidity.

And not to be confused with Tex-Mex, which I find can be a lot heavier and not quite as balanced in terms of flavour and freshness. This is also probably because of the generous amounts of yellow cheese.

onion and cilantro relish in a bowl

I’ve been eating a ridiculous amount of homemade street tacos lately! So these vegan carne asada tacos have been in regular rotation! It’s really simple to put together.

What you’ll need for vegan carne asada

  • corn tortillas
  • soy curls
  • tamari or soy sauce
  • orange juice
  • lime juice
  • garlic
  • white onion
  • cilantro

The spices and chipotles in adobo are optional, but those are the main components of the marinade! When I see traditional recipes by Mexican creators for carne asada like this one, I often don’t even see all the different spices and garlic.

You can try making this with seitan, fried tofu, or vegan chicken, but we always have soy curls in our freezer. Full of protein, freshness, and a bit of fibre (although more wouldn’t hurt haha).

I’ve been feeling FOMO about missing Vegan Street Fair a few years now since COVID put a pin in our travel plans. But making these vegan carne asada tacos at home have hit the spot. If I can’t travel IRL, then I’ll travel with my taste buds :)

Yield: 8-10 street tacos

Vegan Carne Asada Tacos

carne asada tacos made with soy curls on a yellow corn tortilla topped with onion cilantro relish
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes


  • 150 g soy curls (slightly over half a bag)
  • Hot water to rehydrate
  • 1 tsp mushroom broth powder


  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup tamari
  • 3 tbsp oil (I used canola)
  • 1/2 cup cilantro stems, roughly chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • Optional: 1 tbsp adobo sauce from a can of chipotles in adobo


  • 1/2 cup cilantro tops, chopped (leaf and stem)
  • 1/4 white onion (~1/2 cup), diced
  • 1 wedge lime, juiced (about 1-2 tbsp)
  • Pinch of salt


  • 8-10 corn tortillas (I liked white or yellow)


Soy Curl Carne Asada

  1. Prepare the soy curls by rehydrating with hot water (I use boiling water and then cool slightly with cold tap water) and mushroom broth powder. Let rehydrate, then drain and squeeze out excess water.
  2. In a large bowl, prepare marinade by combining lime juice, orange juice, tamari, vegetable oil, cilantro stems (I use the stems of the cilantro leaves for the relish), garlic, chili powder, cumin, and adobo sauce (if using).
  3. Add the rehydrated soy curls and mix well into the marinade to absorb. Let sit while you prepare the relish.


  1. For the relish, combine cilantro tops, white onion, lime juice, and salt. Mix lightly to combine, and put in fridge.

To Assemble:

  1. To cook the soy curls, preheat a pan to medium heat, and then add the soy curls and marinade. You can reserve some of the marinade liquid (~2-3 tbsp) to add to the end to maintain some moisture, but this is optional. Cook the soy curls as desired, we like them to have a bit of browning, but you need to cook out a lot of the moisture before this happens (which is why I retain some of the marinade). Once the soy curls have browned, I add the remaining marinade, stir to heat through, and then turn off the heat.
  2. On a griddle or large pan, heat the corn tortillas until heated through and they begin to brown slightly on each side. Remove from heat, and immediately fill with the carne asada soy curls and top with relish.
  3. Enjoy immediately! This recipe makes about 8 well stuffed tacos, or 10 more conservatively-filled tacos.

The post Vegan Carne Asada Tacos with Soy Curls appeared first on The Viet Vegan.

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