Wednesday, July 19, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Wendy Werneth


One of the biggest areas of intimidation for vegans is world travel: how do you maintain your veganism as you travel? How do you do this without starving to death or causing an international incident due to your dietary requirements? Enter Wendy Werneth, The Nomadic Vegan. Wendy has explored the globe, stepping down on all seven continents and visiting 100 countries, and visitors to her website all benefit (and get to live vicariously) from the wisdom and experience she has gained as an intrepid world traveler. Vegan since 2014 and a globetrotter long before that, Wendy originally was concerned that being vegan would limit her peregrinations but, after an eye-opening experiment with Greece convinced her that there was vegan food under her nose all the time, she has since dedicated her time to becoming one of the leading voices in world travel as a joyful, not-at-all-starving herbivore who is spreading the vegan goodwill hither and yon.

Wendy’s newest adventure comes in the form of an e-book (and soon-to-be paperback) where she shares so much of her wisdom and many of her tips, specifically focusing on 11 cultures and world cuisines but, most valuably, giving guidance for the mindset and approach that will keep vegan travelers happily trotting the globe, Veggie Planet: Uncover the Vegan Treasures Hiding in Your Favorite World Cuisines (International Travel Guide and Food Guide for Beginner Vegans, Veterans of the Vegan Lifestyle, and Vegan Travelers). You can download her free e-book, Nine Steps for Easy Vegan Travel, for a little taste of Wendy’s wisdom but as good a resource as it is, I can promise you, it will only begin to whet your appetite for what awaits in Veggie Planet. Thorough, generous, highly readable and replete with great guidance throughout, Wendy’s book leaves no stone unturned in her passion for unearthing how to eat vegan with grace and ease across the globe and her enthusiasm for teaching others how to do the same is infectious. Even if you can’t or don’t expect to travel, there is so much within that can help people find great vegan world cuisines no matter where they live. I am honored that Wendy Werneth is this week’s Vegan Rock Star. Please check out her book!

1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?

I always loved animals, and as a child I grew up with cats and dogs as part of my family. Our first cat was a stray who wandered into our backyard while I was playing. I ran into the house and said, “Momma, there’s a cat outside, and he’s talking to me!” Well, “he” turned out to be a “she”, and so Thomasina remained a part of our family for many years.

Later on, I dabbled in vegetarianism, beginning in my first year of college. I would stick with it for a few months, and then go back to eating animals. I hadn’t really made the connection yet, and I still had no idea about the horrors of the dairy and egg industries.

It wasn’t until May 2014 that my vegan journey truly began. I listened to the Food Revolution Summit hosted by John and Ocean Robbins, and for the first time I heard health experts talk about the benefits of a plant-based diet. The interview I remember the most, though, is the one with Alicia Silverstone, who talked more about the animals and about showing kindness and compassion towards them.

A few days later I picked up her book, The Kind Diet, at a used book sale, and over the next few months I gradually transitioned towards a vegan lifestyle. My final hurdle to overcome was my fear that being vegan was going to ruin travel.

I decided to give vegan travel a trial run during a 3-week trip to Greece. On that trip, I discovered all the delicious vegan dishes that are part of traditional Greek cuisine, and I never looked back! I count my veganniversary from September 10, 2014, which is the day my flight touched down in Athens at the start of that trip.

2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?

If someone had shown me footage from factory farms and slaughterhouses, I would have been horrified. I think that would have woken me up and forced me to take an honest look at what I was contributing to.

But maybe graphic images wouldn’t have been necessary. If someone had just said to me, “If you love animals, why do you eat them?” then that probably would have made me stop and think.

It’s hard for me to understand now how I could have eaten animals for so many years without realizing what I was doing. I’d like to think that I would have been open to the vegan message much earlier if it had been presented to me in a way that could make me see that I wasn’t living in alignment with my own values. Unfortunately, I never met a vegan until after I became vegan myself. If I had had a role model to show me that there was a better way, then I think I would have started down this path at a younger age.

3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?

Passion. My desire to help animals is the driving force behind everything I do, and I believe that the passion I bring to my work is what people respond to. Of course, there are many ways to channel that passion.

Our passion for a cause we believe in so deeply can sometimes lead to anger when we are faced with injustice and apathy. But I try instead to bring a positive, welcoming and non-judgmental attitude to everything I put out into the world. No one likes to be called a murderer, and people are unlikely to respond well to it.

When speaking to non-vegans, I remind myself that I used to be one of them, and that I was still a good person at heart back then, even though I was doing bad things. My goal is to make veganism approachable and to show that a vegan lifestyle can be fun, healthy, and extremely rewarding.

4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?

The vegan movement is built on the values of compassion and non-violence, and those values are its greatest strength.

5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?

When we fail to apply those values in our interactions with humans. In order to be effective, we need to show compassion to non-vegans. Confronting them in anger is never going to convince them to join our side.

6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.

If you think it’s wrong to hurt an animal for your own pleasure, then you’re already vegan at heart. You’re just not yet living in alignment with the vegan values that you already hold. Living a vegan life is the single best thing you can do for yourself, the planet, and the animals you share this planet with.

7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?

The two people who made it possible for me successfully transition to a vegan lifestyle are:
(1) Alicia Silverstone and her book, The Kind Diet, and
(2) Colleen Patrick Goudreau and her podcast, Food for Thought.

I owe so much to them and am incredibly grateful for their work. Apart from those two women, there are so many other authors, podcasters, filmmakers, YouTubers and activists who have educated me and continue to do so. I’ll try to limit this list to just my top recommendation in each category.

Book: The World Peace Diet by Will Tuttle
Film: Earthlings
YouTube channel: Bite Size Vegan

8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?

I get out into nature, and/or a go for a walk or a run. If I can combine both nature and physical activity in the form of a hike, that’s when I feel the most recharged. I named my website The Nomadic Vegan because I really do feel like nomadism is in my blood.

This is true not only in the sense that I love to travel and explore new places, but also in the sense that I feel most at peace when I am walking. I recently walked 800 kilometers across Spain on the medieval pilgrimage route known as the Camino de Santiago. The daily routine of waking up and walking for several hours felt very natural to me, and part of me wanted to just keep going and never stop walking.

9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?

The suffering of mother cows and their calves in the dairy industry. While walking the Camino de Santiago last month, I walked through several small dairy farms. The veal calves were locked up in cages right next to the walking trail. I knew about these cages and had seen them in videos, but never in real life.

I reached out my hand to one of the calves to see if he would let me pet him, and he immediately took my fingers into his mouth and startling suckling them. He was desperate for his mother’s milk. Coming face to face with these innocent babies who are victims of this completely unnecessary industry broke my heart.

If people only knew how cow’s milk is produced, they would no longer want to consume it. Especially when there are so many healthier and tastier plant-based milks available.

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”

To me, being vegan is simply doing my best to cause the least harm.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Anna Ferguson

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With everything going on in the world, if we ever needed reasons to have hope, we do now. If you’re like me, you’ll find plenty of reason to have hope with this interview with
Anna Ferguson of the soon-to-open Heärt Montessori School in Cincinnati, OH. Founded by Montessori-trained educators, longtime vegans, yoga enthusiasts and peacemakers, Heärt states on their website that Our goal is to provide children with the skills necessary to make the world more beautiful than they found it.” Isn’t that lovely? With a commitment to providing vegan meals, a nearby animal sanctuary, and a project-based education that honors the uniqueness of the students, Heärt is starting out with pre-k through kindergarten and hopes to increase grades as the school matures. Can I go back to school? It is such an exciting thing happening right in the Heartland. Created by the people behind World Peace Yoga and the Jubilee Peace Fest, the only downside is there is not a Heärt Montessori School in every city…yet. I am honored to feature Anna Ferguson as this week’s Vegan Rock Star.

1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?

In high school I had some friends that dabbled in vegetarianism, but I did not give it much thought at the time. Eating cows, pigs, and chickens was “normal” for me growing up and I didn’t question it as a child from what I’m able to remember. In college, I was introduced both to vegetarianism and yoga practice. One of my roommates and friends in school decided to experiment with eating a vegetarian diet. I began to observe some positive changes in my roommate, as she devoted herself to a vegetarian diet, so I decided to give it a try—mainly for health and self-care. As I deepened my yoga practice I noticed certain things fall away from my lifestyle, such as eating chicken eggs and cow’s milk and cheese. At the time, I thought these products were vegetarian, though—from both a technical and ethical perspective—they were not. This change in my diet came directly from my yoga practice. I did not have any teachers who spoke of diet in relationship to yoga practice, but—due to the increased awareness within my body—I tuned into what I ate and how it affected me. So, certain foods fell away and I continued feeling vibrant.

After about a year of a steady yoga asana (posture) practice, and the adoption of a pure, vegetarian, plant-sourced diet, I attended a workshop with
Doug Swenson in which the practice of yoga was presented as a lifestyle. Doug incorporated yoga philosophy into his asana classes, which often included the teaching of ahimsa—nonviolence—and its connection to food and a yogic lifestyle. Through continued study, my yoga practice deepened and my choices became less self- and more other-centered, through the practice of ahimsa. Having these other-centered reasons as a motivation for choosing what to eat, wear, and purchase (the vegan lifestyle) became as natural to me as breathing is to life.

2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?

My introduction to veganism was quite gentle and involved a lot of personal introspection as well as compassion and encouragement from established vegans. I don’t believe that I might have been resonated with the vegan lifestyle if someone were to tell me I was bad or wrong for eating fellow animals or publicly criticized me, while attempting to convince me to change. Having someone connect with me on a personal level and approaching the vegan lifestyle from a place of empathy and compassion is what I think resonates with me most.

3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?

To be the most effective in how we communicate the message of veganism, I believe we must combine a spiritual practice of some kind that is as simple as something like self-care that is rooted in empathy and compassion with education, activism, and innovation. An “empathy innovator” is an individual who uses creativity to share new methods, ideas, or products that assist modern culture in grasping the interconnectedness of all life. This, in turn, promotes the expansion of kindness to every creature on the planet. As a vegan educator or activist we wholeheartedly believe in compassionate causes. We endorse, encourage, and guide efforts to bring justice, equality, freedom, and peace to all genders, all skin colors, all people, and indeed, all beings.

More specifically, I like to communicate the vegan lifestyle by sharing delicious food or posting on social media what I eat, through the teachings of yoga, and through various products, such as the
World Peace Yoga book I have coming out this fall. Opening vegan-centric businesses I also feel is a vital part of communicating a compassionate message.  What I like about vegan restaurants, grocery stores, schools, and so on is that people come to you—on their own terms.

It is my belief that the choices made by vegans, and other compassionate people of the world, have prevented this planet from completely imploding. Increasing, improving, promoting, and assisting compassionate, “all-vegan” endeavors—including people, products, services, programs, businesses, institutions, and organizations—expands this message of peace. Change becomes a reality. When we make conscious efforts to grow vegan-centric businesses—in the fields of travel, education, real estate, music, jewelry-making, art, food, yoga, healthcare, photography, design, publishing, and so on—all of the related money, time, and energy exponentially spreads peace. This practice assists those who share our core values.

Utilizing a web designer who practices a compassionate lifestyle, for example, builds a sustainable and compassionate economy. When we trade money for services, based on our shared values, the funds ultimately contribute to more of the same caring actions. This also allows vegan businesses to flourish, paving the way for their growth.

4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
When people in the movement are coming from a practical and spiritual place focusing on empathy and compassion for one’s self, all beings, and the planet resulting in an authentic, powerful, and truly collaborative effort.  

5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?

I feel one of the biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively is a lack of empathy and compassion for each other, particularly fellow vegans as well as pre-vegans resulting in reluctance to collaborate.

6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.

This is probably a bit longer than what I might say in an elevator, but here it goes (what is in bold sums it up)…Through war after war after war, we are discovering the necessary steps for creating a peaceful world, both inside and out. No more marching, fasting, legislating, or fighting for peace. Now, there is a relatively simple—practical—process in which anyone may participate. It is a one-two-three, step-by-step, connect-the-dots, color-by-number way to realize world peace: adopt a vegan lifestyle.
In other words, understand the consequences of your choices. Be kind and gentle to yourself, be kind and gentle to all beings, and be kind and gentle to the earth. Realize, too, that this process takes time. It requires each of us to connect with our intuitive, empathetic, and compassionate nature, while performing kind and peaceful acts (over and over), and working together toward a common goal. As simple as this process seems, it is also complex and exponential—both individual and cooperative.
While there is confusion and delusion in the world as to how to interact with one another and many have forgotten their intuitive power, are numb to empathy, and have no desire to take compassionate action, change is happening. There are humans are waking up to their “moral hypocrisy.” This moral hypocrisy is deeply rooted, and it is the reason our society accepts poverty, starvation, homelessness, war, various forms of discrimination, and animal genocide as the norm. Adopting an authentic vegan lifestyle, which includes kindness, gentleness, empathy and compassion for all is the key and we all have this innate power within us.

7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?

My business partner Mark Stroud and I have had a long-time collaboration with Will Tuttle, author of The World Peace Diet.  For five years Mark and I hosted the Jubilee Peace Fest—three days of vegan food, yoga, music, and inspiring speakers.  Each year Will Tuttle offered his World Peace Diet Facilitator Training. In 2011 Kip Andersen participated in that training and left inspired to then create what we know to be the documentary Cowspiracy. Now, Kip is inspiring me through his films, including his latest, What The Health. This is an example of a synergistic collaborative relationship where we are inspiring and uplifting each other.

Some vegan yogis I deeply appreciate include Doug Swenson, Kali Ray, Julie Kirkpatrick, David Life, Sharon Gannon, and Julia Butterfly Hill. Stic of Dead Prez and the album Information Age is totally amazing and his wife Afya Ibomu is a vegan chef and such a sweet soul.  I love the work of James LaVeck and Jenny Stein, in particular their film Peaceable Kingdom.  Ralph Smart and his inspiring YouTube videos are a joy.  I also deeply appreciate the work of Breeze Harper in relationship to both veganism and diversity. DJ Cavem and the work he does through his music and educating the youth is fabulous. 

8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?

Things I do to prevent burn-out include a consistent yoga/meditation practice, get outside and enjoy nature, swim, play with my son, drink green juice, fuel up on healthy eats, share food with fellow vegans, and the list goes on.  I have found that activists who do not have some kind of spiritual practice that focuses on self-care often experience burnout and frustration. They may take out their anger on others, which perpetuates the very issues they seek to resolve.  Some yoga practitioners and spiritual seekers, on the other hand, immerse themselves in practices, such as meditation, for their own personal growth and healing, while disconnecting from worldly matters. Spiritual practices that remove us from global issues of justice, equality, liberation, and radical inclusion are not authentic in their quest to realize the interconnectedness of life. When a deep spiritual practice fuses with a call to action, it awakens a great force and instigates powerful change.

9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?

Education for today’s youth is near and dear to my heart at this time as I have a 3-year-old that will be starting school soon. As more people are becoming sensitive and aware of their own health and well-being, as well as the health of each other and the planet we are seeing a growing number of vegan restaurants, products, and services. What remains is a huge gap in our education system. Vegan-centric practices of empathy and compassion are not being taught as part of core academics. After I had my son Noah, I started working with a team of fellow vegans to fill that gap and open Heärt Montessori. This is a model school where kids grow up learning self-reliance, sustainability, permaculture, meditation, mindfulness, conflict-resolution, and compassion for all beings and the earth as a part of core academics. We plan to open in January of 2018. Learn more, get involved, and lend a hand by clicking here.

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”

To me being a vegan is living a lifestyle connected to empathy and extending compassion to myself, all beings, and the planet.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Social Media Script from a Former Vegan Chef/Healer/Fill-in-the-Blank

Check one or more answers as apply. Copy-paste and post.

Hi, all -

So in case people are gossiping or whatever, I thought I'd let you hear it directly from me because I believe in [___authenticity ___transparency ___keeping it real]. The “rumors” are true: I'm no longer vegan. I was vegan for a while and I really loved it but in recent months have begun thinking that it was closing me off [___spiritually___as a chef___as a healer] so I am leaving that label behind. I am releasing my veganism with love and gratitude but it would be dishonest to myself to continue on this path, which had begun to feel [___limiting___inauthentic___restrictive] and thus was stunting to my personal and professional growth.

I no longer believe in closing myself off to the bountiful offerings from the animal kingdom of honey, dairy products, eggs, meat, etc. because I think that rejecting these offerings is closing myself off to the whole abundance of the human experience. If I can't feel gratitude and lovingly accept these offerings, I am also not accepting the dark that comes with the light, the yin with the yang. In this acceptance of my shadow self, I am breaking free from [___labels___boxes___restrictions] and setting my [
___soul___spirit___creativity] free. In setting myself free, I give others permission to do the same.

I am liberating the animals’ souls when I eat what they have graciously given us. There is no good or bad; there is only [___love___fear___vibration]. There is no death, only cessation of life as we know it. What's up is down. What's down is up. Whoa. Anyone else have the munchies? (By the way, is recreational pot legal here yet? How about recreational acid?)

So I have learned to accept these offerings from my animal cousins with love and without judgment, and anyone I [
___cook for___heal___coach] will also benefit as I embrace these offerings with the utmost gratitude and respect. [___Mother Gaia___Source Energy___The Infinite Universal Spirit] guides my every decision so it cannot be wrong. I am [___Italian___one-sixteenth Cherokee___a Shaman] so if you see me enjoying sheep's milk cheese, organic ghee, homemade bone broth or a beautiful, fat salmon that swam free until it was gently netted, please understand that I am simply returning to a natural alignment with my [___ancestral roots___state of allowing___creative flow].

Am I still largely vegan? You bet! I will also keep turning people on to high-vibration, happy plant foods, nourished by the sun, lovingly cultivated and celebrated. However, I would rather eat once-avoided animal products that found their way to me with love and appreciation than low-frequency plant foods, brought to me with a miserly, fearful spirit. This is how I nourish myself and that is how I believe we will save one another, through [___high vibration___love___releasing judgments].

Breaking free of the vegan [___label___box___limitation] is the next logical step of my natural evolution, allowing me to embrace all of the Universe and what She has to offer in a way that I didn’t as a vegan. If you’re upset because you contributed to my [___GoFundMe___Patreon___Kickstarter] or referred people to me when I was still in the vegan box, all I can say is I hope you find peace and will find it in your heart to eventually support my full [___journey___path___evolution] as I do yours.

I will do me; you do you.

[___Namaste___Om shanti___Love and Light] -

Insert name here

Friday, June 30, 2017

Pro-Choice Vegan? You Bet!

Over the years, I’ve gotten occasional questions about how I reconcile being a vegan and being someone who is pro-choice. After all, isn’t veganism about protecting innocent and vulnerable lives? To me, there is no reconciliation needed because I don’t feel my passionately pro-choice position contradicts my vegan values in the slightest.

Here is how I look at it from a vegan perspective: Let’s take the example of a pregnant cow and her fetus. To have this conversation, we need to agree on the single basic premise that animals other than humans have the drive to act in and protect their own best interests. I’m not even saying that they have right for it, though I certainly believe that they do and for much more: I am saying simply the drive. Again, for the sake of this conversation, we need to simply agree that animals have the drive to act in and protect their own best interests.

With me so far?

Given society’s hierarchies, a cow on her own cannot protect her interests because she has the legal status of property; she is chattel. [Etymologically, from Old French chatel, meaning cattle, derived from catel, meaning property.] Those who “own” her make decisions about her body, including her reproduction, based primarily on financial considerations.

Her right to act in accordance with her best interests is observably demonstrable by her capacity to not flourish if this right were withdrawn. The calf inside her, though, is a potential life. The cow is here. She is physically present and, though people may agree or disagree on the conclusions, we can observe that the pregnant cow can both thrive and suffer, to the best that we understand it, in different circumstances. The sentience of the fetus, however, is far murkier and less verifiable.

Even given that there is an area of dispute about when in development sentience in a fetus can be observed and what degree of feeling may be available via that putative sentience, it’s still highly speculative. There is much we don’t know and I will admit that this works either way. The fact is, though, that we do know that the pregnant cow can suffer and does have sentience. There is nothing speculative about that. Given that, I stand for the rights of the mother cow, whose capacity to suffer and thrive are recognizable given our measures of observation and understanding.

If I were able to make a decision on behalf of a cow who would suffer if a fetus came to term, I would fight to protect her best interests over those of the potential life inside her. It is the same for females of the human race. To me, a woman’s right to pursue her best interests eclipses that of a potential life.

Female humans have empirical needs for their best interests – for wellness, safety, self-agency – and I will fight for those rights. When denied her right to her best interests, she will suffer. Fetuses, however, do not thrive or suffer in provable ways that are equivalent to autonomous people. To our understanding, a fetus is without experiences, aspirations and a provable capacity to suffer, thus a fetus does not deserve an equivalent consideration of the female who may be carrying the fetus. This is a longwinded way to say that you don’t need to prove to me that people here on earth can thrive and suffer because we know that to be a fact; because we cannot say the same about fetuses, I conclude that they don’t get the same consideration.

Is this harsh? It doesn’t feel that way to me. I am guessing that if men got pregnant instead of women, this wouldn’t be a conversation at all.

Is it possible to be a pro-choice vegan? I am living proof that it is and I have zero inner-conflict about it.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Foodies with Michael Suchman and Ethan Ciment


How do you introduce the stylish, spirited duo that needs no introduction?
Michael Suchman and Ethan Ciment, a.k.a., The Vegan Mos, burst on the scene with their popular blog in 2013 and have been making creating compassionate change in the world one delicious recipe at a time ever since. Ethan, who moonlights as a podiatric surgeon, and Michael, a “recovering” corporate lawyer and current office manager of Ethan’s bustling foot and ankle clinic in NYC, spend a huge amount of their time volunteering, coaching via their certification with the Main Street Vegan Academy, helping to guide charitable organizations, snuggling with their adorable dogs and creating the amazing recipes we love.

Most recently, Michael and Ethan collaborated on a great new cookbook,
NYC Vegan: Iconic Recipes for a Taste of the Big Apple, published by Vegan Heritage Press. NYC Vegan, chock full of vegan interpretations of the classic, globetrotting foods you will enjoy in NYC, is a way for anyone to enjoy the diversity of ethic cuisines, as well as the delicious comfort foods, available in the Big Apple. I highly recommend it. Full of gorgeous photos by Jackie Sobon and bursting with NYC lore, Michael and Ethan prove that we don’t have to give up the things we love when we go vegan. The recipes are written clearly and simply, and anyone with access to a decent grocery store should be able to recreate the dishes in their own kitchens. I love how very accessible the recipes are and how much affection for both NYC and veganism is stitched throughout the book. I am honored to feature Ethan Ciment and Michael Suchman as this week’s Vegan Foodies.

1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?

Michael: I first started cooking when I was 7 years old and my mom asked me what I wanted for breakfast. When I told her I wanted pancakes she took out her New York Times cookbook, opened it to the pancake recipe and said, “Okay, here you go.” She supervised and I made pancakes. From there it was onto cookies, cakes, and brownies from boxed mixes. I was always helping my mom in the kitchen and learned the basics from her. Cooking was just something I always enjoyed.

Ethan: my earliest memories are of me cooking in the kitchen growing up with my mom and with my grandmothers. Being raised in a Jewish and kosher home, food was integral to all aspects of daily life and religious celebrations. As an adult, even after I realized that religious observance was not for me, the familiar flavors and recipes were still important connections to my childhood, which I enjoy to this day.

2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?

Michael: My diet growing up was the standard American diet. My mom was known to occasionally give us Devil Dogs and Pepsi for breakfast if we were short on time and we always had sugared cereals in the house. However, at dinner it was always a balanced meal. My favorite meal growing up was roast chicken, white rice and peas. Also brisket was served for almost every Jewish holiday. I have been able to created vegan version of both the roast chicken and the brisket. It is really all about the gravies. Once you have those, the rest is easy.

Ethan: I was raised in a kosher household so that meant two sets of everything and separating all meet foods from dairy. It also meant that every Friday night and Saturday (the Sabbath) there were meals that began with blessings over wine and Challah bread. I have extremely fond memories of coming home from synagogue on Saturday afternoons to a lunch of cholent a traditional Eastern European stew made with barley and beans. We would sop up all of the rich gravy with the Challah. For years, I assumed that this was just something I would no longer have/enjoy as a vegan. Eventually, I figured out an easy way to make a delicious vegan challenge that tastes indistinguishable from the one containing meet are used to eat. Using Nava Atlas's recipe for vegan Challah, I can now enjoy my childhood traditional Shabbat meal anytime I want.

3. It’s late at night and you just got home: What is your favorite quick and simple vegan meal?

Michael: I love to heat up the Gardein chick’n pieces from the Crispy Chick’n and then toss them in buffalo sauce and dip them into some homemade ranch dressing. Or if I want something a little lighter, avocado toast is perfect.

Ethan: We like to do batch cooking on weekends so we have lots of available beans and greens ready to go for lunches. One of my favorite to go quick meals is to grab a bean, a grain, and a green. Whether it's brown rice, quinoa or farro, I take a cup of cooked grains, toss in a cup of whatever beans we have around and load it up with some greens. Then I heat it up and top it with lots of hot sauce!

4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?

Michael: I have already made my mom a vegan version of her favorite Brooklyn Blackout Cake thanks to a recipe from Fran Costigan’s Vegan Chocolate. So now I would love to make an Italian meal for Giada DeLaurentiis. Before I was vegan, I used to watch her all the time and make her recipes. I would love to show her that she can make the exact same dishes without using any animal products. 

Ethan: I would love to be able to cook a meal for my dear late grandmother, Regina. She remains one of the greatest cooks I have ever met and her cooking was always infused with love. She never lived to know that I was vegan or that I would be so passionate about helping other people become vegan and learn to cook and eat this way. I think she would marvel at my ability to take her recipes and adapt them to this compassionate, healthier and more forward-thinking way of eating.

5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?

Michael: I think when people are first exploring vegan cooking and trying to make vegan version of nonvegan food, they get tripped up when finding substitutes for eggs. I learned that understanding the function of eggs in a recipe enabled me to find the best substitution. If eggs are for leavening, I like to use Ener-G egg replacer. If the eggs are for binding, I like using flax seeds.  

Ethan: I think the biggest mistake that people make when cooking vegan is they often over-complicate the whole thing. If you put the label "Vegan" on it, it's suddenly something new, challenging and potentially daunting. That's complete nonsense! I love to remind people that they've been eating vegan food since they were born. When you point out that simple things like butter, milk, eggs, etc... Nowadays have very simple one for one substitutions, it suddenly becomes a whole lot less daunting. 

6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment? Also, what ingredients do you always like to have on hand?

Michael: Right now for me it is all about soy curls! I love them. They are so versatile and lend themselves to use in all kinds of dishes. I like to keep soy curls, pasta, tomato sauce, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, beans, and rice on hand. With those, I can always come up with a meal if needed.

Ethan: For me, the ingredients that most excite me are the ones that are seasonal. As we are now in the summer, I picked up some amazing stone fruit at the store yesterday. Ripe nectarines, peaches, plums, apricots and cherries scream summer to me. I also picked up some watermelon, pineapple and mango and made our watermelon gazpacho, which is summer in a bowl, to me.

7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?

Michael: Chinese, Italian, and French.

Ethan: I share Michael's love for Chinese and Italian food. For me, Japanese, Ethiopian and Israeli food hold a very special place in my heart.

8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.

Michael: Hands down, the number one person is my husband Ethan. He opened the door to veganism for me. Without him, I would likely have never made the decision to be vegan. A close second is JL Fields; she planted the seeds for our blog, as well as the idea for doing a cookbook. I also give a lot of credit to Charlotte’s Web.  Both the book and the movie planted the idea of not animals to be killed for food when I was little, however, because of social conditioning (aka carnism) that thought was hidden in the deep recesses of my mind.

Ethan: Gosh, this is such a hard question to answer. There've been so many different people along the way who have turned me in different directions on this incredible journey. It started with Jeffrey Masson and his book, The Face on Your Plate, The Truth About Food. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau and her incredible “Food for Thought” podcasts were an indispensable resource that both helped me hone my thinking about the issues and become a more effective communicator on animal issues. PETA and their "Meet Your Meat" and Mercy for Animals and their undercover videos really affected me deeply. Dr. Neal Barnard and the folks at PCRM really inspired me to step up and come out as a vegan doctor. Because of their example, I now routinely discuss plant-based nutrition with my patients. 

9. What issue is nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like people to know more about?

Michael: The overall treatment and abuse of animals in food production. I think most people would say they are against animal cruelty and that killing animals is wrong. However, they fail to see that the animals on their plates were tortured and killed. If people really opened their minds to the reality of food production, they would have no choice but to go vegan.

Ethan: For me, the biggest issue is Factory Farming on all sides of that complex issue. First and foremost, the horrible existence of torture, exploitation and oppression we impose on the animals destined to become our food before brutally murdering them. Then, there is the often-overlooked issue of the humans in the system, charged with the brutal work of handling and killing these animals. They suffer enormously at the hands of the system where they, like the animals they kill, are horribly exploited. The environmental impact of raising and slaughtering the tens of billions of animals we do each year, cannot be understated. My attempt to bring awareness to these issues has led me to my work with Woodstock Farm Sanctuary where I serve on the Board of Directors. At Woodstock, like at so many other farm animals sanctuaries, we connect people with farm animal refugees, in order to promote veganism as the only alternative for a sustainable future.

10. Last, please finish this sentence. "To me, vegan food is…"

Michael: amazing and the key to a happy and prosperous future for everyone.

Ethan: life.