Q Do you have a favorite cookbook?
A Mine? I still use mine. I use it every week cause I always look back and think ‘how did I do that again?’ I’m actually coming out with a new one in the month of october so ill make changes to that and update it. I don't really have one other than that. I think because I was not raised on cookbooks at all. If I’m searching something new to do -
like the other day I made this unbelievable double chocolate layer cake - it was just unbelievable. the frosting. everything. and I don't cook with the eggs so its an art in itself trying to bake and it was so moist - it was almost like a brownie consistency but it was a cake.
Q How did you keep it moist?
A Put a little extra oil. I use grapeseed oil. And this recipe had hardly any water at all. And this one, I also used vinegar if you can believe that. The two worked together to make this amazing texture. So I was trying to find out how to do a raspberry glaze for the top of my cake and I just looked it up online. I don't really use cookbooks that much. Also one of my favorite ways to get new recipes is to go out with my meat eating friends. I mean, when you go to most restaurants (with the exception of some) there’s usually not a lot of choice and it’s pretty boring. I always look at what they (my meat eating friends) get and I’m like, ‘Wow. I could totally convert that. Now that would be really good.’
Q Are there any cookbooks that you do use?
A There are some really great sources like Happy Cow and TryVeg.com. To be honest, we don't really eat like most vegetarians eat so I use a lot of spices and a lot of flavor. There’s not too many southern vegetarian cookbooks. I can’t do bland. Here’s where I think our approach is different. Again, it’s 100% based in a spiritual belief. So let’s put that aside. Secondarily, we do enjoy the environmental benefits and the health benefits but i find a lot of vegetarian approaches - which is totally cool - is that their cooking is purely based in health. And when you go purely, purely, purely based in health a lot of times - unless you’re really creative - it’s pretty bland. There’s not a lot going on. So we have a fusion of both. Like I work with raw foods a lot, I’ll make raw salad dressing, and we’ll have a big huge salad. Then I might have a little bit of my fried “chicken”, I might have a little mac and cheese, I might have something a little more “southern” - a little more flavorful. So... most of the cookbooks I’ve gotten, I haven’t been super impressed. Every now and then, I’ll look at one, but I don’t have one go-to bible. Every once in a while I’ll go online and find a recipe and think, ‘yeah, that looks good’, but for the most part that’s been hit or miss.
Q Do you have any culinary tools you can’t live without?
A Every day I use my Cuisinart. I have a really cool one that dices and shreds and does everything. Since we work with a lot of raw vegetables, my Cuisinart whips them up in no time. And I just use a knife. That’s about it. Sometimes I use an iron skillet, because that helps to add natural iron to your food. But I keep it really, really simple, except for my Cuisinart. And my blender.
Q So you raised your kids vegetarian. Did they ever want meat or wonder why?
A Well, we always explained to them why. And I was a vegetarian before my daughter was even conceived - she’s the oldest - so literally from inception all the way through - you know, she’s 24 now and my son just turned 23. Before they even went to school, we kept it really simple. You know, ‘animals are our friends and we don’t eat our friends’. You know? It’s a real simple philosophy.
As they got older in school, they always brought their lunch, and they knew what they could eat from the lunch table there. And when they went to high school... there was just never an issue. We’ve just been so blessed. They were like, ‘we were born and raised this way; we understand the philosophy’. My son played division 1 basketball, it’s 6’6”, 200 lbs; he’s been a vegetarian his entire life. He’s shredded and everything. My daughter played rugby. They never missed out on anything. You know? They would say, “It’s just something we do. We don’t eat animals. Next?”
Q That would be really interesting. To never make the change, to just never have eaten meat.
A I know, huh? I honestly don’t even know how that would feel because obviously my husband and I both made the change. And I talk to my kids and every now and then - like when I come up with a new recipe - I’ll tell my daughter “oh my god, this taste just like fried white fish” (I used to love fried white fish) and I’m all excited and she say, “as if I know what that tastes like”. And I’m like, “oh, right, I forgot”, so then I’ll have to talk to my husband and be like “is this it?” They never had barbecue, they never had chicken. I mean, they love the way I cook, but I’ll say ‘you don’t understand, this tastes exactly like fried chicken’ and they just don’t.
Q And are they both masters of the kitchen?
A They really are. Kind of because they had to be when they both went off to college. I had to teach them how to cook before they went. My daughter is, of course, an amazing cook, but a lot of people are surprised that my son is. He’s such a good cook. When he went off to college, he took a copy of my cookbook and his roommates - he lived with other basketball players - would actually go and buy the products we would use and ask him to cook it. Like they’d say ‘if we buy it, will you cook it?’ One of those, we buy it - you fry it - type of things. I was like, ‘oh my gosh’, I mean literally these guys were like ‘please cook this stuff, this is awesome’. I think if you kind of cook what they’re used to - cause these are young, black guys from the inner city, right? So he would make our version of fried chicken and fried rice and they were like ‘I just feel so much better after eating it’. Because usually you eat the crap that young men eat and then you pass out for a couple hours and you don't feel too good. I tell people we don’t feel that way after we eat our food; i mean, we feel full, but we don’t feel bad. So that was quite a testament. He basically took his skills to college and showed them there was another way to do things.
Q So talking about family. Obviously, your kids had a lot of support growing up vegetarian. How were your family?
A Yeah, it really wasn’t such a big deal because I was grown, I was out of school; I was already twenty-two, you know. My mom kind of approached it with a little confusion, you know: ‘well, whatever you want to do’. I’m very headstrong anyway. She knew better than to try to get on my case about it. We’re very decisive people; once we make up our minds, that’s it. At that point in my life, I was living with my mom, but it was more like we were roommates.
Q Do you use any supplements, or do you get all your vitamins and minerals from your food?
A We use supplements as well. And we always have. Even before [I became a vegetarian], I would take vitamins every day. We found some good quality vegan vitamins on the market, which again you can get from any Whole Foods or GNC. They all have something. Vegetarians don’t get B12 from their food, so we make sure our multi-vitamins have B12 in them. And instead of fish oil for Omega 3s, we use flaxseed oil. That’s pretty much it.
Q Have you ever had an ‘oops’ moment?
A I have, actually. I used to travel a lot for work and I remember getting into Chicago really late and I was starving and I hadn’t had a chance to do a scan of the city (I usually go on google and look up good veggie places where I’m going). So, of all places, I ended up going to a Taco Bell and I ordered just a plain bean and rice burrito. And I’d been a vegetarian probably for fifteen years at that point. It was pouring down rain. And I bit into it and it was the most rancid thing I had ever tasted. And they were just closing so I didn’t have a chance to go back - literally, I was the last customer. I just remember, it felt like - I don’t want to say it but it really did taste like pee or something - and I looked into it and it was a chicken burrito. Remember, I’d been a vegetarian for fifteen years. I didn’t swallow it. But I can’t even tell you how it tasted; it was like eating dead flesh. Dead, rotting flesh. I was shocked; I couldn’t believe how rancid it was and I thought, ‘and this is what people eat every day?’ I had forgotten. So my taste buds, physiologically... getting the animals out of your system changes everything about your taste buds. And it was instant. One bite, I was like ‘oh my god’. So that’s the one time I knowingly did it. I guess if someone slipped an egg into a cake, or something, I wouldn’t notice it. But that was the most intense experience.
Q You travelled a lot. How did you find your experiences finding vegetarian food on your trips?
A I used to work for Lockheed Corporation and I would have to go around to our different divisions. I’ve been to Europe three times and people would say, “How can you be a vegetarian in Europe?” And this was pre-internet. But I had a book called the European Vegetarian Guide and it teaches you how to say “I am a vegetarian, I don’t eat...” and then whatever it is you don’t eat in about seventeen different languages. And in each country, it lists the vegetarian restaurants. So one time I had to travel to Switzerland and I ate at the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Europe (I remember it was in Zurich and it was super expensive but I don’t remember the name). I was like, “How cool is this?” It was four-hundred years old and had always been vegetarian. When I was in Amsterdam, they had a lot of different Indonesian restaurants. The most amazing vegetarian and vegan food is Indonesian food - it’s right up there with Indian food, in my opinion. So every place I went. In Paris, I sought out some of the Greek food and Mediterranean food. So, like I said, I never skipped a beat. I got to travel and try all kinds of different cuisine. It was so cool. And it made me realize that our culture is more meat-oriented than any other place I’ve travelled.
Domestically, depending on how long the trip is, sometimes we’ll pack something to bring with us on the plane or in the car, but usually we can find something. You know, sometimes you have to go to a Subway and I’ll bring some vegan “turkey” to put on my sandwich. You figure it out.
Q So you’re living this life that’s all about harmony and low karmic impact - I guess you could call it a spiritually green lifestyle. Is there anything else you do other than eat vegetarian?
A What we do is recycle virtually everything. We have also become a totally non-caustic household we get all of our cleaning products from a company called Melaleuca every month, those are all completely environmentally safe and biodegradable. Because our food is already environmentally safe, we started thinking, “What else can we do?” So we try to buy all recycled everything and, like I said, all environmentally safe cleaning products. And our food, we try to buy all local, organic food - either from Whole Foods or from our local farmer’s market. Also, if you buy local, you’re buying fresh, so there’s no reason not to.
Q What kind of advice or thoughts would you share with someone who was thinking about becoming a vegetarian?
A The first thing I would do is say: don’t be too drastic. Maybe pick your top five recipes you enjoy eating - because when you think about meat-eaters, they eat the same thing over and over anyway. Most people do. They have their top maybe 20 things that they eat all the time. So I’d say: pick your top five. Go online, go on my site or one of the other hundreds of sites out there, and learn how to convert your favorite recipes to vegetarian options. You’ll see how you’re really not missing anything. And then just incorporate it more and more from there. Because it amazes me that I know people who have become vegetarian and literally, overnight, it’s like there’s nothing to eat. Okay, as a meat eater you ate chicken, fish, beef, and pork. You ate four things. What about everything else? There’s thousands of things you can eat! Let’s remove or replace those four things. You can still have all the other foods that you ate. When you think about it that way, you just have to open your mind to the idea that you only have to replace four things in your diet. If you want to go with mock meats, there’s probably thirty kinds of mock meats on the market that you can get in any shape or flavor that you want. If you don’t want to go with mock meats, then decide where you want to get your protein and vitamins from. Just get rid of those four things and you won’t have to skip a beat.
And one thing, just as a closing thought. Really understand how such a simple choice can really make a huge impact - not just on the microcosm (which is us) but also to the macrocosm (which is the world). A very, very simple choice has a huge domino effect. And stepping away from meat just one day a week - just one day a week - would save over a billion animals lives. We eat 10 billion animals a year, in the United States alone. So if everyone in the United States went vegetarian one day a week, that’s over a billion lives that would be saved, billions upon billions of water as far as our natural resources, millions upon millions of gallons of gas that are used to transport these animals around the farm, to slaughterhouses, and that meat to shipping facilities, etc. Just one day a week - I really don’t know anyone who can’t do that. And it would make a huge difference in our environment. Methane gas from these factory farms has now exceeded auto emissions when it comes to the #1 source of global warming. So, you can go to a site called Meatless Monday to get ideas and thoughts on how to do this. Let’s just try that; you don’t have to convert, don’t have to be spiritual, doesn’t have to be complicated. One day a week. Say ‘I’m a member of this planet; I can do that so that future generations don’t have as much to worry about; I can do this just one day a week.’