Top | The Culinate Interview
(article, Ben Grossblatt)
[%pageBreakSettings nobreak=true] p(blue). Punk-rock fan, public-access TV host, and vegan activist, Isa Chandra Moskowitz is the author of the cookbooks [%bookLink code=1569243581 "Vegan with a Vengeance"] and Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. Her irreverent attitude and cooking skills have won her fans beyond the world of dedicated vegans. Moskowitz’s new book, [%bookLink code=156924264X "Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook"], is due out in November. How are your plans for vegan world domination going? It’s been pretty smooth sailing for us so far. I mean, in life there’s always the guy with the “People Eating Tasty Animals” hat. But people have been really receptive. No one can resist a cupcake. It’s a pretty good Trojan horse. Yeah, and people are reporting that they’ve had luck getting bakeries to bake the cupcakes. I’m always a little surprised when people love the cupcakes, just because I’m used to a life of people being so resistant to vegan food. But I think the mindset of people is changing. [%image moskowitz float=right width=300 caption="Isa Chandra Moskowitz is Brooklyn born and bred." credit="Photo courtesy Isa Chandra Moskowitz"] Meat consumption is up, they say, but it seems people are becoming more and more vegan-friendly. If you were vegan 10 years ago, you know — you can just look around the supermarket and see how much things have changed. Back then, people didn’t even know what the word “vegan” meant. Now they just say, “I could never be vegan, because I could never give up cheese.” At least now people know what the word means. Exactly. And sometimes they even pronounce it correctly. So, have you found any good vegan cheese? No, and I was writing about that just today — that the single most important activist thing we could do is invent a good vegan cheese. If someone’s receptive to veganism, but they don’t feel like they can do it, it always is, “But I love how this or that tastes!” And it seems like as much as they’ll agree with you about the ethical arguments, their own taste preferences win out. But I remember the anecdote in Vegan with a Vengeance about your knishes, where everyone loved them until they found out they were vegan. Since I’ve become as famous as a vegan chef can become, people act differently about my food. They’ll eat it because they know that the New York Times wrote about me, so they want to eat it. And then it doesn’t matter what’s in it. Why do you think the image of vegans as joyless ascetics who settle for lousy food is so persistent? I think partly just because it’s convenient to think that way, to say, “I met a vegan once and they were really annoying, so I’m going to drink milk.” I don't think we have a PR problem; I think the rest of the world has an animal-abuse problem. I think leading by example is the best thing to do. Just living your life as a vegan, showing people that it isn't soooo hard. There are so many forms of activism that I can't really say that this or that is the most effective. My focus is on getting vegan food out there, because the biggest stumbling point for so many people is that it isn't as convenient as they would like it to be. I also think that it's important to present veganism as something no one is perfect at. When I talk about veganism, I don't start off with, "No honey, no whey, no isinglass" or what have you. I start off with “Avoid eggs and dairy. The rest will come.” But that's just me. There are people who just think vegans are judgmental and preachy, whether or not they've ever met one. Then there are people who think vegans are stoic martyrs who are suffering for a cause. Those are the people who are like, "I respect what you're doing, but I could never do that!" But for most vegans, it's easy to eat the way that we do. There are always challenges, especially at first, but you live and learn and do your best. [[block(sidebar). h1. Vegan venom In his bestselling 2001 memoir Kitchen Confidential, New York City chef Anthony Bourdain took vegans to task: "Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demiglace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living." ]] How do you respond to people who refuse to question their own eating habits? If I've exhausted all my resources, the usual arguments — ethical ones, environmental ones — and the person doesn't want to change, I just walk away from it. I mean, what can you do, short of setting yourself on fire and slapping a cheeseburger out of their hand? I have friends that eat meat and I love them, but I think that they're doing something that isn't right. I can't make sweeping generalizations about all meat-eaters. I was one once. Do you see yourself as a partisan in a larger battle? I’m thinking about all of the anti-vegan stuff I’ve seen over the years, the Anthony Bourdains of the world who detest vegans. Are you asking, would I like to fight Anthony Bourdain? Yes, I am. I would love a steel-cage match with Anthony Bourdain. What recipes from any of your books would be most likely to convert someone to veganism? The recipe for giving up some power and starting to care about the world. Or maybe the recipes for French toast, tempeh bacon, and scrambled tofu. p(bio). Seattle-based Ben Grossblatt is a writer, an editor of children’s books, and a longtime vegan.