by Jonna Humphries (all photos via)
This coming Saturday is the DC VegFest — a FREE (!) day-long vegetarian festival offering the nation’s capital a chance to experience the delicious pleasures of meatless living. It’s best that you prepare for what will probably be your first plant-based food coma, infinite access to loads of FREE tofurky, (gasp!), and a plethora of exclusive gift bag goodies (if you’re one of the first 500 to enter). Most importantly, prepare to be in the presence of stars of the vegetarian world, including Vegan chef and best-selling author Isa Chandra Moskowitz who will be speaking and sharing her recipes at the festival. Say her name around just about any vegan, and you will be put to shame if you know nothing about her. Trust me. Moskowitz is a goddess among vegan eaters, and my quick chat with her proved to me why.
What did you have for breakfast this morning? And lunch?
Well, to tell the truth, I had a microwave burrito for breakfast! But I made a cauliflower curry for lunch, so hopefully that redeems me.
Were these dishes from your cookbook? Do you come up with all of the recipes yourself?
The microwave burrito was courtesy of Amy’s, but I just made the curry on the fly, which is how I usually cook. I get inspiration from everything; the farmer’s market, the Food Network, a city I’m visiting, where ever! For the books, most of the recipes come from myself or my cookbook partner, Terry Hope Romero, but if there is a recipe I love from somewhere else I will use it! Always giving credit, of course. Ethics in recipe writing is very important to me.
Why did you become a vegan? Did you start out as a vegetarian?
I did start out as a vegetarian in 1989. I went vegan soon after, then back to vegetarian, then back to vegan for the long haul! I have always loved animals, especially my cats. And as I started realizing the amount of suffering that goes into everything from an egg, to a glass of milk to a meatball, I just didn’t want to have any part of it. I fell in love with vegan food and started experimenting with everything from lentils to cashews to broccoli and realized that you can have deeply satisfying meals that were entirely plant based.
What lifestyle changes did you have to make? Did your friends change?
Well, I started cooking a lot more. But my lifestyle didn’t change very much. Most of my friends were vegetarian, too, so that was no big deal. But I don’t think I dropped any friendships because I went vegan. I grew up in Brooklyn so there was a lot of vegan food already, from falafel to Jamaican food to curry…the possibilities were endless.
When did you first turn your vegan lifestyle into a career?
I really didn’t mean to. I was doing this vegan cooking show on public access in Brooklyn and doing my website and a few years later I was offered a book deal, but it took a few books, writing gigs and other things to be able to quit my day job.
You started a cooking show called The Post Punk Kitchen (now the title of your full on website) that aired on community access television in Manhattan and Brooklyn. How did this come about?
I just decided to do it! Basically anyone can do a public access show, you just have to take a class, learn some of the filming skills and put it together!
What kind of response did you receive from the viewers? Did a lot of viewers reach out to you to say that they had become vegan because of your show? Did you get any negative responses?
I wouldn’t say that anyone at the time told me they became vegan because of the show, but people were super excited to have a vegetarian cooking show to watch. I don’t remember any negative responses, but that was before the days of YouTube. I’m sure there would be haters nowadays.
Most food places don’t have vegan options. Do you think this will ever change?
But many food places do have vegan options, so that’s what I focus on. And yes, it’s changing every day. Vegans are very loyal customers and businesses are catching on to that. “Vegan” was named one of the top trends of the year in lots of foodie restaurant lists and with all that attention veganism has been getting lately, it’s only going to get better.
Some people describe you as “sassy” and your work draws strong reference to the punk rock subculture, giving an edge to veganism that many people haven’t seen before. Are you consciously trying to give veganism a sexy-cool appeal? Vegans can be sexy too, right?
That makes me think of the Saturday Night Live “sassy” skit with Phil Hartman. I’m just being myself. If that is sexy and cool, so be it! Although, I don’t think I get described as sexy too often, so, uh, thanks for that! Of course vegans can be sexy. Although I’d have to disagree that someone needs to be wearing a lettuce bikini to have sex appeal. For me, it’s what’s between your ears that is sexy.
It’s without question that you’re immensely popular in the vegan world, and it seems like your popularity is spreading to circles outside of veganism. Ideally, what role do you want to play in the lives of conscious eaters?
I hope that I can supply everyone with some great recipes and a few laughs. I do consider myself an activist, so if I can inspire people to use food to make positive changes in the world, then I’ll be a happy camper.
Which of your cookbooks is your favorite? Why?
Don’t make me choose a baby! Well, I guess I’ll always love Vegan Brunch. It’s not the best selling one, but I feel like it’s the most “me.” I’m a brunch girl.
One of your cookbooks, “Appetite for Reduction” provides low-fat recipes for the vegan eater. What’s the story behind this cookbook?
The long and short of it is: I eat a predominantly low-fat diet (believe it or not!) because I have some health issues. So I thought I’d put some awesome, low-fat dishes together, with the weeknight chef in mind. Whether or not you’re eating low-fat, it’s great to have a pool of whole foods based veggie-heavy dishes to choose from!
The first person who came to mind was Nelson Mandela. As for what I’d make him, whatever he wants! I love to cook African food, but most of what I know is from Ethiopia, Moroccan or Senegalese cuisine. I’m not very well-versed on what South African comfort food might be, but I’d ask him and then try to do it justice. With a Brooklyn Jewish twist, of course!
Who are your favorite vegan/vegetarian chefs?
Well without a doubt my favorite vegan chef is my writing partner, Terry Hope Romero! I just hosted a panel on cookbook publishing with a few other awesome ladies, like Bryanna Clark Grogan (whose recipes I grew up with), Julie Hasson (whose recipes I love to eat) and Joni Newman, who is the person I’d most love to have cook for me. So that was pretty awesome.
Would you say that more people are becoming vegan/vegetarian?
I think so. I live in Omaha now and the amount of vegans here is pretty surprising! I think people are just getting more educated about what animals go through to create a hamburger. There really isn’t a sustainable solution, or a way to prevent torturing and killing these poor creatures. We all love our cats and our dogs and I think people are starting to see that cows and pigs are just as intelligent and lovable, just as capable of suffering, and just as deserving of life. And as I mentioned, vegan options are becoming more and more available every day, so why not?
Do you think were on the verge of something major? Is veganism the way of the future?
I hope so! It seems to be on so many people’s minds. Not to get all Kevin Costner on you, but if we build it, they will come!
What can DC expect to see from you at this year’s Veg Fest? Are you planning to unveil any new recipes?
Well, I’ll teach you how to make a roux, which is the base of my gumbo. And then dessert is going to be a pumpkin cheesecake, without using any prepackaged ingredients! So basically, you will learn magic.