Ann Hodgman, Vegan Food for the Rest of Us.
Ann Hodgman is the author of 40 children’s books and 5 cookbooks, most recently Vegan Food for the Rest of Us. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, Gourmet, and just about all the parenting magazines. She lives in Litchfield County, CT, where she plays year-round ice hockey. She is married to writer David Owen, and they have two adult children—both writers.
Caryn: Hello everybody! Here we are again, thanks for joining me. It’s time for another It’s All About Food show and I’m Caryn Hartglass. I’m really glad you’re with me today, or whenever you’re listening to this show as always I really appreciate your interest in plant food, healthy plant food, delicious plant food, and compassionate food. Today’s going to be fun, I promise! Let’s talk about Vegan Food for the Rest of Us, shall we? I have the author of the new cookbook, Vegan Food for the Rest of Us here on the program today, Ann Hodgman is the author of 40 children’s book and 5 cookbooks, most recently the one we’re going to be talking about, Vegan Food for the Rest of Us. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, Gourmet, and just about all the parenting magazines. She lives in Litchfield County, Connecticut where she plays year-round ice hockey. She is married to write David Owen and they have 2 adult children, both writers. Ann, welcome!
Ann: Hi, it’s great to be here.
Caryn: Well I’m glad we got it all figured out. I’m very appreciative to my dear friend Nancy Pines for making this all possible. So Nancy whenever you tune in, thank you I love you!
Ann: And I do too.
Caryn: I imagine that, I don’t even know how you connected with Nancy but I imagine it was back in her children’s books days that you connected.
Ann: Yes. We were at Bantam Books; oh it seems like a century ago. We were in the children’s book department. She was a wonderful publicist for them and I was an editor and she’s such a good booster for every place that she’s ever worked that we were easily able to stay in touch and Facebook made it even easier.
Caryn: Yeah, I remember those days at Phantom, I got to walk around the halls of that place a few times when we’d meet for dinner.
Ann: The world of publishing must have changed so much. Sometimes I think I could go back to publishing and then I think, how? I don’t know anything about the way editing is done on computers or anything. It seems like a different world.
Caryn: It is. I’m going to guess as an editor, you must be frustrated because not only in books, but online, it’s like editing doesn’t even exist anymore. What happened to grammar?
Ann: I know! Well, it’s complicated. I think that the internet, very much to it’s credit has naturalized people’s language and made it more conversational, which I think is all to the good. But, there’s so much content now that I don’t know how anyone ever, there just aren’t enough people to keep track of how much content appears. Certainly on the Internet there aren’t enough people to pay to make sure the content is in good shape. We’re in a challenging time for publishing and I’m not sure I will live to see a satisfying resolution. I hope I do but it’s a weird time to be in print, to be a print person.
Caryn: It’s a weird time Ann, period.
Ann: Yes, yes it is definitely a weird time. To be sort of flooded with information about everything all the time, it can be very challenging. For example, take vegan cooking, I was talking to an older man at a book signing the other day and he said, well how are you going to feed all these vegans if you don’t have cows to kill to get manure? I didn’t know where to start with that. And he said, I think 32 million head of beef cattle in this country, what do you want to do about them? And I said, reduce their number. That was the only thing I could think of to say, in person. But what he was saying to me was, the way of life that you’re espousing is actually challenging my livelihood. He was a beef producer. I do hope that those kinds of jobs will gradually disappear as people eat fewer animals. But it’s true, almost every food challenge or food point of view, steps on someone else’s food point of view. If you’re a vegan you’re going to be using more land, taking up more habitat from animals and it’s sort of hard to know where to, you can’t draw the line, you just have to do your best is what I’ve concluded. And hope that you’re making the right choice ultimately.
Caryn: Well if we lived in an ideal world, and we had a functioning and fair government. You know, when we recognize that an industry was no longer necessary or was behind the times, we would find a way to help those who are involved in that business to find new and challenging careers.
Ann: Right, and interesting careers absolutely. Ideally, I hope that can be done. The difficulty of course with beef production and I didn’t say that to this poor man, was for example, the main reason that the rain forests in South America are disappearing is because they’re being used to make ranches. Anyone who thinks that’s a fair way to use a rain forest, I have nothing to say to that person, it’s very hard to be civil. But a lot of people don’t realize that’s the case. Again, some of it goes back to the vast, vast, vast amounts of information that’s out there and how do we sort of filter it to make our own lives livable and bearable. That’s one of the things that with this book I wanted to make it a little bit easier for people who were starting out in the vegan world. I’m not myself a vegan, I’m a vegetarian, but I thought well there must be other vegetarians and even omnivores like me who want to explore vegan living and they would especially like the food to taste good which can be a challenge with vegan food. And I thought at least if I am a vegetarian at least I know what certain things like dairy are supposed to taste like so I won’t be saying this tastes exactly like cream cheese when it tastes like something that makes you want to cry if what you’re expecting cream cheese. I learned how to imitate stuff and I learned what stuff really could not be imitated. I think it all has to start with how food tastes if you want to win people over.
Caryn: Absolutely. I’ve been a vegan for almost 30 years.
Caryn: My greatest successes have been putting the delicious food in people’s mouths, there’s no doubt after that. You just say, eat this, it’s delicious, you can do it! That’s the best way to do it.
Ann: Exactly. And then they’re happy. People are really scared. It’s funny how food is such a tough challenge in so many different directions. You see little kids who are afraid of all different kinds of food. But you also see, I marvel still at the fact that people will think that, for example, something made of plant protein like tofu is disgusting compared to cheese. You want to say, wait, the cheese came from inside of a cow, how are you saying something that came from inside a cow’s utters is less disgusting than something that’s made from a plant? Clearly these things are very subjective, but people’s frame of preference and I like to call it, is really very narrow. You have to sort of, you do have to convince them with good tasting food, not with punishing them by making them feel guilty which I wanted to be very careful not to do in my book.
Caryn: Right. There are a few things I wanted to respond to from everything you just said. I don’t know if I’ll remember them all but regarding the guy at your book signing and the manure. I always like to say manure like Woody Allen would say manure. So, we’ve talked about veganic agriculture on this show. It is possible everyone, to grow plants without putting animal excrement in the soil. But the Earth, Mother Nature is really smart the way she reduces, reuses, and recycles and putting excrement, human or non human into the soil, letting it compost is a way we get nutrients in the soil. It’s beautiful and it works. But it’s amazing how people in a certain field, the experts, sound like they don’t even know what their field is about. I had an opportunity about 3 years ago to talk to 250 cattle producers about animal agriculture’s impact on global warming. They asked me well what happened with all of these animals? What would happen to them? And I’m thinking to myself, wait a minute. You breed them. You know how you make them. You would just stop breeding them.
Ann: Exactly. Exactly. They wouldn’t suffer because they hadn’t been born which is incredibly an argument that some beef producers use. By giving these animals life we’re doing them a favor. Of course we’re absolutely not. But it’s very hard for people to imagine change and I think certainly what scares them when it’s related to their livelihood I do feel sympathy for it. I also understand, you know what I just realized I interrupted you. You said you had a few things to say and here I’m just babbling away.
Caryn: Oh please babble, I love the babble. You’re an excellent babbler. Probably almost as good as your writing.
Ann: Well thanks. Now lets see. I was saying there are very nasty vegans out there, some of them. They call us “easy vegans” and themselves I guess “real vegans.” There’s a certain punitive quality to some vegan writing that makes it sound as though it’s a very, very easy choice. But it really isn’t, it’s very hard emotionally for people to sacrifice the way they grew up. To sacrifice what they think of as their matrimony. What do you do on holidays? If you’re going to Grandma’s house and she’s making a big turkey? Those kinds of things really frighten people and I think it’s important for them to acknowledge they are making a huge change, and they can make gradually. Any change in the right direction is better than none. There’s this new movement called Reducetarianism that’s arguing for eating less animal protein, period. Hoping that they can get more people to follow that then they had success to get them to completely abandon meat. But I think people are so. I get the feeling that people are thinking don’t take away my treats. Don’t take away my emotional sustenance. I want to make it very clear in this book, that does not have to be done. You can make food that is comfort food and could work for holidays and is enough of a treat. It’s a challenge to make vegan dessert taste good without eggs and dairy but it can be done and they don’t have to taste like a pile of sweetened oatmeal. They can really taste like what they’re supposed to taste like. There are some great developments from things like aquafaba, which makes a wonderful; it’s a foamy liquid that you can produce by whipping up the liquid that comes in a can of chickpeas. It makes a completely convincing meringue and functions exactly like a meringue. I don’t know how they discovered it but it works. Once you know that, you think well now I don’t need to use egg whites anymore. I just did a lot of experimenting and testing stuff to avoid well I guess this kind of taste like meringue, that feeling. I wanted people to know that they were getting exactly. It might not be exactly the same but it would be exactly as good as what they were giving up.
Caryn: Oh aquafaba. If there were a Nobel Prize for food it would go to the founder of aquafaba.
Ann: It’s so incredible. I don’t understand. Someone obviously knew about plant proteins when it occurred to him. It was a guy; I just don’t remember his name. When it occurred to him that you could whip this liquid. Now I just want it to be standardized. Every can of chickpeas is not the same as every other can and I would like to know that if I’m using 8oz of aquafaba it’s going to be the same from can to can. But they’ll get there because there must be tons of chickpea liquid waiting to be used.
Caryn: So much chickpea liquid is wasted.
Caryn: It drives me crazy. I’ve made lemon meringue pie and it’s incredible. I think I might even like it better than when I had lemon meringue pie over 30 years ago.
Ann: You might very well because there is an actual bad taste to eggs that if you want to notice it. I just can’t eat plain eggs anymore. Just because I don’t like the way they taste. I used to but I just don’t know. But I think that the aquafaba, once it’s whipped there’s certainly no hint of where it came from. Which again is not disgusting to begin with. A can of beans. The liquid they were cooked in is not more scary than an egg from a bird. When people think about it’s just not that it’s a simpler way to eat, it’s a cheaper way to eat and it’s less complicated and tastes delicious. Why not do it?
Caryn: So let’s jump into the book. The first thing I want to say, I want to read what was most important to you when it comes to not eating animals and you write that no matter how nice you may be, eating animal products causes suffering on an unimaginable scale. The animals we eat are born into slavery, raised on slave ships and set free by being killed. Thank you for that.
Ann: It’s really the truth. There is no way around that. There’s no way, people now I’m amazed by the number of people that will say, but dairy cattle they’re not being killed so they’re better off. They probably suffer more because they live longer than beef cattle and they never get to graze in many cases. I read a book called Just Food by Jim McMullen. We’ve all had these moments where you just think; OK I’m going to stop just saying that one day I’ll make this change. You read or see one detail that converts you right away and for me he was writing about how dairy cows are sometimes up to their stomachs in sort of manure and hay and litter and stuff because the stables don’t get cleaned out. And I thought, they’re standing stomach-deep in this excrement and this rotten old hay. All right, I don’t want any part in this. I’m done with the world. Whether it makes a difference or not. I just don’t want to be part of that world anymore.
Caryn: Thank you for that. I mentioned before that, I forgot exactly how we said it, but things are weird right now. The world of politics is weird and we’re all, many of us are very frustrated and feel like there’s nothing we can do and there is something that we can all do to make things better and that is eat plants and not animals.
Ann: That’s absolutely right. You are reducing the amount of senseless suffering on Earth. You’re saving land; you’re helping to save land that might otherwise be used to feed animals. Most of the soybeans in the United States are just grown to feed cattle, which is kind of a waste of a soybean when you think about what a miraculous amount of protein it has. You’re also; you’re thinking it’s better for people’s karma. Even their self-perception to think I may not be doing something, I don’t know how much help this is but I know I’m trying. That’s a very much better head to be in then probably not a great thing that I’m doing but I’m going to try to ignore it. That really drags you down. When you started thinking, well at least I’m one of the people trying to make a difference, you just feel much happier in the long run. You’ve had to learn about some things. Often people don’t want to learn about veganism because they don’t want to know what the animals are going through. To that I always say, you do know. You know what they’re going through, it has not escaped you. You’re waiting to hear something so horrible that it will shock you into changing your ways, but you already know the truth.
Caryn: You already know the truth. Worth repeating. OK, Ann let’s turn to the book. It’s very fun to read. I like the anecdotes. Even when you give directions on how to make a recipe there’s nothing dry about it. You give some great detail in some very conversational language that I know if helpful to many people, especially if they don’t know where their kitchen is.
Ann: Thank you. You do have to, with vegan cooking especially because the chemistry is different, it takes a certain amount of explanation. More than you might need if you grew up and we’re just using family farmer books you’d been using as a child. I also, I love to read cookbooks. I want the whole thing to be interesting. When I read a cookbook I want the directions to be interesting. I want there to be lots of anecdotes and lots of head notes and little asides and I really tried to put that in because I think it’s fun to have a book where you feel as though the author is actually talking to you. I wanted people, that was the effect I was going for.
Caryn: The first thing I wanted to mention is what’s not in the book. There are no green salads; there are no green smoothies.
Ann: That’s correct. Right.
Caryn: But there is hummus.
Ann: There is hummus.
Caryn: And I want to talk about the hummus.
Ann: OK good.
Caryn: Because I get a lot of vegan cookbooks. I review a lot of vegan cookbooks. Some of them have hummus and I always think, oh yeah there’s the hummus, we have to have hummus. My partner Gary and I, when we go to a social event that doesn’t have much food for us we always say at least there’s hummus. And I really encourage people to make their own hummus because it’s easy and so many hummuses’ on the market today are made with such crappy ingredients.
Ann: Yes, they’re like glue.
Caryn: But, the one thing that popped out is that you peel your chickpeas. I wouldn’t even know how to peel a chickpea!
Ann: Well, I knew you were going to say that and my editor said, Ann is it really necessary? Well of course it’s not necessary but the premise of the book is this is the best version of the recipe that you will find. Obviously people don’t have to peel their chickpeas but it gets amazingly much better if you do. You sit down, you pick one of the shows that you’ve been meaning to glut yourself on that you’ve been recording forever, or that’s on Netflix. You take a pile of chickpeas and you just pinch them between your fingers and the skin slides off and then you put the chickpea into another bowl. It’s not hard. It is time consuming. You’re not going to be able to make a vat of hummus that way but you do make a hummus that everyone who eats it will say this is the best hummus I’ve ever had, how did you do it? So, for special occasions I definitely think it’s worth it. I wish that there were an easier way. May one day they can sell chickpeas that are already peeled, that would be perfect.
Caryn: Well there’s probably something nutritious in that peel.
Ann: Yes I’m sure that there is. And there’s certainly fiber.
Caryn: I have no problem sitting in a Zen mode and taking peels off. I make my own almond yogurt at home. I soak the almonds, I remove the skins and then I make yogurt from it and it’s phenomenal. I make it every two weeks and it is so worth it, so I can get into that personally. I know many people can’t. I didn’t even know that, I didn’t even know the skin was there so I’ve got to look for this chickpea skin.
Ann: I was very surprised, I was very, very surprised to find that out myself when a friend brought some hummus over and this was her recipe. It never would have occurred to me, it really was like jokingly, like, peel a grape. But it can be done and it’s exactly like taking the skin off a soaked almond. It’s the same feeling and it’s the same sort of finickiness but the result really is justified. Or justifies the amount of time. So I’ll stand up for that and I’ll support you if you make a different hummus also. They’re all good.
Caryn: They’re all good. Hummus! I have a private joke with my sister- hummus is hummus. But obliviously not all hummus is the best hummus.
Ann: If it drives them crazy to think of peeling their chickpeas, don’t do it! I like doing it but that doesn’t mean everyone’s going to like doing it.
Caryn: That’s true.
Ann: And they’ll still come up with a perfectly good product if they make it themselves.
Caryn: People tell me they don’t like broccoli and I say fine you don’t have to eat broccoli. There are plenty of other great green vegetables.
Ann: You don’t have to eat tofu. One of the challenges for me was trying to convince my poor husband who is a meat eater, he’s from Kansas City and he eats bacon cheeseburgers like 6 or 7 a week probably. Convince him to eat things like seitan and in fact we ultimately gave up on seitan because the texture was great but there was something indefinably scary about it. I thought, you know, I’m going to stop trying to scare my husband. He finally said I wouldn’t mind never having this again. He had been so patient and nice about so many of the things I’ve made. I thought, I want people like Dave my husband; I want it to pass the Dave test. I just took seitan out. I still use wheat gluten in a few of the recipes. I have not succeeded in making a great seitan that meat eaters will love. I could probably choke it down myself but I wanted to have every recipe be something that Dave would take seconds of or eat leftovers of. So that was the criterion I used.
Caryn: OK next. You write anything you can do with a scallop you can do with an artichoke heart. I didn’t know that.
Ann: Well you picked two things that my editor said, wait a minute why did you say this? Or wait a minute, are you sure this is true? That was another one but it’s really true. It’s the same size as a scallop, an artichoke heart. It’s not exactly the same consistency but it’s a suitable enough consistency that for example, if you want to in the book I give a recipe for artichoke hearts almandine because we loved in our old life scallop almandine and soft shell crab almandine. I suddenly thought wait, you can get an almond lemon sauce and flour the artichoke heart and fry it, sauté it at a high heat and it would be just as good. Then I thought well you really can, when I thought about a lot of recipes where scallops are used whole. I think artichoke hearts are a very suitable substitute. We used them a whole lot. I get them frozen. I don’t get the jarred kind. They have just plain frozen ones and they’re wonderful.
Caryn: That’s great to know. I pick out the things that I’m not familiar with and that’s what I want to talk about because I’m selfish here, it’s my show and I can talk about whatever I want.
Ann: Yes!!! I love that.
Caryn: OK so the next thing I want to talk about is flax gel cubes. Now, why? I’ve been using flax seeds for decades.
Ann: In baked goods you mean?
Caryn: In everything! I put flax seeds in everything. But I bake with them, and I sprinkle them on cereals and salads. I’ve made flax crackers, all kinds of things. But I have never, occasionally, on a rare occasion I have soaked the flax seeds in water and then put them through a sieve so that I didn’t have the fibrous shell. But, rare. So tell me about why flax gel?
Ann: Well because flax gel is a very good egg substitute in baked goods where you do not want to texture of the flax gel husks. It also tastes, I mean I don’t mind the taste of flax, I like it fine. But in a classic vanilla cake, for example, if it’s going to be, I would rather not have any hint of anything except what it’s actually traditionally supposed to taste like. Flax gel is not hard to make. You just bring flax seeds to the boil with water and you do put them through a sieve and then you, I use a bulb baster and just 28:29 3 tablespoons of flax gel into ice cube trays and freeze them. That means that I don’t have to grind seeds or add seeds. I can just take 2 flax cubes when a recipe calls for 2 eggs and very often make a direct ingredient for ingredient substitute. So I recommend that you try them. They’re gross looking. Then when they melt they’re even grosser looking. But they won’t be gross looking in the recipe they just disappear. They have that same, they make the baked texture, they make it have the structure that an egg would give it without that crunch that flax seed husk might give it. So that’s why I do them. Also, you spend an hour doing it, you may end up with 36 flax cubes which will take you through quite a lot of baking if you just have a freezer that you can get them into. I have to be sensitive to the fact that I live in Connecticut and I have a big freezer. I do understand that people who live in cities don’t have tons and tons of freezer space. So a vegan cookbook should not say, store this 5 pounds of seitan in your freezer because you just may not have the freezer space.
Caryn: OK now speaking of storing 5 pounds of something. Lets talk about your 10 pounds of macadamia nuts.
Ann: Were you troubled by them?
Caryn: Oh no.
Ann: Oh, OK.
Caryn: I do use a lot of cashews. I don’t mind cashews. I find them readily available. Maybe a little cheaper but I do appreciate a good macadamia nut. I just want to tell you before we talk about macadamias, have you tried Cheezehound vegan cheese?
Ann: I’ve never even heard of it.
Caryn: Yeah, I’m going to talk about it a little later in the program. But, they’ve made some macadamia nut-based cheeses that are AMAZING.
Ann: Oh good!
Caryn: They’re not widely distributed, but there’s a store in Brooklyn called Riverdale and they have most of the vegan cheeses that are available today made in the traditional cheese process. And you can try them all!
Ann: Oh that sounds great. That sounds wonderful. Do you know if they do mail order too? I’ll look them up.
Caryn: Riverdale the store might. And I don’t know about Cheezehound. But if I find out I’ll let you know.
Ann: Is it one word? I’d love to know. Cheezehound is one word or two?
Caryn: It’s one word and it’s with a Z.
Ann: Oh, awesome. That’s good to set it a part.
Caryn: Because you may know that here in New York and in other states, we’re not allowed to call certain product that aren’t made from tortured animal milk, cheese or butter.
Ann: It’s crazy; it’s silly because they’re considering that they’re still made from a kind of milk. They’re just not made from cow’s milk. That’s a battle we can fight later.
Caryn: Let’s go back to the macadamias. So you use a lot of things?
Ann: I do. I use them wherever traditional vegan recipes use cashews because I myself think that the taste is a little less noticeable. Also, for the very useful reason macadamia nuts are fattier than cashews. It’s hard in certain vegan recipes; the missing fat is often why the recipe doesn’t taste quite right. You can’t just stir oil in to something like a version of macaroni and cheese, a vegan version of it. You can’t just add oil. You need to start with something that won’t break apart and be sort of liquidy the way oil will and macadamia nuts can be pureed until they’re very very smooth and yet they will have a more sumptuous mouth quality, a mouth feel when you eat them. That’s why I used them. I but them in bulk just because again, I have this large freezer and I can. I just use a few ounces at a time. 10 pound of macadamia pieces, which is what I get on Amazon, unsalted and raw, that costs- I can’t even remember but it took me 3 years to use up my 10-pound bag. So it’s ultimately it’s very economical. Certainly less expensive than meat. I think the added creaminess that it’s imparts to especially in main dishes where you want a creamy quality, it’s worth making the switch from cashews.
Caryn: I just might have to do that. My freezer is filled with 5 pounds of nutritional yeast that I buy in bulk and pounds of fungus among us dried mushrooms because I always like to have mushrooms available. And a whole bunch of other things.
Ann: I do too, yes.
Caryn: Maybe I can find some room for that too, probably. OK, I can talk to you all day because I love talking about food. But I just want to ask you maybe one more question. You authored other cookbooks. Maybe in a previous lifetime. One of them is called One Bite Won’t Kill You with illustrations by the fabulous Roz Chast.
Ann: Oh yeah she’s so great.
Caryn: Are you thinking perhaps since you’ve been involved with children’s books that maybe there’s a vegan food for children book?
Ann: I would love that. Children are really leading the way for a lot of parents these days. Many families become vegetarian now because the child will say I don’t want to eat something that was killed. Parents who have been sort of vaguely dragging their feet about at least becoming vegetarian will say, OK we’ll just all become vegetarian. I think of course you want to make sure, little babies there’s an argument for them eating some animal protein. As soon and they’re 5 or 6 they really can manage with a vegan diet very, very well. I think that would be a lot of fun. You’re basically asking the parents to get involved. You’d be having to preach to people who are already converted to the right way of doing things, I think. I’d love to do a vegan holiday book because I think it would be very beneficial to families to be able to get stuff that was exactly as good as the sugar cookies they make at holidays. So that may be the next one I tackle.
Caryn: Excellent. Well, Ann thank you so much for joining me on It’s All About Food. I had so much fun reading your book and fun talking to you too. So thank you!
Ann: Thank you, thank you very much and let’s talk soon!
Caryn: OK, that sounds good.
Ann: Thanks for having me on.
Caryn: OK, thank you. That was Ann Hodgman, the author of Vegan Food for the Rest of Us. It is a different kind of vegan cookbook because it’s filled with all kinds of tasty delicious comfort kind of foods. Like I said, this is not a green salad green smoothie cookbook. This is all fun, delicious, yummy food with soups and appetizers and desserts, all good.
Transcribed by Adella Finnan 8/14/2017