Johanna McCloy, Soy Happy

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1/11/2011:

Part II: Johanna McCloy
Soy Happy

Johanna (pronounced “yo-hah-nah”) is dedicated to bridging cultural gaps and empowering individuals to realize that their voices and their actions matter. With compassion and action, they can cross divides and help to generate the positive changes they seek to see in the world. Soy Happy was created with this in mind.

A multi-cultural background
Johanna spent seventeen years living in Spain, India, Japan, and Venezuela. She speaks nearly fluent Spanish and some Japanese. She attended Duke University and received her degree in Comparative Area Studies and Anthropology.

Experience in the entertainment industry
Johanna studied acting with the legendary Sanford Meisner in Los Angeles. She is often noted for her Guest Starring role as Ensign Calloway in Star Trek The Next Generation and for other acting credits in radio, theatre, television and film. She also has professional experience as a story analyst, documentary researcher and tribute video producer. (She continues to free-lance in these capacities.)

Published writer
Johanna’s personal essays have been published in India Currents Magazine, Moxie Magazine, Journeywoman and a book entitled Voices from the Garden (Lantern Books.) She has written countless articles regarding consumer advocacy and Soy Happy for a variety of publications, including the book by Erik Marcus entitled, Meat Market. Johanna is also co-creator and co-editor of Dare To Be Fabulous (DTBF) , celebrating womens’ stories of daring, joy and empowerment.

In 2000, Johanna attended a Major League Baseball (MLB) game and found no viable vegetarian menu options in the entire stadium. She realized that many fans were either bringing their own food or eating before or after the game, due to the lack of options, so she decided to do something about it. She compiled statistics on the rise in demand for vegetarian options, and presented her menu proposal to the concession manager one week later. She then began outreaching to every MLB park, as well as baseball fans, consumer groups and supportive organizations. The Soy Happy website was created as an informational resource.

Fans started to speak up, celebrities offered endorsements, media paid attention, and concession managers responded. When Soy Happy started, none of the MLB parks offered veggie dogs. As of 2011, 22 MLB parks offer veggie dogs, due in large part to Soy Happy‘s efforts.

Using our baseball experience as a model, Soy Happy continues to empower consumers on the importance of their feedback and to promote a wide variety of vegetarian/vegan options for foodservice establishments.

Soy Happy provides a unique hybrid of services. In addition to being a consumer advocate, Soy Happy offers promotional and outreach services for foodservice providers.
 


TRANSCRIPTION:

Caryn Hartglass: We’re back! I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Say it with me: it’s all about food because it is and we need to rethink the way we think about food. We need to re-think the way we feel about food. I’ve been saying that a lot lately and I’m going to keep saying it because that’s what I believe.

Okay, another wonderful person who’s doing all this re-thinking all about food and I’m going to bring her on in a moment. Johanna is dedicated to bridging cultural gaps and empowering individuals to realize their voices and their actions matter. With compassion and action they can cross divides and help to generate the positive changes they seek in the world. Soy Happy was created with this in mid. She has a multi-cultural background, spending 17 years living in Spain, India, Japan, and Venezuela. Fluent in Spanish and some Japanese. She attended Duke University and received her degree in Comparative Area Studies and Anthropology. And yet there’s more. She studied acting with legendary Sanford Meisner in Los Angeles and is noted for her guest-starring role as Ensign Calloway in Star Trek: The Next Generation. So much more: published writer, publishing articles and essays in India Current Magazine, Moxie Magazine, Journeywoman, and a book entitled Voices in the Garden.

I’m just scanning this amazing little bio here but let’s get you on, Johanna. Welcome to It’s All About Food!

Johanna McCloy: Thank you.

Caryn Hartglass: How are you doing?

Johanna McCloy: I’m doing great. How are you?

Caryn Hartglass: Good. It’s been about a decade since I last saw you.

Johanna McCloy: I know. It’s hard to believe.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Since I first saw you. Since I last saw you.

Johanna McCloy: It’s true.

Caryn Hartglass: And that was about the time Soy Happy was being born.

Johanna McCloy: Yeah, it was. It was about, I believe, that was in 2002, correct?

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, about that.

Johanna McCloy: Yeah. Soy Happy started in 2000 so it was right when Soy Happy was at its busiest, I guess.

Caryn Hartglass: And I didn’t know that January 10th was Soy Happy Day.

Johanna McCloy: Ah, yes! Very important day.

Caryn Hartglass: Excellent! I celebrated yesterday.

Johanna McCloy: Good for you!

Caryn Hartglass: So I didn’t realize a long time ago that you had these amazing curriculum vitae and speak different languages and lived in so many different places. So is Soy Happy kind of a little pun there, with the Spanish?

Johanna McCloy: Yeah. It was something that just came to me one day when I was creating the website. I didn’t have a name for what I was doing. It was just something that developed overtime as I was taking action, and generating some response and realizing, “Oh my goodness, I need to find a way to get all these information out there.” Websites were new at the time; the Internet was still pretty new. I didn’t have a name of what I was doing and I had this little drawing of a veggie dog and he just looked soy happy! That’s the name. Yeah, it is a fun little play on words.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so tell me more about this project, Soy Happy and the ballparks.

Johanna McCloy: Well, Soy Happy originated simply because I went to a major-league baseball game. It was my first major-league baseball game. So I went in completely naïve. It was the LA Dodgers in Dodgers Stadium. And I was newly vegan; I was vegetarian. I was thinking, “Well, they probably have a veggie dog.” And that’s why I say I’m naïve; I was. So I decided to go look for the veggie dog during the game. And lo and behold, there was none. Not only that but there were no viable vegetarian options of any kinds. It was French fries or popcorn, and that was about it. The stadium was packed and as I went back to my seat and I looked around, I just started to feel really overwhelmed by the number of people there and the absolute lack of options for so many people who choose to eat vegetarian food. And I didn’t know quite how I was going to deal with that. Obviously, one thought was, “Oh well, that’s how it is,” which is how I think most people react. But I was just determined to try to do something about it because I knew there was a market and I knew that there were fans who were either eating before the game or bringing their own food or waiting until after the game. I thought, clearly it’s a business proposition for concession managers. So that’s how it all started. I started doing some research before I contacted the concession manager on the rise and demand for viable vegetarian food. And then I contacted him. He was responsive but he did tell me that Farmer John had a contract in place with Dodgers Stadium. Farmer John being the provider of all the hotdogs and anyone who’s been there knows that Farmer John is an icon or a logo that is on virtually everything that’s Dodger-related; it’s on their tickets, it’s on everything: “Farmer John Dogs.” So they told me that they had the option of first refusal on what might be considered a competing product, which I thought was kind of silly. Veggie dogs are hardly going to compete. But they did feel that way. So the concession manager was, fortunately, very responsive to me and he did say, “We are getting some requests for kosher dogs, which we don’t have.” And I said, “Well, I know some veggie dogs out there are also kosher so you can satisfy two of your customer bases with one product.” And he said, “Well, if we have enough requests I’m telling them and I will present this.” So thus began the outreach.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. Get people to request them.

Johanna McCloy: Yeah. And over time, just to fast-forward, over time I not only managed to get Dodgers Stadium to introduce veggie dogs but I began contacting all the major-league baseball stadiums, individually, and found out none of them carried veggie dogs when I started. And now there’s, I think, 22.

Caryn Hartglass: Excellent.

Johanna McCloy: Yeah, yeah.

Caryn Hartglass: But part of the problem is that the people at the stadium, the managers, don’t really have much say. There are these major contracts with the food service in many of these stadiums.

Johanna McCloy: Yeah, it’s been an issue. Actually I have to say, fortunately, it’s only happened a couple of times. It just so happened that that was my first experience. So I got an education quickly on how that all works and also on how food service works, which there’s no real reason for your average person to know that unless they’re in that world. But it did inform me on the best way to go about trying to introduce some light into that world. If you know how to navigate it, you’re better able to get your message across and hopefully introduce the item. But primarily, it was about people asking. And that’s what Soy Happy really puts most emphasis on, consumer empowerment, because I certainly felt empowered. And I thought, I was sitting in a ballpark, thinking “Oh well” and just because I decided to make a phone call and let my own suggestions be heard I was able to make a dent and make a difference.

Caryn Hartglass: You know, it’s such an important point. When we’re in a restaurant, some of us don’t have a problem asking for what we want, especially when it’s a place that doesn’t serve any vegetarian food. I’ve been doing it for decades. Some people are a little bit more intimidated in speaking up for what they want but many of us have been nagging and whining in saying, “Is there chicken broth in your vegetables, in your rice, etc.” But that’s actually easier than a ballpark because there isn’t this one-on-one intimacy getting your needs supplied so it’s a really bigger project. But it’s important that we need to ask. We need to be going into our supermarkets and talking to the manager and saying, “Can you get such and such a product?” And going to the ballparks and everywhere.

Johanna McCloy: Right. And beyond that, even if you think the request that you’re making is futile going in because you think it’s not the kind of place that would sell whatever it is you’re asking for, so much of it is just opening the consciousness on the receiving end that these products are even out there or that there are people who may want them. I often think about veggie burgers or soymilk as perfect examples. Veggie burgers, for a long time, were weird sitting in mainstream population. And now, that is the one item most people will fall back on and know it’s most likely to be available on a menu, at least as far as vegetarian options go.

Caryn Hartglass: At least in the blue states.

Johanna McCloy: Yeah, exactly! And then the same thing goes with soymilk in coffee shops. If you asked for soymilk awhile back, people would look at you and say, “No.” And now soymilk is almost standard fare. People don’t find that strange at all anymore.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, Johanna, you’re in California; you’re not in the rest of the country but more and more, we’re seeing soymilk at least in all the Starbucks in every corner.

Johanna McCloy: Yeah, that’s how it started. Exactly. Exactly. If you don’t ask, you won’t know.

Caryn Hartglass: But there’s still plenty, like Dunkin’ Donuts. Let’s get soymilk in Dunkin’ Donuts restaurant. But I shouldn’t talk because I rarely get in those places unless I want to use the bathroom.

Johanna McCloy: Exactly. Like road trips.

Caryn Hartglass: So the tofu hot dogs, the vegetarian vegan hot dogs, they were a handful out 10 years ago and now they are many more. They are pretty tasty. It’s not something that I’m recommending everybody on a regular basis but certainly in a ballpark to keep that American spirit, why not?

Johanna McCloy: Right. That’s exactly it. Exactly. I will confess, it’s not a product that I really eat at home very often, anyway. But it is the very first thing I will consider going to a ballpark. It’s just what makes sense, what genre of food makes sense in a given establishment as far as vegetarian options go. And on of the issues that the ballparks … it’s not just introducing the dogs; it’s all the follow-up that goes with it. Because often what will happen is it’s introduced in one stand and they don’t advertise it, they don’t really inform their fans nor do they really inform the concession staff at the other stands. So even if someone knows they’re available and they ask, they may not get informative responses. And then on top of that, at Mets Shea Stadium, when Shea Stadium introduced it prior to the new stadium opening, they opened what they call a healthy stand. And they put it way at the end, one far end of the stadium on the first level, which was very hard to find and access. It was like a puzzle trying to even get there. It was all by itself at the end of a hall and it was called the Healthy Stand. Well, it’s fabulous to have healthy food but to separate it and label it as such is not doing the business any justice, for one thing, because they’re going to sell less, honestly, I think by doing it that way.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, absolutely. Some of the smartest restaurants are the ones that have food for everyone. Some of the greats chefs are realizing this now that people want to go out to dinner and they want to bring their whole family of group of friends. According to the statistics, I don’t know if you’ve seen them, the Vegetarian Resource Group recently put out a post where they did a Harris interactive poll and there are 7.5 million vegans now in the United States: 3% are men, 2% are women and a lot more people, 48% of the people they polled, have vegetarian meals sometime during the week. So it’s a big group. And when people eat out, some people are vegetarian and some people are vegan, and you all want to be together in restaurants, they’re smart when they serve everything. So we can all be a family together.

Johanna McCloy: Oh, absolutely. I think it was the Vegetarian Resource Group that created the phrase “the vegetarian veto,” which means exactly that. When they talk to food service accounts such as restaurants or such, they would tell them, ”If you have a group coming in and one of them is a vegetarian, they have the veto vote on coming in here because you may not have something for that one person.” So it’s called the vegetarian veto and how it affects large groups.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s good.

Johanna McCloy: Which is true. But beyond that even, I just think that labeling is healthy. It is healthy and anybody who eats it or wants it knows it’s healthy so you don’t need to sort of put aside and give it that label. You can make it …you can give it a really fun name. You can name it after something to do with your mascot, or your team, or your region, or your ballpark and put it in with the regular stand and it will sell even better. And you can have a vegetarian insignia on there, if you want. People will know it’s vegetarian. I don’t think that labeling it healthy is necessary; it’s known that it’s healthy, it’s understood that it’s healthy.

Caryn Hartglass: Are there any ….do you have any good stories related to getting hot dogs, vegetarian hot dogs, into the ballparks?

Johanna McCloy: Well, I would say that the Dodgers, as it turned out, being my first ballpark, was by far the most interesting process because of the Farmer John issue. And what ended up happening they said they would introduce, after they received enough fan input, they did decide to introduce the veggie dog. Now the other thing was, there was no veggie dog available through their distributor so I put the concession manager in contact with someone who represented, at the time, East Veggie Cuisine. And the person from East Veggie Cuisine would hand-deliver veggie dogs from their warehouse to the stadium in order to make it possible. And then the stipulation from Farmer John was that there could be no advertising and no promotion. So it was a real learning curve for me as far as all the obstacles that come into play. And then making sure that the product is sold and that people know that it’s there because …

Caryn Hartglass: They have to know about it. They didn’t have to advertise for it.

Johanna McCloy: Yeah. So I made it part of my Soy Happy’s endeavor is to generate attention. And as I always say, I celebrate the options. I make it festive. I make it fun. I wanted to be in a situation where the concession managers and the people I’m consulting with understand that I’m about festivity and celebration and promotion. I’m not a negative person and I come from a place of “Woo hoo! Look at what’s possible and how happy you can make people.” And then organizing outings to these ballparks once veggie dogs were introduced to show them how many fans are happy, and inviting the media and just making it a big, happy, thus the name, a celebration of vegetarian food and happy customers, basically.

Caryn Hartglass: I’m all about that. It’s a wonderful, joyful, happy thing eating these foods.

Johanna McCloy: Yeah, absolutely.

Caryn Hartglass: So the strange thing, maybe not strange, maybe it’s just American, is that sports activities in stadiums and ballparks are associated with junk foods. I’m not sure why that has to be. Why we can’t go see the game and eat something healthy?

Johanna McCloy: I know. That’s an interesting topic.

Caryn Hartglass: Why can’t you get a veggie wrap?

Johanna McCloy: Which may […] Well, that’s another thing. A lot of these ballparks and I should know that there’s a venue vegetarian guide on the Soy Happy website. It has all the stadiums, major-league baseball and football league stadiums, and all the vegetarian and vegan options they offer. So that someone who doesn’t know, “Well, I’m going to a game at such and such stadium. I really don’t know what they offer,” they can always go on the website and find out. Because it’s not … they do offer far more vegetarian foods now than they ever did when I started. And veggie wraps are not uncommon. Veggie burritos, salads. You see salads in some of these.

Caryn Hartglass: Maybe. I don’t go to the stadiums very often. All I know is that I was at the U. S. Open a few months ago in Queens and I could not find anything.

Johanna McCloy: Yeah. Like you said, you may not …

Caryn Hartglass: I photographed all the menus and I was meaning to look at them today but I forgot. But I just wanted to remember all the things they offered and what they didn’t offer.

Johanna McCloy: Yeah. Greasy fares seem to be … Who’s to say why that is? I think it’s just long-standing. It’s just one of those things that’s … It’s really funny to me. I got interviewed once on ESPN in one of their radio stations by a couple of guys in Denver. And they did tell me prior to the interview, “Well, we’re going to joke with you a bit. We’re going to give you a little bit of a hard time. You know that, right?” Of course I knew that! And they did. And what they said in the interview was how un-American it was to consider veggie dogs in baseball stadiums. So it just goes to show how the mentality … it’s a shift in cultural … it’s like a paradigm shift, you know?

Caryn Hartglass: Well, I’m sure the products in stadiums have changed over the years because of a changing culture and it may not have the least to do with vegetarian foods, but the foods have changed because our tastes have changed, our products have changed and so for them to say something like that is really ridiculous.

Johanna McCloy: Oh, I know. It was ridiculous and I just laughed it off. I mean, what I have to say about it is, how more American does it get, frankly, so to speak, frankly, pun intended, to have a variety of foods and to be able to accommodate a wide variety of cultures?

Caryn Hartglass: I would like to think that something that’s American is innovative in making the world a better place.

Johanna McCloy: One would hope.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s what I want to stand for and be proud of.

Johanna McCloy: Yeah.

Caryn Hartglass: I have a lot of memories when I was young at the baseball stadiums here in New York with the guys that would walk through the aisles going, “Hotdogs! Hotdogs! Get your ice-cold snow cone! Beer here!”

Johanna McCloy: Yeah. Very well done there!

Caryn Hartglass: Thank you! Well, that’s how I was brought up to talk. And I’m looking at last week’s New Yorker magazine and I’m not exactly sure what the cartoonist had in mind but there was a cartoon with a guy going down the aisle in a baseball stadium and he’s carrying guns and alcohol and saying, “Guns and alcohol! Guns and alcohol!” I just saw that today. I thought it was funny because we were going to be talking about this but how different are guns and alcohol relative to some of the awful things that are sold in stadiums today that people consume?

Johanna McCloy: I know. Well, again it’s the cultural paradigm; it’s just consciousness.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, we just have a few minutes left. Outside of the ballpark, what else are you doing for the vegetarian/vegan world these days?

Johanna McCloy: Well, I don’t limit myself to ballparks, by any stretch. It’s what I’ve become known for so that tends to be the emphasis but I work with all kinds of food service accounts. Food service, meaning anything that’s not retail so if you eat out and they cook for you, that’s consider food service. And I’ve worked with a wide variety and help them in getting a good vegetarian option for them to suit their customers that work for them by acting as a liaison and then promoting it for them. I’ve worked with pizzerias, getting soy cheese and non-dairy cheese. I’ve worked with cafeterias and delis and football stadiums, soccer stadiums so it’s widening. The scope is widening and I tend to be doing more of that.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s really important because most … I keep talking about this. I want to get people back in the kitchen and I want people to start making their own food because we’re going to be a lot healthier if people do and they realize what’s in their food. But so many people today are eating at fast food restaurants and cafeterias and restaurants. Even if you’re in the hospital, you’re eating food that’s prepared and not prepared typically from scratch. There’s a lot of really strange ingredients that go into products that ultimately go into prepared food. That sucks.

Johanna McCloy: Yeah. I know, I know. But my bottom line is, what is comparable to what’s standard at a given place? And at least make the comparable product, in terms of the vegetarian so-called version of it. I mean, it stands alone, which is why I hate saying it’s a version of meat or it’s a version of dairy. But that’s how people see it and that’s how it’s utilized. So that’s really where I come from: if you’re going to have bagels and cream cheese, why not have soy cream cheese too? And it’s not that soy cream cheese is necessarily the greatest most healthiest option, but it’s the most… it’s the one that makes the most sense given that where you are and what you’re eating at the moment.

Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely. Well, part of the idea, I think, is for people to know that they’re not going to be deprived of anything. I think we’re all about moving … the bar moving the average along to a better place. And with these things that are being offered, veggie hotdogs, veggie hamburgers, veggie tofu cream cheese, people can see, “Oh, yeah I can try that. I can have that” and they don’t have to panic and then they may be open to including more fruits and vegetables in their lives. And that’s where we need to go.

Johanna McCloy: Yeah, I agree completely. And restaurants are doing a great job of that. We’re talking mostly about concessionaires and those sorts of places but the restaurant fine dining, those places are doing better and better jobs at providing vegetarian foods, vegetarian menu options, that are really healthy and filled with goodness. I’ve often had this experience, and I’ve shared it with others who’ve been in the same situation, where you go into a restaurant and you don’t see anything necessarily on the menu that suits you as a vegetarian. You very politely say, “Is there anything you can do? Is there something you can put together?” Or you call in advance and they say, “Yeah.” And it’s been the case that the food they serve you ends up being the food everyone looks at and say, “Oh my God! That looks really good!

Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. That’s always happened. They see all those colors. They see how fresh it is.

Johanna McCloy: Yeah.

Caryn Hartglass: It’s so important for all of us to just stand up to what we believe in and ask for it, in a very polite, natural, non-judgmental, friendly, loving way.

Johanna McCloy: Exactly.

Caryn Hartglass: With joy!

Johanna McCloy: Yeah. […]

Caryn Hartglass: With joy! Let it be a celebration.

Johanna McCloy: Yeah. I always say, come from a place of wanting them to please you; don’t come from a place of anger and hostility. It’s a business and if they think that you’re the kind of customer they want to please, they’re more apt to be doing something about your suggestion.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, we just have a couple more minutes. I’m just remembering how I met you and that was when we were working together. We went up to Sacramento and we were trying to get the legislators to agree to support a resolution to get vegetarian options in schools.

Johanna McCloy: Yeah. I really enjoyed that, by the way.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, and it was an interesting experience how you encouraged everyone to go and lobby their representatives and just see what goes on.

Johanna McCloy: I did too. That was the first [activism?] the only day I’ve ever done that. I actually really enjoyed it.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I’ve done it a few times and it can be very frustrating. But you get to see how our legislators are influenced and if can get their ear, which is frequently filled by the noises of lobbyists that aren’t standing up for what we really want. It’s important to get their ear and educate them, in a way, with information that we want them to have.

Johanna McCloy: Yeah. And also, kudos to Barbara Gates who was the person who spearheaded that resolution. She was so … She’s a perfect example again of a so-called regular person who’s not necessarily already in the world of activism who, just by virtue of being a mom who has kids who don’t have options at schools, became an activist in her own right. She’s never done it before either. Here we all were, walking the corridors of the Capitol Building. She put together that package and she was just ultimately professional and we won.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. The resolution passed.

Johanna McCloy: Yeah.

Caryn Hartglass: I just want to end on a happy note and to let everyone know that each one of us can make a difference.

Johanna McCloy: Absolutely. All you have to do is speak up and you’re done.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. Johanna, thank you so much for joining me on It’s All About Food.

Johanna McCloy: Oh, thank you so much for having me.

Caryn Hartglass: And I hope we can share a veggie hotdog together someday soon.

Johanna McCloy: Oh, absolutely.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, take care.

Johanna McCloy: You too.

Caryn Hartglass: I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’ve been listening to it’s All About Food. Thank you for joining me. You can reach me at info@realmeals.org. if you have any comments and questions. Go to responsibleeatingandliving.com; that’s where you can find me and a lot of great information. Have a very delicious week. Bye-bye!

Transcribed by Diana O’Reilly, 2/22/2013

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