Part I: Mitchell Davis
Mitchell Davis is the Vice President of the James Beard Foundation, a cookbook author, a food journalist, and a scholar with a Doctorate in Food Studies from New York University. A graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, Davis spent two years cooking and eating in France and Italy before settling in New York City to write about food.
Part II: Annie and Dan Shannon
Annie and Dan Shannon live in Brooklyn, NY. Annie has worked at the animal advocacy organization In Defense of Animals and as the Fashion Industry Liaison for the Humane Society of the United States. She does most of the cooking. Dan was previously the Director of Youth Outreach & Campaigns for PETA and is now a Senior Strategist for the social movement strategy consulting company Purpose. He does the dishes.
TRANSCRIPTION PART I:
Caryn Hartglass: Hello, everybody! I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to It’s All About Food. A very happy February 5, 2013. Thanks for joining me today. I’m the founder of Responsible Eating and Living. You can go to responsibleeatingandliving.com. That’s R. E. A. L. and find out more about me and my non-profit.
And I’m a foodie. I think I’m a foodie. I’m pretty passionate about food. And today, I’ve got some wonderful other foodies on the show and I think we’re going to have a really good fun time talking about my favorite subject: food. Now Julia Child … Julia Child … I need to work on that a little bit more but that’s a fun voice to imitate. Julia Child. She has influenced so many foodies in the world, in the United States, and all over. And I want to tell a little story about her before I introduce my first guest. You’re familiar with John Robbins, my friend John Robbins. He’s the son of Baskin Robbins’ Irv Robbins, who created the ice cream empire, Baskin and Robbins, and he was destined to take over the ice cream empire and then he went on his own way and he wrote this groundbreaking bestseller in 1987 called Diet For A New America. He has influenced so many of us and we have learned so much about our food system and how food affects not only our own health but the health of the planet and how animals are treated. He’s done tremendous work. And he was speaking in a lot of conferences when his Diet For A New America book came out and he was at one with Julia Child. And when they had some time off, John tells this story; he asked her if she wanted to visit a veal barn that was near the conference that was taking place in Pennsylvania. And so she agreed. She wasn’t interested in vegetarian; she thought vegetarians were sentimental. And she just cared what food tasted like. But they did go to this veal farm and John describes it where you could see calves chained at the neck. The chains were really short and the animals couldn’t move and they couldn’t lie down and they would live about 3 to 4 months before they were slaughtered. Of course, they were fed a diet that was devoid of iron in order to keep their flesh white because people considered white meat healthier and tastier. And they were advertised as being milk-fed when actually they’re not fed their mothers’ milk; they were fed skim milk and petroleum byproducts. Anyway, John brought Julia to this small veal farm and it’s nothing like the factory farms that we see today. But she looked around and she simply said, “Can we go now?” and then she said, “I had no idea. No more veal.” Now this was at the time when she was pretty old and you don’t hear this story in her documentary or when people tell stories about it but I think if we all knew more about how our food was produced there’s a lot of it that we would not tolerate, certainly the cruelty and all the toxins and things that go in our food. If we really knew and understood and made a noise about it, I think things would be a lot better. And that’s one of the things that we do here.
So that’s just a little story about Julia Child. And now I want to bring on my first guest and Julia Child had an influence, somewhat, on him. My guest is Mitchell Davis. He is the vice president of the James Beard Foundation, a cookbook author, a food journalist, and a scholar with a doctorate in Food Studies from New York University. A graduate of Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, Davis spent two years cooking and eating in France and Italy before settling in New York City to write about food. And we’re going to learn a lot more about Mitchell Davis. Welcome to It’s All About Food.
Mitchell Davis: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I’m really glad to have you here. I’ve been looking forward to this for months since I first met you awhile back.
Mitchell Davis: Indeed. And full disclosure must be that Julia Child and James Beard were very, very close friends their entire, well, their entire adult lives. They were the giants, literally and figuratively, of food in America.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. They both brought French cuisine to the United States.
Mitchell Davis: They did … well, they did although that was really Julia’s purview. Beard brought good food. He hated the word cuisine; the word gourmet, he was famous for hating. He grew up in Portland and was a West Coast boy all his life, really, even though he made his life and career in New York City. I think that one of the differences was he loved European food: French food, Italian food, whatever but he was American and I think that’s come to be his hallmark, really, or his legacy.
Caryn Hartglass: I like reading about James Beard knowing that before he was a foodie per se, he was trying to make it as an actor.
Mitchell Davis: In which restaurant can we go to today and not find someone just like that?
Caryn Hartglass: That’s everybody’s story in New York City! All the servers that you get, that’s their story. But James Beard actually made it in the food business. Good for him and made it well. And then …
Mitchell Davis: Actually, he’s on the stage right now. There’s a play about his life, a one-man show that was written last fall and premiered in Indianapolis at the Indianapolis Repertory Theatre and it’s just been re-mounted in Portland, Oregon, his hometown.
Caryn Hartglass: Awesome! Have you seen it?
Mitchell Davis: I have seen it twice. Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Very good. Do you recommend it?
Mitchell Davis: I do. It’s a really interesting piece. The playwright is James Still, who did a tremendous amount of research and it’s Beard looking back at his life, sort of like the last few days. Well, we don’t know actually if that was really imminent but he’s old and reminiscing about Julia and all those sorts of things, the changes that he’s seen. It’s interesting.
Caryn Hartglass: You think it’ll make to Broadway?
Mitchell Davis: You know, there’s always hope.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, let’s learn a little bit about you: how you got interested in food, and how Julia and James and everybody influenced you.
Mitchell Davis: Sure. I used to tell people I was weaned on Julia Child because I came to know James Beard late in life; I think, the generation before me. I started cooking at a very young age. I was born in 1968 and my family just loved to watch Julia on T.V. We were already a T.V. family so …
Caryn Hartglass: Can you do a good Julia imitation?
Mitchell Davis: There’ve been a few Halloweens where I’ve been known to, her and the Swedish Chef. So food is just always been an interest in my life and I went to hotel school, as you said, and, which was sort of a compromise because at the time I wanted to be a chef from the time I was really little. And it wasn’t okay, in some circles: middle-class Jewish family; you didn’t go become a chef. I think a lot is different now. It’s amazing to see. When we were sitting recently, […..] we can talk about it another time but at the State Department, the State Department of the U. S. and I just couldn’t … none of the chefs there couldn’t believe they would ever find themselves feted by the Department of State of America for all sorts of reasons. And so things have changed like that. But I went to hotel school, which was a wonderful place and then went to Europe, as you said, and cooked in France and Italy, never really expecting to cook in a restaurant because I later learned it is the hardest, one of the hardest jobs there is to have. I have so much respect for chefs. I hang out with them. They’re my friends. It’s tough work. I think we forget that when you see it T. V. sometimes …
Caryn Hartglass: It’s very romantic and it’s an art. And so many of us dream of it but we don’t dream of the sweat …
Mitchell Davis: The sweat, the heat, the lifting of heavy things …
Caryn Hartglass: The pace…
Mitchell Davis: The pace …
Caryn Hartglass: The empty restaurants …
Mitchell Davis: The danger. The commercial kitchen is full of very dangerous things.
Caryn Hartglass: I got my food certification … I took the test for the city certification and it scared me just reading about it, thinking about all the things that could go wrong in a restaurant.
Mitchell Davis: Yes. One of the most terrifying things I ever experienced myself was a sushi training hygiene course.
Caryn Hartglass: Raw fish, whoa!
Mitchell Davis: Yeah. Crazy. You keep yourself safe from a lot of things by not eating meat or animals of any kind, but then there’re still things …
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I love avocado maki; all the maki rolls that you get in a Japanese restaurant but when they’re using the same knives or the same cutting boards …
Mitchell Davis: Yeah. Or when the animals are being raised next door and the chain is contaminated. I mean there’s so many we can talk about. Anyway, I did have an eye opening in Paris, as cliché as it sounds, about food. And it wasn’t so much … I grew up eating really good food but it was the food culture that really changed me. The people were …I don’t think anyone in France would call themselves foodies although now there’s a trend called les foodista and that’s whole trendy thing in France. But it wasn’t that they were foodies; it was just that food was as important a topic as art and literature and music and all those sorts of things. It was right up there. It was okay to care, in a way. I didn’t know it then but that’s become one of the things that I spend my life doing is getting people to care. I don’t want to tell you what to eat; I mean I think we should all eat wholesome, well-raised, environmentally sensitively produced food. But I want to empower people to actually pay attention to food. I think it’s through that attention and discernment that we move towards better practices and better food.
Caryn Hartglass: I agree with you wholeheartedly. I lived in the south of France for 4 years and that was one of the things I loved about it: everyone cared about food. I think, unfortunately, because of American influence some of that may be changing as much as they’re trying to fight it; the younger kids are not fighting that culture.
Mitchell Davis: Europe is changing. I spent a lot of time in Italy since that time I was in France and you see the model of Europe because of the same economy’s scale, perceived pressures of production, all that sorts of stuff. They’re almost regressing, or moving more towards what we have in America, the system we have where everything is made in this place and shipped here, all the produce is grown in this country and shipped over there, and we’re finally realizing we’re at the end of that; we’re realizing actually that leads to really horrible things and we need to go back and re-regionalize Europe and the formation of the EU was a sort of Federalist project that strong producing countries with strong economies were making food and shipping elsewhere.
Anyway, so it’s been funny, I mean sad, to see that shift but it does feel like something’s changed drastically here where increasingly large group of people has understanding of the regionalization, the importance of re-regionalizing their food system. That’s something, I have to say, that James Beard and I came to … I never knew him but I worked at the Beard Foundation now for 20 years and so I know a lot about him and it’s been, all the time, in his stuff, so to speak. It was something that he… it was something he always celebrated. One of his most famous books was American Cookery, which came out in 1972. It’s a giant thick book, which at the time, I think was rare. Now all cookbooks seem to be these giant tomes right in front of us. But it was a celebration of the difference in American things; not all the sameness of American things. There are a lot of recipes for beans, let’s say and they’re different from town to town, region to region and he has them all. He didn’t just want to find the one bean dish. So there’s something really resonant today, I think, with some of the groundwork he laid in his life. He wrote from ’39 and until he died in 1985. He was constantly producing stuff. I do think he had a lot of the values that had come to be embraced by the food movement before anyone realized there was something different going on.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I really am bothered by all this sameness that goes around in the United States and starting to see it in other countries too. In our street, in Forest Hills, Chipotle just moved in. We have a lot of these small little mom and pop shops and I love it because it brings all kinds of culture, and interest, and variety …
Mitchell Davis: Totally.
Caryn Hartglass: And quality.
Mitchell Davis: You forget … in every … not just in food. I know this is a food show but in office products, everyone has the same trashcans and that drives me crazy. Like, “Why can’t there be different ones? It all has to be the $2 trashcans from Staples.” It’s part of the challenge, I think, because we’re so obsessed with the economics of anything, that economy of scale are so appealing for certain groups of people and they lead to all sorts of sameness. And food, I think, is the most … is the realm …, which the effects of that are most detrimental. Obviously, it doesn’t matter what your garbage cans look like if you put garbage in it although it would be nice. When you go to Europe you see, “Oh, wait, there’s different door knobs.” Every doorknobs doesn’t come form the same place.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, no. They’re all from Ikea.
Mitchell Davis: Well, okay. But in food too. Food is the place where I would say … Food is not widgets. You actually … whether or not you believe in the business models of other industries is when they try to apply to food, what you get is the crap we’re all fighting against. It isn’t just an aesthetic fight; it’s about our health, and the planet, and the environment.
Caryn Hartglass: I was thinking when you were talking about doorknobs, it wasn’t doorknobs; it was toilet flush mechanisms that were so varied in Europe.
Mitchell Davis: Right, right. Yes. It was so varied you didn’t even know what to push.
Caryn Hartglass: You wouldn’t know where they were! It was like, “Holy crap, what do I do now?”
Mitchell Davis: But we take that for granted, I have to say. It’s so funny because even in America. I was born in the New York area. I was born in New Jersey and I grew up in Toronto. And in Canada they put light switches in different places. So my whole life I learned where to look for light switches and you come there and it’s usually outside the room and here, it’s always inside the room. These are small things you take for granted but our cultural differences … and food is the biggest area where that is true.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. I want to get back to France just for a minute. Have you heard of the vegan who walked into Chez Bocuse?
Mitchell Davis. No. But was there a rabbi and an Irishman involved?
Caryn Hartglass: No. So when I lived in France I was living with a Frenchman and we were first living in Lyon, the cuisine capital of France and the world. And he wanted to celebrate my birthday at the best restaurant that he knew of and that was Paul Bocuse’s restaurant, Chez Bocuse. And he called them two weeks before my birthday to say, “Look, I’ve got this vegan with me.” Now, this was the early 90s. And he explained what I ate, what I didn’t eat and they said sure, no problem, and come on in. And two days before we were coming in he sent them a fax to remind them of what the situation was. We showed up at the restaurant and no one had a clue who we were. Every course was a disaster. Disaster! I had to have the same conversation: it had to go back. I think there was only one other filled table. It was a weeknight; it wasn’t busy and yet I got the most awful service. Now I have to say, in the 4 years I lived there I never had a bad experience except that one time. Most chefs were very welcoming and they say, “I accept the challenge” and I was always satisfied and got some really beautiful dishes.
Mitchell Davis: Interesting. Bocuse was the first assignment I was ever given in the food world as a professional food writer. I was working in a magazine called Art Culinaire. And the first person I had to go interview was Paul Bocuse. It was a little intimidating. Although I’m surprised at that level, a Michelin 3-star level, they wouldn’t have found that fax somewhere or done something for you.
Caryn Hartglass: Or said that they couldn’t do something.
Mitchell Davis: Right. Anyway, I wonder how much that’s changed in those years? I have a feeling it might still be … not difficult. You said it wasn’t an easy time but there’s a cultural component to it also. We talk about that a lot amongst my colleagues. In different food cultures there are ways that diners are in restaurants, the relationship between the restaurant and the diner is different. And in America, of course, it’s always about “the customer is always right.”
Caryn Hartglass: I wanted to bring this up and you’re bringing it up so, perfect.
Mitchell Davis: Yeah. So the customer is always right and the customer has needs and the servers, quote unquote, are there to serve those needs. And that is not how it is in a lot of places. I think of Japan, even more than France, where there are so many rules and they’re a food-obsessed culture but often people consider them rude. But I feel like you actually, you are operating so outside what they understand behavior to be that they don’t even know how to react or how to help, in some cases. And although we think of the French, actually no one really thinks of them as being just like us, but there are these things we take for granted. I think they are very …
Caryn Hartglass: The ugly American.
Mitchell Davis: Yeah. Well, ugly but also open, in so many ways. Unbound by all of these other rules and traditions. I think that’s partly why our food right now is so exciting and there’s so much going on here because the rules sometimes let you go only so far.
Caryn Hartglass: The thing about chefs and French chefs is they feel like what they’re doing is an art and they are offering their art to you and you don’t change what they’re offering. But today, in a world where people have food allergies, and religious issues, and then there are people, crazy vegans with ethical issues, is there a balance? Early in, I think it was around 19 … no, 2000, 2002, I forget when it was but I had never met another vegetarian when I lived in France. And then in the early 2000s they had the first Veggie Pride Parade.
Mitchell Davis: Oh, hysterical.
Caryn Hartglass: And I loved that they called it Veggie Pride because they were literally coming out of the closet, because they were hiding.
Mitchell Davis: Right. Well, I went to ask a famous feminist scholar why was all this amazing work going on among French women feminists around the same time? It seems so funny in such a sexist place and it was like “Duh.” She was like, “Where else would the reaction be? Where else would you need to assert veggie pride except in a place where meat prevailed?” In some ways, you have to rally. But from that, come amazing change, as we see in other social issues.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, let’s talk about the James Beard Foundation. And how did that come about, and what do they do, and what do you do there?
Mitchell Davis: Beard died in 1985 and the foundation was born posthumously. He had nothing to do with it, theoretically, except that there was this home where he lived in Greenwich Village on West 12th Street. In that home, so many people had such warm and important associations with it because he was really this ultimate host. He invited … In fact, Julia Child had a great story. When her book was about to come out she came to New York; her publishers brought her and her co-authors. And they asked her whom she wanted to meet and she said there was only one person; it was James Beard. So he threw a big party. And the idea that he threw a big party to introduce people to each other, to celebrate food, that he talked in his home. So many people have come through there.
So students, and colleagues, and friends of his thought it was a bit of a shame that his home would not become lived on, let’s say. And it had been on the market for some time. And they just raised the money to buy it, without really knowing what the foundation would become. And in 1986 when there wasn’t enough money to purchase the home, Peter Kump, who had a cooking school in New York and was a student and friend of Beard’s, bought the home. And to just raise the money … everything had been auctioned off. It was an empty shell, except for Beard’s longtime companion: Gino Cofacci had a lifetime lease on the floor with Beard’s dog, his pug, Percy. And there was another tenant on the 4th floor. So the two floors were empty. Peter organized a dinner to raise some money to buy some stuff for the house and Barbara Kafka was very important in that. She wrote a book and gave the money to the foundation to also buy some stuff. And Wolfgang Puck was this young upstart Californian chef and he cooked the dinner. I think 14 or 16 people came. Everyone thought it was great and they started to hold dinners.
It became … that’s how we evolved, from that idea. And it was kind of radical. It’s funny now that every restaurant has a tasting menu, like vegan restaurants … any restaurant has a tasting menu. But at the time the idea that there would be a place that you’d go for dinner, there’d be a set menu, you would sort of see a chef perform, was kind of radical here. And it just grew, through word of mouth. We’ve always been a 501c3 nonprofit so we are a public company. For a long time, we used to fight against the idea that it was a private dining club except that everything we always do was open to everybody, of course, everybody with the means to have dinner, which is a whole another topic we can talk about.
But increasingly, now we have over 200 dinners a year, with different chefs every single time from somewhere in the world. So we’ve become this performance-based … Julia Child actually called us the Carnegie Hall for chefs. And then in 1991 we started something that really catapulted us into the national and international stage, and that was the James Beard Award for chefs and later, books, and food journalists, and restaurants, and radio broadcasters, and all kinds of stuff. And those awards … we’re the first, sort of, coveted, merit-based recognition for chefs. There were other trade organizations and awards like that but it was the first time consumers learned about them. It’s funny because today every time I turn on the T. V., whether it’s Letterman or Top Chef, they’re always saying, “The James Beard award-winning …” or “James Beard nominated …” but at the time it was crazy; there was nothing. And that was almost 25 years ago when the awards started and it’s really grown to be the most coveted thing we do. A couple of other things we do and have always been alongside them, part of our nonprofit status is we raise a lot of money for scholarships and tuition labors for people who want to pursue a career in the culinary arts, we say. Almost $4 million, since we started that in 1991, we’ve given away, awarded. And then just in the last 5 years, as all the world of food has changed and chefs’ interests have changed, and people who consume food with a passion of foodies, let’s say, have changed we started to get into some of the issues everyone is waking up to how food is produced. And we started an annual conference called the, well, it’s called the James Beard Annual Food Conference; it’s very creative. But it’s about sustainability and public health. And we bring thought leaders together and the whole idea is to bring many diverse perspectives and opinions in the room and to try to, not so much change what … well, it is to change what people think but it’s really to change what people believed, to change their values. It’s funny, chefs at the highest levels are working with the finest products in the truest sense: small produce, locally produced … it’s sort of where that movement began. And I think America is unique that way. You saw that in the south of France; that was just what you took for granted is that things came from around here. In America, it’s the other way: top down, from the chefs on down. But when you have the CEO of a giant global food corporation sitting next to a farmer or a chef, we hope we can make some valueships that will move everyone a little bit further. We don’t have our own political agenda, per se, although some of us keep in deep inside and hope it oozes out all over the room. But really, we want the people that we bring there to move everything more where we want it to go. So we’ve been doing more and more work like that. It’s been very rewarding because of the connections and the value sharing that we’ve seen but also to empower chefs, as I said, to really take the front line of food folks and put them in these positions to change some of these other people who are so removed from the act of producing and eating food because of the nature of the business.
Caryn Hartglass: I think that food should obviously taste good, look beautiful but it can also be good for us. I think all of that is very possible and should be part of the equation for anyone putting a dish.
Mitchell Davis: I …
Caryn Hartglass: And gentle on the environment.
Mitchell Davis: Absolutely. I agree. And I’ll add, just because I’ve come from a great couple of panels about the workers who actually produce the food, and if we’re talking about ethical eating we really want to make sure that the ethics are shared for all of the people and plants and things that touch that food. I think that’s really important.
Caryn Hartglass: You have something called the Enlightened Eater series. And I know my friend Linda Long, she was on this show recently with her newly published Virgin Vegan; she’ll be talking on March 6 at noon at the Beard House. Can you tell me a little more about …I like that. I like to think I’m an enlightened eater.
Mitchell Davis: Yeah. And I think everyone needs aspire to be an enlightened eater. We spend so much time trying to ignore the connections of things. Enlightened Eaters, they’re free conversations. They happen a couple of times a month; they’re always at noon. They’re in line with another series called Beard on Books, where other authors come in. But Enlightened Eaters, obviously, are authors and chefs, and sometimes dieticians of people, coming in to talk about these very issues about the wholesomeness of our foods in some important ways. Linda Long is a great example; we’ve been talking about her new vegan book …
Caryn Hartglass: She also authored Great Chefs Cook Vegan and I love that book too, just because all restaurants should accommodate all eaters.
Mitchel Davis: For sure. And it’s one of the things we like to do at the Beard House, where we’ve had a few vegan meals, although quite honestly not as many as I want to be able to tell you we’ve had, but it’s an increasing number because we really want … To us, the most educational public service of the House, the Beard House, would be to allow chefs to do things in there that they couldn’t normally do, for whatever reason they think elsewhere so whether to explore an ingredient …we have this amazing tomato event every year, where every course, from soup to nuts, is tomatoes. And also, we once famously asked David Chang, a chef famous for his aggression, in some ways, towards vegetarians to cook a 12-course vegetarian menu for us because we want to challenge people to think about things differently. And it’s nice to be able to do that when we can.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, thank you for that. And I’m glad that you’re having this Enlightened Eaters series. So if anyone’s interested in it, they can go to …
Mitchell Davis: jamesbeard.org and all of these things are in the calendar.
Caryn Hartglass: And the James Beard House is located at 167 West 12th St., between 6th and 7TH Avenues, here in Manhattan.
Mitchell Davis: Excellent. You can also follow us on Twitter; it’s where you get the most up to date information. @BeardFoundation is our Twitter handle.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. We just have maybe a couple of minutes left. You mentioned … you didn’t use this word but I’m going to use the word, privilege. We both have a great privilege to be able to choose our food and to talk about our food and the James Beard House promotes a lot of chefs that many for us can’t even afford to go to. How does that fit into the equation?
Mitchell Davis: It’s a good question. And increasingly… I actually did a TedEX talk about the idea that we need to change the notion and one of the things limiting us, an obstacle for some big food system changes that this perception that local food, organically-raised food, all these sorts of things, are only for people with means. I think if we can shift the mind set, the value system of the folks in charge of big food companies to thinking that that should be the de facto stance; that’s the right. It isn’t just a luxury to choose food that’s ethically raised, that’s environmentally sensitively-raised but that ought to be the standard. And you see that in other countries around the world. Then the separation … I think that the persistence of the separation, although very real because of how we set up our business model, helps to keep …for lack of a better word, rich people given the option to eat better and we just think poor people ought to be happy for what they’ve got. I don’t believe that at all. I think that some of the work we need to do is to change that, that everyone has the right to be discerning about their food and to have wholesome food as well. If you set the playing field levelly then no one can keep them apart.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, We all are entitled to clean air, clean water, wholesome nutritious foods, a roof over our heads. And these should just be basic rights.
Mitchell Davis: Yeah. I would add healthcare in there, just because. I come form Canada and I can’t believe some of the things you hear. Anyway …
Caryn Hartglass: Well, thank you, Mitch, for joining me on It’s All About Food.
Mitchell Davis: A pleasure to be here. Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: And we’re going to take a quick break and we will be right back for the second part of our show. I’m going to be talking with Annie and Dan Shannon; they got a great new cookbook out called Betty Goes Vegan. We’ll be right back.
Transcribed by Diane O’Reilly, 2/26/2013
TRANSCRIPTION PART II:
Hi, I’m back! I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Here we are on the 5th of February 2013. Thank you for joining me. I want to bring on my next guests. This is going to be so much fun. Annie and Dan Shannon live in Brooklyn, NY. Annie has worked at the Animal Advocacy Organization and Defense of Animals and as the fashion industry liaison for The Humane Society of the United States. She does most of the cooking. Dan was previously the director of youth outreach and campaigns for PETA and is now senior strategist for the social movement strategy consulting company, Purpose. He does the dishes. Please welcome to It’s All About Food Annie and Dan Shannon.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello.
Annie Shannon: Hi.
Caryn Hartglass: How are you today?
Dan Shannon: Thank you so much for having us.
Caryn Hartglass: Well you guys are so amazing. Now I just want to start the show off by talking about yesterday’s Today Show. Congratulations.
Annie Shannon: Thanks.
Caryn Hartglass: That was really fun to watch but I want to say that the three minutes and twenty-six seconds were not enough.
Annie Shannon: I know, unfortunately.
Caryn Hartglass: You deserved a lot more. What I don’t understand is why those two women host that show and why people watch it because they did not seem to be the brightest lights in the room.
Annie Shannon: I actually think they were really nice.
Caryn Hartglass: They were probably nice but I don’t know. I don’t get those women. So first I want to remind people that we pronounce the term for people who don’t eat any animal foods and abstain from all products, we call ourselves “vegan.” Vegan. It’s not vaygan. It’s vegan. Maybe in other languages…
Dan Shannon: A “vaygan” is someone from Las Vegas.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. No, we are vegan. We are the aliens from the planet Vega. Or maybe that’s what the vaygans are. OK, anyway. You have just come out with an amazing cookbook, Betty Goes Vegan. And I’m so glad Betty is going vegan. I am so glad because she represents so much of what America is all about and if Betty’s going vegan, than it won’t take long for everybody else to follow along, will it?
Annie Shannon: I have to admit that when we first started doing this, the goal was really…we wanted to take on a project where we could use vegan products and show really how to help them reach their full potential. And Betty Crocker has such a long-standing great reputation for showing American chefs how to do that with Bisquick and things like that. It seemed like such a natural fit. It’s been great, though, because the Betty Crocker company has actually been really supportive. It’s been pretty great actually to see that happen.
Caryn Hartglass: You probably didn’t hear at the beginning of the show when I introduced my other guest I told a little story about John Robbins and Julia Child. I’m not sure if you know that story but he brought her to a veal farm and after she saw what was going on she said, “No more veal.” Now this is when she was quite old and you don’t hear about this much in mainstream media but Julia Child had a tremendous influence on so many of us. I know reading from your blogs that the movie Julie and Julia influenced you to start this Betty Crocker project.
Annie Shannon: Yeah. It’s frustrating. I went into it…I was so…I was actually really excited about the movie. I was like, “Woah, this is a heroine that I can definitely relate to.” And then I got to the scene where she has this sort of moral dilemma about boiling lobsters and she did it and how people could talk about how she overcame it, her bravery for overcoming her fear of boiling lobsters alive, and I did not like that movie.
Caryn Hartglass: Annie, I don’t know if you could move to another place but it’s breaking up a little bit.
Annie Shannon: Oh no.
Caryn Hartglass: We want to hear everything that you have to say.
Annie Shannon: Oh no. Can you hear me better now?
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Much better.
Annie Shannon: OK. Good.
Caryn Hartglass: I think when the Julie and Julia project came out, a lot of us thought, “Oh my god. We need to have something like that that’s vegan.” And I enjoyed reading at the beginning of your cookbook that you dedicated it to the lobsters because I know many of us had that same reaction in watching that movie, seeing all of these wonderful recipes and then watching her boil the lobster.
Dan Shannon: Yeah. It was really sort of a negative I feel. Like Annie was saying, it’s very discouraging to see almost like the message that you should be encouraged to overcome your conscience. I think part of why we wanted to write this book and to work on this project is to encourage more people to think more about their conscience when making food choices, whether it’s choosing vegan food or choosing local or organic produce or whatever. We should be thinking more critically about the food that we eat. We should be listening to that voice in our head that says, “Maybe this isn’t OK. Maybe this isn’t something I should be a part of.” So I think that was part of what inspired us—and what inspired Annie really—to undertake this project.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, what I said a little earlier in the first part of the show is I absolutely believe—and know—that food can be not only delicious and good for you and good and gentle on the planet but 100% vegan. There’s absolutely no reason why all the food we eat can’t be made from plants. I know everyone can be satisfied with them. We just need the time to show people and put really good food in their mouths.
Annie Shannon: Yeah, we agree. It’s just that. Dan and I kind of live this life with this motto that anything can be vegan. Give us something and we can make a vegan version. That was what we really hope this book proves.
Caryn Hartglass: When I was reading a little bit about you and how you were picking out what cookbook to ultimately veganize and you had thought about the Joy of Cooking, I had a very similar experience when I was a teenager. I had gotten a Joy of Cooking cookbook and I carried it with me all over the place until the cover was gone and it was in shreds. What I was doing basically with it was veganizing everything I found in it. And then it disappeared and I don’t know what happened to it and I’m sorry it’s gone. But we don’t need that anymore, anyway. I don’t need it anymore. Now we have Betty Goes Vegan.
Annie Shannon: The thing about the Joy of Cooking book was that it’s a great book. It’s like a bible. One of the things when we were reading through it was it had pages and pages and pages on how to cut your pork. We went with Betty instead because it seemed like it could translate a little bit better on what it was we actually wanted to do.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, the Joy of Cooking had every recipe in it. Everything was in there.
Annie Shannon: Yeah, it’s true.
Caryn Hartglass: OK, let’s talk about your beautiful book. Number one: it’s big. Five hundred classic recipes. There’s everything in here. It’s really, really amazing. So the first recipe you have in here: fried eggs. Now I have to say this is genius. Really genius.
Annie Shannon: Aww, thanks.
Caryn Hartglass: Can you talk about your fried egg recipe?
Annie Shannon: Yeah, pretty much…the Betty Crocker book has a lot of recipes that require a fried egg or a poached egg or something so it was going to be one of the biggest challenges. Dan and I made these jokes about how it was like our Moby Dick like it was going to be the thing that was going to take us down. We figured out how to use this thing called the “flavor injector.” It’s like this crazy, big syringe thing that Paula Dean uses to inject sauces into meat and we kind of re-appropriated this barbeque tool to inject a nutritional yeast cheesy sauce into a piece of tofu to make that liquid center that you would find in a fried egg.
Caryn Hartglass: I was really smiling when I saw it because so many of us…I’ve been vegan for 25 years and I’ve made many, many, many tofu scrambles. They’re really easy. Some of them are more sophisticated than others. A lot of non-vegans will happily eat it and some of them will even be fooled. I have made a hard-boiled “egg” recipe a few years ago and it was…it’s not the same as your hard-boiled “egg” recipe. I ended up blending silken tofu with a little agar and remolding it like an egg shape. But it’s so much fun to serve deviled “eggs” that really look like deviled eggs and have all these people’s eyes pop out like, “Woah, that’s not an egg?”
Dan Shannon: Well, that’s the whole idea, the proof of concept of what Annie was saying. You can make literally a vegan version of anything that you could imagine. I think once you can sort of show people that—that you can’t stump us, there’s nothing you can come up with that we can’t find a way to do—it opens their eyes to the fact that a vegan lifestyle really is a sustainable choice for anybody. Anybody can be satisfied on it as you were saying earlier. Anybody can be excited about the food. There’s always going to be new foods to try. You’re certainly not just going to be eating quinoa and lentils for the rest of your life. And don’t get me wrong, I love quinoa and lentils and we eat that a lot but there’s all kinds of other food out there. So I think that’s part of what we were trying to do is to show absolutely anything, this is how you can do it. So there’s really no argument. There’s no case to be made. You can eat happily and healthfully on a vegan diet.
Caryn Hartglass: OK, let’s talk about meat. Now, there are so many meat analogs out there today and you promote a lot of them. This certainly makes things a lot easier for so many people. I have to say a disclaimer: some of these are not the healthiest foods on the planet but for those that are moving from meat, they are definitely a fabulous alternative for those people that are having a craving and just have to have their meat fix. Some of these are really amazing and will really satisfy you so I think they’re really wonderful, wonderful products.
Annie Shannon: Yeah, it’s one of those things too that there’s also…there’s some people out there that it’s about convenience. They grew up learning how to cook by, “I just fry up my ground meat or my hamburger and I use Hamburger Helper and that’s dinner.” So for a lot of these mock meats, they give you the convenience oftentimes that you would find using actual animal meat. It’s one of those things where it takes a lot of the “do it yourself” elements out so if you’re not someone who’s really even excited about cooking, you can still be vegan and make really great things at home. It’s just as convenient as if you’re using dairy cheeses and whatever. So that’s one of the things that we really like about it. You don’t have to be a foodie in orderto be vegan. The other thing is too that mock meats have come so far. A lot of times what we had when Dan and I first went vegan back in the ’80s, the things we had for mock meat were not great.
Caryn Hartglass: No, they were pretty not great.
Annie Shannon: They were terrible. Dan and I joke about this all the time about how they’ve come so far and you’re able to do so much more with them and these new products that we really wanted to kind of reintroduce these things to some people who maybe have written off mock meat in the past. We really want people to enjoy being vegan. If one of the things that’s taking away from your enjoyment of being vegan is that you really miss meat like Beef Stroganoff, well, we have a Beefless Stroganof. We’re hoping that makes a difference.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s 2013. We’re talking about enlightened eating and we really want to encourage people to move away from all of the food that is related to cruelty, pain, and suffering, and damage to the environment. But, you know, some of these foods that all of us happening vegans are eating were created thousands of years ago some of them by Asians and Buddhist monks. We have this wonderful store in New York, May Wah, and you mention some of their products in your book but some of their products come from Taiwan and they use these ancient recipes to make some of these mock meats that are so close to meat it’s scary but really, really tasty.
Dan Shannon: It’s funny you mention May Wah. I’m actually literally about 100 feet from the May Wah store right now. My office happens to be around the corner from there. But you’re right. A lot of times when people will talk about veganism or talk about meat replacement, they’ll think about it as being this kind of fad diet or something sort of new but like you said, this is a philosophy, for lack of a better word, that’s been around for many thousands of years. You talk about Ancient China and India, Buddhist cultures, even in Ancient Greece there were vegans. It’s not necessarily some sort of a “new age-y whatever” thing that some people may try to paint it as. Again, I think that’s part of what we’re trying to show: that it’s a compatible philosophy and a compatible lifestyle with people who think about sort of maybe more “traditional” values or think, “Oh, I don’t want to be necessarily a part of the latest trend or fad.” That isn’t what this is. It’s more of…I like the term you use: it’s an enlightened way to think about eating and think about food.
Caryn Hartglass: There are a couple recipes for “chicken wings” in your book and of course you need the “chicken wing” that you can get at May Wah and some other places. I remember the first time I had one of these things. It was indescribable. These things are so delicious and we can be so creative as you’ve been. You’ve got the Cherry Cola Vegan Chicken Wings and the Spicy Thai Vegan Chicken Wings. Delicious.
Annie Shannon: If you have a chance to make those Spicy Thai Wings, I would definitely recommend those ones. Those are one of my favorite recipes in there.
Caryn Hartglass: And then of course the comfort foods. You talked about this in your book, how vegans are really crazy about food. We love food. We’re so passionate about food. We want it to taste great. We’re not…I mean there might be a small handful that are not interested in food and are happy with steamed vegetables and brown rice and I am happy with steamed vegetables and brown rice from time to time but I love variety and sometimes comfort foods are so important. I’m looking at your Mini Pot Roast Pies, bringing back my memory of the Swanson Pot Pie that I grew up with.
Annie Shannon: It’s funny because those are actually so easy to make. It’s one of those things that if you can just toss something in a bowl and use a cookie cutter, then you can make your own pot pies. They are so easy. They are like…they use puffed pastry and things that aren’t really ingredients that people have never heard of before; it’s not that foreign. We’re hoping how to show maybe if you just use them a little differently.
Dan Shannon: I just wanted to take this opportunity to say that the Pot Pie is my personal favorite recipe in the entire cookbook. If anyone is wondering where to start, that’s my strong recommendation.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely. OK, we’ll make that tonight. Let’s just talk about some of the products that you use in your recipes that make vegan cooking so accessible and easy. We talked about the faux meats but there are so many other products that are out there.
Annie Shannon: Oh yeah. I don’t know, let’s see. There’s…we really love Bragg’s Liquid Amino Acids. That’s something when we were veganizing the recipes, we really tried to use Bragg’s when we could to replace the salt in recipes so you could still get that savory flavor or beefy flavor with a little less sodium and make it a tiny bit healthier. It’s not really a health cookbook but we try to do that.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s plenty of sodium in that product but it does have a meaty flavor and I guess that’s the amino acids that they but in there but it has that—I don’t know—that sweaty, meaty flavor.
Annie Shannon: I like to think of it as beefy.
Caryn Hartglass: Juicy. It’s a really great product. It’s been around for a long time.
Annie Shannon: Yeah, and it’s a product too that I think a lot of people use it instead of soy sauce and they may not have thought of, “Oh, hey, I could cook my veggie burger with that and maybe make my veggie burger a little bit juicier or something.” It’s a pretty great product that I think maybe isn’t always used to its full potential.
Caryn Hartglass: Another one that I like is the vegan mayonnaise products and you mention…I always say it wrong…so it’s “Vegenaise.” I’m all about pronunciation. Vegenaise. I always want to call it “Ve(e)ganaise” but it’s Vegenaise.
Dan Shannon: Well, you know what’s funny about that is…before I went vegan a long time ago I had never enjoyed mayonnaise. I always thought it was disgusting. I still think it’s disgusting. But Vegenaise, and you’re right, that’s the appropriate pronunciation, I love it. I think it’s delicious.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s better than mayonnaise.
Dan Shanno, because it’s one of those things that a lot people have strong opinions about—but do enjoy Vegenaise. They’ll actually use that because you’re right, it’s better. It’s tastier. It doesn’t have that kind of weird, slimy…it doesn’t have that stickiness that mayonnaise has that I never really enjoyed.
Caryn Hartglass: And no added E-coli or Salmonella poisoning.
Dan Shannon: That’s always a nice touch too.
Caryn Hartglass: I appreciate you mentioning Earth Balance and talking a little bit about palm oil in their introduction. I think people, whenever they can, look for opportunities to point the finger at vegans for doing something bad. They can do it with products that have palm oil. And then they can do it with quinoa. I’m very sad to hear that the people in Bolivia where quinoa is grown are eating less quinoa because America is eating more of it and there’s that issue. So many point the finger that it’s the vegans’ fault but there are so many things wrong with our food system. I think we’re helping; we’re not hurting.
Dan Shannon: I think that’s right. Listen, you can look at any product that’s created through any kind of industrialized system and you’re going to be able to find some kind of an ethical concern with it and that’s valid. We should look for any opportunity that we can to reduce the impact that our consumer choices are making or having in a negative way. But I think when you look holistically at all of the different vegan foods versus all of the different meat- and animal-based foods, there’s no question that when moving from animal-based food production, and factory farming specifically, to vegan foods and a plant-based diet has a huge overwhelmingly net positive impact on the world even if, yes, there are things like palm oil or the quinoa situation that you talked about, which I agree is terrible, even if there are certain sort of negative outcomes there. Annie talks a lot about the idea that you sort of do the best that you can as a consumer and as an ethical consumer you make the best choices you can, when you can. None of us are going to be perfect all of the time. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to make the best choices that we can. That’s bigger I think at times than just being vegan. Certainly we’re vegan 100% of the time but it’s also about things like fair trade. It’s about buying organic produce when you can. It’s about going to your local farmers’ market and supporting local agriculture as opposed to big, corporate agribusinesses. There’s more than just sort of switching from hamburgers to veggie burgers. We encourage everybody to, and we hope our book will encourage people to, begin exploring all of those different options for reducing the impact that their diet has on the planet.
Caryn Hartglass: So let’s talk about Earth Balance. What I liked, what you mentioned about Earth Balance, is that they’re working…they’re aware of the problem with palm oil and rainforest destruction and they’re doing things to make sure that palm oil ultimately isn’t destructive on the planet and to indigenous cultures. I think we should be working together. They know what we want and we know what is necessary and we should support them and work together on that. I’m just really glad that you mention that in your book.
Annie Shannon: Yeah, it’s one of those things that with really good intentions a lot of people will read a product and see that it has palm oil in it and they’ll just be like, “OK, I need to boycott that.” But the thing is, it’s not quite as black and white as that because people like Earth Balance, they’re really making…they’re putting a financial investment into getting ethically sourced palm oil. They could go for even the cheaper stuff but they’re paying more to work for these co-ops and find places where orangutans don’t live. They’re really putting an effort into it. I think the thing is that every time we spend a dollar, we’re casting a vote and we should really be working towards promoting this sort of attitude like, “Respect what they’re doing,” because that’s how we’re going to encourage other companies to do the same.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, what I love about it is we can have really wonderful, tasty, delicious, beautiful food—and you’ve got 500 recipes showing us how to that. Dan, I have one question for you before we go. I want to know what kind of dish washing liquid you use when you wash those dishes?
Dan Shannon: That’s a great question. We have a couple of tools in our arsenal. We like the Seventh Generation; it’s actually really good. We also use the Method detergent sometimes. We get different scents to make sure our kitchen smells nice. I’ve got some serious dishpan hands that I’ve been working on the past couple of years. I’ve got to say that both of those products are really good: they’re really easy; they don’t have a lot of harsh chemicals, which is part of why we like them.
Caryn Hartglass: And no animal products.
Dan Shannon: That’s exactly right. They’re not tested on animals either. Method as a company does not test any of their products on animals which we obviously really like a lot as well.
Caryn Hartglass: OK, so not only do we want to eat plant foods but we want to use as many products as possible that don’t contain pain and suffering in them for animals or for human animals too, but that’s a whole other subject. OK, Annie and Dan, best of luck to you and best of luck to Betty going vegan and thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food.
Annie Shannon: Thanks so much for having us.
Dan Shannon: Thanks for having us.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. Join me at responsibleeatingandliving.com for more delicious recipes. Next week Dr. Joel Fuhrman will show us how the end of diabetes has arrived. Join me next week and have a delicious week.
Transcribed by Jennie Steinhagen, 2/16/13