I am always thrilled to meet adults who have been vegan since birth – there are not many, although this is changing. Ayindé Howell is one and he is bright and articulate. I have not had the opportunity sample any of his culinary creations yet but talking about the jerk tofu sandwich had my mouth watering.
Check your programming schedule to watch Ayindé on Bravo next Thursday, July 14th: Rocco’s Dinner Party – Town and Country: Cooking-school owner Nicole Strait; airline chef Corey Roberts; vegan chef Ayindé Howell.
Ayindé Howell is an entrepreneur, executive vegan chef and founder of ieatgrass.com Howell, was born in Tacoma, Washington. He is a lifelong vegan who started practicing yoga with his family at the age of ten. He has a background in a variety of vegan fare covering soul food, raw, and new American. It was in Seattle, where he got his start as co-owner of Hillside Quickies Vegan Sandwich Shop, an offshoot of the family business. HQVSS became a popular lunch spot know for blasting hip hop during the crowded rushes and being frequented by notable industry clients like The Roots, Saul Williams, Common, Blackalicious and the Erykah Badu when their respective tours came through town.
Currently Ayindé is a executive chef and green entrepreneur consultant in New York City, NY, while studying acting under William Esper at the William Esper Studio for Acting. He has appeared in a number of independent films including: “Urbanworld” “Waiting for Her” and “White Lies Black Sheep.” Ayindé is also a accomplished DJ/producer… Oh and he’s just a cool dude.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello, I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Hi, and Happy July. This is a live call-in show and if you have the opportunity and have a comment and question, the number is 1-888-874-4888, and any time during the week you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s another hour to talk about my favorite subject: food. I have a special guest today, Ayinde Howell. He is an entrepreneur, executive vegan chef, and founder of the website ieatgrass.com. Howell was born in Tacoma, Washington. He’s a lifelong vegan who started practicing yoga with his family at the age of 10. He has a background in a variety of vegan fare, covering soul food, raw, and New American. It was in Seattle where he got his start as co-owner of Hillside Quickie’s Vegan Sandwich Shop, an off-shoot of the family business. HQVSS became a popular lunch spot known for blasting hip-hop during the crowded rushes and being frequented by notable industry clients like The Roots, Saul Williams, Common, Blackalicious, and Erykah Badu, when their respective tours came through town. Currently, Ayinde is an executive chef and green entrepreneur consultant in New York City. While studying acting under William Esper at the William Esper Studio for Acting, he has appeared in a number of independent films including Urbanworld, Waiting for Her, and White Lies, Black Sheep. Ayinde is also an accomplished DJ producer and he’s just a cool dude! (Ayinde and Caryn laugh).
Ayinde Howell: Wow, see…
Caryn Hartglass: Isn’t he amazing?
Ayinde Howell: That is going to sound like I’m ADD.
Caryn Hartglass: No, no, no, no.
Ayinde Howell: (Laughs) I told you. No, I’ve definitely have done a lot. The through line has always been food. You know, I grew up…
Caryn Hartglass: No, there are consistent themes there. Not just food, but something I was thinking about earlier is, and I don’t know if this is an American thing or not entirely, but the idea of being creative, creating new things, and being independent and feeling that all things are possible.
Ayinde Howell: My mother use to tell us this thing when we were growing up, she’d always say: never say “I can’t” and always say “I can.” We tease her now because we’re like: you told us that and that’s just the model that me, and especially my middle sister, take on. It’s like: “well, if I can’t do it I can figure it out,” and if it seems interesting, I’m going to go try it out. So, it’s always been me cooking during the day, and at nighttime I’d go be a poet or do a show.
Caryn Hartglass: And why not?
Ayinde Howell: Exactly. There is nothing wrong with that.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely. I was just watching the movie, it’s an old movie now, The Last Emperor, last night and one thing that kept going in my mind as I was watching this poor little boy grow up to live in this secluded, forbidden city to become this emperor of nothing. At the time, they were just keeping him going for tradition sake. But I was just thinking of all of the people who have suffered because they were made to be one thing, and couldn’t really be who they really were. So, I applaud you for that and we’re going to talk about some of those “ADD things” you’ve been up to.
Ayinde Howell: Awesome. Lately I’ve been trying to bring everything together. There was a time when I wanted to keep everything separate. My artistic stuff was over here, my music stuff is over here, and my cooking stuff over here. What I realized was that the through line again has always been being vegan and I see my lens is through that of being vegan. From where I go out to eat to going on a first date, it always comes up. (Caryn laughs) It does. It’s like “I’ll have the tofu” and she’s always like “wait, you’re what, you’re having what?” So yes, I’m a vegan.
Caryn Hartglass: I can really relate to that and I want to talk more about it because I guess I’m a Renaissance kind of person, too, and I’ve had different career paths: I’ve been an engineer; I’ve done quite a bit of classical singing; and yet, I never really wanted to call myself those things. Am I really a singer? Am I really an engineer? What am I? Why do we have to label ourselves? But one thing that has totally been clear to me, although I haven’t been a vegan since birth like you are and I definitely want to get into that, but the food thing—that’s clearly been a big identity for me. It’s a choice and it gets to my core for so many reasons.
Ayinde Howell: I think that it’s something that we do everyday—3 or 4 times a day—with snacking in between.
Caryn Hartglass: And when we eat like this, we can eat all day long.
Ayinde Howell: Exactly. I feel like, nowadays, there’s growing popularity around food and people have discovered that they can cook at home and they can actually make their food. They don’t have to wonder what that nefarious middle person is—the slaughterhouse, the this, the that—whatever the case may be.
Caryn Hartglass: People are talking about it but it’s nowhere where it needs to be.
Ayinde Howell: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: But it’s going back in that direction.
Ayinde Howell: It’s getting some headlines, I guess. I was listening to one of your older programs talking about what a time it is to be alive because there is a lot of change happening. To be a part of that and to be someone who has decided as an adult that I’m going to stay vegan, I’m going to be on this path, and I’ll also make myself a resource for people who want to live this lifestyle and be on this path. I may not know the other side of it, but I know how to live it. That’s where I try to lend my expertise and that’s where ieatgrass.com comes into play. More with that, I want to take the stigma off of it.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s no big deal! Well it isn’t, but it is.
Ayinde Howell: It isn’t in the overall scheme of things, because yes you eat 3-4 times a day but you also do a ton of other things. You live, you go to the movies, you listen to music, you play, you have fun, you do all of these things and people tend to think, or have people say “you can’t do that, you’re vegan.”
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, I can. I can do it all.
Ayinde Howell: “You can’t vote Republican, you’re vegan.” Not that I’m a Republican or am I voting Republican, I’m just saying I’ve definitely heard that.
Caryn Hartglass: Well Matthew Scully, the author of Dominion is one Republican who has gone the vegan path. So we know that any party…
Ayinde Howell: It takes all types, indeed.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, let’s just start at the very beginning because one of the things that I’m fascinated about you is you are one of the rare—hopefully not rare for long—but lifelong vegan.
Ayinde Howell: Yes. Card-carrying member.
Caryn Hartglass: I think, not that you should be a guinea pig, but people should be following your medical history because there is a lot of medical evidence today that people eating a lot of plant foods (raw, local grown, fresh, etc.) are healthier than those who eat a primarily animal food based diet. What we haven’t figured out yet, and I don’t know that we ever will or that it’s important, if you’re better off eating entirely plant foods or eating mostly plant foods with a little bit of animal protein or whatever. That hasn’t been clinically tested or proven. So…how are you feeling? (Ayinde and Caryn laugh).
Ayinde Howell: I feel great! I feel really good. I balance my intake with green leafy vegetables and some fried foods and things like that.
Caryn Hartglass: You look great.
Ayinde Howell: Thank you. I did yoga before I came because I wanted to shine. I’m about to be 33 this year so I’m at that point where I have to take care of the body—really focus on it. I feel if you just trust in the diet, and if you do your research and find where you’re going to get your omega oils; where you’re going to get your iron; where you’re going to get your protein; where you’re going to get your calcium—all of these are plant based. One little analogy I like to give people is: we don’t eat carnivorous animals, we eat herbivores—we basically eat vegan, vegetarian animals.
Caryn Hartglass: I just want to clarify: the ones that are supposed to be vegan.
Ayinde Howell: When you feed them meat, they get the Mad Cow Disease. They get everything they need from nature, so you cut out the cow—the middle mammal if you will—and then you just get everything you need.
Caryn Hartglass: More efficiently.
Ayinde Howell: It’s an easy thing to say, but I find that there are so many more things attached to food. There’s your emotional attachment, just what you do normally. People are kind of programmed to go to the safe way and get a package of meat, a can of beans, and some mashed potatoes in a box—and that’s that. That’s what you’ve been shown and what you’ve become inundated with. If the status quo changes and everything is organic and everything is plant based on a larger scale, then there are plenty of ways and reasons to do this. Number one is being the environmental footprint that meat production has and the fact that you could end world hunger by instituting a worldwide vegan diet. You could feed everybody with the food that you grow on the earth. Wow!
Caryn Hartglass: And have land aside to enjoy.
Ayinde Howell: God…that is just a crazy concept.
Caryn Hartglass: It is, isn’t it? And you rarely hear it.
Ayinde Howell: But that’s possible and that’s out there. I know that it’s ebbing and flowing, the momentum of the vegan movement. I like to say I’m a vegan for the human. My parents started off because they wanted us to be healthy and they wanted something different. They grew up eating meat. My father is from Alabama, and he’d tell me stories about how he’d catch possums and eat them.
Caryn Hartglass: How did they get onto this?
Ayinde Howell: It started off when they were in the civil rights movement and then they went into this new age-spiritual thing, it was kind of…California—hippy town. They got into new age books and stuff and then they discovered Rastafarianism. One of the tenants of that is being vegan, treading lightly on the earth, and respecting your fellow man.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s a lot of raw food that comes out of that.
Ayinde Howell: Rastafarian culture—they believe in eating what they call ital foods, which is taken from the word vital. Basically, it’s staying as close to the source as you can: lightly cooked and not a lot of salt—that sort of thing.
Caryn Hartglass: Hallelujah!
Ayinde Howell: I just did this post on religions and food, so it’s all fresh. So they became Rastafarian and that’s what we were raised in. It wasn’t an animal rights platform; it was more of a human thing; it was the idea. Consequently, we never owned pets. We just never had that relationship to animals. It was like animals should be free. My parents, even though they both grew up with dogs, were like: “I don’t really think we should own animals.” And so we had a garden, we had a flower mill.
Caryn Hartglass: So what did you eat as a kid? I was growing up on Cap’n Crunch, if you even know what that is—a horribly sugary cereal.
Ayinde Howell: The funny thing is that my parents owned a convenience store in the neighborhood, which is about a half of a block away from where we lived. They would try to sell health food stuff and organic stuff, but nobody wanted it. So they had to sell “regular” food. I was always aware of that, I always saw one thing that wasn’t at home.
Caryn Hartglass: But didn’t you want it?
Ayinde Howell: No. I don’t know why.
Caryn Hartglass: How did you do that?
Ayinde Howell: I really don’t know why. People ask me that all the time.
Caryn Hartglass: Did you go to school?
Ayinde Howell: I was home-schooled.
Caryn Hartglass: That helps.
Ayinde Howell: I was home-schooled up until high school.
Caryn Hartglass: How about the television? Was that on or off? Or did you have one?
Ayinde Howell: The TV—we had one, and then we went through bouts of TV. They would have one and they would say “don’t watch it” and so my sisters would go and watch soap operas and stuff, but they would allow us to watch PBS and public television, animal shows, and stuff like that.
Caryn Hartglass: Like Sesame Street.
Ayinde Howell: That was pretty much it, that’s all we watched. And nature shows and stuff. But every now and then we would sneak and watch some stuff, we would get in trouble for it, and they would cut off the cord to the TV, but they had one in their room. They’d be watching Miami Vice one night and we would sneak to the door and try to peak in. But, for the most part—no, we did not have a television.
Caryn Hartglass: How many siblings do you have?
Ayinde Howell: I have two older sisters.
Caryn Hartglass: And are they vegan, too?
Ayinde Howell: They are vegan.
Caryn Hartglass: I just want to interject about Sesame Street for a moment here. I was a big Sesame Street fan when it first came out a very long time ago. I use to watch it with my younger brother and there was one show that stuck in my mind for some reason. I wasn’t a vegan at the time that it stuck. There was one line in particular, they were talking about dairy cows and they said that a cow gives much, too much milk for her young calf to drink. I’ll never forget that line.
Ayinde Howell: Wow.
Caryn Hartglass: It was exactly that line in my mind, like “oh, ok, that’s nice.” And then later on I learned about dairy cows and how in order to have milk, the cow needs to be made pregnant. The cow needs to have a calf and most of the time that calf is ripped away at birth, or the day after and grown either to be another dairy cow, or made into veal. We all know the horror behind that. But that innocent little statement had so much to it. As a little child, I didn’t know, but for some reason it stuck with me.
Ayinde Howell: I think that’s key. We were talking about advertising the other day, with just my little crew, talking about rebranding ieatgrass.com—the new site will be up next week, but you can go to it now. She said “I don’t even know why I use to eat all those sugary cereals, the Cocoa Puffs and the Cap’n Crunch, but then I realized it was that cartoon character.” That cartoon character that was on the box, the flying bee or Tony the Tiger. She said it worked, it was kind of automatic. One of the reasons why I think it’s important for me to be in the kitchen and be in the public eye as much as possible is because I can reach so many people with my pop up food or my restaurant, or whatever the case may be. But everybody watches TV; everybody is on the internet; everyone’s in media; so the more that I can delve into the media and into that world, and right now I feel like the most accessible is the internet. It’s still wide open as far as access and being able to put your ideas across and find a community. Until they regulate it, I feel like there’s a lane there.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s opportunity.
Ayinde Howell: They call it TV programming for a reason. You have to get your program across, whatever it is that you are selling or touting, whether it’s veganism or the meat industry. The more eyeballs you get, the more people are going to do what you say. It’s just how it works. It’s unfortunate, but that’s just how it works.
Caryn Hartglass: And we also need media balance because on the conventional forms, aside from the internet, like television, and newsprint, and magazines are just so overwhelmingly marketed towards bad products. On the Food Network—when are we getting on the Food Network? Healthy food, healthy delicious food. When are we going to have fit, trim, attractive vegan people on the Food Network? I’m ready, hello…sign me up. And what’s fascinating to me is so many people don’t even know where their kitchens are anymore and yet, they watch the Food Network. What is that disconnect where we’re fascinated to watch how food is made and yet, we don’t do it ourselves.
Ayinde Howell: I think the whole chef culture is exploding and I’ve been in many rooms auditioning for TV. It always comes down to “you will cook meat, right?” I’m like, no, that’s kind of the whole point. “Yea, but I mean you’d cook some fish, right, if we asked you? What about cheese?” I’m a vegan! What about vegan do you not understand? I’m a vegan chef. But I can actually mention that I am on a cooking show on Bravo, I have an episode coming up called Rocco’s Dinner Party and its airing next Wednesday, the 13th, at 10:00pm. (Previously recorded).
Caryn Hartglass: Excellent. I don’t have cable but I’m going to have to borrow somebody’s.
Ayinde Howell: Tune in, there’s a vegan on Bravo, yeah!
Caryn Hartglass: Can you give us just a little or you can’t tell us anything more about it?
Ayinde Howell: No.
Caryn Hartglass: Ok. Were you happy with the way it went, you think?
Ayinde Howell: Yea.
Caryn Hartglass: Because with those things, you never know how they are going to edit them.
Ayinde Howell: Yea.
Caryn Hartglass: You didn’t have any explosive, crazy drama moments?
Ayinde Howell: I can’t talk about that.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh right, I’m sorry. I just have too many friends that have been on reality shows and some of them didn’t turn out too well.
Ayinde Howell: Reality shows are a blast.
Caryn Hartglass: They’re not real.
Ayinde Howell: That’s an opinion.
Caryn Hartglass: And it’s my opinion and it’s my show.
Ayinde Howell: There you go. (Caryn and Ayinde laugh).
Caryn Hartglass: Ok, so did you ever as a kid want any of these things that other kids had? Or you just didn’t have enough brainwashing exposure to it?
Ayinde Howell: I think part of it is I didn’t have a lot of exposure to it because of minimal TV. And my parents would constantly cook. We had dinner almost every night. We had somebody who would be cooking, probably because they were experimenting to keep the lifestyle going, and because that was just their way. If you take apart the whole marketing aspect of the green-living and all that you see today, it was done a very organic way growing up.
Caryn Hartglass: Did you know you were different?
Ayinde Howell: Yes. I definitely did.
Caryn Hartglass: Did you know you were special?
Ayinde Howell: I definitely knew I was different.
Caryn Hartglass: And that can go either way. That can really be empowering.
Ayinde Howell: I think growing up I knew I was different because this is the mid 80’s and a small town in America and whenever everybody was at McDonald’s or this and that, I was like I’m a vegetarian. They were like “What? What does that mean?” I was like I’m homeschooled. They were like “What? What is 1+1? You’re dumb.” It was a lot of ridicule from kids but just because they didn’t know. I think that the one thing I would change or recommend to people who want to take that route, which I think is more accessible now, is…have the community. That’s why I created ieatgrass.com because it’s a community of like-minded people and it’s so important. The only thing I really wanted as a kid was to go somewhere and meet somebody who was like me. I didn’t really feel that until my parents took us on vacation to Jamaica and we saw other Rastafarians. They got it. They understood it. I was like “this is cool, but I have to move to Jamaica to feel this?” So when I came to New York, my sister moved to New York first and I started visiting her.
Caryn Hartglass: New York is where everyone is welcome.
Ayinde Howell: Yea, not a second look. Not vegan’s over there on the corner. It was just like paradise! I have arrived! I’m never leaving and so I decided to stay.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s nice. Well the thing about the community, especially on the internet where it is really strong, is that I think a lot of people who are discovering plant foods go to the internet and I am always overwhelmed with how many people still don’t know and still need help. I’m all about this community thing, too. I have my non-profit Responsible Eating And Living, the website is responsibleeatingandliving.com, please go there, please like us on Facebook, please like us on Twitter. We just started this week and we want to get a little viral action going. But I talk to a lot of people and I keep thinking people don’t need this help anymore because it’s just all out there, but so many people do need help. They need inspiration, they need encouragement.
Ayinde Howell: I think the disconnect nowadays is that people see that the curtain has kind of been pulled back. You’ve got these movies, Food, Inc. and Supersize Me and various films of that nature that have shown these things that everybody kind of knows in the back of their head, but then you see it. So the question now is: well, what am I supposed to eat? I grew up on meat and potatoes, I want to eat better, what do I eat? Or in worse situations, people will come up to me after they left their doctor’s office and their doctor has told them: you can’t eat meat anymore, and if you do, you’re going to die-because of cancer or such and such. People are kind of dumbfounded…what do I do? I can’t do meat, I can’t do wheat. Well there’s soy, there’s quinoa, there’s millet.
Caryn Hartglass: There are a million things to eat!
Ayinde Howell: There’s a world out there.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s more variety that they’ll discover that they never imagined.
Ayinde Howell: But I think that they key is to find a way to ease them into it. It is what it is—people just don’t know. And if you don’t vary from the norm, even to the international aisle in the supermarket, then you’re just not going to know. A lot of people just have the meat, the dairy, the produce.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s funny because I talk about in a supermarket; there are really only a couple of places that I go in. I don’t even see the other stuff. It’s not even food to me. It’s probably the complete opposite with everyone else—with all the meat and all the processed stuff in boxes.
Ayinde Howell: Yea, and a big part of it is just access, too. It’s about making things available. Fast food companies, McDonald’s are highly subsidized. They’re able to get all these tax breaks and produce mass quantities and sell them at a very cheap price. When you don’t have that working for you, it’s hard to compete at that level. You can’t play with the big boys if you don’t have big boy toys. So you’ve got to get that.
Caryn Hartglass: If you can’t get placement on a shelf for your products to be seen, that’s a really hard thing. It’s hard overall.
Ayinde Howell: Yea but I think there’s hope.
Caryn Hartglass: You got to have hope.
Ayinde Howell: There’s a movement of people who just know. I think the generation coming up under me—people have much more of an awareness of what veganism is. Even if they aren’t going to be vegan or maybe they’re going to be vegan once or twice a week, or are dating someone who is vegan. Maybe they want to incorporate it into their diet just to do their part for the environment. There is an awareness that’s there. That will only grow.
Caryn Hartglass: It has to.
Ayinde Howell: One of the benefits of a vegan diet is: you’re going to feel better, you’re going to have more flexibility, you’re going to look better, and your skin is going to look better. If all else fails, you always play the vanity card, “you’re going to look great”.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. You are not going to have a problem with your weight. You can eat everything that you want. I don’t understand why more people aren’t doing it. There’s a lot. And we are going to talk about a lot more of them, but right now we are going to take a quick break and we will be right back.
Transcribed and edited by Joe Wilson 7/2/2014
Caryn Hartglass: Hello. I am Caryn Hartglass and you are listening to It’s All About Food. Yes and I am here with the very interesting, very cool, very healthy, and very green Ayinde Howell. Hi.
Ayinde Howell: Hey.
Caryn Hartglass: Hey.
Ayinde Howell: Talking food.
Caryn Hartglass: Talking food is my favorite subject. Okay. So, let’s talk about pop-ups. What are they? And how many of them are out here? And how many do you…I just have so many questions.
Ayinde Howell: Ok. Maybe I can start…
Caryn Hartglass: But before you talk about Pop-Ups, I want to talk about Pop Tarts. Because they are a form of Pop-Ups but not the kind we are going to talk about. But I realized beforehand when we were talking about breakfast cereals ,marketing and stuff. I have been talking about, this week, how I remember eating Pop Tarts, and wanting to eat them, and thinking that it was so much fun putting them in a toaster. I hope you’ve never eaten them.
Ayinde Howell: I havenot actually.
Caryn Hartglass: And I was going to check it, because some of them are probably vegan. I do not even know. But I do remember that they didn’t taste like anything. Or that they did not taste very good. But, yet I wanted them.
Ayinde Howell: They were sweet though, right?
Caryn Hartglass: They were sweet but the bread, ‘pastry part of them’ had this unusual flavor like nothing, a stale, boring chew.
Ayinde Howell: That sounds amazing. I cannot believe I never ate them.
Caryn Hartglass: And the fruit was this sugary redness. And it was not really a good flavor but I wanted them, because I was marketed to want them.
Ayinde Howell: You were. Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Let’s trash the Pop Tarts and let’s get on to healthier Pop-Ups.
Ayinde Howell: I am glad you cleansed yourself of that. So the Pop-Up restaurant culture, I think kind of stemmed out of the bad economy. From what I know it popped up in LA first. But the Pop-Up culture is laden with French chefs.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, oui? Je ne savais pas.
Ayinde Howell: Oh, oui! Which means lots of escargots, caviar, and foie gras.
Caryn Hartglass: And boo. Is there a French word for Pop-Up or is it just Pop-Up? (with a French accent)
Ayinde Howell: Yes, that’s exactly how you say it. So there’s a bunch of outfits out there who started it. It trickled into New York. There’s a crew that did one on the L train. I started getting these emails through my Facebook page from fans and stuff from the page and they were just like ‘You should do this Pop-Up thing.’ Like, what’s a Pop-Up? I do my research. Oh, this looks interesting. Turns out there’s a space…there is a restaurant called LTL, Limited Time Only, down in Chinatown that has opened as a Pop-Up concept. They just rotate chefs.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, very cool.
Ayinde Howell: Yes, so I went down and they were still kindof getting it all together. I met the guys and it was like, “I want to do a vegan thing.” And they were like, “Alright we don’t have a vegan concept yet.” So, I said alright. Then I said, “How much does it cost?” I was like, ‘Oh, okay I’m going to have to make some money’. So I had to raise $17,000 to do it.
Caryn Hartglass: Whoa!
Ayinde Howell: Yeah, it was crazy. So, we did the Kickstarter campaign. It was the first time I went into the ieatgrass community and ask for something monetary. Their response was really overwhelming. People were really amped about it and they were real excited. It was an idea. My Pop-Up was called Wildflower. Kind of a take on ieatgrass and like the flower that grows seasonal. I thought it was kind of clever. But anyway…
Caryn Hartglass: A name does not really have anything to it until the product is something and then if the product is hot, the name is like, ‘Great name!’
Ayinde Howell: Exactly. So we…So Wildflower was…the idea was I wanted to…I’ve worked in all these different elements of veganism….these kind of subsets and subcultures. So veganism is the umbrella. Then you have the raw vegan; you have the gluten-free vegan. You have the junk food vegan.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh yes.
Ayinde Howell: You have the soul food vegan…the macro, all this stuff, right? I’ve worked in these..I’ve had personal clients who..or worked in restaurants…I’ve worked at Jivamuktea, that was more the macro, clean kind of food. But my thing is always flavor. Whenever what I’m doing how can I infuse flavor into it? But I wanted to bring all these together. That coupled with growing up…how I ate growing up. I wanted to bring all these together under one umbrella/under one concept. So Wildflower…we did three nights and two days, so it was five meals, five different menus. It was a journey through my professional life, my home life, foods that I like. Each night was seven courses. We did an al a carte brunch, the waffle brunch, and then we did a cajun brunch on Saturday. We saw close to 500 people in three days.
Caryn Hartglass: Nice.
Ayinde Howell: So it was really fun. It was a lot of work…a LOT of work. But it was really fun. It was really fun to do and kind of eye-opening in a sense that I have worked in a lot of…I even owned my own place in Seattle and worked in different places but it’s the whole thing about New York, like if you can pull it off in New York…
Caryn Hartglass: If you can make it there (singing)
Ayinde Howell: Exactly. So yeah, the restaurant might put your name up on a marque and stuff and like this is really crazy…really crazy. So, it came off really well and it just kindof opened my eyes to…I guess my body of work. There is another saying in the entrepreneurial world when they say if you put in your ten years you get 10,000 hours you’ve got something to stand on and I’ve definitely…I’ve been in the kitchen for 12 plus years.
Caryn Hartglass: Running a restaurant we know – everybody knows- is next to impossible. It’s really hard work. And you have to be there. This Pop-Up concept – this limited whatever…
Ayinde Howell: Limited Time Only
Caryn Hartglass: The people that use it…is anyone profiting by doing that? Other than the people that have the space?
Ayinde Howell: LTO profits.
Caryn Hartglass: Because I imagine it must be…that is hard.
Ayinde Howell: We made….I didn’t lose any money. I made a couple hundred bucks. It was a very small profit margin. It was a big commercial gain for us. But it was good, because in a traditional restaurant space, your profit margin is somewhere between four and eight percent. Ten if you’re really tightening up the bolts on it. So, you don’t really expect to make a lot of money, but you are more than providing a service. You’re providing an atmosphere. You’re providing something…It’s a job for people. It is a place where you can come eat, a place to showcase your food, it’s very communal.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I do not know what the percentage is of omnivores versus vegetarians and vegans, but so many of the vegans I know dream about having a restaurant, because we all love food; we love making food and sharing it with people and there is that, I got to have a restaurant feeling.
Ayinde Howell: Yeah, I think once you are a vegan and you cook, you start to get so deep into the herb and grain and vegetable kingdom it’s like “I could be rich from this.” If you do it well. But it is a lot of work. I think the Pop-Up offer is for me, because I have been in restaurants for so long. For me it was like a way to get in, do my concept, and then be able to kind of walk away from it and not be tied to that rent and labor and taxes.
Caryn Hartglass: Do you think you want to open a permanent place?
Ayinde Howell: I do not think I can escape that. I do not think that is up to me. It is no longer up to me. It is happening. I just need to figure out when and where. Ultimately, my favorite place anywhere is the kitchen. I enjoy it.
Caryn Hartglass: Do your sisters feel that way too?
Ayinde Howell: My sisters…my place in Seattle is still there and now there is three more. One bistro my middle sister runs, another smaller cafe and then the place my parents…all we do is food. This is like what we do – we cook. Nobody goes hungry around this family.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, What are some of the things that are served in that Hillside Quickies Vegan Sandwich Shop?
Ayinde Howell: The crown jewel of the HQV, whatever it is, is the Crazy Jamaican Burger. Now the Crazy Jamaican Burger is one of the first things that I kind of came up with. It’s jerk-spiced tofu. And the burger is made…okay, so you have the bottom bun, then in the way that we make our sandwiches, kind of the signature of our sandwich line is potato salad on the sandwich. You have the bun, the potato salad, the jerk tofu, the caramelized sweet plantains, caramelized onions, and then you put a little slice of tomato, and then like a mayo-mustard mix on top, and itis to this day still the best seller.
Caryn Hartglass: McDonald’s are you listening? Are you listening?
Ayinde Howell: No, I do not want them to come and try to buy me out. No. We’ll just grow on our own. So, the Crazy Jamaican Burger…the other thing that we really burst out of there was the Mac And Yease. It was our version of macaroni and cheese. It’s something that my father came up with and it kind of passed down through different hands and was tweaked and whatnot into what it is today. It is a vegan macaroni and cheese. I did the New York Vegetarian Food Festival this year and I was just selling that there and got a really good response. People really like that dish.
Caryn Hartglass: So what is the basis for the cheese?
Ayinde Howell: Nutritional yeast. Yeah, nutritional yeast is what we use for the cheesy flavor. That is pretty much all I can say about that too.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, okay…secret ingredient.
Ayinde Howell: Yeah. But I have a whole line of burgers. We did the Flaming Barbecue Burger, which is like a sweet barbecue sauce with raw onion and mustard. We did a Frijoles Mole, which is refried beans, kind of a Mexican flavored tofu with sautéed bell peppers and onions and a mayo aioli kind of sauce. What else do we do there? Chili Burger.
Caryn Hartglass: Is your mouth watering? Mine is.
Ayinde Howell: I just started this place when I was twenty, so I was really into burgers and sandwiches and like greasy food and just like that was what I was into so thatis what it was.
Caryn Hartglass: All of American is into it. The problem is that they are sourcing the stuff for the burger from the wrong things. We do not need factory farms. Please, can we end factory farms now? The numbers keep going up, but 60 billion plus animals every year…land animals – those are not even sea animals…are killed every year and most of them are crammed into these filthy factory farms so that they can be ground up and put into burgers. And can give you heart disease and diabetes, and at least 60% of the cancers, and a whole host of immune system disorders, and obesity, and have your bones get weak, and it goes on and on .
Ayinde Howell: Thereis a laundry list. Thereis definitely a laundry list. I mean, you know the damage to the ozone layer, all sorts of thing. Somebody pointed out to me a while ago. They said they drove across country and they did not see any cows. Like there are no cows grazing. They are all off in these big stock houses. So, it has changed the landscape of America. Traditionally, you go out to the country, you see some wild animals, you see a cow, you see a horse, maybe some pigs, something like that. But it has really changed the way that even youth experience America and the idea of what it is. I just think it is…I try my best to offer the alternative because I really believe that when people see, taste a decent, a really good alternative, then you have a choice. But you have to have the choice. If you are not given a choice, then you cannot choose.
Caryn Hartglass: There are some people that believe…especially in the United States of America where we think we are entitled to everything and freedom is THE thing – we are free to do whatever we want and be whoever we want, say whatever we want – that we should not be denied anything. And I think that a lot of people do not even realize that they THINK they have free thoughts to some extent but they do not. They are totally marketed. Just like I had that Pop Tart experience, people are marketed to think they like certain foods that if they really thought about it they would not.
Ayinde Howell: And here is the other part about it that I always find interesting. Most of my friends are carnivores and wewill go out to eat and like 20 minutes later they are doubled over like “Ahhh. Why’d I do that?” I’m like, why DID you do that? It makes no sense.
Caryn Hartglass: Because they don’t connect the dots.
Ayinde Howell: Right. I have a friend…some people…a lot of my clientele are not vegan. A lot of them are 99%…I’m really happy about that. I am kind of proud of that because as vegans we tend to preach to the choir a lot. But every now and then you got to get the choir to bring in some…
Caryn Hartglass: We need some new fresh meat.
Ayinde Howell: Yes exactly. We need some new ears. But people just…you cannot bring them over if you cannot satisfy them. Food is such a visceral thing. If you get up from a meal and you are not satisfied, you are going to go home and eat something else until you are satisfied. You can go out and be vegan all you want…I try to tell people if you find a good place…This is part of the reason I have to open a restaurant. I talk about this and okay but I am not going to open a restaurant. But I have to. Yeah, I have to. I cannot just offer up things and not do it. But yeah, it is the access to it but then also being discerning, because a lot of the green market, if you will, has been kind of inundated with a lot of people who just want to make money.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it is diluted and now it is light green.
Ayinde Howell: Right, exactly. It is very light green. It’s very pastel right now in trying to steer the momentum toward things that are good. There are people out there who have been doing it for a long amount of time, my parents have been doing it. There are people with good recipes and who know how to handle tofu, tempeh, seitan, quinoa, like know how to handle grains and proteins and know how to season them, and I always encourage people to find those people. In New York it’s Candle79; the Soul Veg people in Atlanta and D.C.; if you go to Seattle it is The Hillside Cookie Family.
Caryn Hartglass: You know, I think we have all kind of evolved together at learning how to handle these foods over the decades where it started out as the brown rice and steamed veggie things. Which is probably one of my favorite things to eat?
Ayinde Howell: I was at a barbecue at my friend’s house and what was I eating? Brown rice and Kimchi. That is all they had, but I was like this is great. She had some avocado stuff too.
Caryn Hartglass: We can get really creative and we are getting a lot better at it.
Ayinde Howell: Absolutely. The creativity…but that is part of it…If you think about all business is rooted in innovation. Everything comes from a need. Every big boom in business comes from a need that is met, from the telecom industry to the railroad industry to the vegan food industry. There is a need that needs to be met and as soon as..and it is just like finding that tipping point. Getting to that tipping point where everything will just turn…and I think it will..we will see a lot more of it. In the years that Ihave been alive, I have seen it grow leaps and bounds.
Caryn Hartglass: See a lot more of it outside New York City.
Ayinde Howell: You think so?
Caryn Hartglass: I would like to see more.
Ayinde Howell: Oh, you would like to see more. Oh yeah, totally.
Caryn Hartglass: New York City is the best place in the world for a vegan. We have more vegan restaurants here than anywhere and so many of them are really good. Maybe your favorite may be somewhere else, but we have got more of them than anywhere else. And if you are thinking about opening a restaurant, New York City is probably…Manhattan – I don’t even mean the other boroughs…maybe Brooklyn…i is a place where you could make a living doing it. But it is the rest of the country that really needs it.
Ayinde Howell: Right. Well, that is why I am taking Wildflower on the road.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh. There we go! You are going to pop-up anywhere.
Ayinde Howell: Yeah, my plan for the next one is…we may do another one…I am working on a summer event. Shhh. It’s a secret.
Caryn Hartglass: We tell a lot of secrets here. No, we do not tell them, but we share a lot of secrets.
Ayinde Howell: We share. It is just us. And then I am also working on one in Toronto during the Vegetarian Food Festival out there.
Caryn Hartglass: That is a good town.
Ayinde Howell: Yeah, I have been around the country a couple of times. I know places…It is tricky because there’s places where you might not get anybody. Like certain parts of Michigan, many parts of Michigan. You are just not going to find a lot of good options. I know that for a fact. I know I pick on Michigan a lot but I had a bad experience in Michigan. I think I found some Thai food maybe but that was about it. I stopped by a diner and said “Can I get a salad.” And like, “What?” It was like Rom…no it was not Romaine, it was iceberg lettuce and tomato.
Caryn Hartglass: I do not know about Michigan but you have mentioned it before where this Pop-up concept probably came out of the poor economy and bad economies typically generate lots of wonderful, entrepreneurial, great new ideas and this is where the vegan movement, I think, will really get a foothold. So, maybe even Michigan. A lot of interesting stuff is happening in and outside of Detroit. There are these urban gardens happening in vacant lots all over the place. People are starting to grow their own vegetables.
Ayinde Howell: I think it would be…we are looking at…I am making a kind of a project, so we are looking at different cities where it would be fun to go to because they have a vibrant community and then fun to go to because they do not have a vibrant community like at all. But I have reached a lot of people through the Facebook page, the Twitter page and stuff. I did an appearance on BET 106 & Park, it’s like a kiddie music show We got emails from Mississippi, Kentucky, all these Southern towns.
Caryn Hartglass: There are a lot of individuals looking for community.
Ayinde Howell: Exactly. Being able to…even if it’s us going through a town and teaching a couple of classes. I think it is definitely just about having access, having the knowledge. I will just shoot people a recipe…What can I do, what can I do, what can I do? I’ll shoot you my enchilada recipe. That’s a start. And it takes practice too though. I didn’t just learn to cook good vegan food. I have been doing it for a long time.
Caryn Hartglass: And I have been doing it for longer.
Ayinde Howell: Right exactly. So it takes time to figure out how to do it. And it takes a commitment too. I bless my parents because they were committed to it. It was hard. They did not know what they were doing. Growing up I had knee problems and stuff. And they could have like said, oh, it’s because he is not drinking his milk. Let us give him some milk. But they believed that what they were doing in the long run would be all right and ultimately it was. I always say that this is a path that you choose and once you choose it, the first thing that comes up is your commitment to it. The first thing is your commitment to it. I have had…not to get too deep into my personal life…but I have had relationships with women and they were like, “I will be vegan.” And like, “Are you sure?” Because if you are not sure…
Caryn Hartglass: It is a fine line, because you don’t want them to be vegan for you because then there might be resentment coming on and then they are going to split or who knows what they’re going to do behind your back, etc.
Ayinde Howell: So, it’s like I want you to come to it naturally. I can lay out all these paths, and all these books and everything you need to know. But ultimately, it’s a mental thing. You have to get to the space and time…
Caryn Hartglass: You have to have that “Aha” moment.
Ayinde Howell: Exactly. Get that aha moment. It is like, you know what? I am not going to do that anymore. Or I am going to stick with it no matter what.
Caryn Hartglass: I give your parents a lot of credit. They are really ahead of their time. And that you mentioning having a particular ailment and it is so easy for so many people…I have seen it…where the doctor says, “Oh your child needs dairy products.” Their bones are not going to develop correctly…blah, blah, blah. You want the best. I know parents want (most of them) want the best for their children. It is really hard. If something had gone wrong, they really would have had…
Ayinde Howell: It would have, yeah. Yeah it was a dice roll. It came up 7. Definitely. But you know, I think also my father being raised in the South. There is an inherent culture amongst Southern people…Southern black people where you just kind of use the land. You find this root…”You got to got to burn. Let me put this root on you, baby. That will be alright.” All this stuff, you just kind of grab from what’s around you, so that was kind of there and I think that helped.
Caryn Hartglass: There is a lot of that. There is a lot of knowledge that we have lost that we really need to get back. Including a lot of natural cures and things that are right for things.
Ayinde Howell: All medicine is derived from a natural source. It is just more instant when it is in a pill form.
Caryn Hartglass: And you can make off of it.
Ayinde Howell: Exactly. Well, there. That part too.
Caryn Hartglass: That is THE part. Now, I have a question. Do you take B12?
Ayinde Howell: I take B12 sometimes. I do not go crazy with it. I have a bottle at home.
Caryn Hartglass: When you remember.
Ayinde Howell: Yeah, when I remember I throw a couple of them under my tongue. No big deal.
Caryn Hartglass: I ask that because B12 is this vitamin. It’s actually a bacterium. It grows in soil. We are living in a more sterile society now and people – not just vegetarians and vegans but meat-eaters as well – have a B12 deficiency and it’s something that can really wreak a lot of havoc if you don’t know that you have it. You can get tingling in your legs. You can get blindness and all kinds of dementia…a whole host of things. It’s recommended now that absolutely vegans should supplement with B12 because meat-eaters get B12 from the guts of animals that get the B12 from the dirt and the ground and everywhere else. It doesn’t come naturally from animals. They get it…
Ayinde Howell: The middle mammal
Caryn Hartglass: From the middle mammal, exactly. Anyway, we can easily get it from a pill. So I was just wondering, because if your parents were vegan for a long time and then they had you, what was your B12 scene like?
Ayinde Howell: Well, you know, my B12 got a little out of hand as a teenager.
Caryn Hartglass: I have just one more question. We only really have a minute or so left. A lot of people recommend that when a woman is pregnant and she is vegan and she’s having a baby that she supplement with DHA. There are vegan forms of DHA from algae and a lot of other people supplement with fish oil. It is supposed to affect your neurological development. I don’t know what your mother did, but do you have any feeling about DHA or knowledge, etc, because you look very smart.
Ayinde Howell: I have some feelings, but I do not give out advice about people under 12 or pregnant people, because it is just, you know…
Caryn Hartglass: It is not your space.
Ayinde Howell: But yes, my mother did a lot of research, read a lot of books, kept herself healthy, supplemented everything she needed to supplement with and had a healthy pregnancy.
Caryn Hartglass: Yep. Well, you are looking good.
Ayinde Howell: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Ayinde Howell of ieatgrass.com. Thank you so much. This has really been fun and I really look forward to tasting some of …like that Jerk Burger or something. Yeah, invite me over.
Ayinde Howell: All right. Cool.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m Caryn Hartglass and you have been listening to It’s All About Food. Please go to my new website, responsibleeatingandliving.com. Like us on Facebook and have a delicious week.
Transcribed by Alyssa Moody 7/14/2014, edited Cadrene Heslop 7/16/2014