Part I: Brenda Sanders, Better Health, Better Life
Brenda Sanders is a food justice activist in Baltimore City who has dedicated her life to fighting for vulnerable populations. As a community organizer, Brenda has coordinated events like The Vegan Living Program, an annual 6-week vegan education program, Eating for Life, a plant-based cooking workshop and Vegan SoulFest, a festival that celebrates culture and the vegan lifestyle. Brenda promotes veganism in her social justice work because it’s a lifestyle that addresses health disparities, environmental destruction and animal abuse and gives individuals the ability to effect real, positive change in the world.
Part II: Caryn Hartglass, Update on Bananas.
TRANSCRIPTION PART I:
Hello everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Thank you for joining me today and wow, I’ll tell you, I have to really love this show because it’s challenging for me today. You may know I’ve been in California for three months and I took a red-eye last night and got into New York this morning. I haven’t had a moment’s rest and I’m feeling it. I’m also feeling the adrenaline because I love this show and I love talking about my favorite subject—food. I have a really wonderful guest and I’m looking forward to hearing about all of her great work. So let’s get started and talk about food. My guest is Brenda Sanders who is a food justice activist in Baltimore City; She has dedicated her life to fighting for vulnerable populations. As a community organizer, Brenda has coordinated events like The Vegan Living Program, an annual 6-week vegan education program, Eating for Life, a plant-based cooking workshop and Vegan SoulFest, a festival that celebrates culture and the vegan lifestyle. Brenda promotes veganism in her social justice work because it’s a lifestyle that addresses health disparities; environmental destruction and animal abuse and gives individuals the ability to effect real, positive change in the world. Amen to that and welcome to It’s All About Food, Brenda.
Brenda Sanders: Thank you so much for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m looking forward to our conversation. First I want to tell you the picture that you sent me. I’m looking at it right now. It’s on my website. When I read your bio, you just have the loveliest energy and glow and joy and happiness. I’m just smiling looking at you right now.
Brenda Sanders: Aw, thank you so much.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s just coming right out of the photograph so I can imagine what you’re like in person.
Brenda Sanders: Just one big ray of sunshine, Caryn.
Caryn Hartglass: Exactly! Ray of sunshine, I like that because my dad always called me a big ray of sunshine. So from one ray of sunshine to the other, welcome and let’s talk about food. First I want to thank my friend Adam Weissman. I’ve known him for a long time. He’s a food justice, social justice big time activist on so many important issues and worked tirelessly for decades and he recommended that I speak with you so thanks, Adam, for that.
Brenda Sanders: Thanks Adam!
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s talk about you. I’m just reading all these different programs that you’ve created and started and where do we begin? Where would you like to begin?
Brenda Sanders: I guess all this sort of started…I’ve actually been vegan since I was a teenager so I had been eating that way for years and seen so many health benefits and just been really happy with eating that way. Then I started finding out about all the health disparities and the issues in low-income communities in Baltimore that seemed to tie directly back to folks’ diet. Because I’ve always been a doer, I just decided that I was going to single handedly fix this entire problem in Baltimore.
(Caryn and Brenda both laugh)
Caryn Hartglass: I love that.
Brenda Sanders: Honestly looking back now I can’t believe I had the audacity. At the time I was like “I have to do something” so I went and bought cooking equipment and I started going and knocking on doors of churches, music centers, just whoever would have me. I’d just would do these cooking demos by myself. A few friends would come and help me set up and I’d show people how to cook really good plant-based dishes. That sort of grew…it was very slow. I could maybe get a few people into a room at a time, maybe as many as 20. One time I was doing a cooking demo for one person. I was just as happy doing the cooking demo to that one person as I was doing it for the 20 people. I was just so passionate about this. Then I came across this organization here in Baltimore called Open the Cages Alliance. It was an animal rights organization that has a focus on social justice. They had this program called the Vegan Living Program that they had already been doing. So I thought, “This is really amazing.” This is right up my alley. They already have an audience. They already have a program. So I got involved with the organization. Shortly after that I stepped up as a director because it’s a great organization, great work. Ever since we started collaborating on the Vegan Living Program it’s just gotten bigger and bigger. I think we had 150 people come through the Program this past year. It’s just exploded. People in Baltimore who had never even heard about eating this way were suddenly very excited and wanting to come in and learn more about the benefits to your health, benefits in the environment, benefits to animals and it took off. From there we branched off into some other things. The workshop that I had been doing solo morphed into the Eating for Life Workshop, which is now just something that we do as a community outreach activity. Then there are the community gardens. There’s so much stuff going on here around giving folks access not only to the information but also empowering them to be able to make better choices.
Caryn Hartglass: I love it. I really love it. You’ve probably noticed this too but for me…I’ve been vegetarian since 15 and vegan since 30. I’ve been vegan for almost 28 years and very immersed in the power of plants and yet still here, in 2016, I’m always so surprised with how many people don’t know anything about any of this. When you just feed them a little seed of information, their eyes open up like, “Really, I didn’t know that.” There are still so many people out there that need the information and, like you said, need the access. There’s so much work to be done. So thank you for believing that you could take on this problem and solve it.
Brenda Sanders: (Laughs)
Caryn Hartglass: Because that’s the only way things get done.
Brenda Sanders: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. People say, “No, no, no it’s too big, I can’t make a difference.” That’s just not true. We all make a difference.
Brenda Sanders: I’ve never felt that. I’ve never felt that. I think that I may have overestimated at times what I would be able to take on and do but I never felt like I wouldn’t be able to make a difference.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, so when you overestimate you get a little tired every now and then, right?
Brenda Sanders: You know a little bit about that, huh?
Caryn Hartglass: I sure do and when we talk about your festival coming up we’ll talk more about that. I want to know when you were a teenager where did you get the resources? Did you figure it out on your own on what to eat, how to eat and why to eat vegan?
Brenda Sanders: Oh, I had no clue.
Caryn Hartglass: Where did you get the idea?
Brenda Sanders: I stumbled across a book and to this day I cannot even remember what the book was or who the author was or anything. It was coming from the perspective of the body being sacred, honoring the body and it was talking about eating plant food versus eating animal products and how you were putting these unhealthy foods into your body versus putting these vibrant plants and it just all made sense. So I just decided right then and there on the spot that I only wanted to put these life giving, healthy, vital foods into my body. Then at that point I proceeded to eat nothing but canned vegetables because that was the only vegetables we had in the house.
Brenda Sanders: So not so great, not so healthy. Then, because I was raised very poorly in the housing projects of Baltimore City, so I had no idea there was even any such thing as a health food store or anything. So I was introduced, about six months in, to my first health food store. I just couldn’t believe it. There were all these foods that I could eat. It was just so exciting. I took off from there. I had a really great time. I went from eating like Minute Rice and canned string beans and peas every single day to all these fresh vegetables and meat substitutes and this and that, beans and grains. It was great. That was my introduction. Nobody tried to stop me. None of my family members tried to stop me from eating this way but they certainly thought that it was odd and that it would probably just be a phase and I’d get over it. That was 20 years ago and I still haven’t gotten over it.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m glad. I just want to touch on each of these programs that you’ve mentioned. You have collaborated with the Vegan Living Program, which is an annual six-week vegan education program. Is that like an hour a week or how does that work.
Brenda Sanders: We bring folks in on a Saturday for two hours. Each two-hour session is looking at veganism from a different perspective. Of course the first week is…everybody is coming in, there’s all this excitement. They don’t know what’s going to happen. We do the most amazing cooking demo that anybody has ever seen. It’s huge, a whole variety of vegan foods and they’re all delicious and there’s samples. That gets people worked up. Like, “Wow, if this is what the food is like then I can definitely do this.” The second week we go into nutrition. Everybody wants to know if they’re going to keel over and die from stroke inefficiency or whatever. Our second session is always the nutrition with a certified nutritionist who comes in and talks to our group. The third session I took on because I felt like because I was making the connection…like all of the connections and not just the health but also I was doing environmental work. I really saw the environmental impact of the animal agriculture industry as well as the impact on the lives of the animals who were being used so I felt like I was probably the best person to do an ethics lecture because I could pull from my own personal experiences to really talk candidly to our folks about these different connections. One thing that I left out, we have it set up so we pair the vegan pledges—people come in and pledge to go vegan the whole program—we team them up with sort of a veteran vegan who can coach them and help them out and be their support system. So we all get together every week. The next session after my lecture is either the film Cowspiracy or an animal sanctuary trip. We kind of have to switch off. Before everyone would go to the animal sanctuary but then there were just too many of us.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
Brenda Sanders: So now we have to split up. The animal sanctuary trip is always a big, big deal because it’s that moment where people finally really make the connection between the food and the actual animal.
Caryn Hartglass: And who they’ve been eating.
Brenda Sanders: Right, right.
Caryn Hartglass: What sanctuary do you usually go to?
Brenda Sanders: We go to Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary in Poolesville, Maryland. That’s about an hour away from Baltimore. They are a vegan sanctuary. They have these informational tours to allow people to come in and have that experience and make those connections. That’s always great. Then the last week is graduation. It’s always really, really emotional. We cry and people get up and talk about their experience. It’s really a really, really great program. I’m so glad to now be a part of helping to organize it and make it happen. I’m really honored to be able to get up and speak for an hour and a half for people to actually care what I have to say. It’s just really, really changing people’s lives in Baltimore.
Caryn Hartglass: I love it. Like I said before, there’s so much to be done. What I really like, I think change is really most effective when it’s done within the community, by people from the community.
Brenda Sanders: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. The vegan movement is growing. We’ve more and more vegan celebrities. We have some major conferences and events that are going on online and in various locations but I think the most powerful stuff is when it happens locally by people within the community helping the community.
Brenda Sanders: Absolutely. I think one of the mistakes that have been made is when folks from outside the community come in and sort of tell people what they should and shouldn’t do.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, especially from a different culture.
Brenda Sanders: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: There are so many wonderful different vegan cultures going on. I think when you get the message from someone like yourself; you’re going to be more open to it.
Brenda Sanders: Absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. OK, so that’s the Vegan Education Program. Then there’s Eating For Life, which is the cooking workshop. Is that just like a day event?
Brenda Sanders: It is, it is. We’ve been asked to come out and do it in churches and community centers, at health fairs. It’s just a really quick…it can be anywhere from an hour to a couple of hours. It just kind of starts with a quick lecture, kind of interactive talk, that’s then followed up by a quick cooking demo and food sampling. Then folks have an opportunity to talk to each other. It’s always a really good time. It’s always so positive. Sometimes people come in and they’re very skeptical, like “I don’t know about this vegan thing. I don’t think this food is going to taste good.” It just all seems a little weird. Through the discussion, the food and tasting it and just interacting with each other, folks leave with recipes and they’re really, really motivated to go home and try some of this things on their own. It’s a really good experience for everybody.
Caryn Hartglass: Is there a charge for these programs?
Brenda Sanders: Never, never ever.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, that’s such a key thing. I know a lot of people in these communities are struggling financially so to come up with a fee…because there are plenty of programs now and they’re not cheap, so to get access and have them not have a charge is really a gift.
Brenda Sanders: It is. I see it as life saving information. So many lives are saved when people go vegan so I just don’t want to ever charge money for life saving information which is why it’s really important that there are organizations and foundations that have started to pay attention to the work that we’re doing and want to support what we’re doing. There aren’t enough, not yet.
Caryn Hartglass: I agree.
Brenda Sanders: But as word gets out there, as people get to know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, more folks are stepping up and saying, “Hey, you know, what can I do and how can I help?” So, that’s really good.
Caryn Hartglass: Now the next thing is the Vegan SoulFest. So you’re having this third annual event. It’s on Saturday.
Brenda Sanders: It is.
Caryn Hartglass: Tell me about that.
Brenda Sanders: Hoo! OK, so Vegan SoulFest has been a surprise for everybody involved. It started out with me and another woman whose name is Naijha Wright–Brown. She is a co-owner of a vegan restaurant in Baltimore called The Land of Kush. She and I were sitting down one day and talking about a lot of the issues that plague our community, here in Baltimore, just thinking, “What can we do?” The Vegan Living Program is great but what can we do, what can we contribute together? I don’t know which one of us suggested a festival but we just kind of looked at each other and we knew–this is it. She and I are both doers. We’re not, like, sit around and talk about it for ten years kind of people. So once we had the idea—and I will give her credit for the name although we fought about this. I would say, “I came up with Vegan SoulFest” and she says she came up with Vegan SoulFest. I’m going to give it to her, she’s probably listening, so I’m going to give it to her, so she came up with the name. Once we had a name, we took off. Within four months the first Vegan SoulFest opened up our doors and inviting people in. We were hoping to bring out a few hundred people because it’s Baltimore City and it’s vegan. We had over 1200 people come out to the first event. We were bursting out of the seams of this venue that we chose. We thought we’d have plenty of space but we just did not expect Baltimore to come out the way they did. It was just huge. The first year we grew out of our venue. So then we, through some connections, that we were fortunate enough to have, we got into the campus of Baltimore City Community College. So that was last year and we were able to add entertainment because we had a bigger audience and had a bigger space. It’s being called a food festival. When we get press they call it Baltimore’s biggest vegan food festivals or Baltimore’s newest vegan food festival but whatever. But for me it’s never just been about the food, it’s also about the education. I feel it’s really important to book speakers who can speak to the different aspects of the vegan lifestyle—eating plant based and so I line up these different speakers like Dr. Milton Mills who comes out and speaks as a physician and talks about the benefits of the lifestyle and then a lot of folks who do work within the holistic healing community. This year the 300 pound vegan, we were fortunate to have him come out and to speak to some things including the racism that’s built into the current food system in lower income communities. So that’s going to be very exciting. As well as the speakers we also have a line up of cooking demos that are done by local vegan chefs and caterers. So folks can kind of get all of it—they can get some information, they can get the hands-on, learning how to prepare the food, come outside, dance a little bit to the music. It’s just an all around feel good…and we have the best vegan food. Just the best are coming out and selling food. And I don’t get to eat any of it.
Caryn Hartglass: Why is that? Because you’re running around the whole time, right?
Brenda Sanders: Running around…there was one year, I think it was the first year, one of the caterers saved me some food but other than that I just leave hungry, but everybody else is full and happy. So that’s all that matters.
Caryn Hartglass: I wanted to mention a couple things. One is I love Dr. Milton Mills. I think the first time I met him, he came up to a church in Harlem in New York City and he was giving a lecture on diabetes to the congregation. There was supposed to be a food demo and whoever was going to do that couldn’t make it so there was like this frantic search for someone and I just said, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” So I gave some food demo. I don’t remember what I made but I got to meet him and we’ve just been great buddies ever since. I don’t get to see him very often but he’s just so good. Just so good and smart and love and wonderful. So I’m glad I had that opportunity. Then the other thing is I totally feel your joy and your pain putting this festival together. From 2002 to 2006 I put on a vegan festival in New York City. It was before the Internet really or before Facebook. We had the Internet but it was before Facebook so it was before any real free advertising using the Internet. It was also before…there’s many, many vegan businesses and entrepreneurs and we’re going to get to that in a little bit because I know that you have another business involved with that…but it was harder back then to get exhibitors. But anyway, it was beautiful thing and so much work. It’s amazing to me how many people love these events and yet they don’t realize what goes into planning them, putting them together and then the actual day and all the volunteers that you need and I imagine you still need volunteers for this event on Saturday?
Brenda Sanders: You know, again because of Adam Weismann, he really put the word out for us. He was just in all these different groups saying, ”They need volunteers,” “they need volunteers”. We just really reached our kind of limit…
Caryn Hartglass: Oh great!
Brenda Sanders: …of volunteers. We’re also offering food vouchers because we don’t want our volunteers to starve. We got the number of volunteers that we needed. That was amazing. It’s never happened before.
Caryn Hartglass: Feed them and they will come and do anything, right?
Brenda Sanders: I guess so.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s great and again I think it’s so important that the admission is free. I can’t say that enough. There are more festivals that are going on now a day that aren’t free. That just means not everyone can go.
Brenda Sanders: Yes, accessibility is really, really important to me unless we’re doing a fundraiser and we do have to fundraise sometimes and then we’ll have either a sliding scale or just pay whatever you can kind of thing but otherwise we really bust our tails and try to get funding so that we can make it a free event.
Caryn Hartglass: So how many people are you anticipating this year?
Brenda Sanders: Well, we topped out around 1,200 the first year. Last year we did about 3,500. This year because of all of the advertising and all of the buzz around the festival, we’re thinking at least 5000. There’s a part of us that kind of feels, both of us, Naijha and me, that kind of feels that we’re going to exceed that but we try not to think about it.
Brenda Sanders: Because if we exceed it by too much we might be in trouble. We’re thinking at least five.
Caryn Hartglass: Great. I wish you great weather, not too hot. That was one of the things that always got me; my events were always in June. This was in New York and it was always really, really hot.
Brenda Sanders: Mm, wow.
Caryn Hartglass: But I think it’s better than raining.
Brenda Sanders: Oh yeah, I’ll take hot over raining any day.
Caryn Hartglass: And hopefully we’ve passed the heat wave so it will just be a beautiful day.
Brenda Sanders: That’s what I’m shooting’ for.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. OK, now let’s talk about one of your other projects, PEP Foods Kitchen.
Brenda Sanders: Yeah, PEP Foods.
Caryn Hartglass: What’s up with that?
Brenda Sanders: Usually I have to spell it, “P” as in Pauline, E-P as in Pauline, because people think we’re saying Pet Foods, which makes sense. It makes sense that they would think we’re saying “Pet Foods” but it’s not. It’s P-E-P. This project, we’re a collective; we’re a producer collective. The idea kind of came because I was seeing that there was a food access issue in Baltimore. We were doing all this education and outreach and then people would go back to the neighborhoods where they live and there would be no vegan food, at all. In some neighborhoods there is no grocery store. There is only corner store, convenience store and carryout. So folks were saying this is great information and I appreciate you making it available to us but this food is not in our community. I knew so many different vegan caterers and so many different people who had these businesses, I thought what if we all got together and we created a line called Vegan Foods that are affordable to anybody. I started sharing this idea with other people. Some folks were like, “I don’t think so”, but enough people were able to kind of see that vision and got on board and so PEP Foods was born. We got a kitchen and we were very excited about this kitchen because it was very cheap. We thought, “You can’t beat this.” It’s two floors. There’s a kitchen downstairs and there’s an apartment upstairs, really, really cheap. So we thought, “This is it.” Then we realized, once we’d signed the contract, that there’s a reason why this kitchen is so cheap. It was just so, so much work that we didn’t even realize what needed to be done. So we started a campaign to try to raise money to renovate the kitchen. We just finished up the last of the renovations. There are just a few cosmetic things that we have to do and then get the equipment in and get started. We’re really excited because we’ve been renting space from other places in order to just produce the limited amount of product that we’re be able to produce for the folks who absolutely have to have it. We developed a line of nondairy cheeses which people in Baltimore are very excited about. We already have them in a few locations that exclusively use our cheeses as their vegan cheese products. We also developed a line of different seitan flavors as well to act as a meat substitute. We wanted to go into the low-income communities in Baltimore and just provide alternatives to these animal products, that folks can afford. So if you’re eating Velveeta or Kraft or whatever because you can afford it then we wanted to make sure the PEP Food cheeses were just as affordable if not cheaper. It wasn’t easy but we were able to finally do it. So our products are comparable in price to the dairy cheese products and the meat products. So folks are pretty excited. A lot of people want to order our products. We really want to hold out until we have our kitchen up and running because I don’t want it to be a situation where we’re paying out in kitchen rentals as much as we’re bringing in, in sales. That just seems silly to me, to amp up production to the point where we are just spending a lot of money on these kitchen rentals because it’s not cheap to rent a kitchen. So folks have really been waiting, they definitely have been waiting, but I think that early fall we should be ready to really start getting our products out in Baltimore City. So it’s really exciting.
Caryn Hartglass: So you’re making products to sell to restaurants and prepared food makers to sell up to the community?
Brenda Sanders: Right, right. Our ultimate goal is to get these products into the corner stores and to the carryouts as non-meat alternatives, nondairy alternatives. So we’ve had a lot of success in getting interest from folks who already know what vegan is. They already have some folks who come in and ask for vegan things. That hasn’t been a hard sell. The hardest thing has been just raising awareness in the communities that don’t have any real food, about the products. That’s where the Eating For Life Workshop really comes in. Because we can go in, we can do the demonstration, have folks taste the food and then say well you can get these products at…you know, so and so carryout or so and so corner store. We’re still kind of in the process of getting the word out in all of the communities of Baltimore about our products. Some communities are already…they know about it and are really excited already.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m kind of fascinated about this. I’m thinking about disruptive technology. There are a number of big companies, you’ve heard of them that are making popular foods that traditionally used animals as an ingredient and are now using plant ingredients, to make the same end product. We have Hampton Creek Foods and they’re making mayonnaise and cookie dough and all kinds of products that use eggs and they’re not using eggs any more. There are a number of plant-meat companies. They’re making meat from plant ingredients, not animals. We’re all kind of slowly adjusting to this and I think it’s a great thing. But these companies have tremendous investment behind them and they want to get big. I guess there’s some value to that but I love this idea of what you’re doing because you’re doing something similar only you’re doing it on a small scale to serve your community at an affordable price and educate them at the same time. I bet your food is probably healthier than what some of these larger companies are making.
Brenda Sanders: Yeah, all of the folks who are doing the food justice work with PEP Foods are very much interested in producing healthy food as well. We’re all really passionate about health. So it’s really been quite an ordeal trying to find products that we can get at a good price point that also weren’t just chemicals, just awful chemicals. That’s what the bigger corporations are doing. They find these really, really cheap chemical ingredients and they put that in, sort of as filler and preservatives. Then they are able to have a really good shelf life and get high production because their product is far cheaper than some of the healthier products. We did try to stay as true to what we believe as possible. We don’t have any nonfood products in our food. We plan to keep it that way.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I like that and I really hope that you’re successful with this model and perhaps other communities can adapt it once you’ve reached a functional, stable point where things are moving and flowing and working nicely.
Brenda Sanders: That would be amazing.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it’s going to happen.
Brenda Sanders: It would have been great… Well, thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m a believer.
Brenda Sanders: It would be great if one of those multimillionaire investors were to stumble across PEP Foods like they stumbled across Hampton Creek or whoever. That would be awesome.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s part of our capitalistic society and it has to change because I don’t think capitalism works in the form that it’s in today. I think it needs to be paired with a real positive social aspect where you’re making money but you’re doing only good things for society. Otherwise it doesn’t work. So I would like to see some of these philanthropists and investors think about the societal benefit and not just the tremendous return on investment. I am putting that out to the Universe.
Brenda Sanders: Awesome
Caryn Hartglass: Now the last thing I want to cover is the community garden. I’m reading on your PEP Foods website that you’ve adopted five vacant lots. What’s happening with community gardens?
Brenda Sanders: Not a lot happened the first season. The first season we had a hard time getting funding to even do anything. Last season was the second season and we did a bit more. We were able to reach out and engage with the young folks in the community, which was amazing. We didn’t even expect that. We were trying to reach out to the adults who were not terribly interested. They were kind of like, “We don’t really know who you are and what your agenda is.” A lot of folks, because there is money in poor people…in the non-profit sector there is definitely money in solving poor people’s problems.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, absolutely.
Brenda Sanders: So I think…over time people have come in and said, “We’re going to solve your problems this way” and then it didn’t work and they just kind of left. So that whole cycle happens over and over again. By the time we came in, it was like, “Yeah, so what’s your thing?” We completely understood. So it was the young people that were coming out, very curious and then very excited about taking part in the gardening. So we have on our Facebook page…I don’t know if you found that or you saw that, but it’s called the Penn-North Community Garden. That is a strictly economically suppressed, very marginalized neighborhood in Baltimore. Half the row houses in Penn-North are probably boarded up and condemned. Folks are just beaten down from just trying to survive. The children were really, really enthusiastic. They came out every day. They would be sitting there waiting for us. We would say, “We’re going to come out at 4 every day.” At 4 o’clock, if we weren’t there, if we were pulling up at 4:03 they were like, “What took you so long?” What ended up happening, which was magical, is as we started putting the plants in to this vacant lot—first you have to clear it because a lot of time these vacant lots become dump sites—so we had to clear the lot. I got tetanus, that was fun, but I made it, still here. Once we started putting in the plants and the bushes and everything, animals started to come to the garden, which was something that they weren’t really seeing. They would see rats because there were a lot of dump sites in the neighborhoods so they were used to seeing alley cats and rats and that’s about it. So suddenly they were seeing bumblebees and butterflies and praying mantises and caterpillars and all these animals that they had never seen before. It was magical. They were so excited. Just the sight of a worm made them very excited.
Caryn Hartglass: We call some of them beneficial insects…
Brenda Sanders: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: With giant agribusiness, unfortunately, we’ve kind of fallen out of balance with nature and forgotten that everybody has their function right down to the bugs, the bees. They will come if you give them a space that they know is safe.
Brenda Sanders: Yeah. There were colorful birds that the children were really excited about going and identifying. Figuring out, “What kind of bird is that?” It was just a really great experience. So we’ve gotten revved up again this year so we’re having a lot of fun building up everything. And now some of the adults are starting to come by. The ones that were a little standoffish before are coming by and kind of watching even sometimes offering to help. So that’s really cool as well.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow. I’m so glad I got to hear what you’re working on and what you’re doing. In this crazy world, where mainstream media likes to tend to focus on all the horrible violence and awful things going on in the world, there are beautiful good things going on and each one of us can make some of that happen. All you have to do is believe and be a doer like Brenda Sanders. Thank you for being you. So thrilled to talk to you today. So glad you’re doing what you’re doing. Have a wonderful Vegan SoulFest and keep changing the world like you’re doing.
Brenda Sanders: Are you sure you can’t make it down for Vegan SoulFest on Saturday?
Caryn Hartglass: Maybe. As I mentioned, I’ve been in California for three months. We weren’t expecting to stay that long. We just got home this morning. I haven’t been to sleep.
Brenda Sanders: Well you have a couple days to sleep.
Caryn Hartglass: I know because I’d really love to see Milton and everybody else that are there and meet you. So, who knows?
Brenda Sanders: Well, it’s an open invitation. I would love to meet you. We’ll put a goodie bag aside just for you.
Caryn Hartglass: I love goodie bags! So everybody, anybody that’s near the Baltimore area, check out the Vegan SoulFest. The website is vegansoulfest.com. I’m looking at it right now. Get ready for the Third Annual Vegan SoulFest, Saturday, August 20th from noon to 7 pm, Baltimore City Community College. Awesome. Thank you, Brenda for joining me today on It’s All About Food. Now get back to work!
Brenda Sanders: Thank you so much for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: Be well, take care. Don’t you love awesome people like that? I do. That just gets me all fired up, even though I’m exhausted right now because I really need some sleep, I’m just thinking about all the things I want to do and do more of because we can and it feels could to serve. I’m telling you, it does. It’s nice every now and then to spoil yourself and be served but to do good for the world and see everybody get excited about it. That’s what it’s all about. I believe it.
Transcribed by Suzanne Kelly, 8/31/2016
Transcription Part II:
Okay, so, we just have a few minutes and I wanted to kind of summarize my traveling adventure for the last three months in Northern California. Tie that all in with all the wonderful things about plant foods. So, the first thing I want to talk about is bananas. [Laughter]. A, we rediscovered the Staff of Life Market in Santa Cruz. I think it is my ultimate favorite grocery store. The food is so fresh there and it lasts such a long time because the farms are right there and they get picked and delivered to the store. The prices are incredible. Unfortunately, you can’t afford real estate in Santa Cruz, but [laughter] if you can find a place to pitch a tent or an RV or something you can take advantage of the Staff of Life ‘cause the food prices are great and the food’s great. So, I was there and I picked up some red bananas. Have you ever had red bananas? I‘ve had them a few times. I’ve seen them in the store a little more frequently and I purchased them maybe the first few days of August maybe around August 3rd. They were really hard and I knew that they wouldn’t be ripe until they felt a little soft inside and a week went by and they were still hard and I wanted to eat them because I didn’t buy any other bananas and I like to have my bananas and I opened one up and you never want to eat these red bananas when they’re not ripe because they’re dry and hard and chalky tasting and very unpleasant. So, I just forgot about them for a while. It took about two weeks and then they ripened and they were just really lovely and the flesh inside has like a pink hue to it and it tastes like a banana but it has a fruitier maybe like a berry flavor a note or a highlight and a, it’s just a, I love variety and I love trying new things, but the thing about the red banana is we may be seeing more red bananas and we need to learn when they’re ripe and when they’re best to eat because the Cavendish banana, I’ve been hearing this now for a decade or two, but those in the know about bananas keep telling us that we’re not going to have the Cavendish banana forever because it’s believed that the Panama disease, a fungus, also known as banana wilt is going to wipe them out and before the very popular yellow Cavendish that we all see in the stores today, even more popular was a banana called the Gros Michel, Gros Michel, c’est Francais, Gros Michel, G-r-o-s-m-i-c-h-e-l which means, big Mike, big Michael and it was a yellow banana that was very popular and then gosh about 60, 70 years ago it was wiped out, practically wiped out by this Panama disease and for a long time the Cavendish seemed to be resistant, but now it’s seeming, the Panama disease has kind of morphed as these a funguses and viruses do and looks like it’s going to to take over the Cavendish. There’s lots of varieties of bananas out there. You just have to discover them and that’s why the red banana is more interesting to me these days. Now, like I said I’ve been hearing for decades that the Cavendish is going to disappear and it hasn’t disappeared yet, so maybe, maybe there’s hope, but I love bananas. I love them and then, oh, we did, my partner Gary De Mattei and I, we did a reading last week, August 9th, which is why I didn’t do a program, of a new play that Gary’s written. He’s been working on it for about five years and we did our first reading and it was spectacular. I love the fact that the small audience that came to hear it, they listened to the over two hour program, they laughed and they got it and it was wonderful and actually it was about food, but that wasn’t the point of the story, but there was a lot of discussion of food in the play. A, but one of our friends who came, instead of giving us flowers, which traditionally when you do a theatre project people who come reward people with flowers and it’s lovely to get flowers, some of our friends they brought a box of vegetables ‘cause they know that we’re crazy vegans who love our vegetables, but it was really a delightful gift and it came with a big head of kale and peppers, tomatoes, and radishes, a, there was a mango in there and some fresh mint and it was such a thoughtful gift. It came in a lovely basket. Oh, and it had those tricolored carrots, the yellow, purple and orange carrots. What a lovely gift. So, we ended up making a number of things. One is we were really craving our mint tea that we like to make at home, but we didn’t have any mint tea and I suppose we could have bought some, but I was really limiting all the different things that we were going to buy and when we got the fresh mint, there was an opportunity to make mint tea, which we did a number of evenings, and then we made this wonderful gumbo with red lentils and all of these vegetables: the peppers, the tomatoes, the carrots. It was just really, really lovely. So, yes, there’s just a thought for you if you’re thinking about an unusual, but lovely gift to bring people who love vegetables, a basket of really stunning fruits and vegetables can be really nice. I would love it anytime you want to buy me a gift. [Laughter]. Ah, okay. And then the other thing I want to mention is a, how exciting it is, I’m still thrilled, when I see vegan options in places where I don’t expect them. So, we went to the movies a few times and the Alternative Baking Company had their cookies at the movie theater, so we bought a cookie and I loved it. It was the Explosive Expresso Chip cookie and we went to see the Jason Bourne movie so I thought an explosive cookie would pair very well with the movie, but I wanted to make a note this is really a delicious cookie but it’s important that this cookie be shared. The package, if you read it, says that there are two servings, it’s one cookie, it’s about three and a half inches, four inches in diameter maybe, it’s a big cookie, but there’s 460 calories in that big cookie, so, if you share it that’s 230 calories, seven grams of fat in each serving or 14 grams of fat in the entire cookie. It’s a delicious cookie, but it is a big, big treat and best shared. So, if you see those cookies out and about, I highly recommend them, but I also recommend breaking them up and sharing them with people ‘cause they are a very rich treat and I still have a, what do we got, like three minutes left, we discovered Blue Line Pizza. It’s a restaurant in California. It is not vegan, but they are very vegan friendly and I want to say it was the best vegan pizza I have ever had. So, they offer a thin crust and a Chicago style crust. The thin crust is vegan, the Chicago thick crust is not. They also make gluten free a, crust, which a, is by Udi’s, I think that’s the name they used that brand which is also not vegan, but their thin crust is vegan and fabulous and they also offer Daiya cheese, I know some people call it, Daiya, but I’ve been told it’s pronounced Daiya, like dairy, Daiya and a, so Gary got half, we ordered a large pie, Gary got his half with the Daiya cheese, cause I don’t really like it too much and I got my half with mushrooms ‘cause he doesn’t really like them and it had sun-dried tomatoes and roasted garlic and spinach and olives and it was incredible! So, that was our once a year day with pizza ‘cause we don’t have pizza very often, but I know people love pizza. So, if you’re out in Northern California you might check out Blue Line Pizza ‘cause they are awesome. Well, there you go. I’ve talked my way into and out of another program. So, thanks for joining me and I really hope you will check out Brenda Sanders. You can go to ResponsibleEatingandLiving.com and check on the radio page for her. I’ve included a number of links. She’s just so inspiring and if you can get to the VegSoul Fest this weekend, I highly recommend it. It really should be fun and informative. Thanks for joining me. I’m Caryn Hartglass. You can find me at Info@RealMeals.org. Remember, have a delicious week.
Transcribed by Nanette Gagyi, 8/26/2016