Chad Oliphant, Smiling Hara Tempeh
Sarah Yancey and Chad Oliphant started Smiling Hara (which translates to “happy belly”) in 2009 with the intention of providing an organic, and locally sourced tempeh to customers in the Southeast.
Early on in the business, Sarah and Chad discovered that soy-free tempeh was difficult to find. So they created two additional products, Black Bean Tempeh and Black-Eyed Pea Tempeh, to meet the needs of folks who want a vegetarian protein that’s not derived from soybeans.
Sarah and Chad have used their passion for community building, self-sufficiency, environmental stewardship and living a health-conscious lifestyle to build a vibrant enterprise. Not only are the ingredients in Smiling Hara’s products made from 100% Organic and GMO-Free Beans, but they also compost all the production waste material on their small farm.
Sarah Yancey is an Asheville Native. She studied dance in West African for 2 years in 2005.
Chad Oliphant was born in Indiana. He studied at the Kushi Macrobiotic institute in 2000 where he learned to make Tempeh among many other fermented foods. Sarah and Chad launched Smiling Hara Tempeh in Oct 2009.
Caryn Hartglass: Hey everybody. I’m Caryn Hartglass, and we’re back with the second part of It’s All About Food today on November 4, 2014—Election Day here in the United States. Get out and vote if you haven’t already. We are going to be talking about tempeh in the next half hour and some other delicious topics. We’re going to be talking about Smiling Hara Tempeh. Sarah Yancey and Chad Oliphant started Smiling Hara, which translates to “happy belly,” in 2009 with the intention of providing an organic, and locally sourced tempeh to customers in the Southeast United States. We have cofounder Chad Oliphant with us to talk about the company and their upcoming projects. He studied at the Kushi Macrobiotic Institute in 2000 where he learned to make tempeh among many other fermented foods. Chad, thank you for joining me today.
Chad Oliphant: Hello! Thanks for having me.
Caryn: Yeah! So I was really excited when I heard about Smiling Hara Tempeh and all the things that you’re working on accomplishing right now. Very exciting stuff. Let’s get into the meat of all of that.
Caryn: So first let’s talk about tempeh and your company, making tempeh.
Chad: Yeah, we’re Smiling Hara. We’re out of Asheville, North Carolina. We’ve been in business for about five years now. We do small-batch artisan tempehs. So what we’ve attempted to do is kind of take it back but at the same time provide a product that is a little more true to what a homemade tempeh or traditional tempeh would be. At the same time, we’ve put out a couple of products that kind of put a twist on tempeh, particularly gravitating towards soy-free versions of the product. As you know, tempeh is a traditional Southeast Asian food from the Indonesia-Malaysia area and is traditionally made from soybeans. But here in the U.S., we’ve had a trend of people who are kind of looking to mitigate the amount of tempeh they have in their diets, and so we’ve been looking to provide an option for that.
Caryn: That’s genius! I have to say, I’m sorry—
Caryn: I haven’t tried your Black Bean Tempeh and your Black-Eyed Pea Tempeh and I can’t wait to do that. I love tempeh—soy tempeh. There’s so many things I love about it. It’s a fermented food; it’s full of flavor. Some people…I don’t know what it is, genetic or whatever, have this fermented food aversion. So, putting them aside, those who don’t mind fermented foods, tempeh is really delicious. It doesn’t have… It’s a low-sodium food.
Caryn: It’s good if you just crumble it on raw salads, or if you cook with it, it’s got a nice, chewy texture. It’s just phenomenal, and you can slice it, you can cube it, you can do so many different things. For those who are transitioning and reducing or eliminating meat in their diets, this is a great food to just replace meat. You can grate it like chopped meat. It’s just very versatile.
Chad: Yep, indeed.
Caryn: There’s a lot of people who are either allergic to soy or are afraid of soy or have heard some misinformation about soy, but also we should eat a balanced diet, and it’s great to eat other beans. So you’ve made a similar product with some other beans. Does it taste similar or is it different? What are those other ones like?
Chad: Yeah, they’re different. They have their own distinctive—the Black Bean Tempeh very much has a black bean flavor, so we love to use that in tacos and enchiladas and your more Southwestern-type dishes. The Black-Eyed Pea… With these non-soybeans, they have a bit lower protein content and higher starch. With the higher starch, you get more fermentation that takes place in the process, and so you get a bit of a brighter, fruitier flavor out of these.
Caryn: Mhm. Well you know, protein can be overrated sometimes and we don’t need as much as some people think we do, so.
Chad: That’s right. The protein that is in tempeh is… That’s one of the beautiful things about tempeh, is that through that fermentation process, your proteins are being broken down into the simple amino acids. It’s really easy for your body to assimilate these proteins. So even though it may not have as much protein content as some meats and whatnot, your body is going to uptake and digest and utilize more protein.
Caryn: Now I’m imagining because they’re fermented, people aren’t going to experience as much flatulence—gas—when they eat these tempeh versions of black beans and black-eyed peas.
Chad: Exactly, exactly.
Caryn: Yeah, beautiful. All right. So that’s good stuff. You’re in Whole Foods and stores like that?
Chad: Yes. We’re in Whole Foods throughout the Southeast region. We’re in a number of Earthfare stores, and we’re just starting to branch out of the Western Carolina area here and starting to get our products further out into other regions. Right now, what we’re working on… One of the beautiful things also, using these non-soybeans, is with the GMO issue. A lot of people are concerned about GMOs in their diets. We use only U.S. organically grown, GMO-free beans. But there’s no guarantee, with the way cross-contaminations work. There’s some question about that. But when you’re looking at black-eyed peas and what they call the pulse crops, there are no GMOs. So there’s no concerns about them.
Caryn: Not yet, anyway.
Chad: What’s that?
Caryn: Not yet, anyway.
Chad: Not yet, not yet, so we can still take advantage of that. What we’re in the process of doing is—we’re really excited—we have a Kickstarter campaign going on right now. We’re looking to launch a new line of tempeh that we’re calling Hempeh. So we have teamed up with a great organization out of Rockcastle County, Kentucky, by the name of Growing Warriors. Growing Warriors is a non-profit organization that’s veteran-operated, and what they’re doing is training military veterans to become farmers. Growing Warriors is one of the pioneer organizations that pioneer farms that are the first to grow hemp in Kentucky this year.
Chad: So we’re going to be able to source our hemp and our beans for this product line from Growing Warriors, from veteran farmers, and be able to contribute back additionally through the proceeds of the sales of the product.
Caryn: I love this on so many levels. Can we just talk about hemp for a minute? It hasn’t been legal to grow hemp in this country for a long time.
Chad: 1957 was the last time. The last legal hemp field prior to this year was in Wisconsin in 1957.
Caryn: Do you know why we stopped growing hemp? Why it wasn’t legal anymore?
Chad: Well, it was initially outlawed in 1937 under the Marijuana Tax Act. It was grouped in with marijuana. There’s a lot of information and speculation as to the reasons why hemp was included with marijuana. There was a piece of equipment… Popular Mechanics did an article. Within a year prior to the Marijuana Tax Act being passed, they’d developed a piece of equipment to be able to mass harvest hemp. So for the first time, hemp was really in position to overtake some lumber interests, some petrochemical interests. The speculation goes on from there. So it was made illegal in 1937 but then brought back in 1942 under the Hemp for Victory campaign. Essentially, what happened is that once Japan occupied the Philippines in World War II, it took away our hemp supply. So the government put farmers back to work growing hemp. That lasted a few years, and then they kind of grouped it back in with drugs and did away with it. We import over half a billion dollars’ worth of hemp into this country every year. I think it’s one of the things that gives me the most hope these days. Since 2008, that word hope has been tied to individuals or saviors that could really come and solve some of our problems, but lo and behold, it’s actually a plant that gives me hope. A plant that can come in and fix some of these economic problems, fix some of our health problems. It’s a great solution.
Caryn: Yeah, it’s beautiful. It’s very aggravating, just one more story that we hear about how our government has made the wrong choices for us, probably based on some corrupt information to promote other businesses that aren’t as good for our health and for our planet—like you were mentioning, petrochemical and others. It’s so frustrating, because hemp is like this super plant. Not only does it give us these omega-3-rich hemp seeds, which so easily make wonderful hemp milk, but the plant can provide fibers for cloth and so many different things that we can use, and… Oh gosh. It’s just so frustrating.
Chad: Exactly. It can reduce the amount of trees we use for paper. It can be used as a building material with the hemp tree technology that’s been developed. It’s food, it’s medicine, it’s fuel. Now they’re even looking into energy storage, as a way to replace graphene as a supercapacitor. If you consider for the bulk of the Industrial Revolution, our scientists haven’t been able to play with this plant freely and fully explore the uses of it because it’s been illegal. It’s a really exciting time to be alive. I mean, this is just great. I think there’s four or five states today that are voting on full-on legalization of recreational cannabis, which is really, ultimately where it needs to go. This war on drugs and putting people in jail and destroying families over this plant needs to stop.
Caryn: Absolutely. We’re not putting the right people in jail. I mean, so many people get away with these huge, white-collar corporate crimes, and somebody that’s just getting high on a little weed is put away for a long time and it’s just not balanced. So can we grow hemp anywhere in the country now?
Chad: No. There’s only… I’m not sure. It’s kind of hard to keep track between medical marijuana and hemp. I think we’re at maybe fifteen to twenty states for hemp-growing now. It’s only a couple of states that implemented it this year: Colorado and Kentucky. There might’ve been a couple of other small pilot projects. I know our neighboring state of Tennessee here is getting ready, and I live ten miles from the Tennessee border. They’re getting ready to put it pretty wide open for hemp cultivation for 2015, so that’s really exciting. I think within the next two years, we’ll probably see over half the states have opened it up.
Caryn: Well, this is a beautiful thing that you’re doing—the fact that you’ve teamed up with Growing Warriors, giving an opportunity to military veterans. We need a lot more of this. And then plus, we get this nutritious food. Now, what is Hempeh really like?
Chad: Okay, so what we’re doing with Hempeh, we’re still developing the product and dialing it in, but Hempeh essentially, we’re going to take the soy-free tempeh and we’re going to fortify it with hemp seeds. Basically by doing that, we boost the protein content, we get those omegas in there. It’s just a really great way to incorporate hemp in your diet. It’s going through the process, being in the fermentation, so all of those nutrients are going to be much more bioavailable to you when you eat it.
Caryn: Right, it’s very exciting. So you have a Kickstarter, and where can people find this Kickstarter to help you out? Because I think this is such a great project.
Caryn: Excellent. All right, so what’re your favorite things to do with tempeh? Let’s talk about delicious things.
Chad: Well, I’m a big taco guy, so I really like to do tacos. We do tacos a lot. I do a lot of just simple preparations. Just the simple meal of grain, like quinoa or rice, with stir-fried tempeh and vegetables, a little bit of kale thrown in there. That’s a good, just basic dish to get a really good nutritious meal. We just held a fundraising event here, two weeks ago in Asheville. We had a Barbecue Tempeh Challenge. It’s kind of an annual thing we do. The first year we had a contest where we invite out like a dozen local restaurants. We have a nice tempeh scene here in Asheville. Probably the best tempeh chefs in the United States, have been at times foolish to use our product, due to the amount of people in this area that just love eating that way, that love tempeh and love eating locally made food. The first year we did a Tempeh Reuben Challenge. That’s a pretty common menu item, the Tempeh Reuben.
Caryn: Yeah, yum.
Chad: We did tacos last year and then this year was barbecue. Barbecue is another great way to do with tempeh. It does great if you smoke it or fry it and throw it with some barbecue sauce kind of thing, make a sandwich out of it. There’s just so many different versions of barbecue, different textures and preparations, that the local chefs here just get really creative with it.
Caryn: Yeah. We have a barbecue tempeh recipe on our responsibleeatingandliving.com website and we make it a lot; it’s really yummy.
Caryn: Yes, excellent indeed. Okay, we just have a few more minutes and I wanted to understand what brought you to study at the Kushi Microbiotic Institute.
Chad: Well, it’s just something I was introduced to through a friend of a friend who was diagnosed with cancer. My friend went along with her for a consultation with Michio Kushi and my friend returned really inspired and an immediate convert to macrobiotics. So through her I got to start sampling the food and getting to know what it was all about. Really it was the philosophy. Geogre Ohsawa, who is the founding father of macrobiotics and really is responsible for bringing the health food movement to the west back in the late fifties. Reading his works, The Macrobiotic Way is a great book, but just this philosophy of personal responsibility and being really responsible for your own health, your own diet and really thinking on a deeper level about how we treat our bodies. I went up to the Kushi Institute kind of blind, had done some reading, done some eating, and just went up there and spent a year on a work study program and just watching… Well, just experiencing the transformation within myself, physically and emotionally and mentally just how it affected me. But then watching people come through these programs and hearing all of the stories of people who’d cured themselves of cancer and had AIDS going through a mission, seeing diabetics recover, was just really profound and undeniable.
Caryn: Pretty powerful. Yep.
Chad: Yeah. It’s all right there. Really, you take that and it extends beyond just my health and my diet, and it goes to the way the food is grown and the health of the planet and seeing how all these things are connected. The bacterial microbial life in the soil is connected to my own microbial inner environment.
Caryn: Well, speaking of connections, I just want to—before we go ‘cause we have a few more minutes left—I want to get back to those Growing Warriors. The military veterans. I’m personally someone who is somewhat of a conscientious objector—I don’t believe in killing anybody for anything—but we do have some very brave individuals that go out and they come home and they’re not treated very well. So many of them suffer from all kinds of problems, post-traumatic stress, and we do not give them the therapy that they need. I love this concept where these military veterans get the opportunity to work in nature, grow hemp, and have it go into a food that is nutritious and healing, and they’re healing themselves at the same time. It’s all connected. How beautiful is that?
Chad: Absolutely, absolutely. The guys that I interact with—Mike Lewis, Fred Lewis—you really get it when you hear them speak. Why don’t you check out growingwarriors.org; you can watch a video on their website. Our Kickstarter video has a little profile on them. It’s just, they’re dealing with the food insecurity and the amount of vets who are on the SNAP program, come back here, it’s hard to find work, especially one that’s attached to a sense of mission and purpose like they’re used to. These men and women are used to being really attached to a mission and a purpose in life. It provides that, it’s an easy area for them to see the importance of what they’re doing. And then just the poetry of Growing Warriors being attached to the hemp and one of the first to grow the hemp in this country again because last time we were growing it, it was a Hemp for Victory movement that was growing for the military. There is that association. It’s interesting; I just read an article. In Italy, the Italian government has put their army to work, active military, growing medical marijuana for the country of Italy. So I would love to see this just take hold through our veteran organizations first, getting connected to raising good, healthy, naturally grown food and to see that bleed its way back into the military somehow. How different would this world be if, instead of sending drones to bomb in Syria, we were sending people over to train folks to grow their own food, to train farmers. To go that route instead of killing people.
Caryn: Yeah, let’s just close our eyes a minute and hold that thought and then put it out there. That’s a wonderful vision, yeah. Thank you, Chad. I didn’t get to talk to Sarah today, but she’s your cofounder.
Chad: Yup. She’s lovely. She says hello.
Caryn: Say hello back. Yeah, great. Well, thank you so much for joining me on It’s All About Food. I hope your Kickstarter is very successful. I look forward to seeing Hempeh all over the country soon.
Chad: Great, thank you so much for having me.
Caryn: Okay, take care.
Chad: All right, you too. Bye-bye.
Caryn: Bye. Well, here we are. It’s the end of another program, isn’t it? I’m Caryn Hartglass, you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food, and I hope you do join me at responsibleeatingandliving.com. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell me what you think of this show and what you’d like to hear more of, okay? Meanwhile, have a delicious week.
Transcribed by JC, 12/7/2014