Part II – Ellen Kanner
Ellen Kanner is an award-winning food writer and author of Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner. She is also Huffington Post‘s Meatless Monday blogger and the syndicated columnist Edgy Veggie, is published in Bon Appetit, Eating Well, Vegetarian Times, Every Day with Rachael Ray, and Culinate as well as in other online and print publications. She’s an ardent advocate for sustainable, accessible food, serving on the Miami boards of Slow Food and Common Threads.
When she’s not teaching undeserved students to cook and speaking about what we’re hungry for, Ellen takes time to tend her tiny organic vegetable garden, hike in the Everglades, make friends with cows and make dinner with friends. She believes in close community, strong coffee, organic food and red lipstick. A fourth-generation Floridian, she lives la vida vegan in Miami with her husband. Learn more about Ellen at www.ellen-ink.com
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody, we’re back and you’re listening to It’s All About Food, It’s April 23, 2013. A day after my birthday and the day after Earth Day! I’m feeling pretty good, pretty tired after a really big Earth Day and I’m happy to be here today talking about food, my favorite subject. I want to know who you are. I’ve been doing some events lately, traveling around and people come up to me and tell me they listen to the show and you have no idea how wonderful that is to actually see who you are. If you have a chance to drop me an email tell me about what you like, what you don’t like, and who you are, I really would really like to know you. That’ll help me when I’m talking in an empty studio. I’m actually in a mall and I have to apologize if the sound is not the best, but like I said, I’m traveling and this was really the only place I could broadcast today. Thank you for putting up with that. Now it’s time for some fun, I want to bring out my guest Ellen Kanner. She’s the author of Feeding the Hungry Ghost, she’s an award winning food writer and author of Feeding the Hungry Ghost, Life, Faith, and What to Eat for Dinner. She’s also the Huffington Post’s Meatless Monday blogger and is the syndicated columnist Edgy Veggie, is published in Bon Appetit, Eating Well, Vegetarian Times, Everyday with Rachel Rae, and, Culinate as well as in other online and in print publications. She’s an ardent advocate for sustainable, accessible food, serving on the Miami boards of Slow Food and Common Threads. Hi Ellen.
Ellen Kanner: Hi Caryn, happy birthday, happy Earth Day, keep the celebration going.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m totally there, I’m reading your book, I’m about halfway through and I’m saying yes! It’s all about the celebration! That’s the best thing about what we do, it’s fun and it’s a party and the food is fabulous.
Ellen Kanner: Absolutely, we have got to get this message out there.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you for playing team vegan by the way, that is fantastic.
Ellen Kanner: For playing what?
Caryn Hartglass: Team vegan.
Ellen Kanner: Oh yeah, where are our shirts? We need team vegan shirts.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right team vegan, it felt like you were on the same team as I was reading. The book is for anyone who loves good food and good food is good food. This just happens to be plant based.
Ellen Kanner: That’s right, you don’t have to know is it vegan? Well the vegan people want to know, epode with allergies certainly want to know what’s in their food, but other than that it’s just good food.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, I wanted to ask you, I had something on the tip of my tongue and I swallowed it apparently. It’s all about the celebration thing. I want to kind of riff on this a little bit because certainly around this time I talk about all the problems with animal agriculture. I was just talking about it on the half hour before because we’re talking about the environment and we know that there’s a tremendous impact with your food choices and the environment. The bottom line is, or I think this is really going to bring everybody over is how the bright side, the side effects of eating healthy food. It’s delicious, it’s fun, you look fabulous. I turned 55 yesterday.
Ellen Kanner: Oh my goodness, that’s fantastic.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m not afraid to say that.
Ellen Kanner: …because you’re probably 10 years younger.
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t know what I look but I know I look good and I feel good.
Ellen Kanner: It’s the biggest win, win, win across the board, it’s fantastic affordable, delicious food that’s great for your karma, it’s great for the planet, it’s delicious. I mean, why not? I always start with the point of pleasure and that’s what this is all about.
Caryn Hartglass: There are a lot of people who find that they have challenges with this diet. I know I talk to people all the time. I feel a lot of deer in headlights expressions from people wanting to do not knowing what to do. You have your own tricks and suggestions and attitudes about transitioning or eating different foods.
Ellen Kanner: Or eating a little more mindfully. I think that’s a great place to start. No one likes to be told what to do so I, including me, came up with a bunch of what I call gentle nudges. These are just ways to get you to connect a little more profoundly with what you eat and where it comes from. Without turning yourself inside out. Even if it means trying an ancient grain like quinoa or millet instead of the usual white rice. It’s got a lot more nutrition, it’s got a lot more flavor. It cooks quicker, it’s better for you. It’s not hard to find.
Caryn Hartglass: Certainly not like it used to be. It’s amazing the variety of food we have available in most markets in the U.S. There are probably some areas where it’s hard to find some things but more and more in big cities and in relatively highly populated suburban areas you can find any of these great foods.
Ellen Kanner: I just heard from someone who picked up my book in the Cayman Islands. It’s an island and she’s been able to find this stuff and she said “Holy Brocooli!” something that was not probably something I should be saying on air but she’s like “This is really good!”
Caryn Hartglass: They’re always surprised. I don’t know what’s so surprising about it. We’ve gone through 50 or 60 years of some crazy kind of brainwashing indoctrination, getting us away from where we need to be. How we come back is so surprising, how wonderful it is. It’s such a crazy world we live in. I have a few questions. Now you live with your husband who does not eat the way you do.
Ellen Kanner: Yes, but if you’re married to someone long enough and if you’re a decent cook, you can kind of seduce him a little bit. He eats a lot more plant based than he ever has and he likes it. So do all our friends. The last time we had people over I did this fantastic Moroccan dinner with chickpeas and lemons and kalamatas and wonderful greens and tomatoes and we had a great time and maybe a little wine. It wasn’t until two days later my friend Mary called me and she said: “That was vegan wasn’t?” I said yeah, it was also really good.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right, I love having dinner parties, I love having people over and putting delicious food in their mouth. Sometimes it’s simple and sometimes it’s outrageously complicated and involved, taking many days to prepare, but I love doing that.
Ellen Kanner: Me too and you’re right, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Beans, greens, they’ve been part of our diet since we walked on two legs. It’s so much better for us, the foods you can recognize, all the weird stuff that’s in the middle in the grocery store, the stuff they want to sell you. Kale has never had to say that it’s gluten-free, it just is.
Caryn Hartglass: You just put an idea into my head because I’m always telling people you have to read the labels, the fine print. Put your reading glasses on. When you are buying produce, there’s no labeling, you don’t need to read anything. The only thing that might be helpful is whether it’s organic or not but it just it what it is and how simple is that?
Ellen Kanner: I think we do tend as humans to complicate things but it doesn’t need to be that way. The best food for us has been available for centuries and centuries and it’s still there so go eat some.
Caryn Hartglass: Ok, I want to talk a little bit about some of the things I read in your book. You were talking about when you were about seven, I think, and you want shopping with your grandmother and you saw all of these amazing different foods in jars and things and you tasted halvah for the first time.
Ellen Kanner: Right, it was a Middle Eastern grocery store which, by the way, is still in existence, which I still go to, it’s the same one. So there’s some sort of nice personal history there.
Caryn Hartglass: I love ethnic stores because you get to discover all kinds of different products that aren’t in the national chain stores and sometimes there’s some healthier foods there, simpler foods, and it just adds to the variety. I visited Israel a few times, I haven’t been there since 1988 but I remember being in Jerusalem in the Old City and it’s modernized a little bit but not much. They’re living in all of these old stone structures that were built so long ago and there are vendors of different foods there and I’ll never forget the spice vendors. There might be some places like that here in the U.S. but everything was in these super large big baskets, just huge like garbage cans but made of natural materials filled with spices. One would be a bright red and one would be a bright yellow and all of the beautiful different earth tone colors. I don’t know why that thrilled me, but it did.
Ellen Kanner: There is something kind of thrilling about it. Whole foods are naturally beautiful, produce is beautiful. I know what you mean about the thrill of the spices. There are markets in Morocco that are like that. There are some very fancy spice shops in Paris that are like that, but I was thrilled to find one in Miami which is the only place I’ve been in the U.S. that encourages you to smell the spices, you can get a teensy little spoon and taste them. It has to be a full body experience. I mean that’s how we eat, it’s a very intimate thing.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m glad you brought that up, I’ve been really into an olfactory, smelling kind of experience these days and I find that the higher quality products that I buy, the fragrances are part of the experience.
Ellen Kanner: Absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: This whole spice thing, you know you’ve got some great recipes in the book and spices are really important. People are afraid when they go to vegetarian foods that they won’t have a lot of flavor and I encourage backing away from the salt when people are preparing foods and where is that flavor going to come from? A lot of times it comes from herbs and spices. I’m thinking back to when I was young and we had jars of…
Ellen Kanner: Honey you are still young, I just want to say that.
Caryn Hartglass: When I was younger and I still lived with my parents, we had the classic combination of jars and spice racks and some of those spices were years old.
Ellen Kanner: Oh I know I do a lot of cooking demos so I always bring a lot of basil and some of the stuff in the jar that’s just sort of brown and you’ve never know it’s the same thing. Go for real, go for fresh, go for green.
Caryn Hartglass: You may have heard this but I use a lot of herbs and spices in my recipes too and some people say well I don’t have these herbs and spices. When they’re just venturing out trying a recipe they don’t want to have to invest in all of these different things.
Ellen Kanner: If you do invest, it’s going to cost less than a couple cups of coffee at your major chains and you’ll have them on hand so when you do come home after an exhausting day of work, you can dress up anything in just a few minutes. What’s worth investing in more than you? In your pleasure, in your health, in your happiness.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s a really good point. So many people go out every day and buy their coffee, buy their tea, and it’s not cheap in many places and they might cringe on buying a jar of some spice that will last for a really long time and dress up their meals. It’s kind of an interesting perspective we have on life.
Ellen Kanner: We want it now, now, now and we don’t want to invest in it. Why not? What’s more precious than we are?
Caryn Hartglass: I tend to buy my spices and herbs in bulk now. I invested in these tins that can hold a pretty large quantity. Not garbage can size but maybe some of them hold four ounces to a pound and I just bought like everything and I have this big collection and I use them in great quantities. I love it.
Ellen Kanner: Be lavish, be generous with yourself, it really does wake up you mouth. It can transform foods effortlessly without salt. I also love lemon juice for that. Just a squeeze really makes the flavor pop. No calories, no fat, no nothing, just the flavor.
Caryn Hartglass: The other thing I like to talk about is that people don’t know where their kitchen is and they need to find it. I imagine that you do food demos and you encourage people to cook.
Ellen Kanner: I do, and you don’t have to have a designer kitchen to do it.
Caryn Hartglass: The sad thing is that the people who have the designer kitchens never use them.
Ellen Kanner: This is true,
Caryn Hartglass: I’ve been in a few. They all pull out the All Clad pots that have never been used.
Ellen Kanner: As you say, it’s frequently the least used room in the house and it’s worth discovering. You can get a lot of stuff out of a kitchen.
Caryn Hartglass: Now you grew up with an interest in food and an interest in cooking. It was vineyard DNA I guess.
Ellen Kanner: Yes it was. The vegan thing I had to sort of forge my own path but my family always cooked and we gathered on weekends. It’s just sort of what we always did. It was a great way to bring people together. It still is.
Caryn Hartglass: It still is. Can we underline that because we’ve gotten so far away from that in our culture today.
Ellen Kanner: It is. I don’t quite get it. I know that for most people, most of my friends, cooking and eating is a lonely kind of drudging act. I’m thinking you know where’s the fun in that? I also have a friend who texts all the time and after like the fourth of fifth one in an afternoon, I’ll say: “You know, you live pretty close. Why don’t you come by on your way home and we’ll have dinner.” It’s much easier.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m all about that. Encouraging people to get together and break the proverbial bread.
Ellen Kanner: It’s sacred and it’s a great way to communicate to commune. Put the joy back in your dinner.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, who is the hungry ghost?
Ellen Kanner: Oh we all are. Originally it was the Buddha’s concept about people who were so hungry and clutch and needy and crazy that they’re that way even after they die and then they come back and haunt you. So if you want to appease the hungry ghost, you do it with care, with prayer, and with food offering. Well we need that now, we all do. We’re hungry for so much, for meaning, for connection, for love, for a greener planet, that we don’t necessarily know how to get for more fun. If we just show a little more care towards ourselves and the foods we choose, we can get all that back. We can feed our hungry ghost.
Caryn Hartglass: Do you find that people if they’re invited to an event, or people who might want to have dinner with you, are they at all intimidated because you cook a certain way and you cook well.
Ellen Kanner: I really try to bring it down. I want everyone to be welcome at my table. I’m a vegan who invites everyone to the table and if someone is nervous about having me over, I’ll say look, let’s make it a potluck, I’ll bring something. Let’s not stress. Let’s put the pleasure back in this.
Caryn Hartglass: I agree with you. I’d like to think that I try and be that way but I know that I scare some people and if I’ve ever scared anyone, I’m sorry. It’s not my intention at all. I want everyone to be happy.
Ellen Kanner: Being vegan, the point is compassion, even for our fellow human animals which is sometimes a struggle for me.
Caryn Hartglass: Some people just don’t know how to make something vegan and they don’t even realize that so many of the foods that they eat are already vegan.
Ellen Kanner: Exactly, but if you think I’m kind of nervous about this whole plant based business, go to your farmer’s market or go to your store or go to someone you know who eats that way and say show me. Let’s make dinner together.
Caryn Hartglass: Now what about cravings? I know you mentions cravings in there somewhere.
Ellen Kanner: Oh we all have them.
Caryn Hartglass: I’ve been hearing a lot of different things about cravings these days and a number of people have different spins on cravings. Do you have cravings?
Ellen Kanner: A craving for greens and oatmeal. I think so much of what most people eat these days is processed and that just creates more cravings. It turns us into junkies, it doesn’t make us too terrible smart but it makes us want to eat more processed foods. If I could suggest one thing if you made one little tweak: more produce less processed food. Once you get used tot hat, you’ll find a lot of the cravings for salt, for sugar, for crazy things that you’re not even sure what they are will go away.
Caryn Hartglass: It pisses me off that a lot of food is designed for us to crave. It’s chemically designed and they have studied the psychology and our physiology and have put into certain processed food this desire factor so that we are never sated and we want more of it. That’s pisses me off. I wish everyone was pissed off, I don’t want to touch those foods that have been designed to program me.
Ellen Kanner: Exactly. They only want you to buy more of them. They’re not doing it for our benefit.
Caryn Hartglass: It pisses me off. We should get angry, we should cook better, we should eat better. So I’m a crazy vegan, I’ve been vegan for 25 years and vegetarian for a whole lot more and I lilac to eat healthy foods and I find, especially when I’m traveling, when I’m not entirely in control of what I’m eating, I’ll eat more in a restaurant and I’ll get more salt and more oil in my food. That’s what I call eating badly. The cravings that I get are for salads and grains.
Ellen Kanner: I’m always desperate to get more greens into people,
Caryn Hartglass: There’s nothing that kale can’t do.
Caryn Hartglass: So what do you hope happens with this book, Feeding the Hungry Ghost?
Ellen Kanner: I hope Feeding the Hungry Ghost leaves you feeling nourished in every single way.
Caryn Hartglass: Ok, well I wish you a lot of luck with this book. It’s great, it’s a lot of fun to read, Feeding the Hungry Ghost, Life, Faith, and What to Eat for Dinner. I’m going to be in South Florida next week Ellen and I hope I have the chance to meet you
Ellen Kanner: That would be so much fun, thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Ok, thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food. I’m Caryn Hartglass and have a very, very delicious week and send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org . I want to know who you are.
Transcribed May 24, 2013 by Meichin