Part II – Kristin Lajeunesse
From nine-to-fiver to lifestyle-designer, Kristin Lajeunesse has taken her background in marketing and applied it directly to the things she loves most: food, travel, and helping others discover ways in which they too can do what they love for a living. On February 14, 2011 Kristin launched the first and only vegan wedding resource website, Rose Pedals Vegan Weddings. While she was finding her entrepreneurial legs she honed her communications skills while working for the World Society For The Protection of Animals, and her social media consulting skills with Vegan Mainstream. Before long Kristin’s entrepreneurial and traveling spirit grew stronger, she left traditional comforts behind and in September 2011 hit the road on an epic, life-changing road trip across the country. Will Travel For Vegan Food was born and has since blossomed into a growing business venture. Kristin is currently working on a book about her road trip, and continues to stretch her entrepreneurial stride as she helps others grow their businesses through social media and online marketing guidance.
OK, here we are. We’re back. I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to It’s All About Food here on June 25th, 2013. Lovely, lovely, lovely summer day here in New York City. I can’t believe how fabulous it is with that fragrant linden tree all in the air. OK, I know I said it before but I’m really excited about it. I have with me in the studio Kristin Lajeunesse and from 9-to-5er to lifestyle designer, she has taken her background in marketing and applied it directly to the things she loves most: food, travel, and helping others to discover ways in which they too can do what they love for a living. Back on February 14th, 2011 she launched the first and only vegan wedding resource website: Rose Petals Vegan Weddings. While she was finding her entrepreneurial legs, she honed her communication skills while working for the World Society for the Protection of Animals and her social media consulting skills with Vegan Mainstream. Before long, Kristin’s entrepreneurial and travel spirit grew stronger and she left her financial comforts behind and in September 2011 hit the road with the epic, life-changing road trip across the country where “Will Travel for Vegan Food” was born and has since blossomed into a growing business venture. She is currently working on a book about her road trip and continues to stretch her entrepreneurial stride as she helps other grow their businesses through social media and online marketing and guidance. It’s all good and It’s All About Food.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you for joining me, Kristin.
Kristin Lajeunesse: Thank you so much for having me. I’m glad to be here.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I’m just going to sit back and relax and talk about my favorite subject—vegan food—and learn a little bit about your travels. OK, so you’ve been all around the country.
Kristin Lajeunesse: I have. I’m just wrapping up now here in New York City. I’ve spent the last 18 months driving around the country and managed to get to 48 states and have, at this point, eaten at nearly every vegan restaurant in the country. I have about 30 left to go in New York City.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, well, there’s plenty here. Wow. You say “nearly.” Which ones did you miss?
Kristin Lajeunesse: Which restaurants? Well, I have a list of them. I don’t know them all off the top of my head. I’ve already hit the popular major ones here so I’m slowly working my way through the ones that are kind of on the outskirts and further away in Brooklyn or farther.
Caryn Hartglass: When you hit each restaurant, did you let them know what you were doing?
Kristin Lajeunesse: Not all of them. When I first started my road trip, I was more diligent about contacting the restaurants ahead of time just to give them a heads-up and share with them my story. But as I continued on, it just became a lot of work. The writing, the driving, the eating and so I decided to just kind of continue on. And most of the time when I’m there, nobody knows who I am or what I’m doing until after the fact. When I write about having been there I’ll usually send them a link to what I’ve written about my experience there.
Caryn Hartglass: I was talking with a few notable vegans the other day and we were commenting about how many people and many vegans blog about restaurants or review restaurants—and they’re always good. Are your reviews or are your discussions about the restaurants always good because I’m glad they’re all out there, every one of them, but some are way better than others and some need to try harder.
Kristin Lajeunesse: Well, to be honest, going into my little adventure I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t speak negatively about any places. If I did go to a place and I really didn’t like it, I would not write about it. However, if you follow my blog posts about the restaurants, you’ll notice a pattern where…now I’m kind of outing myself…you’ll notice a pattern where if I really loved a place, I would be very long-winded about it and if I wasn’t thrilled, you would just get pictures. So that’s kind of how I navigated that because ultimately my goal was just to create free marketing for these restaurants. It was to help them out and not to necessarily bash them.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s so vegan. I’m listening to you talk and I’m thinking it’s because we don’t want to hurt anybody. It’s all part of the whole vegan psyche. Now, OK, there are some angry vegans out there that will do some hurtful things. For the most part, I think we all really are so excited to see any restaurant out there that’s vegan, especially some of us older folks who didn’t see too many 20 or 30 years ago, and now here in New York it’s vegan paradise, the best city in the world and the best city for vegan food, I think. What do you think? Do you have a favorite?
Kristin Lajeunesse: I have to be honest. I fell in love with Portland, Oregon while I was there. Even though they might not have the same number of vegan restaurants that we have here in New York City, the quality of the food there is absolutely outstanding and there’s such a variety. So it definitely kind of stole my heart for sure.
Caryn Hartglass: They have more restaurants that are vegan-friendly than 100% vegan. Right? They’ve really got that whole sustainable, local-grown thing going on there.
Kristin Lajeunesse: I would say that they have a lot of vegan-friendly restaurants. My trip focused on primarily 100% vegan only so I think, if I recall correctly, Portland had maybe 15 or so completely vegan restaurants. So that’s pretty substantial still.
Caryn Hartglass: And in New York City, how many do we have?
Kristin Lajeunesse: I’m pretty sure you have around 120.
Caryn Hartglass: Woah! 100% vegan?
Kristin Lajeunesse: But we’re including food trucks, juice bars, bakeries, all of it. Anything. I remember when I was initially doing research, I realized that the entire state of California has the same number of vegan restaurants as the City of New York.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m not surprised to hear that because I spent a lot of time in California. I lived there for nine years and I then commuted from New York to California for six years. It’s a long story. So I’ve done a lot of eating there. I go back very frequently and it’s hard to find a lot of vegetarian restaurants and vegan restaurants. And it’s also hard to find juice bars. I don’t know what it is but they’re just not hip to juicing like we are here in New York City.
Kristin Lajeunesse: Well I found that as a trend actually on the East Coast entirely. There are more juice bars top to bottom here than there are on the West Coast at all. There are some hot spots on the West Coast that had juice bars.
Caryn Hartglass: Any idea why that is?
Kristin Lajeunesse: I’m not sure. Also interesting: Florida has a higher number of raw food restaurants than almost any other state that I visited so I’m not sure if that’s because they all run around in bikinis all the time or what’s going on but definitely very raw conscious there.
Caryn Hartglass: I think that the weather has a lot to do with it. The weather and the humidity really.
Kristin Lajeunesse: No one wants to eat a bunch of cooked food all the time.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. When it’s hot and it’s humid, raw food it great. OK, let’s talk about raw food since we’re there. Were there a lot of raw food restaurants out there that you’ve been to?
Kristin Lajeunesse: Not a lot. I would say maybe 15-20% of the total restaurants I’ve been to were raw. Of course I was also being a little selective because I found it conflicting personally to go to them if they had honey or beeswax or something because I personally don’t consume that and it’s kind of a trend in the raw food community is including honey. I would make exceptions sometimes and go and just visit if it was the only place on my list in that area and other times I would just skip them if there were other options around because I didn’t necessarily want to perpetuate the honey thing because I’m not onboard with that.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s interesting, these little quirky stereotypes that come about but yeah, I definitely notice that. I was on an all-raw diet for about two years in 2004 until late 2005 and I’m not on the pulse of raw food anymore but when I was it was really intense lifestyle and focus for me. And being with the raw community, which is an interesting community…
Kristin Lajeunesse: If we can say that about vegans and any kind of very specific community, right?
Caryn Hartglass: The raw community was more so. Just more so. But they do tend to like honey. Let’s just talk about honey for a minute here. I’m really, as I was mentioning before we started, I’m really into the big picture. What I want to see, my intention is to rid the world of factory farming. That’s my number one thing. Let’s get the horrible confinement and mistreatment of animals for products out of the equation. Let’s just get rid of it. Then we can focus on a lot of other things and have discussions about organic and “humane” farming and raising chickens in your backyard and all kinds of other things. These are all not as significant to me as this big, horrific factory farming thing that’s going on. Then there’s honey. It’s not up there but I don’t eat honey either so I know where you’re coming from. But we do have a bee situation and I think a lot of that is related to toxic chemicals that are used where bees are around more than anything else. And we know that bees can thrive if they’re treated nicely and some people feel they’re doing a great thing by growing bees and why not just take a little honey. It’s not for me and I don’t think it’s for you but it’s not as big as the factory farming thing for me to talk about.
Kristin Lajeunesse: Yeah, I agree. I think that the factory farming is definitely a priority because it is such a massive scale. I have watched some documentaries on bee farming and such and it only reinforced my desire to not support that industry.
Caryn Hartglass: Share that with us. Why don’t you think we should be supporting that industry?
Kristin Lajeunesse: Well I’m trying to recall the name of the documentary that I was watching specific to this but it just talked a lot about breeding honeybees and then the shipping of them around the world so that they can help populate crops and everything—spread the pollen. It just was the treatment of them in that capacity that was really hard to see. They were artificially inseminating the queen bee to get a certain type. A woman sitting there in a lab with a little syringe into…
Caryn Hartglass: Raping.
Kristin Lajeunesse: Yeah, exactly. I had no idea that that even existed. It didn’t even cross my mind and I was already not consuming honey or bee pollen or anything and then I saw that and I thought that this is just as bad. We just don’t think about it because they are these little tiny insects and we assume that they don’t feel in the capacity that we can see (like) in the emotion in cows’ and pigs’ faces and such.
Caryn Hartglass: Who thinks of these things?
Kristin Lajeunesse: You got me. People with money. I guess that’s it.
Caryn Hartglass: So what kind of car were you riding around in in your “Will Travel for Vegan Food?”
Kristin Lajeunesse: I had a lovely green sports van. A Chevy sports van. I called her “Gerty.” She was actually named by a friend of a friend at our little going away party. She was an old lady so we decided to call her Gerty. And my friend…
Caryn Hartglass: When you said “green” you meant the color green?
Kristin Lajeunesse: Yes, the color green. Not green as in inexperienced.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, or as in environmentally superior or something.
Kristin Lajeunesse: Oh that’s true. I did spend some time looking for a vehicle that I could try to make more green but my search quickly ended when I realized that I just needed to go. I was using it almost to stall the process of just getting going.
Caryn Hartglass: I want to stop there for a minute. That’s such a good point. A lot of people complain about what they want and how they can’t get it. Sometimes you just have to go and do it.
Kristin Lajeunesse: Start before you’re ready.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, just go. OK.
Kristin Lajeunesse: As I was getting ready to go, a friend of mine—and my father actually helped—they pulled all the seats out of the van and build a bed in the back on plywood. We put a piece of foam mattress in there and a chest for clothes. We included some blackout curtains so at night we could just close it up and you couldn’t see in or out. It became my little sanctuary. It was really nice in there.
Caryn Hartglass: Now what about the people that cared about you thinking that this project that you had traveling alone and traveling for vegan food?
Kristin Lajeunesse: My parents were, I think, a little bit torn in the beginning because they are also vegans so they support the vegan message and what I was doing. They’re actually the reason that I am vegan so I was resonating listening to Robin talk about raising her kids. But they were also a little concerned, I think, about my safety: a young woman traveling around mostly by herself and sleeping in a vehicle at night in gas stations and Walmart parking lots and side streets. It can sound a little scary and, of course, I even was a little nervous getting into it. But the idea of it and the notion of just kind of what I could do to help spread the word about veganism and also just live a really interesting passion that I didn’t think would be doable. And just to make that happen meant that I just couldn’t stop. I needed to do this. I needed to do this. So I think my resolve to do it really helped them understand that I was going to do it no matter what.
Caryn Hartglass: So you were raised from birth as a vegan?
Kristin Lajeunesse: No. When I was 16 years old my parents sat me down and said that they wanted to become vegetarian together as a family. This was after my brother, who’s five years older than me, had become vegetarian. They were actually worried about his health at first but they did all this research and tried to kind of prove to him why it was bad for him…
Caryn Hartglass: But they couldn’t.
Kristin Lajeunesse: They found the opposite. Yeah, exactly. So I was a little kind of “I’ll go with the flow.” I’m very close with my parents so I trusted their decision. So we went through a few years of awful veggie burgers and a lot of experimental cooking. I give it to my parents. They really did all the prep work in the kitchen and everything. I just kind of ate whatever came out regardless if it was good or not. I probably complained a few times. Then I went off to college and I remained vegetarian and I never actually did any research on it myself. Just from that point forward I was vegetarian. But my parents got really involved in the veg community in upstate New York near Albany. Just from meeting other vegans and going to events and festivals and expos, they decided to become vegan. So every time I would come home on break from college, there would be some weird milk in the fridge and then the ice cream was gone. Not the ice cream! I was pretty resistant to veganism. I didn’t see the relation or anything. Vegetarians and vegans—it felt like two separate worlds. Then for me what it was, probably two years after my parents had become vegan I was out of college and living on my own and I went to an event in Syracuse, New York, where I was living at the time and I listened to a registered dietician by the name of George Eismen.
Caryn Hartglass: Sure, he’s great.
Kristin Lajeunesse: Yup. (He) talk(ed) about why dairy isn’t necessary and it was kind of in that moment that I finally heard what was being said and stopped judging everyone around me and it just clicked. After that, of course, the transition was easy because my parents had already been vegan for a few years.
Caryn Hartglass: What is it about humans and the way we don’t want to hear things?
Kristin Lajeunesse: So resistant.
Caryn Hartglass: So resistant. Sometimes we have to hear something over and over and over and over and over and over and overand then finally, “What was that you said?”
Kristin Lajeunesse: Right. Or we wait until it directly impacts us like Robin was saying earlier too.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow. I don’t get it but OK, I accept.
Kristin Lajeunesse: Well, and that’s why we’re here too, right, to help promote that message.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Anybody who wants to know more, you can ask me. Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. You know I love talking about this and writing about it. Speaking of that, do you have a Web site? I know you have a blog. Where can we find you?
Kristin Lajeunesse: I do. Either go to willtravelforveganfood.com or wtf—which of course stands for “will travel for”—wtfveganfood.com.
Caryn Hartglass: OK. Because I didn’t put that in your bio but I’m going to have to update that and link to you. OK, so what was…let’s start with the worst thing you had. You don’t have to say where you had it unless you want to or you could give us an idea of the region maybe but what was the worst thing you had on this traveling expedition?
Kristin Lajeunesse: Well there was this…I don’t know that it necessarily was the worst in terms of flavor, although it didn’t really have much flavor…but the most interesting meal I think I had was at a restaurant in California. It was a vegan shark fin soup. I ordered it purely out of curiosity. I’ve never had traditional shark fin soup so I had nothing to compare it to but I just didn’t even know that a faux version of this existed so I gave it a try. It was really kind of just bland. There was nothing to it.
Caryn Hartglass: Rubbery bland.
Kristin Lajeunesse: Yeah. Nothing to it.
Caryn Hartglass: There are a number of vegan fish analogs out there and some are better than others. I find the faux shrimp in some places, when you just taste it plain it has maybe a suggestion, but when you play with it and fry it and season it, I’ve served it. I’ve purchased it from a restaurant and served it to people that were not vegan and they were going nuts over it. OK. So you’re kind of being…what’s the word I’m looking for here? You’re treading gently here. Now did you have any other focus? Because I know I’m always looking for healthy. I know there’s a lot of vegan junk out there and occasionally I will indulge but it’s rare. It’s becoming rarer and rarer actually but I like the healthy food. I’m not into the fried food. I know there was—and I don’t even know if it’s still here—there was a restaurant in Brooklyn I think it was that served a lot of fried food.
Kristin Lajeunesse: Foodswings?
Caryn Hartglass: Foodswings.
Kristin Lajeunesse: Yup, they’re still there.
Caryn Hartglass: I remember when I first ate there I was very excited that they existed and I didn’t want to have anything on the menu.
Kristin Lajeunesse: People go nuts for that place. That’s for sure.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, they like that fried stuff. I think what we learn from that is #1: people don’t know what’s in their food and they don’t care. And you can use plant-based alternatives for chicken and beef and things and as long as you fry it up and season it and add a lot of oil and salt, it’s going to taste just as good and maybe better.
Kristin Lajeunesse: That’s what the traditional version is too. It’s just taking something that you otherwise probably wouldn’t find tasteful and making it easy to eat.
Caryn Hartglass: Alright. What about…OK, we’ll leave the worst thing behind. What were some of the best things that you had?
Kristin Lajeunesse: Oh, OK. So, the best ice cream that I had. I’m big into sweets or at least I was. My sweet tooth seems to be on the decline since I’ve been eating so much of it on the road. The best ice cream that I had was actually at a raw restaurant called Café 118 in Winter Park, Florida. There’s another restaurant with the same name in the LA area but this is a different one in Florida. Completely raw ice cream and it was the creamiest, best mint chocolate chip ice cream I’ve ever had in my life with a beautiful cashew cream sauce on top and chocolate drizzle. It was delicious.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow. Do you know what the base of the ice cream was?
Kristin Lajeunesse: I think it was cashew.
Caryn Hartglass: Cashews are pretty incredible what they can do. That’s like vegan crack, cashews. And all you have to do is soak cashews, blend them up in a blender, and pour them on anything.
Kristin Lajeunesse: I think one of the best overall meals that I had was actually not too far from here. It was at a place called Veg in Philadelphia.
Caryn Hartglass: I’ve heard such good things about it and I have yet to go there.
Kristin Lajeunesse: You have to go. It’s so delicious.
Caryn Hartglass: OK, I’m going tomorrow.
Kristin Lajeunesse: It’s really good.
Caryn Hartglass: What did you have there?
Kristin Lajeunesse: I don’t remember. It was over a year ago. I don’t even remember the names of the dishes because they were so unique. It’s kind of an upscale place and they really play with the whole fruits and veggies. They don’t do a lot with faux meat stuff, which is another part of the reason that I love it so much. I remember there was this great appetizer with some kind of shredded mushroom thing. The dessert there was really good. It was a blood orange-strawberry cheesecake, I think. It was incredible. Incredible. They’re very talented there.
Caryn Hartglass: You don’t know until you try it. You don’t know how good this food can be. I did the wrong thing by only eating breakfast today. OK. Alright, so you’ve traveled around. You’ve written a whole bunch. Now you’re putting it in a book I understand? Something like that?
Kristin Lajeunesse: Yeah. Well I had gotten a call from a new publishing company. They’re actually called Vegan Publishers. They asked me if I was considering writing about my journey and I said I was considering it but I had no timeline. They offered to work with me on it so a few weeks into talking with them we signed a deal and I officially am working on a book, which is terrifying because I never thought of myself as an author or a writer even though I have a blog. But I think the scarier thing about it is I’m not going to be repurposing the blog content. It’s all going to be about the personal journey. Of course there will be lots of mentions about the food and slyly throwing veganism in there because I would like it to be for a wide-range audience. But I found that it’s really hard to put words to how much this experience changed my life.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, well, that’s the challenge of writing. I know that personally. You’re searching and you really need to go deep sometimes to find out what it is that really happened—what really happened and how were you moved and then how do you put it on the page and then how do you make it sound interesting. All tough things and a lot of people do it and a lot of people aren’t very good at it. I wish you all the best.
Kristin Lajeunesse: Thanks for that pick-me-up at the end there. That’s great.
Caryn Hartglass: I think you’re someone who decides what it is that needs to be done. You have good intentions and you go for it so I think you’re going to do fine.
Kristin Lajeunesse: Thank you. Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: As long as you have great vegan food to fuel you along the way, how can you go wrong? This is, I think, for the most part a supportive community. People want to see vegan success everywhere.
Kristin Lajeunesse: Well that’s one of the biggest takeaways I had from the road actually was that I learned that most people truly are good people. The community and the network that developed around what “Will Travel for Vegan Food” is today is really just a representation of how kind and generous people were. By the time I got to the West Coast, because I initially started over here on the East Coast, by the time I got to the West Coast, I was hardly sleeping in my van. I had couches and spare bedrooms and free meals. I lived entirely off of donations while on the road and, again, just that alone speaks volumes to how kind people are, even people who…I met and had dinner and shared meals with people who aren’t vegan at all. They heard about the journey and they were just so interested and kind of captivated by this crazy thing that someone was doing. So, yeah, very cool stuff.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow. I want to think that most of us are good no matter what it is we eat. I want to believe that. I want to believe that there’s good in all of us, although sometimes it’s challenging to believe that. But I want to. I really believe that. I think we’re all kind of moldable. That’s the human spirit actually and the more we open ourselves up to learn about things, the more putty-like and flexible we are. And we can become better.
Kristin Lajeunesse: Yes. We just have to be ready for it in that moment, which speaks to what we were talking about earlier with resistance early on and not wanting to be told what to do. But I think it’s almost specific to food too. I feel like there’s a very unique relationship that we have with food. It’s very community-oriented so taking that away from people can be scary. Even though I think we’re all inherently good and we want to do well for ourselves and the people around us and the environment, sometimes it can be hard when we’re told that what we’ve been doing is wrong.
Caryn Hartglass: Alright. So now we just have like three minutes left. What are your favorite foods, other than ice cream?
Kristin Lajeunesse: Right. Definitely sweets. I’m a sucker for anything from Vegan Treats. They are so good.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh yeah, fabulous. We’ve been there.
Kristin Lajeunesse: I’m also like you. I’m a big fan of kale. I will eat it in any form. Actually just the other day, when you were talking about kale chips earlier, I just enjoyed some very good kale chips from MOB in Brooklyn, a really good vegan restaurant out there. I think kale is my favorite food. Actually I’m intending to be mostly raw once I finish eating my way through New York City because, honestly, the fake meat stuff that I had on the road and the sweets, it really did a number on my body.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s interesting. I know I’ve been vegan for a long time, over 25 years. My tastes have definitely changed, as my knowledge has changed, as the food has changed. There was a period when I was crazy for meat analogs. I just loved them. I know there are some people, vegans, who will raise an eyebrow and say, “Why is it you are eating meat analogs? Why do you like the taste of meat?” I never thought of it as meat. I never thought of it as the taste of meat. There’s just a nice chew and it had that salty, fatty, whatever flavor and it was fun. That’s all. But I’m over it now. I prefer whole, minimally processed foods at this point. Occasionally I’ll like a piece of cake but I never like it when it’s too sweet, although Vegan Treats…
Kristin Lajeunesse: They’ll getcha.
Caryn Hartglass: They are pretty amazing. Sometimes when I indulge because I’m at a place that I’ve heard a lot about and I want to try everything, there’s that need afterwards to cleanse and the body’s just screaming, “Kale me! Just give me kale!” I have to say, I’m feeling a little selfish. I just had this little fear. I don’t know why I did but I thought if I keep pushing kale, are we going to run out of kale? Is there not going to be enough kale to go around for everybody?
Kristin Lajeunesse: I don’t think we have to worry about that anytime soon.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah I think so. But we need to start growing more kale because people should be eating a lot of it. OK. We have like less than a minute but…favorite kale recipe? Kale chips?
Kristin Lajeunesse: I actually really like it kind of just rubbed with salt and then put some fresh lemon juice on it and straight up like that like a kale salad.
Caryn Hartglass: Kale salad, love it. I’m going to get me some right now. Well, Kristin, thank you so much for joining me on It’s All About Food. All the best with “Will Travel for Vegan Food.” And that’s wtfveganfood.com. I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. Thank you so much for joining me. I hope you’ve had a delicious hour with me. I know I have. Keep it delicious. Have a delicious week. Bye bye.
Transcribed by Jennie Steinhagen, 7/10/2103