The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s ship the Steve Irwin was docked at Chelsea Pier in Manhattan for a few days. Caryn spoke with Laura Dakin, the current head cook for the Steve Irwin about the organization and what they do and what kind of vegan meals are served up to the hungry hands on deck. Established in 1977, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) is an international non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organization. Their mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species. Caryn’s second guest was Alan Roettinger, author of the new cookbook, Speed Vegan. Alan Roettinger has been a private chef for over 28 years, serving a broad spectrum of high-profile clients, from entertainers to presidents. A world traveler, he absorbed elements from many cuisines to synthesize a unique, creative, personal style. Alan’s first cookbook, Omega-3 Cuisine, showcases his ability to bring health and flavor together, offering a wide range of dishes that are simultaneously exotic and accessible to the home cook. In Speed Vegan, Alan has kept flavor and health, but expanded these parameters to include quick, easy, and strictly plant-based.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi. I’m Caryn Hartglass, your host of It’s All About Food. It’s all about food. Thank you for joining me. I take email comments and questions at email@example.com. firstname.lastname@example.org. I know you’re going to have some comments today because I think we’ve got a really exciting show. I recently found out that the Steve Irwin—this is a ship with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society—happened to be docking in Manhattan for a few days and I was able to get someone from the ship to come on the show and talk about what they’re doing. Laura, are you with us?
Laura Dakin: Hey, yes I am.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, great. Laura, is it Dakin?
Laura Dakin: Laura Dakin.
Caryn Hartglass: Laura Dakin. And you are the crew’s cook.
Laura Dakin: Yeah, I’m the head chef on board the Sea Shepherd, yep.
Caryn Hartglass: Head chef, great.
Laura Dakin: Or chief cook, whatever.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, we’re going to talk about food because it’s all about food. But first I’m just going to read the Sea Shepherd’s mission statement and then I thought you might tell us about what you’re doing.
Laura Dakin: Rad, cool.
Caryn Hartglass: “Established in 1977, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is an international nonprofit, marine wildlife conservation organization. [Their] mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species. Sea Shepherd uses innovative direct-action tactics to investigate, document, and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities on the high seas. By safeguarding the biodiversity of our delicately balanced ocean ecosystems, Sea Shepherd works to ensure their survival for future generations.” Wow. You know, a lot of people don’t really think about the ocean that much in terms of what’s going on. It’s almost like another planet. It’s a place that we don’t know very well and very few actually get to get under and see all the beautiful life that’s there. I think unfortunately because of that big separation, we really take advantage of what’s going on there and we certainly don’t think about the life that’s there as anything of value.
Laura Dakin: Yeah. Very true. Very easy to forget about the oceans and they’re pretty much on the way out. They’re dying in our time.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, there are so many species that are extinct now.
Laura Dakin: Yeah. So many. Certainly like the campaign that we’re just getting ready for here, is to save Bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean. They’ve basically been given three years before they go extinct if something serious and drastic isn’t done about it. The price of one Bluefin tuna now is like something in the $200,000/lb. range like Sterling for one fish. The more endangered they’ve become, the more people pay for them.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, the more they want them.
Laura Dakin: More poaching. Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: So what does the Sea Shepherd actually do? I know that I’ve heard different stories over the years, some of them quite sensational. But it sounds very… Well…
Laura Dakin: Radical.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, the word that’s coming to my mind, it’s like you’re like the vegan pirates or something out there, but doing good like the Robin Hood of the sea somehow.
Laura Dakin: Yeah. We kind of call ourselves pirates of compassion, hunting down the pirates of profit, I suppose. ‘Cause I guess people are calling Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd the pirates and he’s like, okay. We’ll go with that. Kids love it. We basically take direct action to stop the poaching of any kind of endangered marine wildlife, which is pretty much everything right now. So we do the seal campaign in Eastern Canada. There’s about 360,000 baby harp seals are slaughtered for their fur. And obviously the whale campaign, and that’s the big one we just came back from. Animal Planet are also filming a show called Whale Wars. But we just go and we get in their way and we use our ship to physically intervene and stop them from killing whales. So if they started harpooning whales in the past, then we literally just take our boat and try and cut through their lines, often ending in collision or little bumps.
Caryn Hartglass: And how successful are you other than pissing these people off?
Laura Dakin: Well this year their quota of over a thousand whales, they only went back home with five hundred whales so we managed to save over five hundred whales, which was one of our best campaigns yet. I see like when I first joined, our first campaign to Antarctica, we had an old, slow boat and we managed to disrupt them enough to save around eighty whales. Just every year we’re getting stronger and stronger and we’re getting more and more support so we’re able to have just last year, three vessels and it really shows how effective we are. We’re literally with the fleet for as long as we can just harassing them and they certainly don’t get a chance to catch a single whale while we’re with them.
Caryn Hartglass: What are whales used for mostly?
Laura Dakin: Well a lot of it, I think it’s mainly become… I think a whaling fleet was given to Japan after World War II by the Americans? It was used to get protein and as basically a food source. Now it’s become more a matter of national pride I guess and kind of a blood sport. I think a lot of it’s just stubbornness; they don’t want to be told what to do. A lot of the whale meat’s being pushed into schools, which is terrible ‘cause it’s not very healthy. But a lot of it’s being pushed into schools and sold as like, whale burgers. You can buy whale burgers and all that kind of thing. It’s done under the guise of scientific research, which is totally bogus.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. So how is the harpooning done? How are these precious animals caught? It’s kind of sophisticated, isn’t it?
Laura Dakin: Yeah. The harpoon vessels are literally killing machines and they can turn on a dime and they’re so fast; they can go over twenty knots. They basically will spot a whale and the whale will start to run away. And obviously as it’s running it’s taking shorter breaths and so it can’t get a big enough breath to dive into safety. So they basically just like run after it and chase it down until it’s too slow and too tired to put up much of a fight. Then the harpoonist will point the harpoon and fire. A lot of the time they might not get a very good shot and they’ll harpoon several times, like they’ll use several shots or use guns as well. It can take up to about twenty minutes for a whale to die. It’s a really long, drawn out, painful, horrific experience I hope I never have to see again. It’s really horrible. Then they drive the ship—the whale, sorry, up against the ship—and then they steam down to the Nisshin Maru, which is the factory whaling ship, and they do the transfer of the whale in about thirty seconds. One year a couple of years ago they started to whale in front of us for the first time; they’d been too scared previously. By the time we could catch up to them and knew what was going on they had four whales onboard. And then during the transfer of their fourth whale or their fifth whale, rather, we were kind of on top of them in time and we managed to cut through them and after that they didn’t try and get another whale. We had a collision with one of their harpoon vessels and it got quite heated. But yeah, it’s a factory.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s just incredible what people can do and you really wonder what they’re thinking and what’s in their hearts. Because I think all animal species are precious myself. The whale in particular, we know how majestic and how intelligent they are. There’s probably so much that we can learn from them.
Laura Dakin: Yeah. I think if we can’t save these big, beautiful, intelligent mammals, then what hope is there for any of the smaller species that are going extinct? I think over 50,000 species on the planet will go extinct because of human impact on the world. So if we can’t save the whales then, oh my gosh, everything else is doomed. Feels like it’s a pretty important campaign because of that because people relate to the whale campaign and it’s something that people have been screaming about.
Caryn Hartglass: How did you get involved with the Sea Shepherd?
Laura Dakin: I got involved because I was living in Bermuda, actually, and I just had recently gone vegan and I started learning a lot about animal rights stuff and just kind of once I started learning a few things I just wanted to learn everything and then I found out about Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd and I liked their kind of direct-action, hardcore approach. The boat just then came into Bermuda when I was working and they were a day away from leaving on their seal campaign. I hadn’t met any other vegans at that point and so I went and had dinner with them and I met the crew and there was only eleven crew, there was no women onboard. It was really small; we had this old rusty bucket ship. I just was like, “Well, I’m just going to do it,” and I left and I told my boss I’ll be back in three weeks and that was five years ago.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh my goodness. Wow, that’s really courageous.
Laura Dakin: I got completely consumed; I just love it. It’s satisfying.
Caryn Hartglass: And so now you’re the chef. How many people are on Steve Irwin right now?
Laura Dakin: So right now in New York we have about twenty crew? For a big campaign we have up to about fifty crew members.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow. So what is it like, cooking on the ship and what do you prepare and how does that work?
Laura Dakin: It’s pretty challenging, cooking on the boat. I’m a bit used to it now, so it gets easier as you go along. But definitely it’s every day, three meals a day. We do breakfast, lunch, and dinner and then snacks in-between. There’s usually about three of us in the galley during a campaign, so there’s lots of help around. Everyone chips in with prepping and chopping and we have a garlic-peeling party. Obviously when the weather gets rough it’s challenging and you’re not feeling the best and you’re basically holding on. You don’t want to make soups or anything like that; you try and make usually a lot of rice and ginger and that kind of thing. Just plain foods when it’s rough weather. Also because the crew are working outside in cold conditions often their appetites are massive, so lots of comfort food. We put on a big Christmas dinner. But it definitely moves around a lot, like a lot of the time you’re just grabbing everything you can find and holding on for dear life because the ship’s just lurching and twisting and crazy. So many meals end up on the floor.
Caryn Hartglass: How long is a campaign? How much food can you get on the ship and what do you do about fresh food?
Laura Dakin: We can stay out for about fifty or sixty days with our usual consumption, depending on if we sit idle for a little while. We take on a lot of food. Produce lasts for about two weeks. Once that’s up it’s all frozen and canned food after that. Everyone’s a really good sport about it ‘cause everyone’s away from their families and it’s Christmas time and they’re eating frozen broccoli. But yeah, it’s cool. Everyone is there for the right reasons. Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I wanted to talk about it because you know a lot of people think it’s difficult to prepare vegan food. I know it isn’t; I’ve been doing it for several decades. I thought it would be great to talk to you because you’re just adding another level of challenge. You’re doing it on a ship.
Laura Dakin: Yeah, it’s crazy. It’s not hard. Basically what I tell people is anything that you normally eat, you can pretty much “veganize.” There are so many awesome products. If you don’t like soymilk, there’s oat milks and almond milks and they’re great. Like, you can whack them into anywhere that says milk. There’s Earth Balance margarine instead of butter and it’s healthier and it’s really yummy. And there’s so much fake meat available so if you want to have sausage rolls or hot dogs, I think you can find everything. We eat pizzas and curries and pasta and I cook burgers and all that kind of thing. You can do anything, really.
Caryn Hartglass: What’s a typical menu, starting with breakfast?
Laura Dakin: Okay, so for breakfast we’ll have pancakes or hash browns or sometimes like a tofu scramble, like a fake egg scramble. We’ll also have cereal and toast and stuff like that too. And fruit if it’s the first two weeks of the campaign. Now lunch we might have… I’m a big fan of soups, salads, and breads. We make tons of fresh breads and scones and things like that onboard ‘cause people are hungry, like lots of hungry working people. But we also have pastas and might do theme nights. So we’ll pick a country and we’ve got an international crew, so we have crew members from Japan and from Brazil and from Germany, all over the world. We’ll have Mexican night or we’ll have Japanese food night. We usually just kind of do a theme night most nights of the week actually. Then obviously we do the Christmas dinner and we’ll have like a special dinner party and try to make it fun ‘cause food is really what keeps the morale high. What everyone looks forward to, and so I think it’s really important that it’s exciting and fun for them.
Caryn Hartglass: Have you ever thought of doing a cookbook?
Laura Dakin: Yeah, I’m actually doing one right now.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh great!
Laura Dakin: It should hopefully be finished. It’s basically a day-to-day of the campaign. So our position where we are ‘cause obviously the weather depends a lot on the food that you make. On action days where the crew are literally up and out on-deck, sometimes twenty-four hours, we have special kind of foods that we put on then: warm comfort foods. So yeah, I’m doing a cookbook at the moment. Hopefully it’ll be finished by the end of this campaign.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, great. That’ll be really great fun to see. Is everyone vegan on the ship, or just some people?
Laura Dakin: Well it’s certainly not required at all. We have a lot of crew members that aren’t vegan, which is awesome. They come onboard and they are all really good sports and give it a go. All the food that served onboard is vegan, all the communal food. The crew know that when they come onboard, so they’re all prepared to give it a go and a lot of people have been reading about nutrition and they realize that you can get a fully balanced nutritious diet on vegan food. You certainly don’t miss out on anything. We eat tons of protein and we get plenty of iron. Just a matter of working out where it is. So usually people feel pretty cool when they come onboard and they all eat vegan while they’re onboard. Pretty much I’d say almost a hundred percent of the crew leave saying that they’re definitely going to change their diets because their eyes kind of open up to how diverse and easy and yummy and you try foods that you’d never normally eat. We eat these crazy combinations every day of different things. So that’s really inspiring.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I really appreciate it because there are many environmental groups that have different campaigns and missions to save one thing or another and they’re not vegetarian or vegan and yet the connection is so blatant and there just seems to be a level of hypocrisy.
Laura Dakin: Yeah. I think it seems to be one of the things that people have just had a hard time connecting, and that’s enough. Because even deforestation, a lot of forest is wiped out to create grazing land for cattle. It’s definitely a massive part of being environmentalist is not contributing to factory farming and mass production of any kind of food, particularly animal food. And also with us a lot of seafood and fishing byproducts is fed to cattle. So vegetarian animals, cows and pigs, are being fed seafood. That just seems totally hypocritical to be eating cows and trying to save whales and kind of just canceling out the good that you’re doing in a way.
Caryn Hartglass: I wanted to… What did I… It just came in and just came out. Let’s see. So how did you, before you got on the ship… Oh, I have another question. I remember reading something about the United States government in their dealings with the Japanese about whaling and how the Japanese would come back and say, “We don’t have to listen to you. You have factory farms and you’re doing all of this slaughter of animals so who are you to talk?” and it’s somewhat hypocritical. And I agree. That’s another difficult line, when people are a single issue and they don’t see the whole picture.
Laura Dakin: Yeah, definitely. It’s a big problem. But I mean, I don’t think it cancels out. I think just because someone else is doing something bad certainly doesn’t give anyone else the right to continue doing their bad thing.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh of course not. But they use it.
Laura Dakin: But yeah you’re right. It is hypocritical. It’s hard for countries to point fingers at other countries when basically we’re all bad. Australia has a massive kangaroo slaughter, slaughtered over a million kangaroos brutally every year. Every country has their dirty secrets. I think the reason why we focus on whales is just because it is an easy one for people to wrap their heads around and it seems that people take the consumption of animal flesh really personally and get quite defensive about it. So it’s not as easy to approach because people instantly put up a barrier or blockade ‘cause it’s something they’re contributing to. But when you can step aside and say, “Well Australia’s killing kangaroos and Japan’s killing whales, how horrible.” They’re not to blame so much, you know what I mean?
Caryn Hartglass: So how did you get started? Why did you become a vegan?
Laura Dakin: I think… I can’t even really put my finger on it, but I didn’t even go vegetarian. I just went from, I think I said I’m going to be vegan this week and I’ll let myself eat whatever I want on Sundays, and when Sunday came around I was like, “Oh no.” In that week I’ve been reading up on different things and found all these links on this and that and then I went down to the, I was like trying to find where the slaughterhouse was on the island of Bermuda and I was like, “I need to know exactly what’s going on.” And then I felt I’ve been lied to. So yeah, it just kind of happened. It was just kind of a natural… I don’t even know what… I think what triggered initially, I’d gone into a health food store and I’d seen a book on healthy living which is called vegan pretty much for the most part by default. So I started reading up about it on that level and then of course once I started really looking into recipes and there became links to different environmental reasons and health reasons and ethical reasons as to why it’s good and I just definitely got taken. Made sense.
Caryn Hartglass: So I’m talking with Laura Dakin. She is the chef on the Steve Irwin, which is a ship doing some campaigns for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. You can go to their website at seashepherd.org, and that’s spelled s-e-a-s-h-e-p-h-e-r-d.org. Lots of great information up there. Now you’re docked right now in Manhattan at the Chelsea Piers. What’re some of the events that’re going on?
Laura Dakin: We have an event tomorrow night, actually, off the subject of the Sea Shepherd. This awesome couple of people in New York City have started an animal hospital in Galapagos. That’s a Sea Shepherd campaign; we’re doing Galapagos, protecting the waters around there. They were there and just saw the dire condition that animals were in so they started an animal hospital. So me and a few others have been baking away and we’re having a bake sale tomorrow night to raise funds for the animal hospital. Tons of vegan treats and cakes and cookies and savory stuff, and I think people will be quite surprised at how yummy everything looks, hopefully. That is at the Angels & Kings bar. It’s 500 East 11th Street, between Avenue A and B. The event’s from 7 ‘til 9 and there’s lot of pretty reasonably priced drinks and lots of rad people and a lot of the Sea Shepherd crew will be there if people want to meet them.
Caryn Hartglass: Great.
Laura Dakin: And then we have basically the position of our boat is Pier 59, Chelsea Piers. It’s kind of behind the golf driving range. We’re inviting people to come down to the boat. We’re only here for two more days. We’re inviting people to come to the boat, have a tour of the ship, meet some of the crew, and we’re desperately looking for donations of vegan food and produce and stuff like that so we can do our next campaign because we pretty much rely solely on donations. So if anyone has cans or margarine—Earth Balance—sitting around or even a pumpkin or a sack of potatoes, we desperately need that kind of thing.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, great.
Laura Dakin: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: So that’s down at the Chelsea Piers down in Manhattan.
Laura Dakin: Yeah. Yup. And also on the website there is a Sea Shepherd event on Friday night and all the information is on the website, www.seashepherd.org.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I love the idea of having vegan bake sales as a fundraiser where you’re making all of this wonderful, yummy, delicious stuff for something really unfortunate that’s going on because it’s a real positive way to make a difference. With yummy, delicious, great vegan baked goods.
Laura Dakin: Yup, exactly. It’s really cool.
Caryn Hartglass: Have your cake and eat it too and help something unfortunate.
Laura Dakin: Help the animals.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
Laura Dakin: It’s good too, like when there’s so many massive organizations out there it’s hard to know who to support. But these are really great two kids who’ve just put their whole souls into it, so it’s really rad. It’s totally for a good cause.
Caryn Hartglass: I was reading an article about Bryan Adams. Do you know Bryan Adams, the Canadian rock star?
Laura Dakin: No.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I was just reading an article. I just thought about you guys because he’s vegan and he’s a big whale activist where he’s doing work to ask whaling countries to save the whales.
Laura Dakin: Oh rad, Bryan Adams. Cool.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. So I just wondered. Thought it’d kind of fit in with the story here.
Laura Dakin: Yeah, I don’t know. I’m a bit behind the times, I think…
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Well no, you are the times. You’re news, you’re making it happen.
Laura Dakin: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: We all have a responsibility to make a difference, and we all can make a positive difference. The easiest thing that we can do is something three times a day with what we eat, which can make a tremendous difference for the environment and our health and the animals. But you’re going the extra mile. I mean, you’re really getting your hands dirty and you’ve been doing it for five years and very courageous, very brave and thank you.
Laura Dakin: Thank you. Thank you. Yeah, I just think everyone’s got to be kind of upset about something enough. Even if it’s a community project or something that’s at school or something in the workplace that you’re not happy with. You can’t expect to change the world if you don’t change yourself. And you’re right, by choosing every dollar is a vote. By choosing to eat as ethically as possible and also buying organic and local produce too, because transport and chemicals sprayed on non-organic crops is also very harmful to animals too and to your body.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Gosh the list is long, isn’t it?
Laura Dakin: Yeah. And organic food just tastes so much yummier.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely. It has flavor. I was at an event at noon today by my friend Linda Long, who has a cookbook called Great Chefs Cook Vegan and she invited all these different non-vegetarian chefs to prepare a vegan thing in her cookbook. She had an event today and one of the chefs she had talked to had said, “Good soil makes good soup” and the way I connected that is organic. When you nourish the soil and feed it with nutrients, the food, the plants that you’re going to get is ultimately going to taste good.
Laura Dakin: It’s true though. It’s crazy. Like, it sounds a bit weird but it’s not. It does, like it really does make a difference. You just feel better, you know?
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Okay. So do you have anything else you want to add?
Laura Dakin: No, not really. Just encourage everyone to check out the Whale Wars website if they want to watch Whale Wars and see what it’s like on the boat. And to come down and visit the boat. We’ve only got two days. Even though it’s cold, it’s warm inside.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Laura Dakin: Yeah, no worries.
Caryn Hartglass: I know you’ve been really busy, and I really appreciate talking to you and I’m going to try and come down to the ship.
Laura Dakin: Cool. Well thank you very much for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Thank you.
Laura Dakin: Cool. All right, bye-bye.
Caryn Hartglass: Bye. Well that was Laura Dakin, the head chef at the Sea Shepherd’s Steve Irwin that’s parked right now down at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan and they’re doing some wonderful work to save the whales. I think we’ll take a short break and we’ll be right back.
Transcribed by JC, November 28, 2016