Part I: Laura Theodore
Laura Theodore is a radio host, television personality, and award-winning jazz singer and songwriter. She currently hosts the Jazzy Vegetarian cooking show on public television and Jazzy Vegetarian Radio, a talk and music show focusing on easy-to-prepare, plant-based recipes, earth-friendly entertaining tips, celebrity interviews, and upbeat music.
Hello and welcome to It’s All About Food. I am Caryn Hartglass and it is December 28th (and I have to clear my voice). It’s almost the end of 2011. This is the last It’s All About Food segment until next year. While we’re thinking about the end of the year, I just wanted to remind you about a few things. I’m the founder of a nonprofit, Responsible Eating and Living, which you can find at responsibleeatingandliving.com. We’re really brand new. We launched less than six months ago and we were featured in Veg News magazine’s Best of 12/11 as one of the ten nonprofits you need to know. It was really exciting. As you’re thinking about those last-minute tax deductions, you might think about Responsible Eating and Living. We’re a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and just like many other organizations, we could use your help. OK. Another thing: resolutions. This is always a good time to start thinking about how we want to live our lives. Because today is the first day of the rest of our life, right? The New Year is always a great time to make resolutions. Any time of the year is great to be thinking about how to improve and how to live a better life. But the resolution that I think I want everybody to think about is making this world a better place. And I want to bring on my first guest who is doing just that one recipe at a time. My guest is Laura Theodore, the Jazzy Vegetarian. She’s a radio host, television personality, and award-winning jazz singer and songwriter. She currently hosts The Jazzy Vegetarian cooking show on public television and Jazzy Vegetarian Radio, a talk and music show focusing on easy to prepare plant-based recipes, earth-friendly entertaining tips, celebrity interviews, and upbeat music.
Caryn Hartglass: Welcome to It’s All About Food, Laura.
Laura Theodore: Thank you for having me. And what a fabulous interview. I’m enticed with myself now.
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t think it’s just now. I think you have been doing this a long time and know how good you are.
Laura Theodore: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s great that you’re doing a show on PBS. All the vegetarians and vegans have been screaming silently and loudly for such a long time, “Let’s get some real shows, real cooking shows on television please.”
Laura Theodore: It’s been a wonderful experience. Everybody has been reaching out and calling in and writing in, people from the age of 14 to the age of 85 and people who are omnivorous, carnivorous, vegans, vegetarians. It’s really been a really wonderful experience, Caryn.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, you’ve been doing this vegetarian thing for a while. How long has it been for you?
Laura Theodore: I gave up eating red meat in 1981 and then it went to chicken and then to fish. It’s been a slow transition. I’ve been a full-fledged vegan for three years again now although I was a vegan on and off again while being a vegetarian over the last 25 years.
Caryn Hartglass: That might actually be a good thing. Excuse me, I don’t know why I’m hoarse today because as a vegan I should never be. I should never have any physically problems at all. I just came back from traveling and it’s always rough in the air.
Laura Theodore: It is. Tell me about it. I know exactly what you mean, especially if you have to travel somewhere on a plane and then you have to go there and sing.
Caryn Hartglass: We’re going to get to that too because I’m a singer too and I want to share some of those experiences because I think it’s interesting and I think it can be helpful
Laura Theodore: I know.
Caryn Hartglass: Going back and forth between vegetarian and vegan for a long time, you have the experience to share with so many people who find it so challenging. You know, the biggest thing we hear from people is, “I can’t give up cheese.”
Laura Theodore: I think that now it is really easy to give up cheese because there are so many great cheese analogs out there. Really in the past five years, all of a sudden all these great cheeses came to be. I use them a lot in my recipes. And I really don’t miss cheese at all. As a matter of fact, cheese is something that I rarely ate, especially over the last 10 years with my talking and singing schedule. Cheese is easier to give up now, don’t you think?
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely. I can only talk from my own personal experience and it’s been a very long journey. I started quite a while ago as you did: giving up red meat and then fish and then dairy and eggs. I’ve been a vegan since 1988. Talking a lot to myself…for me, the way it worked was, people associate different things with food. Many people associate certain foods with really lovely memories: things, nourishing things their mothers gave to them, and holiday parties, and traditional things. I made this quick transfer of I don’t relate cheese with good memories, I relate it to cancer and poor health and unhappy cows. I made that quick change so that it wasn’t difficult for me to leave it behind when I was ready. I know for a lot of people it’s just an easy way to make things taste good because it’s fat and salt, two of the three ingredients that we tend to abuse to make food taste better.
Laura Theodore: It’s very, very true.
Caryn Hartglass: I want to talk about dairy and singing. Did you ever find as a singer…it’s funny, maybe it’s psychosomatic or something today, I’m not usually hoarse but maybe because I knew I was going to be talking about dairy and singing, all of a sudden I’ve got this (makes sound). I found that eliminating dairy from the diet really keeps the vocal cords clear.
Laura Theodore: It really, really helps. I swear by it. I’ve told anybody that I was coaching over the past 20-25 years or whenever I was on a concert tour. Cheese has not been a mainstay in my diet for a very, very, very, very, very long time. Mainly it’s because cheese and singing is a no-no. I tell any of my friends who are singers or anybody if they’re complaining about it to give up the dairy. It’s the main thing to do. Then you’re not going to get that mucus. Your throat is going to be clear as a bell.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. That’s very true. My heart goes out so many times when I’ve seen singers that are suffering. You have so many other things to worry about when you have a performance that you don’t need your body to fail on you when you need it to be just right.
Laura Theodore: There’s no doubt. No doubt about it.
Caryn Hartglass: What about traveling and eating healthfully?
Laura Theodore: I think it’s challenging, Caryn. I don’t know about you but I do find it to be challenging. But once again, over the past five years a lot easier. Years ago I used to do the ship circuit. I used to headline on the cruise lines. And I would go out sometimes for sometimes two weeks and they we’d kind of…they’d just fly me into the date. I’d be there and I’d do those concerts and then I’d leave from whatever the next country was that we got to. I found it very, very challenging to get something to eat.
Caryn Hartglass: Especially on a ship.
Laura Theodore: I would take vegan protein powders with me. Of course I wouldn’t eat any cheese. There was rarely any tofu so I would kind of be living on vegan protein powders and miso soup mixes. That was ten years ago. Now it is a little easier. Just about anywhere you go you’re going to find something. It does make it a lot easier to travel as a vegan these days.
Caryn Hartglass: I think it’s very exciting because it really has drastically improved over the last decade. It’s really incredible whereas the word “vegan” is really in the vocabulary right now and that’s exciting. I think the change is going to be exponential now because people, especially Americans, want things to be easy, want things to be convenient and as it becomes so to eat more healthfully more people will do it.
Laura Theodore: It’s really true. That’s what my book is all about as is the TV show. That’s what we’re all trying to do: make it easier, make it familiar, base it on foods you can buy at your local supermarket as much as possible, focusing on foods that are classic and traditional in the American diet and then switching them over and make them healthier. That’s what I’m doing. That’s what people like yourself are all doing right now, giving one another a helping hand
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. It’s not that difficult.
Laura Theodore: It’s not.
Caryn Hartglass: It really isn’t. And I, like you, hear it so often and it kind of breaks my heart when people are saying, “I’m trying, it’s so hard.” I just want to hold them and say, “It’s really isn’t. Just shift a little and the door will open and all the vegetables will come right in.”
Laura Theodore: It’s so true, Caryn. But you know what? What I like to tell people is to start with one meal a week. Start incorporating that regularly into your diet if you are a meat-eater for every meal. Then sneak in one day a week. Meatless Mondays are very popular now. So then all of a sudden you’re doing one day a week. And then as you start enjoying it more and more, learning it more and more, find out what your vegan eating curve is going to be, so to speak, and then start adding more days, adding more meals. Start entertaining and occasionally have a party where it’s all based on plant-based meals just for the fun of it and all the festive colors and all of the fabulous things you can make. And then you’re just going to be able to start to incorporate it into your diet and then your decision will be made for you.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m looking at your book, The Jazzy Vegetarian: Lively Vegan Cuisine That is Easy and Delicious. It’s published by the company Book Publishing Company and they went all out with your book. I get a lot of their cookbooks and this one…I can tell that they really believed in you. It’s a hardcover. It’s full color. There are lots of great pictures in it. It’s a really lovely book.
Laura Theodore: Thank you so much. I’m so pleased with it. I am so thankful to the folks at Book Publishing Company. They are such a great publisher and I feel so blessed to be with them.
Caryn Hartglass: The Book Publishing Company, I don’t know if people know who they are but I have a lot of their authors on my show, they come out of a group called The Farm in Tennessee, which, I don’t know for how many decades now, is a community of vegetarians. It started a while ago.
Laura Theodore: Many years.
Caryn Hartglass: So they’re really walking the walk at this company.
Laura Theodore: They really are. They’re very inspiring people and all of them are incredible people to work with and to be with and as you say, they walk their talk.
Caryn Hartglass: There are a lot of vegan cookbooks coming out, which I think is a great thing and my wish is to not to have to say at some point “vegan cookbook” that all cookbooks will be vegan. What’s different about yours?
Laura Theodore: Thanks for asking. I think perhaps what is different about mine is that it really is an easy book. A lot of books are easy but it really does focus on American food, American classics, and particularly a lot of American-Italian food. We really focus on…in this cookbook I really wanted to focus on a lot of recipes that I loved as a child. My grandmother was a great, great chef. Her last name was Cook believe it or not, Caryn. And my mother is a great cook, and my stepmother, and mother-in-law. They’re all great cooks and they all come from different parts of American cuisine. So we really focused it on making lasagna vegan and making it taste just like lasagna. Chili, stuffed peppers, meatless meatloaf, and the dessert and all the chocolate desserts. And you’re never going to know that these are vegan. You’re not going to miss anything and in fact you’re going to like them better than the originals.
Caryn Hartglass: I was reading your book and I was thinking just about that: how you’re taking all of these traditional recipes from your family and haven’t we been doing this for centuries where people have taken the recipes that their families have made and they’ve made them their own in one way or another? They’re never the same as each person takes them but we’re just kind of highlighting the fact that our change is we’ve taken the animal parts out but otherwise they’re the same. They’re really good.
Laura Theodore: That’s a really good point. I never really thought of it that way but it’s really true.
Caryn Hartglass: I just don’t want to make a big deal about it. I just want to show that it’s easy, it’s delicious, you can have everything, look good, feel great, save the planet, make the world a better place. Let’s just do it already. 2012. Let’s just do it.
Laura Theodore: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m looking at…just thumbing through here and something that I really love are red and yellow peppers and you have a few dishes: roasted and stuffed. They’re just so beautiful and delicious. I just don’t think they get enough attention.
Laura Theodore: They don’t get enough attention, which is why I highlighted them in my book and on the television show: two episodes are with these peppers. The thing is that we eat with our eyes first. When people come over to my house, if they’re carnivorous or if they’re omnivorous, they’re always like, “Oh gosh, they’re going to be delicious.” And it always is. But part of it is making sure that even for yourself, cooking for your family, every day you want that food to look absolutely amazing. When you put colorful vegetables, colorful fruits, when you put them out and you make them look good, then you want to eat them. That’s the whole secret there.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s such an important point. Even if we’re not making a party, even if we’re not making food for anyone else but ourselves, it should always be a work of art. It should always be beautiful and it’s not difficult. I like to say that you deserve it. Everyone deserves to treat themselves with healthy, delicious, beautiful food.
Laura Theodore: I agree. I agree. Good point. Because it’s really so easy to do. There’s one big tip that comes to mind, Caryn, something that’s as simple as when you finish a dish, then when you’re done…let’s say you’re having your vegetarian lasagna or your vegan lasagna, at the end of it, I like to chop up a little fresh parsley and just sprinkle that all over the top and all over the plate. Put it on a white plate. You see that fresh parsley, it costs pennies, it looks beautiful, and you feel like you’re eating at a restaurant.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s good for you. It’s good for you. Dark, leafy greens. We gotta get them all the time.
Laura Theodore: Of course. We gotta eat our parsley and not just look at it.
Caryn Hartglass: The rough thing about the yellow and red peppers, however…I like to buy everything organic. And then get to be expensive. I don’t think that people realize that every green pepper out there is a green pepper that has not been given the opportunity to ripen and become the beautiful vegetable it’s meant to be. Or fruit. Is it a fruit or a vegetable? I don’t even know.
Laura Theodore: I believe it’s a vegetable.
Caryn Hartglass: Because it’s got seeds in it. I get confused.
Laura Theodore: I think it’s a vegetable, though, because of the way it grows. I think we’re going to have to google that actually.
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t think it matters. It’s a plant and it’s good for you. When it’s red or yellow or orange, it’s sweet, it’s crunchy, it’s delicious. And eat more of them.
Laura Theodore: I agree.
Caryn Hartglass: I want to get a little…I don’t know what I want to say…a little new agey here for a minute, a little spiritual. Something that is important to me when I’m singing is making a connection with the people that are listening. I’ve always enjoyed intimate venues because I’m close to people and I can really feel that and we can relate on a level that is so different than just talking. That connection is so important and it’s something that so many of us are missing today: connecting with people. As a result, we’ve gotten so separated from everything in the world: from the environment, from other animals, from what we’re eating. There are all of these disconnects. I think that being involved in music kind of helps you realize the connection so it’s a natural path to go to healthy food.
Laura Theodore: There’s no doubt about it. It’s interesting that you brought this up because earlier today I was talking with the great Michael Feinstein and that’s exactly what we were talking about. We were talking about how to get away from the modernization of the world as far as walking down the street and looking at our iPods or Blackberry or whatever at all times. Let’s try to reconnect with the world. Let’s try to get off of the mechanicals for a large period of our day. Let’s try to experience life. And part of what Michael brought up, and I really agree and it’s what you’re talking about too, is music is really a part of that: trying to experience the music with other people, trying to go and see live music when you can. But it really boils down to music and food have always gone together in our modern society. Walk into a restaurant and there’s always music playing. You have a dinner party and there’s always music playing. When you think about it, music and food hand in hand. That’s really how The Jazzy Vegetarian was born.
Caryn Hartglass: I love how you add a music selection for the menus that you propose in your book.
Laura Theodore: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Why not? Wine pairing and music pairing. You might be starting a new trend.
Laura Theodore: That’s good. I like it.
Caryn Hartglass: OK. Let me see. I’m kind of getting silly with my thoughts. Different music selections for different foods, I’m going to have to think about that later on. Let’s see. We’ve got about 10 minutes left. Let’s talk a little bit about your PBS show.
Laura Theodore: Oh, thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: How did you get this lovely opportunity? And how do we see it? And what’s been happening?
Laura Theodore: Oh, thank you so much. It premiered October 1st, 2011 and right now is in about 60% of US households. By mid-next year it will be in 80% of households. Anyone who has basic cable will be able to get the show. It plays in all of the major cities now except for LA. In LA we’re having our big premiere on February 4th or February 10th, I can’t remember. That’s the big premiere. It’s 13 half hours. Most stations are starting it and rerunning it again. We’re working on preproduction for Season 2 right now. We’re just so blessed. We’re feeling so happy about the opportunity.
Caryn Hartglass: What’s the focus on these shows?
Laura Theodore: The focus on the show is food. It really is. I’m a big fan of food shows. It’s really why I thought about Jazzy Vegetarian. It’s kind of like a fabulous food show. I come on every show and we have a little bit of music on it the beginning that intros the show in, my Jazzy Vegetarian theme. I do a menu plan from start to finish, except for two shows. One show is all chocolate desserts, yummy. We do artichokes, fabulous. But we have an Italian meal. We have a picnic. We have an eco-friendly meal. We have a 30-minute meal that we make it 20 minutes, under 30 minutes of course. We have lots of delicious…a meatless meatloaf meal. We have my stuffed peppers meal. We have so many…a good deli meal. Everything’s vegan from start to finish. And every show Dr. Johnny Bowden, a great nutritional doctor, comes on for about a minute and he talks about some of the nutrition behind the vegan eating.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. What I want to see in this millennium is food that is beautifully prepared, delicious, creative, good for you, good for the planet. I don’t know why so many people are fighting that. There are so many traditional chefs out there. It is changing but there’s still a lot of resistance and I just don’t get it. And so the media is such a critical part of this and we need many, many shows like yours.
Laura Theodore: We do. We do. Thank you. What you just said is what we’re doing on the show. The food looks great. The food tastes great. It’s fun to prepare. It’s easy to prepare. By the end of the show, your mouth is just watering. That’s what we’re doing here. We’re hoping more people will be doing it and I know they are going to be doing it. As more and more people are realizing how important it is to eat more healthy foods that are healthy for the planet as well as for the animals, obviously.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m just curious. Who was behind getting this show launched? Who was the smart person who said that we need a vegan food show?
Laura Theodore: Myself. My husband, who is the executive producer. The other second producer on the show doing the composing. We are so grateful to our presenting station. We work on public television. There are many, many talented people on staff over there working very hard on the show. Our station relations. And thank you to public television and PBS. And I want to thank, of course, our very wonderful and fantastic underwriters, which this season is Tropicana and the Quaker Oats company. Really we couldn’t have done it without them.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. Well, oatmeal. I can’t say enough good things about oatmeal. So thank you.
Laura Theodore: I love oatmeal.
Caryn Hartglass: And you have a few good oatmeal recipes in your book.
Laura Theodore: I do. I do.
Caryn Hartglass: OK. Well, let’s see. I just want to know…I always like to ask this because so many people ask me: what do you eat?
Laura Theodore: What do I eat?
Caryn Hartglass: What do you eat on a regular basis on a regular day when you’re not having a party? What do you eat?
Laura Theodore: You know, it really varies. I must say I change it up. For example, today I had some sprouted whole grain toast for breakfast with a little bit of maple and cinnamon and a tiny bit of vegan margarine on it. Then after my radio show today and before our interview, I had my energizing smoothie with a frozen banana and some berries and some spinach and some water with some wheat germ and that was my energizer. For supper tonight I plan on having a large salad with various veggies. I made a little homemade pumpkin bread. That’s just today but every day is different. Sometimes I have oatmeal in the morning. Sometimes I have fruit in the morning. Sometimes I have my salad at lunch. I have a lot of steamed vegetables. I love baked potatoes. I love tempeh. I love seitan. I love tofu. I love it all.
Caryn Hartglass: We love food.
Laura Theodore: I love food. I love food. Watch my show and that’s one thing you’re going to see. I love food and I like to change it up and I like to have a lot of variety. A lot of people I think don’t realize. I love beans. I love nuts. I change it up and I think people see this. There’s so much variety in vegan eating. There are so many different things you can eat. That’s the thing that’s so exciting.
Caryn Hartglass: I just have this image of the average American getting up in the morning and kind of blindly walking to the cabinet and taking a box of cereal out and pouring it into a bowl and pouring milk on it and boiling water and making coffee. And even if they eat that much, having a bowl of cereal and kind of zombie-like walking out the door. Food shouldn’t be that way. It should be fresh. It should be colorful. It shouldn’t come in a cardboard box. And it’s not hard once you get that realization.
Laura Theodore: It’s very true. Although one of my favorite snacks is cereal. Late at night I really try to cut down…I’m not really a sweet eater. I like sweets but it’s something that I really stay away from as much as possible. But if I do want a little treat, I’ll have a little bit of vegan yogurt or I will have a little bit of cereal with some vegan milk maybe with a little bit of rice syrup on it and that’s a great dessert.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s good to hear because people need to know that we’re not these weird aliens from another planet that are doing things that are just so extreme and so bizarre. There are so many products out on the market that are just like the conventional animal products only they just have the animal products out. But what I like to tell people over and over, especially for 2012: find your kitchen, get into it, and learn how to make some food yourself from fresh, whole, organic, locally grown fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, raw nuts and seeds.
Laura Theodore: That’s what my cookbook is all about.
Caryn Hartglass: Make this world a better place one recipe at a time. I like that.
Laura Theodore: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: OK. Well thank you Laura Theodore. It was a pleasure talking with you today. I’m so excited about what you’re doing. Your book is beautiful. It’s called The Jazzy Vegetarian. Keep on keeping on.
Laura Theodore: Well thank you very much. I’m wishing you a very happy and a very healthy 2012. Thank you for all the work you’re doing. I want to thank you for this great opportunity today. Have a beautiful new year. Thanks, Caryn.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you too. Happy New Year.
Laura Theodore: Bye-bye.
Caryn Hartglass: Bye-bye. You’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. I’m Caryn Hartglass. I just wanted to mention again responsibleaatingandliving.com for all those last-minute tax deductions. Gosh, what else can I say? Well I think we’ll take a break. We have a great guest coming up next: Lathan Thomas, the founder of Tender Shoots Wellness. We’ll be right back.
Transcribed by Jennie Steinhagen, 5/11/2013