Linda Long, Virgin Vegan



Part I: Linda Long
Virgin Vegan

Linda Long has had a lifelong relationship with the food industry, starting as a waitress and short order cook at the age of 12 in her parents’ truck stop in Pennsylvania. A home economist who taught high school foods in the early part of her career, and spending a decade in the resort hotel business, Linda has been a committed vegan for over 30 years.

Long has had a varied career in the academic, corporate and media communities, with a strong emphasis in fashion, food and nutritional topics. She writes and photographs for vegetarian magazines, including Vegetarian Journal, American Vegan, VegNews and book covers for other authors.

She is a member of the James Beard Foundation (JBF), International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), Women Chefs & Restaurants (WCR), New York Women’s Culinary Alliance (NYWCA) and American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP).


Caryn: Hello Everybody. I am Caryn Hartglass. You are listening to IT’S ALL ABOUT FOOD. A very happy, healthy 2013. It is January 8, and I’ve been off for a couple weeks and it’s been nice to take a break actually, and now I am really excited to get back and talk about my favorite subject, say it with me: FOOD, and all that food has to do with our health, the environment and the animals that we choose to NOT eat.

Okay. I wanted to remind you about my nonprofit and my website, and I just posted my top 10 REAL favorite cook books. If you’d like to find out which ones those are, you can go to the web site, you’ll see it right on the front page and it links to many of the interviews I’ve done in 2012 here on the Progressive Radio Network with all kinds of wonderful foodies that have created delicious, healthy, inspiring recipes.

Let’s move on. I have someone very special here in the studio, my friend, Linda Long. She has had a lifelong realtionship with the food industry, starting as a waitress and a short order cook at the age of 12 and her parents truck stop in Pennsylvania, a home economist who taught high school foods in the early part of her career and spending a decade in a resort hotel business, Linda has been a committed vegan for over 30 years. I am going to give her a big round of applause here. 30 years! She got some great credits and she’s the author of Great Chefs Cook Vegan, and she’s got a brand new, baby new book out called Virgin Vegan. Virgin Vegan, The Meatless Guide to Pleasing Your Palate. Welcome to It’s All About Food.

Linda: THANK you, I’m happy to be here. It is a little book.

Caryn: It’s not that tiny actually but it looks like it’s packed with all kinds of worthwhile information so let’s talk about this. Okay, you’ve been a committed vegan for 30 years. Why did you think that the world needed Virgin Vegan.

Linda: Well, I have to give my editor credit for naming it, I really must. I combated it little bit because I was wondering how I was going to go through the rest of my life saying Virgin Vegan. You have to purse your lips and then and you make a smile to say the two words. I went on and on but I have to say they know what they’re doing. Gibbs Smith is the publisher. Well my other book, Great Chefs Cook Vegan is very high end. It was the most elite chefs in the country and it’s still one of the few books if maybe the only book of that level in the vegan bookshelf right now. But what I really want to do is to go to the complete other and have a book that was more like a primer where it was a real starter and all the books I saw the on the market were really full of great information and they really were for beginners, but the people I was talking to a lot, like my doorman here in New York City, a lot of people who just never buy a “book” book, that looks like it’s an awful lot of chapters to read and you have, like the protein section, you have to go through maybe in 15 pages or whatever. This one, my protein chapter is one page, the calcium page is one page and the book is only half the size of a copy paper, although it hardcovered. You know people talk…

Caryn: And it took a long time to put it together.

Linda: It did, because I did video talks to go with it. I’m happy to say that up on YouTube right now is a video I did with you.

Caryn: (singing) Laaaaa!

Linda: And it’s perfect to sing because it was in front of Lincoln Center.

Caryn: That’s right, one of my favorite spots on earth.

Linda: A lot of creativity flowing through the air at Lincoln Center. It’s a book that answers those first questions that the first person, that a person might first have when they are thinking, “well maybe I should think about this plant-based thing.”

Caryn: What I like is, and something that I try to do, and I have to underline try because I know I get all wrapped up in whatever I am talking about, but most people are very overwhelmed. They are overwhelmed with all the media sound bites. It’s very confusing and unless you’re really following it every minute with all the studies that are going on, everything here can be very, very confusing. But a lot of it seeps in and so people have a little bit of language about food and they use that all the time even though they don’t know what they’re talking. And I don’t think they need to know either. The thing about eating healthy and eating vegan and I think those are synonymous, eating healthy and eating vegan, well you could eat vegan and not eat healthy, but okay…

Linda: That’s true.

Caryn: … eating healthy vegan.

Linda: Because sugar and flour and all that…

Caryn: Coke and French fries are vegan… But it’s simple. You go to the produce section and you grab the fruits and vegetables, and it’s easy to throw them together and make some delicious food. It’s not hard to eat vegan.

Linda: Well, what I’ve done the book is, under soups and under salads, I did something called the anatomy of a salad and then I did the anatomy of soup. What I’ve done is divided up into what the components are of each of those. On page 60 is the anatomy of a soup. Really anybody can take that page, go to their refrigerator and create their own recipe. But I say – oh I need something from this category and I need something from this category and something that, and before long they have developed their soup. And it doesn’t have to have anything to do with the recipe, actually. As long as they use vegetable broth or water instead of, of course, beef or chicken broth and then a really neat thing to do and this has been my favorite thing for a long time, and I am just so surprised that I don’t see them more often, is that before I start my soup, I’ll see, do I have any almonds or do I have some cashews, do I have some peanuts, raw, not roasted, and not salted, either way you could, but it is best not to, I just grab a couple of handfuls, put it in my blender, cover it with hot water and just let it soak while I am going on to do everything else. When the soup is completely finished, I push the trigger on the blender, and I just let that whip until it’s a cream. Add a little water bit more water if you need to if it looks like it’s getting to thick, it depends what nut you’re using and then just pour it in the soup. And you have the most wonderful creamy, you’ve upped the proteins, upped the flavor. For years I’ve been doing this. People tell me, “you are in my will for this soup.” And I said, “I swear I’ll never be able to make it again.” I used certain components, whatever was in my refrigerator, which vegetables in my refrigerator, what grain or bean was in my refrigerator, whatever.

Caryn: We have a lot of soup recipes on the Responsible Eating And Living website, and like you said, we never make the same soup again. and I know that some people get frustrated because they might read a recipe and say, “well, I don’t have “herbes de provence’ in my cupboard” or “I don’t have a certain herb”, and like you said it’s very flexible, you just need some basics and you really throw together. But I guess for some people when they are starting out they need to follow something.

Linda: That’s why I really did take an effort to write that soup I just described down. And then and I can even be clever if I have peanuts and I have some sweet potatoes and I call it my African soup.

Caryn: I’ve had it.

Linda: Right, I forgot you did! But if I have cashews and I might use white potatoes because it then seems to be a little bit, not that you couldn’t use sweet potatoes because, super food of the world, sweet potatoes, but every now and then I like to be mix it up. And John Robbins does a great one in his book…

Caryn: May All Be Fed.

Linda: … May All Be Fed. He allowed me to put this recipe in this book too. It’s kind of a bisque, white potatoes, cashews and lots of onions and parsley.

Caryn: Well we had a big holiday party at the end of the year on building and then we left for California so we put a bunch of stuff in the freezer and when I got back I took some of them out and I wasn’t sure what everything was. One of them turned out to be a vegetable broth with a little cashew cream in it because I don’t think we wanted to put them into 2 separate containers. We made great soup out of it, just like what you said, it wasn’t even a lot of cashew cream, it was just rinsing out what was lingering in the container that we had used.

Linda: It makes all this flavor.

Caryn: Just lovely, just that tickle or that hint of cream, really ties it all together. It’s important especially when you have some vegetables that have fat soluble nutrients because – I don’t like using a lot of oil but I like using fats that have fiber in it from whole foods, and they help those fat soluble vitamins go down.

Linda: Yes, yes. Well I have done something similar with a veggie burger. When people are starting that’s the first things they think about. I have a section called “Six Ways With A Veggie Burger.” The truth is you can make it very elegant as well with some gravy. I call it a Salisbury Steak with some mashed potatoes and some lovely vegetables and gravy. I’ve also mentioned a stew, a taco, a burrito, of course a regular burger and I might say that you contributed a wonderful recipe for the book, called a V-Blat which has avocado and vegan bacon on it.

Caryn: It’s very good. I have to say that my partner Gary De Mattei, helped me we put that together. He does quite a lot cooking at home. He does more of the comfort, satisfying, man foods, and I strive for the no salt, no sugar, no oil, light, really pure, clean stuff. We have a nice mix. Thank you for including that.

Linda: It’s really good. I love it. What is nice to read for the starter is that, this is really a replacement for the BLT. V is for Vegan; B-L-A-T, the “A” is for avocados.

Caryn: Right. I don’t know what it is but there is this big movement for bacon these days. A lot of people are just going nuts over bacon.

Linda: It’s so sad.

Caryn: It’s a sad thing, indeed, because, okay, it’s NOT healthy and pigs are super intelligent, sensitive beings. They are smarter than dogs and yet we don’t mind cramming them in unhealthy, odor-filled…

Linda: … metal crates

Caryn: … just horrible, cramped, filthy conditions and they’re very sensitive to smell. They are living in this ammonia-filled environment because if we don’t do much with their urine and their excrement in the place where they are. People don’t connect that to bacon. What bacon is, is just really salt and fat primarily.

Linda: Well, the truth of the matter is, I tell a lot of people, “you know, what you like about bacon?” And they say, “well, the taste.” “Well what is the taste?” “Well the taste is smoky.” Ah ha! We can have a smoky taste without ever injuring or torturing a beautiful being. You could even get bottles of smoke, Liquid Smoke, with a little drop or two. You can buy tempeh bacon. You can buy soy bacon and some of these other things.

Caryn: There’s a recipe for coconut bacon that looks amazing, I have yet to make, but it makes sense because the coconut has all that fat, and just salt it and smoke it up and you got bacon.

Linda: You can really have it. Lots of people say, “Oh, I tasted it, I tasted some of the vegan bacons and I don’t like it.” I say, first of all, try all of them because the people like different brands of anything not just vegan products. But the other point is – try it in something because then, you are just going for the taste. Many times I found a friend who likes it in her sandwich but she doesn’t like just to eat it. Which is fine have it that way.

Caryn: Yes, perfectly fine. The other thing is, which you probably know working in different food service environments over your life, is that people need to try a food numerous times before they like it. People don’t realize that because most of the time it happened more little kids, and said,“what’s that, I don’t want that.” Just have a bite of it, just try it, and after 5, 6, 7, 8, times, all of a sudden we’re eating it.

Linda: Yes, I’ve often told people, you know there’s a lot of brands of cornflakes and I bet you don’t like every one. It’s just one of those things where you get accustomed things. I used to hate lima beans when I was young and then I happened to get a lima bean in my mouth when I was a young adult and I said, “Oh, my goodness, this is not what I remember it tasting like.

Caryn: The other thing is when you move to a healthier diet and you eliminate certain things, your taste buds become far more sophisticated and you can taste more things that you didn’t taste before.

Linda: Absolutely. One of the other questions I’m asked, which I’m sure you are too is that how do you order in a mainstream restaurant because so many people really have to eat out with her friends. They are not going to go vegan restaurant every time they go out to eat. I really gave suggestions and some of it was offered to me by, some little hints by a dear friend, Master Chef Erik Blauberg, who had been the 21 club and a lot of wonderful places. He’s a consultant and really shakes up the mainstream world little bit by telling them they have to have vegan options on the menu because vegans eat with meat eaters. If you are not satisfying the vegan, you are going to lose that table top, forever. So that’s really good. But what I’ve done is on page 16, there is a chart that a friend of mine created, Inger Lonmo. She travels around the world as a vegan and lots of different languages. She wrote, she did a little chart of like a pig, a chicken, a fish and even the milk is coming out and there is milk in a can underneath and put little red over those things, so that in any language the chef gets it. Plus it a little humor in the things so that they know. Because lots of people, if you say I’m vegan, I don’t eat any animals products, well, then their mind will kind of go blank. What you need to say immediately after that is what I prefer to eat is, and then mention, beans, rice or any other kind of grain, vegetables, fruit, nuts, then they start to think about what they have to offer you. This can be printed out too. There’s a website for the book called with all of the extra recipes. We were over 100 pages, I got very ambitious for a small book so they are going to be on the site and it’s being in the process of being created right now. The website is actually up and the content is being filled. The video talks, even though, you know, I interviewed Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Campbell and Dr. Klaper, a lot of very notable vegan chefs and other cookbook authors, nutritionists and athletes. I just would really, I don’t want to embarrass you on the air, Caryn, but I really want to mention that your video is up right now.

Caryn: You can’t embarrass me.

Linda: You can go to Youtube and just write in “virgin vegan” and see there are about 8 up so far. I have a whole lot more coming.

Caryn: Oh, I am going to post it on my site. (

Linda: We’ve done almost 50 so far. The reason I am pointing yours out is that because the challenge you had health-wise. It was extremely serious, for a young woman. And as you talk about, sitting in the front of Lincoln Center, as we mentioned before, what you suggest to people to prevent chronic illnesses and for those who have chronic illnesses is invaluable. I mean it was one thing for me to talk to a lot of doctors and all that sort of thing but to talk to somebody who actually been through this, you really moved my heart.

Caryn: Thank you.

Linda: And the inspiration…

Caryn: Well, what’s important to your book, is it really gently, safely, easily opens the door and once people kind of get over that, there is just mountains of information if they want it, if they need it. And if they’re having a health crisis, you know something I learned – there’s a bunch of vegans out there and I might’ve been one of them that felt like I was invulnerable. Nothings could get me because I was Super Vegan Woman. And then you I got advanced ovarian cancer. Nobody gets out of this world alive, I like to say that a lot, just because we are vegan doesn’t mean we’re not going to have issues and there’ve been a number of vegans in the in the activist community that have unfortunately fallen or fallen ill. What I’ve come up with this great information that we put out there when you really put a focus on it you can find ways to heal. There are ways to just eat vegan, eat healthfully and happily and then if you need to up it a notch, to get to a place where you want to be, to get over something, you can do that too. Your book is like the beginning of the yellow brick road, before you make it to Oz.

Linda: That’s what I wanted it to be because I kept recommending some many books, many of them are my friends, to people and they just didn’t get them. And then I thought why is this, and they said. “oh I saw it and it was so much to read.” And I thought, “Ah ha!” All of us have had talking points, we’ve all sat and talked with another friend about being vegan and we know the questions they ask. We know how simple we have to make the answers when you are over dinner perhaps. That’s what 36, going on 37 years of being vegan. I really had a doubt as to how to answer those questions. That’s all this was and when I realized what I was talking to my doorman about was actually working, that he had actually implemented it and that then I realized when Gibbs Smith called me to say, “well we have this idea of doing a beginner’s book or whatever,” and at first I thought was strange because I did that elegant book. They said, “we think that this would be really a good thing on the bookshelf.” And because I had just been thinking about, it was one of those synergy things going on, and so, I said yes. But then all the other aspects started with the website and doing all the video talks. It’s been very exciting.

Caryn: Well I can imagine it’s challenging because there’s more and more information out there diet. We think we know a lot, we really know very little. But to keep it very simple, there is just so much information, it’s challenging.

Linda: Once they start with this book then they will be ready for all those other books.

Caryn: Okay, well we just have a few more minutes left so what else can we point out in here. Now you’ve got everything…

Linda: Do you want me to tell you about a few recipes?

Caryn: Sure.

Linda: I know that one of the biggest things is that people want to know is how can you have pancakes? How can you have some of your favored sweets? How can you have a holiday meal? There are books, separate books on all of those issues and I think once they see what’s this book they’ll be ready for all those other books. I am trying to set people up to feel safe to stick their toe in. Then I want to be sure that all those other vegan books sell too because there’s so much offerings right there now. I found my friend Fran Costigan telling me, “Oh you know, I just had my soaked oats,” and I said, “What?” She said, “My soaked oats.” All she does the night before is put some oatmeal in a bowl and put some soy milk on top of it and puts it in the refrigerator. In the morning, if she wants to, she can sweeten it with maple syrup, I love black strap molasses, because it even has a lot of calcium in it. Throw in some nuts and fruit if you want. I thought it sounded terrible until I had it. I can’t believe it. I mean, it’s so hard to go to bed now before I have my soaking in the refrigerator. Thank you Fran Costigan.

Caryn: I think the British do that only with milk, with cow’s milk.

Linda: Oh do they? Then I had a chef from Great Chefs Cook Vegan in Grand Rapids, Josef Huber. He made an elaborate chocolate-stuffed French toast, rolled in Rice Krispies. Well, the recipe goes on forever but I simplified it and made it something so easy to do. That was another one, that would be like a Sunday brunch. And then for holiday, I have been making a cashew nut roast, it’s a terrine which means it’s in a loaf pan, and you put half of the mixture and then put a different picture for the middle, not quite as high, layers, and then another layer on top and then you are done. Well Rose Elliot, who is great vegetarian cook, kind of the Martha Stewart vegetarian cookbook authoring in England, and I got her book at Harrod’s a long time ago and I’d made this for many, many years. And I bought any book she’d put out. Well I don’t I email her, see if I can contact her, that I can use this recipe that I’ve used every year for 20 years. Now we are good email pals. I feel like I have my rock star, my fancy vegan cook, well she’s not vegan – vegetarian, but mostly vegan. Even that is on page 164 and I highly recommend it because it’s so easy to do. And then I mentioned the sweet, there’s some peanut butter cups that, my friend Jane Bell, the home economist in Columbus, OH gave me and and she truly makes these in a few minutes. You can use a little cookie-cutter to actually make them look like cups or just cut them into squares. Let me tell you, I don’t have time myself to the little round cookie cutter, I just cut them in squares and get them out of pan and eat them. There’s just a lot to offer that is a variety. But I tried to choose things that are familiar, that you could then substitute.

Caryn: Right, like how easy it is to make gravy.

Linda: Oh my goodness. A bouillon cube, and then throw in some cornstarch water and then people don’t really, don’t do anything else.

Caryn: Because what they don’t realize this when they’re using chicken stock for example, what they are getting out of it mostly is salt.

Linda: Now bouillon cubes, I really like to mention one of my favorite was is a very salty and so I tend not to use, I use a little bit more water than I’m supposed to and I’m not sure that it really changes it all that much. But they do put out bouillon cubes that have flavorings in it and even herbs without salt. So that’s a good one to get, and then salt it your liking. Don’t be put off by, all the bouillon cubes have too much salt, get the one without salt.

Caryn: Well this is where it gets overwhelming again because people go to a vegan diet or are curios about a vegan diet for lots of different reasons. So if you’re curious just because you’re curious, then get this book, make all the recipes and venture out and buy whatever other ones. But if you’re having a health crisis, let’s say, that’s a different focus and you might be thinking about eliminating sugar, salt and oil.

Linda: Absolutely.

Caryn: If you want to lose weight, that’s the different focus. If you just don’t want to kill animals, well you know, you could be fine with Coke and French fries although I don’t recommend it. It really depends on what you focus is. The thing is with vegan food you can have what ever you want.

Linda: Oh, when I did Great Chefs Cook Vegan, and that I kept remembering one of the great chefs of the world actually is Vongerichten, Jean-George Vongerichten. He said to me you mean I can use any plant food? And I thought he was about to tell me, “oh, but that’s so limiting.” When I realized his next breath was, “oh my goodness,” his hands in the air, and they are wide apart and he says, “Where do I begin? Such a vast area!” And then he says there are only a few animals and we get tired of cooking the animals, there is only a few things to do with those animals. But when you tell me plant-based food – so what I say to people is, the standard American diet is what is limiting. Take a look at what you eat in a week and tell me and then repeat it week, after week, after week. Some people have almost the same thing every day, every day. That’s limiting.

Caryn: I just did a crazy thing. Well, it’s not a crazy thing. I like things organized and one of the things about eating so that your satisfied is to plan ahead and organize – make sure you have the right ingredients, the write this and that. It can be really simple in one pot with a few pans, but if you want to follow a recipe it’s helpful to have a well-stocked kitchen. And I just recently I bought all these tins, and I invested in bulk organic herbs and spices. I’ve got everything now this great cabinet and it’s really a lot of fun. Because you can use the same ingredients, like you said, the mirepoix, the carrots onions and celery and put different herbs and spices and you have completely different dishes every day, just on how you season it.

Kinbda: Yes. Once you take the first step in and then follow one of my recipes or anyone else’s recipes then you start to see what adjustments you could make. And I am surprised how lots of people even in the beginning, they’ll look at a recipe and say, oh I don’t have this, maybe I’ll substitute thus and so. That’s very nice, it’s very bold for some. Others have do it exactly the way recipe says. But once you feel the confidence then you start to see, oh well that’s a vegetable, or if it’s corn, well I could probably use lima beans too or I could use edamame, you know, soybeans. Or I could use, whatever’s on hand. Especially chili. My goodness you don’t have to use kidney beans you can use black beans you can use all kinds of other beans as well. And there is a recipe in there for a black bean chili from my high school friends in Chambersburg Pennsylvania, Bobbi and Tom Boock, and they have a restaurant there. And so I’ve been trying to get them to include vegan options on their menus because it really does bring in people who are not vegan.

Caryn: Linda, thank you for joining It’s All About Food, for writing this great book and if you are still a virgin when it comes to food and haven’t stepped out into the vegan world, this book is for you. You are definitely going to enjoy it: The Meatless Guide To Pleasing the Palate. Okay, take the plunge. I am Caryn Hartglass and we’ll be right back with Charlene Spretnak, she’s another Progressive Radio Network host and we will be talking in just a minutes.

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