Ginny Messina, Lagusta Yearwood



Part I – Virginia Messina
Vegan For Her

Ginny is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in public health from the University of Michigan. She writes about vegetarian and vegan diets for both the public and health professionals and speaks on vegan diets at scientific events for health professionals as well as events for the public.

Ginny is co-author of two books on vegan nutrition, Vegan for Life and the recently released Vegan for Her. She also co-authored a vegetarian textbook for health professionals The Dietitians’ Guide to Vegetarian Diets.

She lives in Port Townsend, Washington with her husband and an ever-changing population of rescued cats. When she’s not researching and writing about vegan nutrition, she volunteers for her local animal shelter and feral cat group, practices piano, gardens, and is learning to knit with vegan fibers.

She blogs at and is also TheVeganRD on twitter and facebook.


Part II – Lagusta
Lagusta’s Luscious

“Lagusta Yearwood” is not a nom de chef referring to the joys of eating with gusto, French spiny lobsters (les langoustes), or the Spanish verb for “to like” – it’s the kind of name you get when your parents are hippies who met in the mud at the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969. It’s pronounced with a GUS in the middle, most emphatically not a GOO.

Lagusta Yearwood is a restless rabble-rousing chef-turned-chocolatier who’s in love with deep flavor, ethical sourcing, farmers, the food poor people around the world have always eaten, lactic acid fermentation, and noodles.

She lives in a little 1960s sunny ranch house in the tiny farm-focused town of New Paltz, NY with her sweetheart Jacob, and three cats: Sula, Noodle (told ya), and Cleo.

Ms. Yearwood trained at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City and worked for many years with mentors at Bloodroot, a gourmet 35-year-old feminist-vegetarian restaurant and bookstore in Connecticut, and has done endless private cooking jobs around New York City and New Jersey. From 2002-2010 she ran a vegetarian meal delivery service bringing handcrafted meals featuring local produce to New Yorkers from Battery Park to Woodstock. Since 2003 she has sold a line of gourmet vegan chocolates online at
After years of cooking in dinky rented kitchens, she and Jacob renovated a former laundromat in downtown New Paltz to become a tiny little chocolate shop, which opened in June 2011.


Hello everybody I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you’re listening to it’s all about food. Here we are its August twenty seventh, two thousand thirteen, lovely day here in new York city. And I wanted to let you know what going with me and Responsible Eating And Living, my not for profit 50123 organization, we just launched a new swinging gourmet’s video, now I don’t know if you caught part one of The Real American Barbeque, with the swinging gourmets’ I hope you did and if you didn’t you’re going to have to catch up because it was a fun show, and now we have part two of The Real American Barbeque where were making strawberry short cake with cashew cream. And it’s a fun ten minute video and I hope you can check it out its at you can find it there or you could run over to the Responsible Eating website and click on the “TV” tab, and it’s the first video listed there under our “Food Shows” so check it out it’s fun. And then let me know what you think at, Okay, let’s bring on my first guest today I’m going to be bringing back Ginny Messina, she a registered dietitian with a masters in public health from the University of Michigan, she writes about vegetarian and vegan diets for both the public and health professionals, and speaks on vegan diets at scientific events for health professionals as well as events for the public, she is a co another of two books on vegan nutrition, Vegan For Life and the recently released Vegan For Hart which we are going to be talking about today, she also co-authored a vegetarian textbook for health professionals The Dietitians’ Guide to Vegetarian Diets and she blogs at
Caryn Hartglass: Welcome, Ginny to It’s All About Food!
Ginny Messina: Yeah hi Caryn it’s great to be here.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah thank you, so it looks like we got a series going on here we got Vegan For Life and now we got Vegan For Her are we going to get vegan for somebody else?
Ginny Messina: Oh I don’t know, everybody is asking for vegan for him, so it might happen you never know.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I think so, but anyway let’s talk about Vegan For Her, actually there’s probably a lot in the book that men can take advantage of too, but it’s good to get a special focus for women
Ginny Messina: Yeah and that’s definitely true, the general nutrition guide lines are applicable to men and there’s information about eating to reduce risk for heart disease and osteoporosis all things men need to be concerned about too.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, but you know it is good to focus on woman’s issues, you know I like to think that there is a basic diet that is going to work for everyone and were learning more and more about surtan foods and what they can do and we will talk about some of them, but you know we are a little different from men and we have our own special diseases and um, it’s nice to have special attention, that is directed specifically at our physiology.
Ginny Messina: that’s right yeah, and of course even some nutrient needs are a little different for women for example, I talk a little bit about iron and the fact that premenopausal women have higher iron needs and what that needs is a plant based diet, so yeah there are concerns that are very specific to women.
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s talk a little bit more about that iron thing, so as most women know we create a little extra blood every month per menopause, to get ready for possible child making and that takes a mixture of nutrition.
Ginny Messina: yeah it does, and that is the reason the fact that women Menstruate means that they lose iron every month and there for their iron needs are about twice what men need on a daily basis, and so women do need to pay attention to that, plant foods are packed with iron there’s plenty in lagoons and whole grains in particular. We need to eat those foods along with vitamin C rich foods like strawberries and orange juice and leafy green vegetables, because that enhances the absorption of iron from plant food, so that’s really important.
Caryn Hartglass: Well that’s kind of the nice things about plant food they tend to come naturally package with the thing we need to go with, sometimes you need to combine high vitamin C foods with an iron food, but a lot of the times the foods have so many different things in them and we need all of them together.
Ginny Messina: That’s right, and for example you could eat spinach it’s got both iron and vitamin C so that’s really ideal, and you know the nice thing is that iron absorption is better regulated from plant foods, and once women hit menopause their iron needs drop dramatically and, getting iron from plant foods is especially good in that case because there are some danger associated with iron overload later in life, and vegan women are less likely to have to deal with that, our iron stores are better regulated for optimal health then people who eat meat.
Caryn Hartglass: Yay!
Ginny Messina: Yay!
Caryn Hartglass: Yay us! Yeah you know something I got from this book, is that there’s a lot that we don’t know, and there’s a lot that were learning more and more but, there’s plenty out there that’s kind of a mystery and we need to learn a lot more you talked earlier in the book about the different kinds of studies and articles that are available for the tests that are done, and we should talk a little bit about that actually, but its next to impossible to do a study that would need to be done to really determine what is the ideal diet for humans.
Ginny Messina: Yeah it really is, and you know there is some answers and some areas that have so many unanswered questions, like the relationship of diet to cancer, for example we just have not been able to define exactly what people need to do and what they need to eat in order to lower risk for cancer, on the other hand we do know that plant foods are so packed with vital chemicals you know, these thousands of plant chemicals that seem to have myriad health benefits, full of different kind of health benefits related to cancer and heart disease. So the evidence points us towards eating more plant foods and fewer animal foods, and of course vegans don’t eat any animal foods. And I think we can feel pretty confident that, that’s our advantage when it come to concerning chronic disease.
Caryn Hartglass: yeah, now the thing is people hear these little sound bites all the time, and take all kinds of information out of context and get really confused so, just a little brief summary about what we should be paying attention to and what we shouldn’t be paying attention to, or should we just buy your book and forget about it?
Ginny Messina: Yeah you can just buy my book! Actually the book has a food guide in it for vegans, called the Plant Plate and it summarizes very concisely I think, the kinds of foods we need to be sure to include in our diet to make sure we’re meeting nutrient needs, for example eating three servings of legumes every day. This is a food group that not just includes beans but a vast array of soy product like tofu, and tempi, and veggie meats, and also peanuts and peanut butter, for people who don’t want to eat beans have a peanut butter sandwich.
Caryn Hartglass: Yum!
Ginny Messina: It’s that easy and that familiar, so making sure your eating legumes, eating whole grains everybody knows you’re supposed to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, including some nuts and seeds in your diet. Really important for getting healthy fat, since we’re optimal nutrient intake. So those are the kind of thing we want to pay attention too, we don’t need to think so about whether your diet has the right amount of carbohydrates or the right amount fat, or whether you’re getting to much amount of protein. If you’re getting these nutrients from plant foods you’re eating healthy carbs, healthy fats, healthy proteins you don’t need to worry about the ratio so much.
Caryn Hartglass: I like that and you call it intuitive eating at one point in the book which I really like.
Ginny Messina: Yeah, I talked about that in the chapter on weight management, about the importance of developing intuitive eating which means. Very simply, it’s simple definition not so simple to do, what it means is eating in response to your body’s hunger symbols, not because its twelve o’clock and it’s time for launch
Caryn Hartglass: Or you’re bored, I love that!
Ginny Messina: Or you’re board or you’re depressed, and we all now we’re supposed to do that it’s not so easy to do, it’s something that you have to practice by sitting down and eating mindfully. listening to your bodies hunger symbols, it takes some time, it takes some practice but for a health body weight especially it’s something important to do.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, that’s kind of a lesson for all life, just being mindful and paying attention, and not just reacting and doing thing mindlessly.
Ginny Messina: Right!
Caryn Hartglass: That’s hard work. You concentrate a bit all throughout the book on soy foods, and soy foods have gotten a lot of press over the past few decades. Some people are petrified of soy foods unfortunately, and there’s really not a lot to worry about actually is there?
Ginny Messina: No, there’s really not , you know the compounds in soy foods that people are concerned about are Isoflavones. which are phytoestrogens their plant estrogens, people get confused thinking they’re the same thing as the hormone estrogen that mammals produce. They’re not, they are treated very differently in the body, the way they bond receptor and different cells is very different from estrogen and the kind of long story short or in a nutshell explanation is that; Isoflavones sometimes act like estrogen, sometimes act in completely opposite ways towards estrogen or sometime act in ways that have nothing to do with hormones and the evidence indicates for example, that young girls who consume Isoflavones during puberty, or during adolescence when their beasts are developing the Isoflavones somehow impact breast development in a way that concurs lifelong protection against breast cancer.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow.
Ginny Messina: Not a guarantee but lowers risk for breast cancer, so that’s really exciting information about soy foods.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, and shows the importance of getting a good start with nutrition when you’re young.
Ginny Messina: Right and its really interesting because the protection does seem to come at that particular time of life, if you start to eat soy foods in your twenties and thirties it doesn’t confer the same protection.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Ginny Messina: it has to be during breast development so it really is so important for young girls to be eating a healthy diet.
Caryn Hartglass: But it doesn’t mean that if you’re older it’s all over either, because the body is so forgiving, and when you start taking away the toxic foods, and cramming it with great nutrition it really, really adjust very nicely and you can strut.
Ginny Messina: Well it does absolutely, we know certainly with some conditions like heart disease and clogged arteries, boy you can turn that around pretty rapidly by eating a healthy plant based diet. So yeah all is not lost, once your an adult you can really change your health, through good food choices.
Caryn Hartglass: And I don’t bring this up as much as I used too, but I guess I’m bringing it up right now. You know I had advance ovarian cancer, and I was a vegan for a long time and I was hit with that and, I’ve asked myself many times what happened and I have a story in my head that figured it all out, but it definitely proved to me that these food that I’m eating, were so powerful in helping me get through the treatment and heal afterwards. so maybe my child hood was not the best nutritionally.
Ginny Messina: Yeah
Caryn Hartglass: Left a lot of junk behind But, I’m here. And I’m here to talk about the power of plant foods!
Ginny Messina: Yeah, and I think you know there is a, there’s two messages there. One is that you know again I said that there are many unanswered questions when it comes to nutrition and chronic disease, we don’t know how to be bullet proof agents disease, but we do know how to maximize a healthy diet so that we can get the most mileage out of it as possible.
Caryn Hartglass: you talked to about women who want to get pregnant, and how important nutrition plays in fertility and then what to do once the baby is born, and how to feed yourself and to feed your baby. Your probably familiar with the Weston Price Foundation, and they have a lot of interesting information on their site.
Ginny Messina: Interesting would be a kind word.
Caryn Hartglass: Interesting, I don’t recommend believing most of the things they say. But I remember reading that they recommended, babies should be fed, where the mother could chew up some meat in her mouth and then feed it back to the baby, what do you think of that?
Ginny Messina: Well I, you know I don’t think much of it. The idea of course is that red meat is rich in iron and zinc, and that babies need those nutrients and there can be some very devastating effects when infants are not getting adequate iron and zinc in their diet and not having a healthy diet, but of course in the united states most babies, when their starting to eat solid foods, hopefully being breast fed before that. When they start to eat solids foods they eat fortified cereals, and the research shows pretty well that those are just as effective in meeting a babies iron and zinc needs, as red meat and certainly doesn’t set a baby up for a lifetime of unhealthy eating habits. So I would stick with the breast milk and fortified cereals, I think.
Caryn Hartglass: Ok, that sounds very good to me too. It’s just, you know I don’t know if its something that I’ve been socialized on but it’s just doesn’t sound appealing to me.
Ginny Messina: Not it doesn’t sound very appealing to me either, and I guess maybe one time in our evolution, mothers may have done that, when they didn’t have access to the kind of foods we have today. So I think it’s an awful lot of trouble and not very appealing, and I don’t think women need to worry much about that.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, and those magical Isoflavones in soy foods not only are they good inside are body’s, you talked about how their good on our skin.
Ginny Messina: Yeah there are some really exciting research coming down the pike on that, showing that both consuming soy foods and using isoflavons topically can reduce wrinkles, and you know it’s not Botox or anything but it’s a lot more natural and a lot safer so the research on that is pretty exciting.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah well we don’t really know the impact of Botox yet it’s so new.
Ginny Messina: Right
Caryn Hartglass: And its scares me personally.
Ginny Messina: Yeah I know, and isoflavons are a lot more natural and a lot less expensive to and don’t involve any needles.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s just from a bean!
Ginny Messina: Yeah! its either eat the bean or put the cream on your face, both of those seem pretty easy and not very scary.
Caryn Hartglass: Ok so while we’re on the subject of beans, I love soy foods but if you can’t eat soy foods if you allergic, there’s a whole world of wonderful legumes out their all different sizes, shapes, colors. And you talk about the importance of eating beans in this book, in number of different places.
Ginny Messina: Right, and absolutely I hear from people all the time, saying “I would like to be vegan but I can’t eat soy foods or I don’t like soy foods.” Soy is not essential in vegan diets or in any kind of diet, if people don’t like them or if they have soy allergy’s you can get all the protein you need , all the nutrition from eating other kinds of beans, the ones that are used so existentially throughout the world like; bean burritos, hummus and foods that we all love and again you can have peanut butter and jelly sandwich and get your legumes that way so yes soy foods are definitely, their wonderful if you like them but they are not essential by any means.
Caryn Hartglass: My partner Gary, he had weight issues most of his life and then found peace with a vegan diet. One of his favorite foods is peanut butter and when he grew up, he was told he he really couldn’t eat it and it makes him very happy.
Ginny Messina: That he can have it now.
Caryn Hartglass: He eats it as much as he wants.
Ginny Messina: Yeah, peanut butter is one of my favorite health foods actually. So just packed with protein and fiber and healthy fats its, there are no protein rich animal foods that can boast that kind of thing
Caryn Hartglass: And then I was curious when, I forget what you were talking about beans but comparing dried beans to canned beans. Canned beans, what exactly did you say they um.
Ginny Messina: Did I talk about the glycemic index?
Caryn Hartglass: Yes!
Ginny Messina: Yeah one of the things I really encourage women to do in this book, is to choose low carbohydrates foods that are digested slowly and that causes slow gradual rise in blood glucose levels, because that seems to be protective against whole hosts of chronic diseases. So one of the issues is that the more beans are cooked, the faster their digested and so canned beans tend to their not as slowly digested as the beans that you cook yourself at home, doesn’t mean canned beans are bad all beans are good for you. And if you are too busy to cook your own beans, then by all means buy canned beans, Because for some of us it’s so convenient to not eating beans at all, they’re so good for you.
Caryn Hartglass: But there is a little difference in terms of the glycolic index
Ginny Messina: Right, thats the only difference otherwise canned beans are just as good. And there still packed with fiber, they still help lower blood cholesterol, their still a really good choice.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah what I do at home is I buy tons and tons of canned beans as a emergency, back up thing. And then most of the time I used dried beans and then when I’m in a pinch I grab a canned bean, I want to use the expression free two birds with one key
Ginny Messina: Yeah, it’s a better expression
Caryn Hartglass: But this way I have all this great back up food in case of an emergence, of course nothing’s going happen here in new York city ever.
Ginny Messina: Right
Caryn Hartglass: And then you know for quick food it’s there, but most of the time its dried beans but I never heard there was a significant difference between them.
Ginny Messina: Yeah and I talk about it only because for woman who are willing to cook things from scratch it’s a better choice, it doesn’t mean that canned beans are a bad choice. I actually tend to buy canned chick peas because they tend to take longer to cook, so I use a canned variety of those but the other lentils, kidneys bean all of those I cook from scratch cause they dont take that long.
Caryn Hartglass: Their fast.
Ginny Messina: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, there’s just so many pages in this book, there’s just so many different things to talk about. I was also curios can we talk a bit about folic acid and foilate? because well I’ve heard that we really don’t want to substitute folic acid because it can be problematic and that we should eat it from our dark green vegetables, but you then do recommend it for pregnant women, that they might supplement some of it?
Ginny Messina: Yeah for pregnant women or women who are thing about becoming pregnant, the difference is that the b vitamin follate occur naturally in a number of vegetable especially leaky green vegetables and also in beans and orange juice and oranges. folic acid is the synthetic version of foliate used to fortify foods and is also used in supplements. follate the B vitamin or folic acid performs at the same B vitamin is extremely important in earl development in pregnancy its extremely important for development of the embryo, normal healthy development. And what we know from science right now is that women who take folic acid supplements or eat food that are fortified with folic acid, have a much lower risk of birth defects. And you know we could probably just benefit from eating foods that are rich in foliate but the research isn’t there, so we’re still recommending that women eat a diet that is rich foods that provide natural foliate but that they also take a folic acid supplement and the benefits of doing so, far outweigh any risks associated with that, especially because we were just talking about pregnancy not talking about doing this your entire life.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, and I just had something but it just slipped away quickly very good, supplements in general now you just mentioned B12 and I’m glad you did, people need to know how important it is.
Ginny Messina: Yeah it’s so important it’s not, plant foods do not naturaly provide vitamin b12 it actually comes from bacteria, thats were all of the vitamin in the world come from. So vegans do need to supplement with vitamin B12, I recommend twenty five micro grams of vitamin B12 s cyanocobalamin is the form you should look for on the vitamin label. And you know it’s not, it doesn’t make us so unique its not a unique vegan issue, because all the people over the age of fifty whether their eating meat or not, no matter how much vitamin b12 is in their diet actually need to also be taking supplements, because as we age it become harder to absorb the vitamin that’s found in meat and milk, so vitamin B12 supplements are important for vegans, their important for anyone over the age of fifty.
Caryn Hartglass: You’ve been doing this a long time Ginny.
Ginny Messina: I have yes, about thirty years!
Caryn Hartglass: And I was, last night I was celebrating my mom’s eightieth birthday with my father and my mom and a couple that’s friends with them, and the wonderful thing is my mom and her friend recently decided to give up animal foods, I think their still eating eggs occasionally, they’ve given up the dairy and all of that which is really great and my parents friends’ husband has done this a couple years ago and he thinks its phenomenal and we were all laughing because all of their friends are always asking him, and now his wife and my mom “Were do you get your protein?” that’s still a question
Ginny Messina: Yeah it’s a question that has been around a long time.
Caryn Hartglass: How many times have you heard it in thirty years?
Ginny Messina: Yeah, a lot of times absolutely, and of course we get our protein so easily on a vegan diet, it’s just again legumes are packed with protein their so protein rich and there’s also protein in grains and vegetables, nuts and seeds so it’s pretty easy.
Caryn Hartglass: You have a chapter I wanted to talk to you because we’ve only got a few more minutes left and that’s the Female Vegan Athlete, and first of all I want to say yes! You go girls we can do it all, but we need some good food.
Ginny Messina: Yeah, and for all athletes vegan or not, the thing that most women need to pay the most attention to is making sure they’re getting enough calories because when we see our problems with female athletes and again, this is not specific to vegans or vegetarians it’s for all female athletes, Women who are over exercising and not eating enough calories can develop amenorrhea they lose their period and that can have damaging effects to bone health and raise risk for atherosclerosis. So just enough food is the number one most important thing for female athletes and if you’re getting enough calories from health plant foods you’re going to be getting lots of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fat automatically.
Caryn Hartglass: I was at a conference maybe ten years ago and I think it was a raw food conference, and there was a couple of young women thought it was a good thing they weren’t getting there period anymore
Ginny Messina: Oh geez, that’s really unfortunate to hear, very unhealthy for you to lose your period it’s just not normal development, and again it can have a extremely damaging affect on bone health.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow, well ok know the last thing I want to know from you since you’ve been doing this so long and educating so many people about a lot of different things. What are you eating, are you eating all these recipes that are on the back of the book or what?
Ginny Messina: I love the recipes that in the back of the book, I don’t cook a great deal, I kind of do bolt cooking ever week and freeze thing and put things aside, so I eat a lot of black bean burritos with guacamole and lentil soup and hummus sandwiches every day, and of course lots of fruits and veggies and salads.
Caryn Hartglass: Mmm, and what do you think about the food that you eat?
Ginny Messina: I think it’s really good! I know it’s really healthy and I think it’s really good.
Caryn Hartglass: I love my food, and you’ve used the word occasionally I think “rigid and restrictive” and I don’t think this diet is any of that, there are things that people realize they shouldn’t be eating. But when you finally adjust your palette and taste buds, this is a fabulous diet.
Ginny Messina: It is a fabulous diet and I do want people to know that the world of plant foods is extremely diverse and really enjoyable and there are no plant foods that we can’t have we’ve got lots of choices.
Caryn Hartglass: Mmm, ok so stick to the plant plate, Ginny thank you for talking with me and for Vegan For Her: The Diet For Being Healthy And Fit On a Plant Based Diet. Yes.
Ginny Messina: Thank you so much.
Caryn Hartglass: Ok, take care
Ginny Messina: Bye, bye.
Caryn Hartglass: Bye, bye, And her website is check that out, alright let’s take a break and then were going to talking about chocolate, luscious chocolate, vegan chocolate, ethical chocolate, okay we’ll be right back.

Transcribed by Chris Hill, October 30, 2013


Caryn Hartglass: Okay, it’s time for the second part of It’s All About Food, here on August 27th, 2012. I’m Caryn Hartglass, thank you for tuning in. And now it’s going to get sweet – sweet mixed with a little defiance. How about that? I’m going to bring on Lagusta Yearwood.
Lagusta Yearwood: Hi!
Caryn Hartglass: Hi Lagusta! I’m going to read your little bio first, if you don’t mind.
Lagusta Yearwood: Oh, go for it!
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. It sounds like you are a restless, rabble-rousing chef-turned-chocolatier who is in love with deep flavor, ethical sourcing, farmers, the food poor people around the world have always eaten, lactic acid fermentation, and noodles. She lives in a little 1960s sunny ranch-house in the tiny farm-focused town of New Paltz, New York with her sweetheart Jacob and three cats. After years of cooking in a rented kitchen, she and Jacob renovated a former laundromat in downtown New Paltz to become a tiny little chocolate shop, Lagusta’s Luscious, which you can find out more at, which opened in June of 2011. Hello, and welcome!
Lagusta Yearwood: Hello, how are you!
Caryn Hartglass: Good, and how about you?
Lagusta Yearwood: Good! It was interesting to hear your bio there, but there it is, and it was all true!
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, all true! I told myself before I started the program a half and hour ago that I should grab a little chocolate before I started this, and I didn’t. And now I’m going to be in trouble. Okay. I’m just going to breathe deeply now. So…before we talk about chocolate, I just want to talk a little bit about how I met you, which was at the book reading for Defiant Daughters in Manhattan. I thought that your chapter in the book was my favorite.
Lagusta Yearwood: Wow, thank you so much!
Caryn Hartglass: What I liked about it was it was feisty and kind of positive. Whereas – and I’m not judging anyone else in this book; we all have our personal stories and some of them are quite heartbreaking, and anyone that can rise above anything difficult is amazing – but you have a great attitude.
Lagusta Yearwood: Well, it’s easy when you’re around a mood-enhancer like chocolate all the time.
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t know… I know that chocolate does not work long-term for some people.
Lagusta Yearwood: And sometimes I definitely get sugar-induced stomachaches, that’s for sure.
Caryn Hartglass: So I just wanted to mention Defiant Daughters, it’s by one of my favorite publishers, Lantern Books. We talked to Carol Adams and Jasmine Singer when the book came out, and now I’ve got you! It’s a great book.
Lagusta Yearwood: Thank you. That’s a great compliment, I’m so honored.
Caryn Hartglass: Great, let’s move on to chocolate!
Lagusta Yearwood: Okay.
Caryn Hartglass: So, why chocolate?
Lagusta Yearwood: Let’s see…I started off doing more savory cooking about thirteen years ago, which is when I graduated from culinary school. I started making truffles one year for our friends for the holidays…our friends really loved them, and I just started doing it more and more. Before I knew it, I had two full-time jobs – one had a little mailing list and I would ship out chocolates every month, and another was I was running a vegan delivery service, cooking wholesome, delicious meals with farmer’s market produce for New York City customers. So I had to pick one job, and I picked the job that involved more traffic. So here we are! Also for me as a vegetarian and I vegan, I am fascinated by chocolate because it is so rich and so decadent. I feel like people have this perception of veganism as very dry and depriving yourself of some things. It was very important for me to show people that you can have this very luxurious food that is completely cruelty-free.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, your products are more than just cruelty-free, which is a huge mouthful to begin with, because there are so many chocolates out there that are not cruelty-free, containing dairy, primarily, which is a big bad thing.
Lagusta Yearwood: Exactly.
Caryn Hartglass: But you’re more than that. Your products are fair trade and organic, and very often, you include ingredients that are locally sourced.
Lagusta Yearwood: Actually, as we speak, I’m smoking some shiitakes in my smoker for this chocolate that we make that’s kind of like a bacon bar – we call it a Pig Out Bar. It has smoked shiitake mushrooms and a caramel sauce and chocolate. And those are actually local shitake mushrooms. So when I started out, I figured I would be an animal rights activist. But that world was hurting my heart too much, so instead, I wanted to do something more pleasurable, so I got into the cooking world. And I think because I started out with ethics at the forefront, instead of setting out and just wanting to sell chocolate, it’s really important to us that we always use fair trade chocolate because of the human rights issues involved. And we always make organic chocolates, because starting out as an environmentalist person who is concerned with the environment and animals and things like that, it just felt like a good way to advance my principles and turn them into a business. So I’m so lucky I was able to do that.
Caryn Hartglass: You’re doing a wonderful thing, because not only are you making chocolate, because most people love chocolate, but you’re sourcing it with some really excellent ingredients. And your products are beautiful! I’m on your website and everything’s gorgeous. So in addition, it’s just beautiful art. Lovely.
Lagusta Yearwood: Well thank you! It’s really fun for us. We have a bunch of people working at the shop, and it’s just amazing to see. Because we’re in a college town, we have a lot of college students who work here. Actually, most of them have graduated by now. But to see these people make these beautiful products, to see them grow and create, putting their input into the products, learning cocoa butter painting and dipping truffles and all kinds of things, it’s really great to teach people how to make beautiful things.
Caryn Hartglass: So there are a lot of things I’m thinking of here. I’m not quite sure how to get it all out, but let’s see what happens. There’s a lot of things going on with the food system and sustainable food and food for the poor….there’s so many different issues, and unfortunately, so many Americans today don’t know what they’re eating, don’t care what they’re eating, they just want a lot of it and they want it for cheap.
Lagusta Yearwood: It’s true. I think that because our chocolate is organic and fair trade, it costs more. Sometimes it costs a lot more than a Hershey’s or a giant corporation like that. But what I’m really surprised by is – maybe because it’s I’m in New Paltz, New York, which is a very middle-class, farm-friendly town – but people seem to have literal hunger for more authentic products that cost a real cost. Especially with our chocolates, they’re so rich and intense that you don’t need a huge bar in one sitting. We have customers who come in for one truffle a day or one caramel a day, and it’s two dollars and that’s their treat for the day, then they come back tomorrow. There are ways you can find something that’s sustainable and ethical and still have a treat – and it doesn’t feel like deprivation, or like you’re paying so much for it that it isn’t worth it.
Caryn Hartglass: I can’t agree more. And I really would like to see a turn in our culture. I hope it’s going that way – where we look for quality, not quantity. Where our furniture should be well made instead of particle board crap, and with the little artistry in our clothing, maybe we don’t own as many jeans, but the ones we have are made to last and made with quality ingredients and organic cotton, and the people who make them can live on the profits and send their children to school…I think it would be a more beautiful place.
Lagusta Yearwood: Yeah, and maybe I’m just being the glass half-full, but I do think people are getting so fed up with our badly made jeans and houses and chocolates and everything that it’s just really refreshing when you find, for me, when I travel through another town, other little handmade shops where they’re selling their local things made by local artisans. So obviously, there’s a lot of quality issues that we have to address, not everyone has the funds to pay two dollars for a chocolate, but it feels good to be doing something to try to address some of these issues – maybe not all of them at once.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m glad you’re doing it, and I imagine that it hasn’t been easy.
Lagusta Yearwood: I think the good thing for us is that I never started out with any startup money or any capital. I just figured I would do it out of my house and then it got bigger, and then I rented a kitchen and it got bigger, and then we opened a shop. So I think if I had started out thinking that I wanted to make this a business with eight employees and do this and this, it would have been so overwhelming and I never would have started it. But over the past ten years, I’ve just built up really slowly. So many people think that they have a great idea for a product or something, so they jump in right away with the intent of building a huge business. But for me, I found it was better just to go with the flow and not live beyond my means, to build something up in a more sustainable way at all levels.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, I just noticed on your website that you started a savory dinner series.
Lagusta Yearwood: Yeah, it’s pretty amazing.
Caryn Hartglass: So is that for the part of you that likes to cook everything else?
Lagusta Yearwood: Exactly. We have a little back room in our shop, and we just wrapped up the series for this year because the fall gets so busy with chocolate things. But during the summertime, when there’s beautiful produce around, we do one dinner a month. Well actually, it’s four nights, 12 people a night. And it’s really amazing. I have friends who come to every one, and we try to go crazy, to make it lavish and kinda stretch our cooking skills and everything. So it’s really fun.
Caryn Hartglass: I love to cook, and I love having people over for elaborate dinners where we just invent things.
Lagusta Yearwood: It’s really great!
Caryn Hartglass: Very good. On the subject of chocolate – where do you get your chocolate that you turn into all these beautiful confections?
Lagusta Yearwood: We don’t make the chocolate from scratch, but we get it from a very nice company called TCHO in San Francisco, and they direct source everything from farmers. The lines that we get, the fair trade and organic ones, are all from Peru and Ecuador. So they work directly with the farmers and set up cooperatives; they have really good transparency about their sourcing methods and everything, so I feel really lucky that I was able to find them, because sourcing chocolate is a huge minefield of ethical issues. I’m able to talk directly with their sourcing manager, who is always going down to the farms and working with the farmers and checking everything out. It’s really inspiring what they’re doing, brining this product to the market on a pretty big scale. I mean, they’re a pretty small company, but compared to my company, they’re giant. It’s pretty great.
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t think big is better, and I really encourage more small or medium size business because it’s manageable from a people standpoint. You’re talking to people that run this business, right? They know what’s going on.
Lagusta Yearwood: Exactly, exactly. I know for me, I wouldn’t want to have a shop where I wasn’t there, or we had three or four branches and people came in but never saw the people who make the chocolate. For us, it’s really nice to have the connection so that if a customer asks what’s in something, the person you’re talking to made the chocolate and can tell you all about it.
Caryn Hartglass: Alright, so you have a fun website, and I don’t know how you have the time to do all that you do, but you also blog. You come up with some really interesting combinations that go with chocolate.
Lagusta Yearwood: I don’t know why that is, we have a lot of weird combinations. I don’t know why that is; maybe it’s because I particularly just get bored. We definitely have a line of classic truffles that are more traditional; we have peanut butter cups and peppermint patties and more wonderfully, slightly plain things. But then we just kind of go crazy, especially with whole produce, because we’re always thinking about ways to use different ingredients. A farmer friend of ours grew a lot of sorrel this year, which is like a really sour spring green. He had so much of it, he just gave me bags and bags of it. I had no idea what to do with it, so I started thinking about making a kind of a natural sour candy. It took a lot of fiddling around and a lot of working with sorrel – which, as it turns out, if you have a lot of it and you’re constantly processing it in a food processor, kind of drives everyone crazy since it’s such a strong, sharp flavor. It gets into your eyes and things; that’s something we learned. But we finally made the Sour Sorrel Caramel, and it’s really amazing. It is like a natural sour caramel. So people are going crazy over it.
Caryn Hartglass: Mmm, very good. I don’t imagine you’ve done any chocolate covered ants or anything like that, have you?
Lagusta Yearwood: No, we have not.
Caryn Hartglass: No bugs!
Lagusta Yearwood: A lot of people said we should do something like that. But we’re strictly vegan.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, good. I was just joking. But you know, we’ve heard so many strange things about what people will put in chocolate.
Lagusta Yearwood: It’s true.
Caryn Hartglass: Sorrel sounds perfectly fine to me, and shiitake mushrooms, and anything else you want to put in your chocolate sounds good.
Lagusta Yearwood: I need to send you a box and you can try out all of our weird flavors!
Caryn Hartglass: Yes! Weird flavor box! And the other thing that’s exciting is that you have some white chocolate. That’s like next to impossible to find in the vegan world.
Lagusta Yearwood: We’ve tasted almost all of the vegan white chocolates out there, and most are not exactly to my taste. They’re a little odd-tasting to my taste, because most people try to use a low-fat milk like rice milk or something and it doesn’t have that same richness. So we have found another really small company that’s working with us to make a really great white chocolate with coconut milk that doesn’t taste coconuty. It just tastes really rich and wonderful. So that is really exciting to me. Because having more milk chocolate and white chocolate without dairy is kind of the holy grail, I think.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m kind of interested to hear about that, because I use a lot of coconut milk. I just made for my mom’s 80th birthday a seven-layer cake with ganache and a chocolate butter-cream filling. I loved the way it tastes, but you still know it’s coconut. And sometimes you don’t want to have coconut.
Lagusta Yearwood: Were you using coconut oil too, and coconut milk? Or just the coconut milk?
Caryn Hartglass: I used…I don’t know if you know this, but Let’s Do Organic has a creamed coconut.
Lagusta Yearwood: Yeah, that might be why. I feel like the coconut milk, or if you use a more refined coconut oil, it doesn’t really have such a coconuty flavor, but it’s a little more refined. So it’s kind of a trade-off. But sure, it’s not like you can make vanilla ice cream with coconut milk, because it’s going to be really coconutty. But you can make a nice coconut ice cream.
Caryn Hartglass: I love coconut.
Lagusta Yearwood: Oh yes. I have a theory that dairy has a flavor that has just become our baseline vanilla flavor, so no one really realizes that when you taste other milks, they have a slightly different flavor. But it’s not negative; it’s just their own flavor, just like cow’s milk dairy has it’s own flavor. I think it’s just a matter of slightly shifting our taste buds sometimes.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s a good point. I haven’t had dairy in almost 26 years, and I still can remember what it tastes like, and it makes me kind of sick thinking about it – but it does have a flavor, and it does impact the chocolate.
Lagusta Yearwood: Exactly. I worked in a restaurant once that was vegetarian and they did very little dairy. But they once made a peach ice cream where there was one vegan version with coconut milk and one non-vegan version with cow’s milk. I tasted the wrong one and my first thought was, what is that flavor? It’s such an odd flavor? And then I tasted the vegan one, and I was just like, oh, this is peach ice cream. It’s so funny how your taste buds change so much.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, we can learn to eat anything – and like just about anything. It’s a scary thing. Now, you’ve been vegan for a long time, right?
Lagusta Yearwood: I guess about 16 years or so. So yeah – 16!
Caryn Hartglass: Is this something you did on your own, or did your parents encourage you? What happened?
Lagusta Yearwood: I guess I became vegetarian when I was around 12. It’s funny, I have a lot of friends who became vegetarian when they were around 12. I want to conduct a study or something about this phenomenon.
Caryn Hartglass: I was 15.
Lagusta Yearwood: And then I slowly got more and more into animal rights, just thinking about where animal products come from and things like that. When I was 15 I became vegan and went to several animal rights meetings, and everyone there was vegan, so I figured it was probably possibly. My mom actually became vegan with me, and she’s still vegan, so it’s really wonderful.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s very wonderful. I like that. Well – here’s what I’m putting out to the universe, and I hope that people with their business want to not just focus on making a big profit but on making a quality product that does something good for the world and doesn’t do anything bad.
Lagusta Yearwood: Absolutely. Let’s hope!
Caryn Hartglass: That’s all.
Lagusta Yearwood: It doesn’t sound like so much to ask for.
Caryn Hartglass: I love the vegan community because most of them really care: about people, about animals, about the planet…they care about so many different things, and when I read the newspaper, which I do only on the weekends, it blows me away. How can people be so heartless? How can people be so cruel?
Lagusta Yearwood: I think it’s very easy just to close your eyes to the reality of the world. I feel that way a lot when I think about things. There’s all these ingrained systems that are conspiring to prevent you from thinking about what really happened. But yes, it does get pretty discouraging sometimes.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so I’m back on your website again, and I’m noticing that there are some products on here that I think are from other people?
Lagusta Yearwood: Yeah, other products. My best friend Marissa who does all of our photoshopping spent a year developing a recipe for these French macaroons that are totally different from macaroons. They’re beautiful delicate cookies with almond flour – and yes, she’s amazing. She’s going for it.
Caryn Hartglass: They’re beautiful. And they’re gluten-free.
Lagusta Yearwood: She’s actually making a batch right now. I can smell it through the walls from sitting outside.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m looking at them, and they are really, really lovely. So I look forward to biting into one of them one day. I’m excited about all kind of vegan foods, so I’m just going to ask – what’s this treeline cashew cheese?
Lagusta Yearwood: Oh yeah! It’s a really wonderful cheese. It’s in so many stores now, but it actually started out being made in the back room of our shop. Both of our businesses, a friend of mine who owns a cheese business, were growing so much that we realized we needed all the space, and that was where he made the cashew cheese. It’s really great, the cashew cheese. It comes in two varieties: one is the cream cheese, which coms in a couple different flavors, and then the hard cheese, which is so amazing. It’s just clean tasting and has a really nice sharp, cheesy flavor. So the world of vegan cheeses just keeps getting better and better..
Caryn Hartglass: Yay! That’s so wonderful! And you’re a delicious part of that, so thank you, Lagusta.
Lagusta Yearwood: Thank you!
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I’ll definitely have to try all these products sometimes soon. I’m going to have to go and get some chocolate now. So thank you for joining me, and all the best with your delicious products. Thank you for making the world a yummy place.
Lagusta Yearwood: Well thank you! Thank you for this wonderful show!
Caryn Hartglass: Okay! You take care!
Lagusta Yearwood: Okay, bye!
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so just a minute or two here – when you’re looking for vegan chocolate, go to Lagusta Yearwood; you can find her online at Just look at the pictures. They are so, so beautiful. Now, you know me. I always like to talk about treats. Treats are things that you don’t have every day. They’re something special, something you don’t have every day, and they should be made with high quality ingredients so they really feel like a celebration. That’s what these foods are, and I wish there were a whole lot more of them. I just want to let you know that next week is going to be spectacular. I’m so excited about my guest, David Simon, who has a new book out called MEATONOMIC$. You have to listen to this. It’s going to be an awesome half hour. He has done so much work, about the animal food industry and how, through all kinds of hidden costs, they have burdened us with over 400 billion dollars. I can’t wait to hear from him. And then the second part of the show – Bhava Ram is going to be talking about his book, Warrior Pose, and I loved reading this book. Towards the end, I didn’t even know there was going to be some food references. I was so happy when I read that because I always like to tie the food issues into what we’re talking about. But anyhow, he had a broken pack, a failed surgery, he was running around as a network news-work correspondent, and then he had stage 4 cancer and managed to heal himself and find peace. It’s really inspiring story and I can’t wait to talk to him. So join me, please – next week, September 3rd. For now, join me on and the website where you can see our latest video. So you’ve got a lot to do! This is Caryn Hartglass, and this has been It’s All About Food! Have a delicious week!

Transcribed by Sarah Brown, 9/12/2013

  1 comment for “Ginny Messina, Lagusta Yearwood

  1. Thank you so much for interviewing the amazing Lagusta! Her chocolates are out of this world and she is one of the few examples of a business in America doing things with ethics, compassion, and love. I am so inspired by her, love her blog and this interview.

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