Part I: JC Corcoran, Rae Sikora, Plant Peace Daily
Jim (JC) Corcoran co-founded and served as president of VegMichigan, the state’s largest vegetarian organization, for seven years. He is a retired fire captain/paramedic/training officer, has a BS in Emergency Medicine and is certified in the Living Foods Lifestyle. Jim also is a certified fitness instructor and former softball champion/all-star. He has been leading life altering programs on health and the environment for over a decade now. His talks empower people to make informed and lasting changes in their lives. Since retiring from the fire service, Jim has been busy starting and developing several other successful outreach organizations. He co-founded Plant Peace Daily; founded Santa Fe Veg and co-founded VegFund, an international organization which helps vegan activist spread the word through food and other means.
Rae Sikora has been a spokesperson for animals, the environment and human rights for over 30 years. Her programs have been changing people’s vision of what is possible to create in our lives and in the world. Rae has worked internationally with participants ranging from teachers, students and prisoners to businesses and activists. As co-founder of the Institute for Humane Education, Rae created interactive critical thinking tools that are now being used by people around the globe. She holds degrees in Cultural Anthropology and Environmental Education from the University of Wisconsin. Rae draws from years of experience to help individuals and groups discover how implementing changes personally/locally can bring about positive change globally. She is co-founder/co-director of Plant Peace Daily and VegFund.
Part II: Dreena Burton, Let Them Eat Vegan!
Dreena Burton is the author of bestselling vegan cookbooks and an at-home mom to three girls. She has been vegan since ’95, when little was known about eating and cooking vegan. Not long after graduating with her business degree and working in the marketing field, Dreena followed her true passion of writing recipes and cookbooks.
The Everyday Vegan was her first project, following her father-in-law’s heart attack. When the cardiologist strongly advised a low-fat plant-based diet to her husband’s parents to reverse heart disease, Dreena knew there was information needing to be shared – most importantly, how and what to eat as a vegan. After having her first child, she wrote Vive le Vegan!, which represented her journey as a mom, and more wholesome, easy recipes. Then came eat, drink & be vegan, a celebratory vegan cookbook. The Everyday Vegan became known for its lower fat and ‘everyday’ recipes. Vive le Vegan became known for its healthy baked goods and easy but tasty family-fare. Eat, drink & be vegan became known for its entire chapter on hummus, as well as inventive flavor combinations and a mix of wheat-free and gluten-free recipes.
Dreena has also written for VegNews and Alive magazines, True/Slant, and has been featured in other publications including First Magazine. She has won several blog awards including VegNews VegBloggy and Vancouver’s Ultimate Mom Blog. Dreena starred on the Everyday Dish cooking dvd in 2007, and her “Homestyle Chocolate Chip” video from that dvd has become a signature cookie and has received over 200,000 YouTube views. More recently, Dreena’s “Frosted B-raw-nies” recipe won the Everyday Health Gluten-Free Recipe Contest (February 2011).
Dreena’s newest book is Let Them Eat Vegan: 200 Deliciously Satisfying Plant-Powered Recipes for the Whole Family. This book represents an evolution in vegan cooking, with an emphasis on whole foods. Dreena utilizes her experience cooking with the ‘vegan basics’ – beans, nuts, seeds, whole-grains and whole-grain products, vegetables and fruits – to bring delicious, wholesome vegan meals, snacks, and treats to the table for everyday plant-powered eating. You won’t find any ‘white processed stuff’ in Dreena’s recipes… no white flour, no white sugar, and also no vegan substitutes like vegan cream cheese, sour cream, or vegan meat. And, these recipes are wheat-free and also largely gluten-free, and a sprinkling of raw delights for good measure. Let Them Eat Vegan dishes up plant-powered specialties for everyone!
Caryn Hartglass: Hello, I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Hey, how are you doing today? It’s kind of a cool, cloudy thing happening here in New York City on May 23, 2012, but I’m liking it. It’s a good time to relax and put on some cozy clothes, make a nice pot of tea. I like organic, fair-trade varieties. Pour in a little soymilk creamer and sit back and listen to me and my guest talk about my favorite subject, and maybe one of your favorite subjects: food. And, as you know, on this show, we often link together the environment, people’s health, animals… We talk about a lot of different subjects on this show. Today I just want to make it easy, joyful, peaceful, lovely, because so many people have food issues. And what I like to do is let you know that you don’t have to feel guilty about your food. If you choose fresh, organic, mostly locally grown, delicious plant foods, and there are so many things to do with them, and that’s all we talk about on this show, there’s no guilt. It’s good for your body; it’s good for the environment; it’s delicious.
Ok, so let’s just spin a lot of joy today. I’m going to be talking to two, very lovely, lovely people: JC Corcoran and Rae Sikora. I’m going to read a little bit about them. JC Corcoran co-founded and served as president of Veg Michigan, the state’s largest vegetarian organization, for seven years. He is a retired fire captain, paramedic training officer and has a B.S. in Emergency Medicine and is certified in the Living Foods lifestyle. Jim is also a certified fitness instructor and former softball champion all-star. He has been leading life-altering programs on health and the environment for over a decade now. His talks empower people to make informed and lasting changes in their lives. Since retiring from the fire service, Jim has been busy starting and developing several other successful outreach organizations. He cofounded Plant Peace Daily. He founded Santa Fe Veg and cofounded VegFund, an international organization which helps vegan activists spread the word through food and other means.
Then, we have Rae Sikora, also. She’s been a spokesperson for animals, the environment and human rights for over 30 years. Her programs have been changing people’s vision of what is possible to create in our lives and in the world. She has worked internationally with participants ranging from teachers, students and prisoners to businesses and activists. As cofounder of the Institute for Humane Education, Rae created interactive critical thinking tools that are now being used by people around the globe. She holds degrees in Cultural Anthropology and Environmental Education from the University of Wisconsin. Rae draws from years of experience to help individuals and groups discover how implementing changes personally, locally can bring about positive change globally. And she too is cofounder, co-director of Plant Peace Daily and VegFund. Welcome to It’s All About Food, you two!
Rae Sikora: Hey, Caryn.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi, how are you doing? I love reading all of this stuff. You two have done, like, so many different wonderful things
Rae Sikora: We love doing it. We were just laughing because you were talking about this chilly weather and ‘put on something cozy’ and we’re in New Mexico and we’re stripped down as far as we can be, because it’s really hot.
Caryn Hartglass: Isn’t that crazy?
Rae Sikora: I love it.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s the world we live in. There are some places where they’re hotter than they typically are and colder than they typically are. Never assume anything. The weather has been really spectacular the last year in New York and New York City. You know, I don’t like to say global warming is the cause of it. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Whatever it is, I’ve enjoyed it and I’ve taken advantage of it. It’s been very moderate and lovely.
JC Corcoran: We heard you had a warm winter
Caryn Hartglass: Oh yeah. I was just at my co-op annual meeting yesterday, and they were talking about all the money they saved on fuel over the winter because it was a very mild winter. So, it’s been really lovely here. But it’s hot where you are?
JC Corcoran: We’re enjoying it, though.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. So, what’s going on? What kind of peace have you been planting lately?
Rae Sikora: Doing our usual 24/7 activism. A little bit of sleep mixed in and lots of eating mixed in and lots of hiking.
Caryn Hartglass: Ok, now we don’t want you not to get enough sleep, because you have to be healthy and strong in order to spread this beautiful message.
JC Corcoran: Absolutely.
Rae Sikora: [Chuckles]
Caryn Hartglass: So where have you been, most recently?
JC Corcoran: We are in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and we are busy working to veganize Santa Fe, because that’s the kind of town we want to live in.
Caryn Hartglass: Hmm. What’s that going to take?
JC Corcoran: Well, we started a group. We’ve got already 70 members and we’re doing all sorts of education and outreach, and we’re going to be doing — demos and just the usual fare that we do whenever we settle into an area.
Rae Sikora: We’ve had some really great film and discussion events with… we showed Vegucated, we showed Forks Over Knives. Did we show any other films yet?
JC Corcoran: Not yet.
Rae Sikora: Yeah, more to come.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s the exciting thing. I know that you’ve been doing this for a long time, as I have, decades and decades. But there’s so much out there now. Many cookbooks and there are more films to show, and the internet is there 24/7 with all kinds of great information. Does that make it any easier?
JC Corcoran: Oh, yeah. In fact, Rae was just saying the other day that when we first started in the movement, we thought we knew every single vegan in the world.
Caryn Hartglass: Me too!
JC Corcoran: And now, we can’t keep up with all the books, the blogs, the websites, the authors. There are just so many of these things going on.
Rae Sikora: You know what I think, Caryn? I think that it makes it easier both personally, it makes it easier because you feel like there is sort of this trend toward compassion and healthy eating and caring about other species, like the whole thing, caring about the environment. There’s already a trend going that way so it makes it… Personally, it’s nice. It’s like, “Oh good, a community…” But also in terms of our work it makes it easier, because they were doing a program and they had already heard some of the information from watching Ellen Degeneres or one of the other popular places where they are going to hear about this. Not having to plant the first seed all the time.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. The thing about change, especially changing our diets and changing our lifestyle, we need to hear the information over and over and over, packaged in many different ways for it to get nourished and grow and finally go from our subconscious to our conscious and enable us to take action. It takes a long time.
Rae Sikora: Right.
JC Corcoran: For many people.
Rae Sikora: I think for anyone when there’s new information at first you can’t take it all in. It’s almost like the information is around the corner, and you haven’t even walked to the corner yet. So, you’re on your way and eventually you go “Oh! Yeah, I’ve heard that before, five times.”
Caryn Hartglass: It’s so hard to understand what makes us tick as human beings, but I think so much of it is so ingrained in all of our cells. We have 53 trillion or more cells in our bodies. There’s so much fascinating science information about what goes on in our cells all throughout our bodies, not just in our brains, how cells all throughout the body have memory, our organs have memory. There’s all kinds of just intense, interesting things. We’re at the tip of iceberg in terms of comprehending. You know, when we’re babies, we take in all of this environment around us and things become a part of us, really. So, when somebody comes along and says, “No, that’s not a good thing,” we have these 53 trillion community of cells that don’t know what to do with that information.
Rae Sikora: Exactly, exactly. It’s like a foreign language. I’ve often thought that there should be like a travel guide to veganism because it is like this foreign culture. It’s different food, different language; it’s just a different culture. Wouldn’t it be cool to have the Fodor’s Guide to Veganville or something like that.
JC Corcoran: Don’t tell her that. That’s your next book!
Caryn Hartglass: What is that? Tell us? So, has your approach changed over the last three decades?
Rae Sikora & JC Corcoran: Oh, yeah.
JC Corcoran: Absolutely
Rae Sikora: We both say “Oh yeah!”
Caryn Hartglass: What are some of the changes that you’ve made?
Rae Sikora: Yeah, I think we can probably answer this separately. We’ve both been doing this for so long, and we’ve come from two very different paths. JC, you’ve been doing activism and outreach for a long time and I have… We have had very different venues and ways of doing it. And now we’ve come together and always have a lot of overlap now. In a way, it’s sort of like we brought together those… That’s why we wrote our book, Planet Peace Daily, because it was like “Ooh, you have all those outreach ideas. I have all these. We can be more than the sum of our parts, which is great!” [Caryn: Yeah.] Mine started out, I think it was… when I first started out, it was much more in-your-face. It was much more “I know the right way to do things and I don’t care how long it took me or how much my experiences led me to where I am, I want you to understand this in five minutes, what took me however many years. That’s how I used to be, like, how can you not get this in five minutes? And now I really realize that everybody has their own path to it. I’m just one little part of their path to it, if they come across me, and they’re one little part of my path toward learning more about what they do. And it’s impossible for someone to get inside what took me 56 years of my experiences to get to. So, much more now, I do the inviting instead of fighting. I invite people to this very joyful possibility that they could feel good physically; they could be making choices, in all of their lifestyle choices, they could be making choices that support animals and the earth, other cultures, their own health and do it in a way that satisfies whatever it is that they love, comfort food or all those things. It’s all there now. So I love inviting people to this possibility. It has a lot more joy for me now than it used to. It still has the dark parts of knowing what’s going on behind closed doors. There’s a lot more joy now
Caryn Hartglass: I agree with that. I know, I understand how people are angry, and there are people that finally have that epiphany and are angry and start where we started so long ago. The numbers, I can’t say the numbers are getting better. As the population grows, we hear how more animals are being killed every year for food. The last thing I heard was 65 billion land animals, I think. It just gets bigger and bigger. And, of course, our health costs are going up for all these unnecessary, chronic, reversible, preventable diseases, if people would eat healthy. And then, we’ve got this environment that’s not looking very good, and it’s really hard to just, like, want to smile. But, I really believe that that’s the way to do it. Invite and not fight. I like that. I might steal that from you.
Rae Sikora: You can steal it. It’s all yours. If you think about it, like, think about the community you would want to join. Would you be more attracted to a community of angry or unhealthy people, or would you be more attracted to a community of people who seem really joyful and very grateful for their lives and are strong and healthy? That’s much more attractive community
Caryn Hartglass: I know what I want. It’s what I’m living. What about you, JC? What’s changed for you?
JC Corcoran: Well, a lot I have learned actually in the last six years, having lived with Rae, and that is, one of the most important things I’ve learned is that when you speak with people, rather than presenting your own point of view, to question theirs, and ask them questions about why they take points of view that they do. Just be inquisitive and by opening up the conversation and making them the focus of conversation, they’re much more apt to be agreeable and willing to make change.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, you’re working there in New Mexico. What’s your style these days of getting people interested in what you want to talk about? Just wondering what are the big bullet points for you when you’re talking to people about, what…
JC Corcoran: Almost always, when you are doing a tabling event, people will come up to me and in many cases they are open to the idea, because they wouldn’t have come to your table otherwise. But there are some people who actually come up to your table and want to be confrontational about it.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely.
JC Corcoran: That’s when you want to be able to, instead of reacting angrily to somebody who’s come to you in an angry fashion, is to turn it around and question why it is that they feel what they do. Rae’s got some really wonderful stories and success stories of people who really turned around as a result of just being inquisitive and finding out what’s important to them and asking if these things are in alignment with their own personal beliefs.
Caryn Hartglass: Isn’t it amazing how powerful love and respect can be?
JC Corcoran: Yeah.
Rae Sikora: Mm-hm. We had this woman who came up to our table and she said “Oh, I’m kind of a vegetarian. Well, I am a vegetarian, but I eat chicken.”
Caryn Hartglass: Oh! The feathered vegetable. That’s right.
Rae Sikora: Exactly. And I said, “How did you choose chicken as the animal who you would eat.” She said, “Well, you know, chickens.” And I said, “Yeah, what do you mean? What about chicken?” And she said, “Well, you know, they’re really stupid.” And I said, “Oh, I have a really different experience of chicken, you know, that they’re not at all stupid. So tell me about your experience of chicken.” And she just stopped in her tracks and she looked at me and she said, “What do you mean?” And I said, “Well, you know, what’s your experience with chickens?” And she said, “Well, I don’t have any experience with chickens.” And I said, “Do you want to hear about some of the chickens who I know?” and she said, “Sure.” So I told her about some of my favorite chicken friends, and they’re not only brilliant, but they’re caring, they’re loving mothers, they’ll give their life for their kids, just like a lot of humans we know, and they’re just brilliant. So I told her about some of my favorite chicken friends, who I’m close with, and I told her this and her face kind of changed, and then she looked at me and, real quiet, she said, “Oh. I guess I don’t eat chicken anymore.”
Caryn Hartglass: Aww.
Rae Sikora: Just that sweetness, that she was even open to it. I just think most people, given the environment to really look in their heart, they don’t want to be making violent choices or cruel choices, or choices that hurt the environment. So just asking people a few questions it’s really… for me it’s helpful for me because I understand them more. And for them, it gives them an opportunity to kind of clarify for themselves, “Oh. I wonder why I do that.” I was tabling for Earth Day and a woman came up. I was showing, you know the ‘Farm to Fridge’ film? The four minute one, from Mercy for Animals. Well, I was showing that, playing it on a loop, and an older woman came up to the table and she said, “This is awful. It’s awful. We do it the kind way.” And I said, “Oh, what is the kind way?” And she said, “Well, they send the women and children into the house and then the shoot them in the head.”
Caryn Hartglass: Well, there you go.
Rae Sikora: I said, “Oh. So if it’s the kind way, why do they have to send the women and children into the house?” She couldn’t really take in, well, she did take in that question, and then I think she got it, how maybe it’s not the kind way. She kind of kept muttering, “This is awful. We do it the kind way.” And I said, “You know, my family decided to do it the kind, what we think is the kind way. We decided we don’t have to kill them unnecessarily. That’s what we’ve done as our ‘kind way.’” She took some literature and wandered away, and she was still muttering, “We do it the kind way.”
Caryn Hartglass: Aw. Well, those were her 53 plus trillion cells that were confused and were responding, because for decades that’s what they’ve been told.
Rae Sikora: Exactly.
JC Corcoran: Mm-hm.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I was sitting at lunch today with my partner Gary. I think we’ve been together about the same amount of time as you two, about six years.
Rae Sikora: Oh, exactly.
Caryn Hartglass: So we should celebrate sometime together with some good food.
Rae Sikora: I would love that.
Caryn Hartglass: We were just reminiscing about when we were both really young, and we used to like to prepare food. We were not vegetarians a long, long, long time ago, and I remember making Cornish hens, and I liked them because they were cute, they were little. I did not connect the dots at all. I just thought they were miniature versions of this larger thing that we would eat and it was cute. Some people when they see that they make the connection ultimately, but it wasn’t my time.
Rae Sikora: Isn’t it like that? When I was a child, I was known as the animal lover, in our house, in our community. One day we were at my aunt’s house, and I am making a tongue sandwich. Tongue.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, tongue.
Rae Sikora: Like a lunch meat. So I’m making the sandwich and my brother says don’t eat that. It’s tongue. I said, “No, it’s not really tongue.” He said, “It’s tongue. It’s tongue.” And I said, “Mom would never feed us tongue.” He said, “Go ask her.” So, I go to my aunt’s kitchen and mom is in there and I said, “Mom, what’s tongue? She said, “It’s tongue. It’s a tongue. I said, “Whose tongue?” Like, I couldn’t believe they were feeding us tongue! And then she said, “It’s a cow’s tongue.” I said, “No! I’m eating a cow?” I can’t tell you how many tongue sandwiches I ate before I could hear, I finally heard it, and I was like, it is. It’s tongue. There’s a reason they would call it that.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I remember tongue, and I don’t know if I ate it or ate many, because the thought of it was really repulsive, but then, why is it that we except eating some body parts and not others?
JC Corcoran: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s just cultural.
Rae Sikora: Sometimes I see that in an advertisement, “Breast or thigh.” And I think, well that’s right out there, that’s pretty blatant. But not if all your trillions of cells are used to hearing it.
JC Corcoran: For almost 38 years of my life I was eating everything, probably, except tongue.
Rae Sikora: Every one, too.
JC Corcoran: And everyone. Yeah, everyone, I’m sorry. I was 38 years old when I finally woke up and realized… there’s so much misinformation and just a lack of information, too, of good information out in the world, and that’s beginning to change, particularly with social networking now. And I think that may be responsible for the number of vegans having doubled in the last three years.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I really think so. I’m really banking on this internet, social networking thing to exponentially make improvements. We really need… we don’t have time on our side, and things need to happen quickly. I was just reading about smoking recently, and thinking about how long it’s taken to get improvements in smoking. So, when the Surgeon General in 1964 put out his first report linking smoking with cancer, it’s taken 50 years or more to go from half the population smoking to 20% of the population smoking. Fifty years.
Rae Sikora: We’re not the brightest species. We’re kind of slow learners. It was so funny. I was just working in the Middle East, and I was working with Arabic teachers, there, and principals, on compassionate living and bringing it into the classroom. And one of the principals said to me, “Rae.” It was right when we were starting, “Rae. You’re not going to be saying that animals are superior to humans, are you? Because humans are superior,” and I said, “Well, I am so open to that idea, but I haven’t seen proof of it yet.” And then he said, “Well, it’s everywhere.” And I said, “Do you see this pile of trash I have on this stage?” And he said, “Yes.” I said, “That came from the beach in Netanya. I collected that off the beach yesterday, and no other species left this trash there. This was all humans leaving plastic and nylon and tar and, just the kinds of trash was amazing, Styrofoam. I had this huge mountain of it on the stage. So I said, “It’s things like this that make it a little bit hard to prove our intelligence.” I said, “Maybe over these next days, you can find a way to prove to me that humans are intelligent and you can be open to the idea that other animals are intelligent.” He said, “Ok, Rae.”
Caryn Hartglass: Ok. Well, why do we have to be better?
Rae Sikora: Right, right. And why is intelligence a measure of worth anyway? It’s really impossible to measure the intelligence… we were just talking about it today. If you don’t share culture and language, you can’t measure intelligence, and it’s not a measure of worth anyway.
Caryn Hartglass: There are so many things we don’t understand about animals. We have so much to learn from them. How do some of the sea animals navigate in the water? How is it that the birds navigate the way they do? I was recently in Costa Rica, and I am so fascinated by all the life that’s there, especially the leafcutter ants, just watching them. So focused and they’re communicating on a level that I don’t understand. They’ve got some special wi-fi thing going on there.
JC Corcoran: Yeah.
Rae Sikora: Exactly! I just did an experiment with them. I was hiking in Utah, and there is this ant expert whose name is E.O. Wilson, and E.O. Wilson says they communicate by chemical trails. And I thought, I think it’s more than chemical trails. I think they have some sort of telepathy. So I put, we were camped in this one spot in Utah, and I put little pieces of bait down and then one little puddle of water, and where I put it down I watched what their reactions were. The ants far away started to move really, really fast, but they had not passed any chemical trail. They started to go crazy, moving fast, and they are all charging toward the bait, and I thought, wow, look at this. I just pulled up a chair. I watched them for hours until it got dark, to watch what is their communication, like with the different hills, different holes and they were communicating with each other with no chemical trails for sure.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m not an expert about them, but I was told that when you kill the queen ant, they all die.
Rae Sikora: Oh, I’ve never read that. I’ll have to check that out.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, check that out, because that would be extra proof about this telepathy thing, but the point is there are millions of different species out there, and we could be learning so much if we weren’t so arrogant.
Rae Sikora: Exactly, exactly. Also, there’s a thing called zoo pharmacology, and it’s about how the animals know how to find the right medicines in the wild. There’s a book called Wild Health, and now humans are finally going, “Ok.” Beyond tribal people, who have always known to watch other animals to see what they choose for their diseases, now other people, other than tribal people, are going, “Oh, these animals know. They know what plants to eat when they’re in labor, when they’re sick, when they need minerals. Let’s watch them.”
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, before we destroy them, let’s learn something from them. Ok, we have just like less than a minute left, so what do we do? We should go to PlantPeaceDaily.org, read everything there.
Rae Sikora: Yes, before you do anything else.
JC Corcoran: We also have our book, for free as a PDF, on our website. We want people who want to make change in the world to get the book and start making some changes.
Caryn Hartglass: Ok, where do I find the book?
JC Corcoran: You go to PlantPeaceDaily.org and go to our Shop and on the shop page, there is a link to the book in PDF form, or you can get it as a Kindle download for 99 cents. You can buy the book online on Amazon.com as well, if you want a hard copy
Caryn Hartglass: Ok, great. Thank you, JC and Rae, for being you and doing all this love stuff
JC Corcoran: Thank you, Caryn.
Rae Sikora: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: I love it.
Thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food. So, guess what we’re going to do now? We’re going to take a little break and then we are going to be talking about what I love most, which is delicious food with Dreena Burton, author of the new book Let Them Eat Vegan. We’ll be right back.
Transcribed by Maggie Rasnake, 1/27/2013
Caryn Hartglass: Hello, I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you’re listening to It’s All About Food.
We were just talking about the changes that have gone on over the last two decades, things that are making it easier for people to transition to a healthier plant-based diet: all the schools, books, social networking, and online resources; it’s really wonderful. But here’s something that I didn’t say that I just kind of been thinking about over the last few minutes and maybe it was talking about those leaf-cutter ants, I don’t know. But I think there’s some sort of global consciousness and as we learn things, whether we read that information or talk about it with other people, I think, I want to think we’re all moving forward together along some timeline or thought line where we’re getting to a better place. I’ll clarify that a little bit more in a little bit.
But right now I want to introduce my next guest, Deena Burton, who has written a brand new cookbook, Let Them Eat Vegan, and she is the author of the best-selling vegan cookbooks and an at-home mom to three girls. She’s been vegan since 1995 when little was known about eating and cooking vegan. Not long after graduating with her Business degree and working in the marketing field, she followed her true passion of writing recipes and cookbooks. And we’re going to learn a lot more about Dreena and find out all about her blog sites and websites, and books, and recipes.
Welcome to It’s All About Food!
Dreena Burton: Hi, Caryn! Thank you for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I can’t believe I haven’t talked or met you before. But just like JC Corcoran was talking about a little earlier we used to think we knew all the vegans. And now there’s just so many of us and it’s beautiful.
Dreena Burton: It’s grown a lot in the last few years, especially.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. So that must be good for the cookbook world.
Dreena Burton: I think so. I noticed that a lot of people that contact me and use my book, they’re not always completely vegan but doing their best or transitioning, or just making their way to that plant-based diet so it’s become far more accepted to even have that vegan cookbook in your kitchen.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. It’s not a scary, ugly word anymore.
Dreena Burton: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. So you’re a mom. You have three kids and one of them is a little baby, right?
Dreena Burton: Yeah. Well, she’s my baby. She just turned 3.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, she’s a big girl!
Dreena Burton: Yeah. She’ll always be my baby. I have three girls: 11, 7, and 3.
Caryn Hartglass: We’ll talk about kids because it’s such an important topic. But I wanted first to clarify a little bit more about where I was going a moment ago before I introduced you. It’s a little woo-woo, wa-wa but maybe talking about it, I’ll make more sense for myself than everyone else. But I was reading in your book …I’m not sure exactly where it was but I think those of those who’ve been doing this vegan thing for a long time, we learn a long the way. So it started out as this kind of boring “brown rice and steamed vegetable” thing, not that there’s anything wrong with brown rice and steamed vegetables; it’s a perfect meal many times. But we’ve definitely improved and expanded on our culinary expertise and variety. And I’m saying “we” because I think it’s sort of in the global consciousness somehow that we’re all moving along together. And these changes kind of happened just … individually but also somehow as a group somehow, I’m not quite sure. But I was reading your book and nodding my head a lot all along the way going, “Yup, yup. I get that. I’ve been there.”
Dreena Burton: It’s funny how often, like you say, we have a lot of similar experiences, especially if you have been eating a vegan diet for a little while. And I agree; I think that people want to see what is so beautiful and exciting about food and try to make it almost an art at times and at the same time, like you said, sometimes the simplest meal of brown rice and some veggies with a quick sauce is just what you need that night; that is exactly what your body wants and also maybe all you really have the mental energy to prepare. But there is something so exciting and just fabulous about taking interesting groups of flavors and taking a meal and making it particularly special, maybe just with sauce or with just a technique and just to show that this food is pretty darn exciting. I think that’s why it’s reaching that level is because we want to communicate that it’s not that boring meal that people think it is.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Well, that’s where the trend is going, that’s where the excitement is. The color and variety is in plants; it’s not in flesh.
Dreena Burton: That’s so true.
Caryn Hartglass: It just is. There’s just so many varieties of all kinds of crazy plant foods out there and so many different things we can do with them and it’s really, really fun. We certainly are seeing that in your most recent cookbook and it’s different from your previous ones. I have the Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan cookbook also; very nice. You also mentioned in your introduction that eating vegan is so much more than just eating animal food. Can we talk about that a little bit?
Dreena Burton: Absolutely. I think if … Often people are drawn to veganism for different reasons. I was brought to eating vegan from a health perspective and a lot of people come from an ethical perspective. But I think if you are only concerned about the ethics you can’t serve those ethics very well unless you’re nourished well. And it’s very … I don’t think that people can stick with eating vegan long if they’re not eating a really wholesome, whole foods diet; it’s just not going to serve their body well. I sometimes hear from people that “Oh, this is vegan or that’s vegan” but it’s pure junk. And what is the point of eating it when it’s basically garbage to your system? It doesn’t matter it it’s labeled vegan or anything else. So it’s far more than just saying that it’s vegan; we need to look at what’s going to be healthy for us and good for the planet as well. That will really do so much more to promote veganism when you can be the best master of your body and be healthy.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m thinking of some analogies that are just rushing into my head right now. And I’m thinking, just like in the women’s movement women had to be better than men in certain areas in order to be hired. Just like with people of color, they needed to be better in their field in order to be hired. And so as vegans we need to know more about nutrition and a variety of other things because, especially years ago but it still happens today, people really harass you. And most people know nothing about nutrition and what they learn about nutrition is from advertising and very little else. So as vegans, in order to defend ourselves, we need to be smarter about food.
Dreena Burton: It’s so true. It’s like a challenge. We need to walk around with the food encyclopedias, something, and whip it and “This category of nutrients is vitamin,” and “Oh, I got Vitamin B here. Have it at the ready for everyone.”
Caryn Hartglass: So are we. We’re all like little quasi-dieticians. We have to be.
Dreena Burton: Yeah. I know I have absorbed a lot of knowledge over the years. I’m not a nutritionist or served in that capacity but I certainly know a lot about food and what’s nourishing and basic components of what we need to be healthy, far more probably than a lot of parents and yet I’m often the one looked at as a parent: “How are you meeting the need for your child?” I don’t question whether another parent is getting fiber for their child, or Vitamin C, or all antioxidants they need but yet I know that someone would be quick to ask me, “Where are you getting the protein?” of course.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. And there’s so many different responses to that favorite question. But people just assume that they’re getting the right food eating whatever diet it is they’ve been raised eating and yet … we know today that standard American diet is life-threatening; it’s not life-promoting.
Dreena Burton: Yes. I think people find it difficult to question their diet or either … I think it’s sort of like a two-pronged thing: first, they maybe don’t want to question it because it’s hard to look at because it involves a big commitment to change. So sometimes at the initial awareness, do they know? And once they have that information, then are they actually ready to do something about it because it takes some change. Also our food, the way we look at food and our connection to food, it’s so rooted in how we grew up and our traditions, and our memories. And sometimes we just have to let some of that go and find a new path for ourselves and our families.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, you probably experienced this … hmmm, I’m not exactly sure how to phrase this one. But I think vegans, although we’re a very loving, non- judgmental, compassionate group of people, we can be really critical when it comes to ingredients and food because we’ve become so knowledgeable about diet and as time has gone on many vegans … not all though; there are junk food vegans but many are talking more about whole grains and wheat-free and gluten-free, and soy: yes or no. And everybody’s got their “thing” and so when we’re offering recipes to reach the lowest common denominator it’s a little challenging.
Dreena Burton: Oh, I’m so glad you brought that up. It’s harder than ever. When I wrote this book I made a point of offering allergen specifications within the recipes to say “wheat-free, gluten-free, soy-free; to me those were the big ones people …
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I always tell people, “There’s nothing in this. There’s no calories. There’s nothing in this. It’s just delicious.”
Dreena Burton: Take a gulp of air. And so yeah, those things continually come up. When I was first started writing recipes I never really thought too much about that. I just thought about them being vegan and yummy and now it’s, “Okay, can I modify this to make it acceptable for someone who cannot eat gluten?” because I want them to be. I want people to be able to enjoy the recipe. So I’ll work in the kitchen to try and tweak it. Sometimes it’s easier than other times; sometimes it takes quite a few tests to get that right but I do want to make it out quite open and approachable for people, that they can try just about any recipe in there. I do lots of soy-free options and give people options: here’s one option with nuts and no soy and here’s an option with soy and no nuts. So it’s tricky. There’s a lot of that now. And perhaps there’s some allergies but I think it’s also people trying to just eat a little cleaner and healthier.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I know, myself, I want to please everyone. I know where I got that from. I know my mom is just like that; she always wants to please everyone and make great food for everyone.
Dreena Burton: Were we separated at birth? Sounds familiar.
Caryn Hartglass: so as a vegan I always wanted to veganize everything and so that meant no dairy, no eggs, of course, no honey. And that wasn’t that challenging although it took time and learning from different people like yourself and other people; we all kind of moved forward. And then the challenges were added: my niece was diagnosed with celiac disease two years ago when she was 4 years-old and so I started working on not using wheat. Every time I eliminate something I find my repertoire expands.
Dreena Burton: Uh-huh. That’s so true. It’s a real growth in cooking and all of a sudden it’s the whole “necessity is the mother of invention,” right? Once you can’t use something you start to think outside the box of how you can make that component of your meal another way, or make that treat or dessert or snack, whatever it is. You just have to think differently. I did myself when one of our daughters was born and I had to do a little bit of food elimination because she was reacting; when I was breastfeeding she was having some reactions. And all of a sudden I realized, “Okay, if I can’t use all of these things, what do I now do?” So even in those times when it seems so desperate because all of your favorite things are gone, you start to expand and learn new things. And all of a sudden you have, like you said, a new repertoire.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. May I ask what did you discover what it was that was disturbing her?
Dreena Burton: She … It’s interesting about the things we tend to have sensitivities to. It’s usually our favorite things, right? It’s almost the foods that we’re overdoing. And I had it with two of my daughters. The first on, she was having some sensitivities with citrus and strawberries and wheat at the time. It’s very strange because you don’t always think that things like citrus or strawberries actually cause reactions but at certain points they do. And then with our third daughter I did as well. I had to cut out quite a bit; it was a little bit restrictive for a while. But again, it was some of the things that I was eating a lot at the end of my pregnancy and loving. Citrus again came up. I remember I was eating tahini sauce, loaded with just lemon juice. And I would just eat that with some organic tortilla chips and I would just lap it up.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, I love that.
Dreena Burton: It was the best thing ever!
Caryn Hartglass: Tahini-lemon dressing on anything.
Dreena Burton: Right, right. So it was just a period of time; it seemed like years but it was really about 5 or 6 weeks and then I could start to bring back things that I was eating far too regularly. It worked out but it definitely put me to the task.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s just interesting the way children will test you.
Dreena Burton: Oh, it is.
Caryn Hartglass: Whether they’re aware of it or not, in the womb or out.
Dreena Burton: That’s right.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so tell me about raising children on healthy food because this is probably the number one problem we’re facing today in the United States. 1 in 3 children now are obese and it’s affecting their performance in school. It’s certainly affecting health and healthcare. Parents don’t know how to feed their children.
Dreena Burton: It’s so shocking and saddening and yet in the past few months, you’ve probably been aware as well, some of the media stories coming out about is vegan parenting safe? Can we meet our needs? There’s so much information out there now to support that it is not just safe but it is healthy. It helps fend off diseases and actually promotes their health rather than put them at risk for illnesses and diseases and allergies and all kinds of things a lot of children are going around just feeling not well and maybe not diagnosed with something. And our girls, they have a real appreciation and I say it a lot and it sounds so hokey but they really appreciate good food. They really appreciate real food and good food. They know the difference between something that’s made with flavors and coloring and something that’s made that’s real. We have been out at times and they’ve been offered popsicles and things that are, of course, vegan but they’re crap. And they will eat them and they’ll say, “It tastes funny” and I’ll say, “Well, yeah because it has colors in it and it has flavors and you’re not used to those things so toss it out and I will give you something at home.” And they always go for it because they realize that it just doesn’t taste very good. And some of their very favorite meals are the most wholesome things and they just have appreciation for it. I’m not saying they eat everything because my kids don’t eat all of the vegetables I would like them to. They have their own preferences and dislikes but they eat really well and they are better for it. They are healthy and full of energy.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, we can just take a 2-second moment to scream every time we hear people focusing on vegan diet, that it isn’t health for children, because we’re definitely are having this crazy epidemic today, with children not eating well. And the focus is in the wrong place. The vegans are not the problem.
Dreena Burton: Yes. And vegan parents we tend to be the ones to educate ourselves. Of course, we are so concerned about doing the right thing for our child. When you have a child, when you look at that baby, you know that you are the one responsible for its well being and bringing that child up to be a good person, a healthy person and helping them make good decisions, you want to do everything you can to do the right thing by that child. So as a vegan, I may know for my self, especially doing this 11 years ago with our first daughter, I read and researched and did everything I could until I felt completely comfortable with what I was doing. But there was nothing that told me that it was not a good thing to do. Now, there’s that much more support for feeding our children on this wholesome diet. And yet the challenges are still out there.
Caryn Hartglass: The other thing is, I talked about this on another show recently because there have been some books coming out about raising children like children are raised in France, with an education about food. I’m not saying they do everything right in France, they certainly don’t; I lived there for 4 years. And just like anywhere, they’ve got some great things going on and some bad things going on. But one thing they believe that’s important is that children, from day 1, should be educated about food, how to eat properly, the importance of mealtime and not to be distracted with other things, and quality food. We don’t give our kids credit that they should start with this information just like other things we teach our children from very young. Somehow we lost this skill or this need in our culture to educate about food and as a result, most adults don’t know anything about food so what can they teach their children?
Dreena Burton: Well, that I think where it starts really, and that’s the trouble. I think parents sometimes don’t … I know it’s scary at times for parents to look at making the changes but it really is harder to look at than actually doing it. It’s easier to do it than you’re thinking in your head because the whole motion of changing your diet and making that transition from the meat and dairy sort of centric to eating a plant-based diet, it does look daunting but it really is easier than people think. I hear that from people all the time: “Oh, I thought it was going to be much harder.” But as a parent I can see that it’s somewhat scary for them and so it really easier to stay in that mold and not want your child to know that much about nutrition because the change could be difficult. So there’s education that needs to go to the parents before, obviously, the children can get anywhere. Sometimes the kids come home wanting to change the parents and they’re very defensive about it because the change is maybe a little different than they want to make.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s change. It’s change; that’s all it was. It’s that scary word: change. We’re comfortable, fat and comfortable, and sick. And then there’s the other issue I was talking to Ruby Roth recently. I don’t know if you’ve seen her two children’s books.
Dreena Burton: I know about … I saw lots about her recent book, the Vegan is Love book.
Caryn Hartglass: And it’s another piece of this thing about not educating our children about food. So okay, maybe we don’t have to give them the gory details about what’s going on with animals but people should know where their foods comes form and we don’t. Hamburgers don’t grow on hamburger patches.
Dreena Burton: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: And I remember one child asking him at 5 or 6 years old where do apples came from and he said, “From Publix,” the store, not realizing it was a tree.
Dreena Burton: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: And so we need to be educated more about food. You’re inspiring people to do that. Let’s just take a look at this cookbook. This is your 4th cookbook and was there anything different, your approach, or putting this together since you’ve done three before?
Dreena Burton: Yeah, with this one … I’ve always cooked from a whole foods perspective. When I became vegan there wasn’t a lot of those substitutes on the market because it just wasn’t; it wasn’t the time and place. I became vegan before … when I was vegan there was soymilk on the market and that was it; no almond milk, no coconut milk or any of these extras. There certainly weren’t things like faux meats, the vegan meats, or the vegan cheeses, sour creams, none of that. So my cooking began without those products and when they came on to the market I never really started to use them; there were a few that I played around with. Then when I came to writing this book I really wanted to show people that you don’t need to use them and sure, you can have them on occasion for treats or fun, whatever, but that we can cook delicious things, creamy sauces, decadent desserts, lots of things without having to use the substitutes and also from a whole foods perspective. Even all of the desserts in the book, like cookies and cakes, I used whole grain flours and keep they wheat-free and gluten-free as well. And just to show people that it can be done and things don’t have to use as much sugar as you think or as much oil. So it doesn’t have to be this ultimate, crazy, all-out decadent.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. It’s a really nice looking book. There’s some really beautiful pictures in here by …
Dreena Burton: Hannah Kaminski.
Caryn Hartglass: Hannah Kaminski, right. I’ve spoken with her; really great. We just have a few seconds left so what are the websites people should go to learn more about you and your books?
Dreena Burton: Oh, okay great. My website is plantpoweredkitchen.com and then I’m also on Facebook: Dreena Burton and Twitter: DreenaBurton.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, thank you for joining me today on It’s All About Food. I really enjoyed it and I’m going to dig in more with this cookbook, Let Them Eat Vegan. It looks really yummy.
Dreena Burton: Thank you, Caryn.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. Thank you so much for joining me. And remember, responsibleeatingandliving.com, that’s your source for all good plant food lifestyle things. And have a delicious week.
Transcribed by Diana O’Reilly, 3/15/2013