Reuben Proctor, Anjali Shaw



Part I: Reuben Proctor

Reuben Proctor has been vegan since 2000 and has done translation, consulting, and administrative work for vegan companies and animal rights organizations since 2004. He was born in New Zealand and now lives and works in Germany.


Part II: Anjali Shah
The Picky Eater

Anjali Shah is a food writer, health coach, and owner of The Picky Eater, a healthy food and lifestyle blog. Anjali Shah grew up a “whole wheat” girl, but married a “white bread” kind of guy. Hoping to prove that nutritious food could in fact be delicious and desirable, she taught herself how to cook and successfully transformed her husband’s eating habits from a diet of frozen pizzas and Taco Bell to her healthy, yet flavorful recipes made with simple, wholesome ingredients. Through her blog The Picky Eater, Anjali shares her passion for healthy, tasty cooking.


Caryn Hartglass: Hi there, everybody! I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to It’s All About Food. It’s April 9, 2013 and what is going here in New York City? I cannot believe it, 80-degree weather. In April, we’ve had all kinds of cold weather and just like that, it’s warm. And I know it’s cliché to talk about the weather but maybe that’s one of the things we like here in New York; we never know what to expect next. But it is a beautiful day. And if you have an opportunity, wherever you are, get outside; it’s so good for us.

Okay. Well, let’s get on to the program. Really interesting subject coming up. We’re going to be talking about a book called Veganissimo A to Z, with my guest, one of the co-authors, Reuben Proctor. He has been vegan since 2000 and has done translations, consulting, and administrative work for vegan companies and animal rights organizations since 2004. He was born in New Zealand and now lives and works in Germany.

Welcome and bienvenue, and all of that stuff to It’s All About Food! Reuben, are you with us?

Reuben Proctor: Yes, I’m here.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, great! How are you today?

Reuben Proctor: Good, thank you.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay. It’s late where you are, right?

Reuben Proctor: Well, yes, it’s 10 in the evening so it’s tolerable.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, good. How’s the weather where you are?

Reuben Proctor: Abysmal.

Caryn Hartglass: Abysmal! What part of Germany are you in?

Reuben Proctor: In the southwest, it’s south of Frankfurt.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Well, I do not … maybe you can help me understand but this is a little book but it’s loaded with information and it’s called Veganissimo A to Z: A Comprehensive Guide to Identifying and Avoiding Ingredients of Animal Origin in Everyday Products. My first question is how did you compile this book? I understand there was an original version 17 years ago but there’s a lot of stuff that goes into all of this.

Reuben Proctor: Well, yes. Basically, it all boils down to elbow grease and awful lots of work.

Caryn Hartglass: Vegetable elbow grease, of course.

Reuben Proctor: Of course. Yes. It’s basically just a lot of research and then compiling. I started to compile the original version in 2007, just getting the old information together and using it as a starting base for the rest of the research. I spent the next 3 or 4 years just researching media, Internet, whatever I could find, filling in the gaps and getting as much information on ingredients as I could find.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, we live in a very complicated world today and I always encourage people to read ingredients and it’s challenging; often the ingredients on food in very small print. And then there are other products that don’t even list what they’re made of, which makes it extra challenging.

Reuben Proctor: True.

Caryn Hartglass: We used to have an expression: is it animal, vegetable, or mineral? And that describes everything in the planet. But you have a list and we’re kind of breaking things down a little bit more these days because we know a little bit more. There’s not just animal, vegetable, minerals but there’s synthetic and microbiological.

Reuben Proctor: Yes, that’s right.

Caryn Hartglass: I remember buying a laundry detergent recently and it said it was 95% plant-based and I panicked because I thought it was a vegan product. And it was a vegan product. I just didn’t realize that the other 5% they must have been referring to was not animal, vegetable, mineral; it was synthetic.

Reuben Proctor: Yes. It would have been petroleum-based.

Caryn Hartglass: There you go, petroleum-based. So are all synthetic products petroleum-based?

Reuben Proctor: Synthetic has sort of a different definition. It depends on how you find it. In terms of the book, we’ve slightly simplified it; scientifically, it’s petroleum-based. But basically, synthetic is anything which was made in a laboratory.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. Now, something that’s made in a laboratory, I like the way you say it, is maybe synthetic but can some of the original ingredients that were used to make it come from animal or vegetable sources?

Reuben Proctor: Yes, definitely. Things like fatty acids, for instance, are in fact used in cleaning agents or fabric softeners. They tend to be synthetic but they can also include fatty acids as a part of the cable compound. Fatty acids have to come from somewhere and it could be from corn oil, or soy oil, or whatever plant oil but they could just as easily come from animal body fat.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. So that makes it even more difficult to figure out where things come from when there are several layers or levels from where ingredients are originally derived from.

Reuben Proctor: Yes. I mean the process that’s used …

Caryn Hartglass: Sometimes I think manufacturers, you might call them to find out where their products are from and they don’t even know the original source of some of the ingredients they use.

Reuben Proctor: Yes, I suppose. Normally, they should have classifications from their suppliers. But with all the supply chains and a whole lot of links and global industrial complex, it’s very difficult. It depends on how interested the companies are in actually stating where their raw materials come from and whether or not they find it important to state whether something is vegetarian, vegan, GMO-free, or whatever.

Caryn Hartglass: Now, did you talk to any companies in putting together this book to find out the ingredients?

Reuben Proctor: I tried to contact a couple but they were very reticent about giving information so basically what I relied on was information in the public domain, which I can rely on. I did write to a couple of major companies and basically you virtually get no replies. I also resorted to using reference works, encyclopedias, Internet, just all the information in the public domain, which can be verified.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. I imagine all of that can be very, very challenging because most companies either are not set up to answer those kind of questions of they don’t care.

Reuben Proctor: I think probably it’s more they don’t care or that might be changing. I mean consumer pressure is starting to gain a new domination in the 21st century. Throughout, companies that are realizing that they can’t really afford to set things out. But these major companies have such resources that … I mean, without naming any names the more connectional concerns are quite easily able to mobilize hundreds of lawyers to go and sue someone. So public relations soon will be a problem. I think it’s a combination of just not wanting to give the information, not wanting to let people to know how things are made, particularly, intellectual properties perhaps. And yeah, as I said probably some of them don’t even care.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. Well, obviously one thing that’s going to make them care is when the consumers are demanding it, demanding to know. And that’s part of our job.

Reuben Proctor: Exactly. And I think … just take convenience, as an example. It’s growing, it’s really burgeoning. I’m not quite sure what’s it like in the States but certainly in Europe, you can notice the difference. When you go shopping, you see more and more products labeled as “vegan”, “vegetarian.” Producers are realizing there is an increasing demand out there.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, that’s really, really encouraging. I think you’re doing a little better in Europe than we are here in the United States, with a number of different kinds of food-related regulations like genetically-modified foods and animal testing.

Reuben Proctor: Oh, yes, yes, definitely. Just taking animal testing as an example, it’s now completely banned for cosmetics in the European Union since March. It’s still allowed in some chemicals, which may not be used exclusively for cosmetics but also for say, cleaning agents. But yes, animal testing for cosmetics is completely banned in the EU. GMO in foods have to be labeled and consumers just don’t want it so basically by default, there are no GM foods in Europe. People just don’t buy it.

Caryn Hartglass: Now, the animal testing, this went into effect recently?

Reuben Proctor: Yes, yes, in March.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s like less than a month ago.

Reuben Proctor: Exactly. It had been banned for a long time. A new law had been put into force and it had some transition periods. There was some debate about it stemming the transition period to help the producers, whatever, find new replacement methods so they would not have to change their production methods so quickly but it was quite a lot of consumer complaint about that so they stuck to it and the ban is now complete.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s really exciting. Now, there’s one company, L’Oreal, they were the last companies that didn’t want to give up testing but obviously, they had to.

Reuben Proctor: Well, yes, at least in Europe.

Caryn Hartglass: In Europe. Now, can European consumers buy products from the United States that have been tested on animals?

Reuben proctor: No. The ban is on production and on sales. So it’s not allowed to be produced in the EU and even if it’s not produced in the EU, it’s not allowed to be sold if any animal testing has taken place.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s very exciting. Now of course, what many people confuse is animal testing with animal ingredients. So a product may say it has not been tested on animals but it could have killed animal products in it.

Reuben Proctor: Exactly. Cosmetics, once again, a major group of ingredients are the fatty acids and derivatives and fatty acids can be from any fats. So shampoos, for instance or hair mousse, can have derivatives from crustaceans, from their shells. So even if it’s not tested on animals, there’ll be bits and pieces of animals in there; well, there may be. And if it doesn’t state “vegan” or “vegetarian,” Who knows?

Caryn Hartglass: Right. All right, let’s jump into some of the ingredients that are in … there’s a lot of ingredients in the books. There are so many things that we take for granted and we don’t even think about what might be derived from animals, like heparin, for example. I discovered this after the fact. So you go into a hospital for an emergency procedure or some serious procedure and you find out after the fact, or maybe never, or maybe before, something, that your life has been saved or the treatment was enabled because some products that came from animals, like heparin.

Reuben Proctor: Yes, exactly. It’s obtained from the intestines of pigs, mostly.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I had gone in some really bad surgery years ago and I was shocked because as a vegan I didn’t want to use animal products. And then I discovered, even down to when my lips were dry and the nurse would apply a little lip balm on it and it had lanolin in it.

Reuben Proctor: Yeah. Ah, yes. Okay, lip balm is not necessarily something that’s life saving; it’s a matter of comfort, I suppose. But heparin is definitely a matter of life and death if you don’t have an anticoagulant, you could get a life-threatening clot. I was faced with a same situation last year. I had to go into major surgery and I did some research and found that there is a synthetic anticoagulant, which can be used. Just one drawback: I had to have a spine drip and the risk of getting a dangerous bleed, in that case, is higher so I still had to opt for the heparin from animals for a few days. And once they’d removed the drip I was able to go to the synthetic anticoagulant but at least there is that possibility now. It’s a fairly new drug. And so there are developments, which are more pleasing.

Caryn Hartglass: So, are you okay now? Surgery okay?

Reuben Proctor: Ah, yes. It was over a year ago so I bounced back.

Caryn Hartglass: Good. I’m glad to hear that. And then there was a study that just came out. I don’t know if you’ve heard about it but I’m really excited, and it was about carnitine.

Reuben Proctor: It may not be as good as it’s made out to be.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. I’m thrilled to hear about it. Carnitine is an ingredient that we can get from animal sources and in much smaller amounts, from vegetable sources. And it’s primarily form red meat; that’s probably where the name came from, carnitine.

Reuben Proctor: Exactly.

Caryn Hartglass: And some doctors at a Cleveland clinic just came out with this great study showing that there’s some sort of bacteria in out gut that works with the carnitine and creates this arterial sclerosis build up and you have more of this certain bacteria in your gut if you’re a meat-eater. And that showed that eating meat … it was just another way to show how eating meat contributed to heart disease and arterial sclerosis and I was really excited to hear that. And then I went to your little book and I read about carnitine and it certainly is here.

Reuben Proctor: Yes, it is.

Caryn Hartglass: But there are so many ingredients to … you just can’t possibly keep track. Now, how did you know … This particular book I’m looking at is for the United States and you talk about regulations here in the United States. Did you find out what’s going on here from the Internet?

Reuben Proctor: Yes, basically. The FDA, for instance, has lots of good information. They have all the regulations online so I was able to refer to those and climb around through all the legalese. And I did the same for the Canadian version as well. In terms of questions where I just recognized it was nice to get someone on the ground, just get the right slant on it, we did get someone in the States to answer a couple of questions. In terms of regulations, it’s all on the Net. As long as you know the sources you’re referring to are reliable, such as for instance UACA or FDA, well then you can put it in the book.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, that sounds pretty good. The thing is, it’s nice to have it all in one book because it’s probably difficult to find all these information.

Reuben Proctor: Yes, it was. It took quite a lot of checking and re-checking. It took a while also just getting the swing of the way the United States regulations work. These are different languages to European language so even if I’m reading English European piece of legislation it does have different wording, for instance, to an American law or regulation. So I have to get passed that, first so all. But once I got there and knee-deep in the clauses, I was able to make sense of it.

Caryn Hartglass: How did you come up with the name Veganissimo? What was the origin of that?

Reuben Proctor: Well, issimo is basically Italian for “ very almost.” In music, we talk about pianissimo for very quiet, almost quiet or fortissimo for very loud. And in Europe, Germany also, not quite in Italy, the fragment issimo is often used as an intensifier. It’s well known outside the Italian language area. And Lars Thomsen, whose idea, the whole veganissimo thing was, he coined the phrase back in the mid ‘90s. He bought out a set of three booklets: Veganissimo 1, 2, and 3. And 1 was the predecessor to this new book, Veganissimo: A to Z and 2 was a manual of animal rights, and 3 was a bibliography of animal rights. So he coined the phrase back then basically because so many people know what issimo means over here. It doesn’t need quite as much explanation as it probably does in North America.

Caryn Hartglass: I like it. It sounds happy.

Reuben Proctor: Yeah. Some people take it too seriously and think we’re pitching it to the dour, humorless, 150% vegans, the vegan police, so-called. But it’s not that at all. It’s supposed to be fun, taking it seriously but not getting too worked up about it. Do what you can, veganissimo, in the sense of doing the very best that you can. So yeah. And if someone finds it a fun term then that’s good.

Caryn Hartglass: Now, let’s move to house cleaning products. In my house I pretty much clean with baking soda and water and I don’t get into any other sophisticated formulations but there are a lot of cleaning products out there. And after looking at your book, my understanding is that the manufacturers don’t even have to let us know what’s in these products.

Reuben Proctor: No, no. In fact, the labeling requirements in the United States are more laxer than they are in Europe. But there is a voluntary agreement of North American producers so that covers both United States and Canada. And they tend to label their products as one would label a cosmetic product so that basically means declaration of all the ingredients or almost all. Some have to be declared in a generic sense. So this voluntary scheme is increasingly used by North American producers because they do realized consumers don’t like it if they’re not being told anything.

Caryn Hartglass: What about genetically modified organisms? It sounds like there are some that are being created to take the place of some animal products.

Reuben proctor: Well, yes. A good example would be insulin. Insulin, traditionally, was derived from the pancreas of cattle or pigs and that was what was used for a few decades. But now they’re derived from bacteria. So I, personally say, rather that than kill animals. I would not go so far as to condone genetically engineering of anything larger than unicellular organisms, only yeast or bacteria. I think that’s okay if it stops animals from being killed. So yes, insulin is one very good example. The human insulin that’s being engineered to be as close to the insulin we produce in our own bodies because it was something of a problem with the porcine or bovine insulin and it tended to drop off more quickly than the human insulin. And some people also have reacted to it, have allergic reactions to it.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, the best thing is to not need it.

Reuben Proctor: Of course. Yes. A vegan diet will go a long way to doing that.

Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely.

Reuben Proctor: But of course, there are people, for instance, with juvenile diabetes; there may be some possibilities to influence whether someone gets it or not but there are too many factors in there: it may be genetics, it may be virus, diseases involved. So I think there are still some scope for diabetic mitigation.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. Yes. Now, what’s your story? You became a vegan in 2000?

Reuben Proctor: Yes, early 2000. I’m actually not quite sure, whether it’s late 1999 or early 2000 but roundabout. I didn’t have a deciding moment or any sort of situation where it clicked. It was a process. I went vegetarian 1997 and of course, in time I realized it just wasn’t enough and so early 2000 roughly was when I took the leap and went vegan.

Caryn Hartglass: And were you in New Zealand or Germany at the time?

Reuben Proctor: Germany.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay. So you haven’t been in New Zealand for a long time?

Reuben Proctor: Just intermittently, just for short periods. But I’ve lived there in the past over 3 years.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, the Germans are really good at making things clear and spelling things out and following guidelines so I find that when I go to Germany it’s pretty easy to find products, that I know what I’m getting.

Do you know, are some countries better than some countries, like models?

Reuben Proctor: I have to say, in Europe, European legislation basically overrides anything else so there are not that many difference between France, Germany, and UK; it’s all fairly uniform throughout the EU. I do believe Australia and New Zealand, the EU, and the United States are more or less on par, although in the United States I think the number of things that are allowed without having to be specified the number of, well, exempt is the greatest. So I think in the EU will be easiest, followed by Australia and New Zealand, followed in by … Canada as well is slightly less stringent than the United States, I think. Any other countries, I really couldn’t say, don’t have any experience.

Caryn Hartglass: Now, you also talked about shoes, clothing, and fibers. What should we be looking for if we want these things to be vegan?

Reuben Proctor: Well, shoes basically, look out for calf leather. In the United States, shoes themselves don’t have to be labeled according to the materials but leather and imitation leather have to be labeled. So something that’s not leather or partly leather, that has to be stated so that’s one way of checking it. Or just look out for brands that make vegan products. If you do an Internet search for vegan shoes, you can find outlets, you can find mail-order companies, that’s okay.

Caryn Hartglass: Do you know about the glue in shoes?

Reuben Proctor: Basically, the glue in shoes would be synthetic. There are a couple of reasons for that. One is that synthetic glues are just so cheap. And another reason, for example, bone glue is actually used for stiff joints; it’s not for fixable joints. Shoes have to be fixable, otherwise, you can’t walk well; it’ll be like walking in clogs. So I don’t think the chances of there being any animal glues out there are very great at all. I would really count on them being synthetic. If you want to be sure about it, make sure the shoes are declared as vegan, or animal-friendly, or cruelty-free, or whatever, something similar to that.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, that’s good to know because I’ve had people ask about glue in shoes and you never see any mention about glue. If you’re lucky, you’ll see it’ll say “Man-made materials” or “non-leather” or something like that. Okay, that’s good to know.

Reuben Proctor: In terms of clothing, the fibers have to be declared. There are some cases where groups of fibers may be declared so if you have a certain small percentage of mixed fibers you might not know necessarily know what’s in there so just look at the label. Keep an eye out for things like silk or cashmere, wool, those that are obvious. And if you’re not sure, ask the shop assistant or even send a letter or an e-mail to the manufacturers, to heighten awareness.

Caryn Hartglass: Unfortunately, today our shop assistants usually don’t know very much about their products. I don’t know if it’s different in Europe but …

Reuben Proctor: Yes, it’s much like this over there. But I think that is also one way of forcing them to know. Go there, ask uncomfortable questions, put them on the spot, they have to refer to their supervisor, their supervisor have to find out. So in a way, you’re forcing them to put a consumer-friendly infrastructure. If enough people go and pester them then they have to some sort of regulation committee.

Caryn Hartglass: You mentioned something about painting products and bristles and brushes.

Reuben Proctor: Yes.

Caryn Hartglass: Now, those are rarely labeled too because the bristles can come form animal or synthetic, right?

Reuben Proctor: Well, yes. But generally, you’ll find in terms of hobby and artist supplies the synthetic fibers tend to be named and … the animal ones as well, if you look at art supplies because they tend to use that as a statement of quality so if you’re using sable, for instance, it’s regarded as something that’s quality or other animal hair for bristles and brushes, they tend to be proud of instead of trying to hide it so I actually think you can count on them stating what is in it.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, well, that’s good to know. There are just so many different products out there. A lot of us concentrate just on food and animals are used in just about everything and when you start to think about it, you realize …

Reuben Proctor: Exactly. Even things like batteries, electrical appliances, missiles, they use these gelatin in metalworking or for processing cadmium in batteries. There was even an article recently about the brakes in trains heavily processed with gelatin so whenever the train slows down, it uses, well, big pigs. If it weren’t true you wouldn’t think it was, it’s just too ridiculous for it to be true but it is.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I had thought we had gotten to a better place with digital photography because film required gelatin and, sometimes, dairy products. But then you mentioned the photo paper that we use at home has gelatin in it.

Reuben Proctor: Yes. The pigments are imbedded in a single layer of gelatin.

Caryn Hartglass: Yes. Oh, goodness! Well, we’ve got a long way to go but we’re moving in the right direction. This book, Veganissimo at least spells it out, from A to Z.

Reuben Proctor: Well, I hope it does make a difference.

Caryn Hartglass: Thank you so much for joining me on it’s All About Food and all the best to you.

Reuben Proctor: Thank you for the opportunity.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Take care.

Reuben Proctor: Okay, bye-bye.

Caryn Hartglass: Bye-Bye.

I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. We are going to take just a little break and in a moment we will be back with Angeli to talk about picky eating. We’ll be right back.

Transcribed by Diana O’Reilly, 4/13/2013


Part II: Anjali Shah
The Picky Eater

Anjali Shah is a food writer, health coach, and owner of The Picky Eater, a healthy food and lifestyle blog. Anjali Shah grew up a “whole wheat” girl, but married a “white bread” kind of guy. Hoping to prove that nutritious food could in fact be delicious and desirable, she taught herself how to cook and successfully transformed her husband’s eating habits from a diet of frozen pizzas and Taco Bell to her healthy, yet flavorful recipes made with simple, wholesome ingredients. Through her blog The Picky Eater, Anjali shares her passion for healthy, tasty cooking.


Caryn Hartglass: Hey everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass. And we are back. Thank you for joining me today. It’s April 9, 2013. And it’s such a beautiful day here in New York. I hope it’s beautiful where you are. I’m a little hesitant to start the next part of the show because we’re going to be talking about my favorite subject, food, and I’m feeling a little hungry. So, here we go. I’m going to torture myself for a while. I’m going to bring on Anjali Shah. She’s The Picky Eater. She’s a food writer, health coach, and owner of The Picky Eater, a healthy food and lifestyle blog. Anjali Shah grew up a “whole wheat” girl, but married a “white bread” kind of guy. Hoping to prove that nutritious food could in fact be delicious and desirable, she taught herself how to cook and successfully transformed her husband’s eating habits from a diet of frozen pizzas and Taco Bell to her healthy, yet flavorful recipes made with simple, wholesome ingredients. Through her blog The Picky Eater, Anjali shares her passion for healthy, tasty cooking. Yum! Thanks for joining me today.

Anjali Shah: Hi, it’s so great to be here. Thank you for having me.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Well, I think you need to take over the entire country.

Anjali Shah: Wouldn’t that be nice?

Caryn Hartglass: You started with your husband and you figured out how to get him to eat more healthfully and now the rest of the country awaits.

Anjali Shah: Yeah, I have sort of experimented on him because he’s sort of the classic fast food lover and didn’t think that healthy food could ever taste good. Once I started sort of sneaking in healthy ingredients into recipes that he loved, he came around. So I’m hoping that through my blog, the rest of the country can do the same.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, I love the name The Picky Eater because it’s such a fun play on words and I like the idea of changing the feeling of what “the picky eater” means. It shouldn’t mean someone who only likes to eat certain kinds of foods, whether they’re healthy or not. It should be all of us really being selective in what we eat and choosing the best foods for us. Why shouldn’t we be picky?

Anjali Shah: Yeah, exactly. I mean, the traditional notion of what a picky eater is is the little kid who only wants ice cream for dinner. I don’t see why we can all be picky about what we put into our bodies and just choose things that are better for us and be picky in a good way. So it is a play on words because I was saying my husband’s a picky eater in a more traditional sense and I’m a picky eater in the less traditional sense.

Caryn Hartglass: Your bio says that you grew up a “whole wheat” girl, so you were raised in a family that believed in healthy eating?

Anjali Shah: Yeah, that’s right. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. I think my parents were kind of like hippies. We always had super wholesome healthy ingredients in our house. I didn’t even know what packaged food was until I went to a friend’s sleepover when I discovered Pop-Tarts and frozen pizzas and all these kinds of delicious things that might not be the most healthy for you.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so how is it you didn’t rebel against your parents?

Anjali Shah: I did for a time. When I would go to friends’ houses and things I would certainly indulge, and when I went to college I definitely “fell off the wagon.” But eventually I realized that the way that I was raised and the types of food that we would eat at home was really the type of food that made me feel the best. So eventually I ended up coming back to what I grew up with and the food that I ate at home. And even when I was a kid I would rebel when I was at my friends’ houses, but then when I was at home the only choices that were available to me were healthy ones. So it made it kind of hard to do that, even as a child.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s such an important thing that you just said, and people should really hear it. For parents that struggle with feeding their children well, one of the first really important steps is to not have any crap in your house. To eat healthfully and not have the wrong choices.

Anjali Shah: Yeah, exactly. I like to think that if the temptation isn’t in front of you, you will be much less likely to find it. So in my house I’ll have my little treat, which is my dark chocolate-covered almonds, in one of the cabinets, but in general I keep the rest of the house pretty healthy. So if I really, really want that chocolate chip cookie, or I really, really want that pastry, then I have to go out and buy it for myself and then I have that one time when I get to indulge, but it’s not something that happens all the time.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. Well, I like to cook a lot. I can make anything, so if I don’t have it I could always make it, which is kind of a scary danger. If I want a cake or cookies, I can make it, and I don’t mind cooking. A lot of people want that instant gratification. They don’t want to have to make anything, so they just buy the stuff. But you write that you taught yourself how to cook, so did you not help prepare the healthy meals at home when you were younger, or did you come up with a new kind of cuisine?

Anjali Shah: Both. When I was younger, I definitely was not a helper in the kitchen. I did the clean-up and the chores afterwards, but I was never involved in the actual preparing the food process. And so after I got married, I actually didn’t even know how to use the can opener. I had a really embarrassing experience when I tried to make enchiladas and I could not open the can of beans. So I was at the very, very end of the spectrum of what a novice cook would be. Eventually after eating the same meal for two weeks because it was the only thing that I could make, which was like veggie burgers not even from scratch, I realized that this was not something that could go on. And so I just started looking up recipes online and trying new things and learning how to use kitchen tools. And then I started recreating some of the recipes that I had learned at home, but then I started making my own up to satisfy my husband’s picky tastes.

Caryn Hartglass: What you went through, except learning how to cook, the part about growing up and not knowing how to cook or prepare healthy meals, that’s what most Americans do today. Most Americans don’t know where their kitchen is. They don’t know how to prepare food. It’s just a part of our culture today because food has become so inexpensive and you can get it so cheaply in fast food restaurants and even higher-end restaurants. The incentive is not there for most people to prepare their own food.

Anjali Shah: Yeah. It’s really hard because cooking can be very intimidating. Figuring out what things to put together that’ll actually taste good in the kitchen seems like a super-overwhelming task. I remember feeling the exact same way when I first started cooking. You spend an hour in the kitchen and it turns out not-so-great and then you feel like you wasted all that time. So I can certainly thoroughly empathize with the process and what that’s like. Of course, it’s so much easier to go out and buy something from your nearest restaurant or just some takeout to satisfy that because you’re hungry and you want to eat. So, what I like to tell people is to try to start cooking when they’re not hungry. Start at 4 or 5, when you probably aren’t going to starve if your dish doesn’t turn out well by 6 P.M. and then do a little bit of experimentation. Along the way you’ll realize that it’s actually not that hard. A lot of meals you can make in twenty minutes or less, and so that’s almost as fast as it would be to drive someone to pick something up and drive back home.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, it’s faster. It’s even faster than making a phone call and calling in for delivery. It’s not hard to make food.

Anjali Shah: Right. And it’s cheaper, too.

Caryn Hartglass: Now, your husband went along with all this?

Anjali Shah: Well, he sort of didn’t have a choice because I took control of grocery shopping and he hates going to the grocery store, so that was an easy win.

Caryn Hartglass: And okay, this may be an obvious question, but why do you want to eat the way you eat?

Anjali Shah: Yeah, I mean, I guess it is an obvious question, but at the same time a lot of people want to be healthy but also struggle with some of the treats and junkier things that taste really great. For me, what I realized after even just a month of eating much healthier home-cooked meals, organic food, I started feeling better. I had some digestive issues in the past and those started going away. I just realized that what I put into my body really affected how I felt and the energy levels I had and my general happiness. After realizing that, it just seemed so much more worth it to put the effort into eating healthy. But until you have that change, you feel like you feel fine and you don’t really realize how much better you could feel.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I like to say you don’t know how good you can feel until you’re eating healthfully. The thing is that, in our culture here in the United States, our culture of people on the standard American diet—a very, very, very bad, unhealthy diet—most people, if they’re going to turn around and change their diet, don’t do it until they’re in a health crisis: they’re older, they’ve gained too much weight, they really are feeling bad. So I’m happy to see younger people interested in health. The motivation isn’t necessarily there for younger people, other than maybe wanting to really keep a slim figure, because the human body is amazing at how forgiving it is for a very long time.

Anjali Shah: That is very true.

Caryn Hartglass: You could be in your twenties and early thirties and really trash your body and you just keep going and it doesn’t really hit you.

Anjali Shah: Right, and then when it does, it might be too late or you just might be too used to the lifestyle you’ve been doing for the past thirty or some odd years and it’s really hard to make a change even if you want to. So I absolutely agree. I think starting young is the best thing that you can do. Starting with kids, teaching kids how to cook, getting them in the kitchen, teaching them how to grow vegetables in their garden, getting them excited about eating healthy, really makes a difference, because the way that I was raised, even though I ended up deviating from the path, I naturally came back to it. So I think it’s really important to instill those values and the knowledge, actually, about food and health at a young age.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so you may or may not know this, but I am a vegan and I promote eating all plant foods and we know that our greatest nutrients come from plant foods. People need to be eating more plant foods, whether they choose to be vegetarian, vegan, or not, plants foods are so, so important. You have a lot of recipes on your site, and a lot of them are vegan.

Anjali Shah: Yeah, I’m actually vegetarian. I am totally with you about plant foods being healthier and about them being more nutritious on a number of levels. I think there are some meats out there that have benefits like fish, for example, in terms of the omega-3.

Caryn Hartglass: It’s debatable.

Anjali Shah: But you can still get that from plant foods.

Caryn Hartglass: We could debate that one, but I don’t want to do that right now. We hear it all the time from the media and from some doctors and nutritionists, about how certain foods are healthy. I just don’t agree with a lot of what some people say, and unfortunately I don’t think they know what they’re talking about, but some of them have credentials and that makes people think that they do. But. Were you raised vegetarian? Did your hippie parents raise you vegetarian?

Anjali Shah: Yeah, they did. It was interesting. My dad never ate meat. My mom would only eat chicken, turkey, and fish, so I guess she was in the white meat group.

Caryn Hartglass: I call them the feathered vegetables and the scaly vegetables.

Anjali Shah: Yeah, there you go. And then my brother eats everything. I did eat chicken, turkey, and fish when I was growing up, but when I went to college I actually went vegetarian just because once you start hearing about the treatment of animals, I just couldn’t do it.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. It’s interesting though how your brother went a different way.

Anjali Shah: Yeah, it is! It’s interesting because he’s still really health-conscious, but he still totally eats meat and everything that comes along with that.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. You have a really nice following on your blog and people seem really appreciative of what you’re doing. What are some of the really good responses that you’ve gotten from your recipes and your spin on food?

Anjali Shah: I think the most rewarding responses that I’ve gotten have been from moms trying to prepare healthy meals for their kids or dads trying to prepare healthy meals for their kids. Or for their families in general who have someone that has maybe struggled with high blood pressure or high cholesterol or certain other issues and they’ve actually been able to change their lifestyle and the way that they eat by using my recipes because they find that my recipes actually taste good to them. And so they’re able to use my blog as a recipe book and follow along. It’s incredibly rewarding when I get a message from a reader who has been able to transform their life with the help of my recipes. Kind of amazing.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it really is. It’s amazing because it’s so simple. We know it doesn’t take much, but food can really be so powerful. In two ways: what we don’t put into our bodies that can be harmful, and what we do put into our bodies that can really nourish us. And those two things both go on. The results are quick in terms of when we stop eating what we shouldn’t be eating and we start eating what we should be eating, the body reacts really fast.

Anjali Shah: Mmhm. It’s so magical. Yeah, it’s incredible. I think I read a study about when they basically did a test on a bunch of participants and they had them drink soda and eat junk food for two weeks straight. They measured the change in their cholesterol levels and their glucose and everything after only two weeks, and they were originally just very healthy eaters. And there was an incredible spike in all of the bad things. And that was just after two weeks!

Caryn Hartglass: We saw something like that in that movie Super Size Me, and that was a month of eating really bad foods, what happened to Morgan Spurlock.

Anjali Shah: Right, exactly.

Caryn Hartglass: But for some people, they can really feel the difference just in a meal or a day. I’m glad you’re out there doing what you’re doing, because we need so many people just helping people get through, I don’t know what it is but there’s something that makes it difficult to move over to feeding ourselves well and wanting to feel good.

Anjali Shah: Yeah, I think there’s just a lot of misinformation out there and it can be incredibly confusing. You go to the grocery store and you walk down an aisle and every box in the aisle has something like “whole grains” and “organic” and “natural” and all of these labels that actually don’t mean anything until you actually look at the nutrition label on the box.

Caryn Hartglass: Right.

Anjali Shah: But people don’t know. I mean, it’s so hard. Unless you read articles and you’re trained in nutrition like I am, how would you know? It’s so incredibly confusing. I just think that’s the way this country has evolved. If you just think about Michael Pollan, right? “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” or something, right, is that what he said?

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I think he actually—I’m not sure of this—but I think he took that from Jack LaLanne’s expression, “if man made it, don’t eat it.”

Anjali Shah: Oh, interesting.

Caryn Hartglass: But Jack LaLanne, he’s from a long time ago, so don’t expect you to know who he is.

Anjali Shah: No, I’ve actually heard of him. I watched a video of his in one of my training classes.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, good. He was very, very inspirational and he passed a few years ago. So I was going to ask you, you said you have a background in nutrition?

Anjali Shah: Yeah, I took some classes in nutritional science at UC Berkeley when I was getting my degree in economics, and then I also certified as a health coach through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, good.

Anjali Shah: Yeah, so it’s been really great so far.

Caryn Hartglass: And do you plan on doing more than your blog with food?

Anjali Shah: Yeah, eventually I would like to grow my health coaching practice and help people, volunteer at various places, and just help to spread the word about healthy eating, because I don’t think that there’s enough resources out there that are easy to access and free or at least very, very cheap. So yeah, that’s ultimately where I want to go or what I want to do.

Caryn Hartglass: I’m all for that, easy-access and free.

Anjali Shah: Exactly.

Caryn Hartglass: No, it’s a challenge because you want to provide things, and a lot of people want to provide their services, but we all have to survive and make a living, so there’s that balance.

Anjali Shah: Right, exactly. I’m lucky enough to have a full-time job so I’m able to do this as a service. I’m just lucky to have both.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. So do you think you’re going to have a cookbook come out at some point, anything like that?

Anjali Shah: Yeah, that’s the plan actually. I’m working on a cookbook right now. It’s some of the recipes from my blog that are expanded and some that aren’t to give people something a little extra.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, that sounds great. I wanted to tell you, actually I want to tell everybody, so while you’re here I’ll tell you too, because you’re in the San Francisco area. I have a non-profit, Responsible Eating and Living,, and we have an event in San Jose on Earth Day. Not too far from San Francisco. And you can find out more about it at That’s one “g” in the middle, “Swingin’ Gourmets dot-com,” but we’re doing a musical cabaret about healthy food. And it’s going to be really fun and it’s on Earth Day, which is also my birthday.

Anjali Shah: Oh, happy early birthday!

Caryn Hartglass: Because I like to make eating fun and, as a vegan I talk about all of the bad things that go on in the world, how factory farming is so cruel and is so bad for the environment, and how people really struggle with food and so many people have illnesses, and I really don’t like to focus on all of that. It’s unpleasant. It’s dark. And I like to talk about how healthy food can bring a good life. It can bring joy and the light. So one of the things that we’re doing is we’re doing this show because it’s fun and maybe it’ll help some people get the message about healthy eating in a different way rather than being lectured to.

Anjali Shah: Yeah, exactly.

Caryn Hartglass: So that’s coming up very soon, couple of weeks actually.

Anjali Shah: Oh great, yeah. I’ll try to make it out. I mean, that’s not too far from my home.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I’d love to meet you.

Anjali Shah: Yeah.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay Anjali, thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food. I really appreciate it and I love what you’re doing and I’m definitely going to try some of your luscious recipes.

Anjali Shah: Thank you so much for having me, and yes, let me know how you like them!

Caryn Hartglass: And your husband, he sounds like a lucky guy.

Anjali Shah: Aw, thank you so much!

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, thank you. Anjali Shah.

Anjali Shah: Bye.

Caryn Hartglass: Bye-bye. So you can check out her blog at, The Picky Eater. Okay, I just wanted to remind you, as I was saying, it is two weeks away: The Swingin’ Gourmets’ Happy B’Earthday Revue. And if you do live in the Bay area, please come! I want to meet you and it’s going to be really fun. And if you don’t live in the Bay area but you know someone who does, spread the word. And if you can’t do either of those, The Swingin’ Gourmets will come to your town, so just send me an email at and we can talk about it. Okay? Have a very, very delicious week.


Transcribed 4/23/2013

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