Jo Stepaniak is an American writer specializing in veganism and nutrition. She is the author of several books on the subject, including The Vegan Sourcebook. Stepaniak was elected to the Vegetarian Hall of Fame in June 2008 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, at the 34th Annual Vegetarian Summerfest of the North American Vegetarian Society.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi, I’m Caryn Hartglass and welcome to It’s All About Food. So, I’m talking today from San Jose, California. I’ve got an extended stay out here in California because my partner, Gary, is starring in The Producers out here in Los Altos, California and it just got some great reviews yesterday. Taking advantage of this opportunity to be here in California there’s so many wonderful, wonderful places. We were in Santa Cruz this weekend, and there are some of my favorite restaurants there: Dharmas and The Saturn. And what’s great about the Saturn is, it’s a burger joint, only it’s all vegetarian and if we had those dotted on every corner, we wouldn’t have the problems that we had today with global warming. Because there is absolutely no reason to have a Big Mac or any kind of beef burger with the vegetarian options that are available today. Fabulous.
Today, we are going to be talking with Jo Stepaniak. I’m really looking forward to this today.
Jo Stepaniak: Hi, Caryn!
Caryn Hartglass: I’m calling… And you’re there!
Jo Stepaniak: I’m here!
Caryn Hartglass: Hi! I just wanted to tell our listeners a little bit about you. So, you’ve been involved with vegetarian and vegan related issues for over four decades, which is phenomenal.
Jo Stepaniak: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: And Jo’s an author of some wonderful books, sixteen of them on compassionate living and vegan cuisine. You’ve written many pamphlets and articles for national publications and magazines. You’re the Senior Book Editor with the book publishing company and an international business dispute resolution specialist. As well as a mediator and coach for the Pittsburg Mediation Center in Pennsylvania. Welcome, Jo Stepaniak!
Jo Stepaniak: Hi! It’s great to be here, Caryn!
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, you come with lots of wonderful experience and I think it’s really great because there are so many different things when it comes to an individual deciding to change their diet, and it affects everything around us. All our circle of friends and family and there are so many social issues and you with your skill and mediation and dispute resolution. You have a lot of skills that can help people in this transition and you’ve got this column “Ask Jo”, and people can ask about the particular situations they’re in. And you always give some very mindful, loving responses.
Jo Stepaniak: Thank you! (laughs)
Caryn Hartglass: So, we might touch on some of the more popular questions in the show today.
Jo Stepaniak: Sure!
Caryn Hartglass: Right now, I just want to talk about- how did you get started on this path that you’ve been involved in for over 40 years?
Jo Stepaniak: Well, I became a vegetarian as a young girl and at that time- which was a long time ago- there really weren’t any organizations and there really weren’t any books or support groups or certainly or any of the food that we have today. So, it was a pretty lonely experience but, for me, it was one of those things as a child I just knew was right, for me. It was the right thing to do, and so I pursued it despite the objections of my parents and…
Caryn Hartglass: Yes…, and how did they manage that? Especially back then when it was really not heard of.
Jo Stepaniak: (chuckles) Well, they weren’t happy. (laughs) But you know a lot of the things, experiences, I had still happen today with a lot of young people.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely.
Jo Stepaniak: Times, families, just haven’t changed all that much even though, there is so much more information, so many more products and so many support systems available today- including the internet. But back then, and probably still today, for a lot of young people my parents hauled me off to the doctor, and they have the hopes that the doctors would tell them that if I didn’t eat meat and animal products that I would die.
Caryn Hartglass: (laughs)
Jo Stepaniak: And, unfortunately for them, they didn’t get the answer they were hoping for. There was a young, progressive physician in the office that day. He said, “Well, she’ll be just fine- as long as she eats plenty of eggs and dairy products”.
Caryn Hartglass & Jo Stepaniak: (laugh)
Caryn Hartglass: And were you okay with that at the time?
Jo Stepaniak: Well, I really wasn’t because I didn’t like cheese.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, goodness…
Jo Stepaniak: I wasn’t crazy about milk…
Caryn Hartglass: Uh, huh.
Jo Stepaniak: …and I though eggs were rather disgusting.
Caryn Hartglass & Jo Stepaniak: (laugh)
Jo Stepaniak: So, it was a challenge for me to actually try to like those foods to appease my parents.
Caryn Hartglass: Right…. ‘You have to get your protein, protein!’ (mocking tone)
Jo Stepaniak: Right…. (laughs) Luckily, I loved vegetables and that was just really paramount because I wasn’t one of those kids that wasn’t eating anything but junk food. I really did love my vegetables and fruits. But, I acquired a taste for dairy products and the convenience of eggs and so when I decide to become vegan, a couple of decades later, I had to sort of reverse all of those trends and unacquire the taste that I had sort of forced myself to… like.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, you know what I think? The universe did that intentionally because they wanted you to know what eggs and cheese and dairy products tasted like so that you could come up with those wonderful cookbooks that you did to tell people to move away from those products. That’s all. That the only reason why you had to do it.
Jo Stepaniak: (laughs) Well, I think you’re right because (laughs) when I became vegan, there really weren’t that many people that I knew who were vegan. In fact, I actually didn’t know anyone. I didn’t even know how to pronounce the word. We were very isolated back then and my husband decided to become vegan along with me. We really had no one to talk to about it and we were mispronouncing the word. When we found someone who was sort-of-a-vegan, we were going- it’s a “bejen”… What are yo… What are we calling ourselves? But, anybody I mentioned it to said, “I could never do that because I could never give up dairy products. I could NEVER give up cheese”.
Caryn Hartglass: People say that all the time today.
Jo Stepaniak: They do!
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah!
Jo Stepaniak: They still do, despite so many other alternatives available.
Caryn Hartglass: We have learned that there are some addictive qualities to cheese.
Jo Stepaniak: There absolutely are, and it’s understandable why it is so hard for people to give up because of that. There are casomorphines in cheese that are actual, physical, mild addictions.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Jo Stepaniak: Just as it is with caffeine and coffee, you go through withdraw symptoms but once you do withdraw from that product or food, you feel so much better and you’re cravings go away.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, the benefits are so astounding. I just want to mention- you were sort of lucky when you were a child with your physician. Something similar happened to me. My mom brought me to our family doctor when I wanted to be a vegetarian. I’ll never forget what he said. He didn’t say anything about whether it was healthy or not. He just looked at me and he said, “It’s good to eat meat because this gives more cows the opportunity to live”. Which was really, a very distorted sort of thing, which I didn’t understand at the time. I mean, he was basically saying that because we eat more meat, we create more cows- in order to feed ourselves. But, he didn’t mention, and I’m not sure if he knew or not, what goes on to create the millions and millions of cows that we have. Well, there are over a billion cattle alive on the planet today. What we do to create them, and how awfully we treat them and then, of course, how horrible they are to consume.
Jo Stepaniak: Yes, and how they are slaughtered, in order for us to consume them.
Caryn Hartglass: Yep.
Jo Stepaniak: All of the cows that are brought to life are all also brought to death.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, and it’s a miserable existence- from birth until death.
Jo Stepaniak: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t think they see one moment of joy.
Jo Stepaniak: Well, there’s a lot of sort of hidden propaganda in our culture. We are brought up with these assumptions that we don’t question, simply because they are assumptions. One of those is that you need to have meat in order to have protein and be healthy, and you need to have the milk of another species in order to build your bones- even though that species didn’t acquire the milk. We don’t question this. We simply don’t. And, it’s almost shocking for people to evaluate their hidden assumption about food, because they are things they simple never questioned.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. I read a lot about it. It’s something that I don’t understand and it’s hard to figure out how to help people change when you can’t even get inside where the thoughts are coming from. It is difficult but I think that sometimes hearing messages from a variety of sources eventually can break down the barriers that many of us have around us about even considering new ideas, new approaches, and new ways of thinking. So, somebody may not hear the message, the first time we say something. But, if they read an article afterwards, or they talk to someone else, or they watch a program about it, or they read something on the internet- the message starts to get through. Those are the people we are able to have a conversation, an intelligent conversation with because their defenses are starting to come down and their minds are starting to be open to at least hear.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. I guess the similar analogy is the tobacco industry. Well, although I think the food industry is a lot more difficult to deal with and it’s a lot worse. The impact that the food industry has on our environment and our health is a lot worse than cigarette smoking. It’s taken decades for the general population to look negatively at cigarette smoking. But, I think, now, the trend is pretty much that way, although many people still do smoke. It is not considered a friendly thing and a lot of smokers feel guilty about smoking. We are seeing a little bit more negative images in the media, on television, and in movies, and so it takes a long time.
Jo Stepaniak: It does take a long time for a culture to change and one of the big differences between cigarette smoking and food is that everybody needs to eat.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right.
Jo Stepaniak: What I eat doesn’t seem to directly affect somebody across the table from me, the way cigarette smoking would. So, people don’t often think about how their food is affecting those around them and the environment and the animals, because everybody is eating the same foods. They’re so pervasive through grade school. In schools today, junk food is readily available. Soft drinks are so readily available. Candy. You name it. Poor food. Really… food that nobody should be eating to create healthy bodies, and healthy minds. But, it’s so readily available and it’s so addictive.
Caryn Hartglass: But you know, I’m hoping it doesn’t come to this, but I’m thinking that inevitably we are all going to have to be vegan if we’re going to continue to live on this planet. It’s because the earth cannot sustain the current food agricultural system. But, I’m thinking probably that some of the three major factors that will lead us to this crisis mode- and again I’m hoping we don’t come to this. One, we are going to learn that we can’t grow food anymore because our soil is so depleted. We are going to have to cut back on what we grow, and the only way we are going to do that is by not feeding animals for people because it’s so inefficient. Ultimately, we’ll know we can only grow food to feed ourselves. Plant foods to feed people and start to nurture the soil again. And, then another crisis mode that will get us there is this global warming phenomenon. When we really get the picture about how much animal agriculture contributes to global warming, it maybe socially unpopular like cigarettes for people to eat meat because everybody will be looking at them and say “You’re contributing to global warming”.
Jo Stepaniak: Well, we can hope that change… that there will be that shift in attitude. Most definitely, you know, it does seem inevitable but I have to add that although it seems like it would take a long time to change, we really are on a positive course because over these four and a half decades, I have seen incredible changes.
Caryn Hartglass: Right
Jo Stepaniak: And that’s something that kids today, and young adults today can’t totally appreciate because they were born into a culture were a lot of products were available, where people knew how to pronounce the word ‘vegan’, where vegetarianism is not an uncommon thing. So, in that short time, in my lifetime, I’ve seen dramatic changes, which leads to me to be very optimistic.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right, well you know, there’s all different kinds of non dairy milk so readily available. There’s soy milk in so many different flavors of soy milk: vanilla, and chocolate, and sugared, and not sugared, and thicker, and creamier, and low fat, and high fat. There’s rice milk, and oat milk, and a whole host of them, and almond milk- which I love. You can pretty much get them anywhere.
Jo Stepaniak: It’s true, even in small towns, and with everybody having access to the web, you can order anything- even if you’re in a remote area. You can order practicably anything that you would need.
Caryn Hartglass: So, we have to rejoice about that.
Jo Stepaniak: We absolutely do! I did want to mention, very briefly, in terms of food for kids in schools, and how poor the current menu is. That the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) does have a campaign to get healthy school lunches into schools. If anyone wants to check that out and sign their petition, it’s at healthyschoollunches.org
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Jo Stepaniak: So, we got organizations on the path to create change as well as individuals. There’s a lot of positive stuff happening.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so let’s go into some of the challenges an individual will experience when they decide to change their diet and the things that might happen with their family, and with their colleagues, and their friends. One of the most popular questions people have come to you with or answers.
Jo Stepaniak: Well, there’s a range. It’s interesting that over the years; a lot of the same questions keep getting asked over and over again. So, people everywhere, and it’s not just in the United States, but it’s all around the world people experience similar problems when they choose to become vegetarian- which, I find fascinating.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right!
Jo Stepaniak: But, a lot of times, the family will react negatively. They will take as a personal affront; that you’re rejecting the culture that they raised you in; that you’re rejecting the mother’s food or whoever is the cooking the family’s food. So, at first, it can be this instance of rejection.
Caryn Hartglass: Uh, huh.
Jo Stepaniak: The same thing can happen if a partner or spouse becomes vegetarian or vegan, and the other person isn’t. If that kind of eating pattern was not set up when the relationship began, it can cause a lot of strife afterwards. So, those are some of the major ones. The relationship issues are the ones that cause the people the most concern, and of course there are issues at work. When there are office parties or dinners…
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Jo Stepaniak: ….or even a business meeting, where food is being served. People feel uncomfortable speaking out, often times their office mates or colleagues are not accommodating.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. So, what do they do? I’ve been in business situations and I have never had a problem because I’m a kind of person that doesn’t care what anybody thinks.
Jo Stepaniak: (laughs)
Caryn Hartglass: I’m not necessarily saying it’s a good trait or not. But, I haven’t had a problem, you know, I just speak up and say, “I’m vegan, I need this, where is it?”. But, I know a lot of people are quite sensitive to everyone else around them especially, like people who might be in sales. And, you know they’re trying to get a sale and so, they want to be very accommodating to their customers, or people that travel to other countries. And, you know when in a foreign country, you’re supposed to do as they do. Do you have any recommendations for those folks?
Jo Stepaniak: You’re absolutely right! Well, I’m like you and everybody I know knows I’m vegan.
Caryn Hartglass: Uh, huh.
Jo Stepaniak: So, when I have office situations, I’m lucky that I’m accommodated, but I know that when I first tell people that I’m vegan- it’s a little bit awkward. Because people assume that you’re making some type of judgment about them- even though you’re not.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Jo Stepaniak: And, so the important thing is to come across in a friendly, non-judgmental way, and to not inundate the person you’re speaking with about your reasons for being vegan or vegetarian. Anything else that they might bristle at, initially, because your main ambition in that particular situation is just to get your needs met.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. You know it’s funny because, if you told someone that you had a severe allergy or it was… or it might be a religious obligation, keeping Kosher, or Halal. People will respond with respond with respect right away- in the majority cases, I think. But, when you say that it’s a choice. Even when you’re presenting it in a positive way, I think, a lot of times people right away ask us defensive questions. You know, “Why do you do it?” and it becomes a bit confrontational.
Jo Stepaniak: It does, and if you’re trying to get your needs met. What you need to do is avoid a confrontational situation, and a lot of us don’t like to be the center of attention. Especially, in certain situations, like a business situation. You don’t want to draw attention to yourself. But, you’re right. When we have circumstances that are out of our control such as an allergy or religious belief, people are more respectful because they think that you don’t have a choice. But, when it’s a choice, people figure well, just a little won’t hurt you.
Caryn Hartglass: Uh, huh. That’s right.
Jo Stepaniak: You don’t mind that the vegetable soup has chicken broth in it and that you don’t mind that we’ll just take the cheese off this dish and it will be fine.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, they’ll just take it out.
Jo Stepaniak: Right, and most of us have been in these kind of situations and you really have to make it clear that no, this is a conviction that I have for whatever reason you wish to say- or none at all if you wish to say none at all. This is simply my conviction and that’s not acceptable. When people ask me, “Why are you vegan?”. I never know if they really want to hear how open they are to hearing. So, I sort of put it back on them and I say, “Well, for whatever reason you could possibly imagine”.
Caryn Hartglass & Jo Stepaniak: (both laugh)
Jo Stepaniak: And, if they are interested, they will start to ask questions, and if they’re not they’ll just let it go. Because these days it is in the news so much- vegetarianism is everywhere, veganism is everywhere. People have heard about it, they know how to pronounce it, they know what it means even. They understand the reasons that somebody would choose to be vegan and they understand that there are multiple reasons. So, if they want to ask, I leave the door open, if they want to have a further conversation. If they don’t, I won’t, because you really can’t. If the door is shut, you can’t kick it open with your foot and expect a welcoming response. You really have to wait until someone opens the door for you, and invites you in. And, that’s what I try to do to avoid these confrontational situations.
Caryn Hartglass: What about relationships? Like boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, or partners in a relationship- where one partner wants to change the diet and the other one doesn’t.
Jo Stepaniak: There’s some really sticky situations, especially if children are involved. Sometimes, one of the people in a relationship wants to raise the children vegan because she or he has become vegan herself and wants to give their children the benefits: health… and just the entire spiritual aspects of being vegan. They feel that it’s very important and the other person in the relationship may rebel. They don’t think it’s fair to the children. They think that it will make the children not able to go to friend’s homes and be comfortable, or have friends over and be comfortable. They won’t fit in. So, it can be extremely difficult, especially when children are involved. And, sometimes compromises are necessary. It may not be what either spouse wants, but it may be what’s in the best interests of the kids. Sometimes, in situations like that, the parents may decide jointly, “Well, we’ll let the children, we’ll raise the children as vegetarian, and when they get to a certain age, if they choose to be vegan that would be fine. Or, if they choose to eat meat, well, that’s their choice.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Jo Stepaniak: They can be very difficult. And, sometimes, if somebody’s veganism is an incredibly important part of their lives- which happens to many people- because being vegan isn’t just about food for many people. It’s about the entire way that we live, that we view the world, that are purchases, how we interact with others…
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Jo Stepaniak: …All of the choices that we make on a daily basis.
Caryn Hartglass: When you’re vegan, you realize that. But, when you’re not you don’t realize how it impact you’re entire life. It’s a philosophy. It’s a lifestyle. It goes deep into your core.
Jo Stepaniak: It does. And, if one person in the relationship is deeply vegan and the other person isn’t even vegetarian, It can cause enormous conflict and sometimes people do need to separate apart because they aren’t able to work things out and live under the same roof. It’s unfortunate but it happens. It’s the same type of thing when you have two people of different religions. Where one person become deeply involved in a particular religion and the other person doesn’t, and your spiritual views- your lifestyle, what’s important to you- does not mix anymore.
Caryn Hartglass: And, the one thing I want to talk about in this subject is holidays.
Jo Stepaniak: Oh… (laughs) …the dreaded holidays. That is something that so many people have difficulty with. And, that’s because…
Caryn Hartglass: And, it really gets to the bottom of it, because food is so related to our upbringing, to our culture. Holidays are tradition and no matter what you believe in, there is always food.
Jo Stepaniak: Right. And, a lot of that is animal based.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right.
Jo Stepaniak: All of the traditional foods. And, again, some families view it as a rejection. If a family member says “I’m not going to indulge in that” or “I don’t want to be at a table where there is a dead animal at the center of it”. Because, even if a lot times families who are not vegan don’t understand that it can be very upsetting to someone who’s made a commitment to a peaceful lifestyle to sit in front of a dead animal- even if they aren’t partaking of it. And, we all say, well families about the relationships and the people. That’s true but there is another element to it and if somebody is very upset, they shouldn’t have to be in that situation.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I have two holidays in particular where it really gets to me. And, one is obviously is Thanksgiving. And, here it is, we are giving thanks, and then there’s the torture dead bird on the table, and my understanding is the holiday originated for being thankful from the harvest. And, so you know, how did we slap this unfortunate creature on the table to add to our being grateful for the crops that we’ve grown. But, it’s just…. Ah, it’s just so difficult for me. And, then the other holiday- I was raised Jewish- and although, I don’t really follow the religion, the family does get together for some of the holidays, and one of them is Passover. We read the story, every year, of the Jews who were in slavery and Moses lead them out of slavery, and how were thankful for our freedom and were not being exploited. I can’t help to carry that not only to all people but to all species. How is it that we put a veil and we just include ourselves, and not everything else around us- drives me crazy.
Jo Stepaniak: Luckily, you’re a hundred percent right about that. It drives so many people crazy and even with a holiday like Passover, there are not just the prayers, and then the animal products that are being served but the Sedar plate itself contains dead animal products. It again, it’s an upsetting time for a lot of people who are Jewish and vegan. Luckily, again, there are progressive people there. There are a few different vegan Haggadahs, that people can use, that are solutions, if the families will accept them.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, that’s it, the big ‘if’. I am fortunate to be in one that does, but I know many people who have a lot of difficulty.
Jo Stepaniak: It’s true.
Caryn Hartglass: But, you know what, I think… this might not sound very nice, but… some of the people that have difficulty, I think it goes deeper than just the food.
Caryn Hartglass: We all need to learn certain skills on how to deal with confrontation. How to stand up for a belief and how to deserve respect from the people around us and when we make a change like accepting a vegetarian diet, some of those things that we’ve had difficulty, just in life in general, become more into focus with this particular problem
Jo Stepaniak: Well one thing to keep in mind when we get into these confrontational situations is that this is our choice. This is our commitment. And, it doesn’t have anything to do with the person we’re telling. If they are upset about our choice, we have to remember that is their problem.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Jo Stepaniak: It’s not that we can’t be compassionate toward them, but we don’t have to change to please them. We’re a culture of people-pleasers. And, many of us have difficulty in relationships because we just want everyone to like us. And, the bottom line is that not everybody is going to like us, and we could change for one person and we’ll have to change for another person. And, at the end of the day, who are we really, if we are changing for everyone. Where are our real commitments?
Caryn Hartglass: Right. You know, I think it applies to everything- not just diet. We have to be the person that we want to be, not one that everyone else wants to be. We have to follow our passions, our dreams, our philosophies and be the best that we can be at what we believe in. People may want to know about you or learn why you’re more so dynamic, or healthier, or radiant. And, then you can explain it to them, but we can only control ourselves.
Jo Stepaniak: Precisely, I agree with what you are saying. And, sort of my philosophy, as well. If we who are vegan are happy, are well adjusted, are friendly, and are radiant. We will project that to others and others will want to know more about us. How we got that way? So, that will just set up a natural curiosity. But I do want people who are on the path to transitioning to being vegan or who are having difficulty in relationships to know that you can stand by your convictions without hurting someone else and without compromising yourself.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m gonna jump over to another topic, right now. There’s a lot of things to talk about. So you’ve authored and co-authored many, many books and the one I want to talk about is the Food Allergies Survival Guide, right now.
Jo Stepaniak: OK.
Caryn Hartglass: So, there’s so many allergies out there. And, it gets even more complicated when you want to… or proceed to be more complicated when you don’t want to have want to have animal products. A recent family member was diagnosed with Celiac’s Disease and so she has to have everything gluten-free. So, what’s in this allergy survival guide book?
Jo Stepaniak: Well, we cover the top allergens that my co-authors are both registered dietitians and so, we really wanted to have a book that would cover and address the top allergens that most people are allergic to. And, also provide a helpful way for them to eat and get all the nutrients they need and not further compromise their health. So, we created all the information that someone might need who was exploring food allergies and wants to get to the bottom on what may be causing their health problems. And, then we also provide recipes and menus to keep people going.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, and how hard is it to bake without gluten?
Jo Stepaniak: Well, there are a number of baking mixes on the market. So, it’s not that difficult to find a gluten-free substitute. However, that vast majority of them, if not all of them contain soy products. And, if you are also allergic to soy or have a multitude of food sensitivities, you may want to have a soy-free product. So, what we did in the book is created a baking mix that people can use that contains no soy at all.
Caryn Hartglass: Great. This is something people can put together in their home by buying their own ingredients.
Jo Stepaniak: Exactly. It’s easy to put together in your home- with the right ingredients. It’s really not that difficult. The main thing to remember when you are making gluten-free baked goods is to not taste the batter. And, that’s because the baking mixes typically contain a raw bean flour. So, it could be soy flour. In mine, I use chickpea flour. It could be some other type… pea flour. And, they are not only not healthful for you raw like that. But, they taste terrible. So, if someone tastes the batter, they are going to think that the finished product will be terrible, too. And, that’s not the case. So, it’s important to not taste the batter, like we might in a recipe that contains gluten.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I didn’t know that. It’s really important to know. And, I imagine for people that are used to cooking in another way, that can be extremely frustrating. Because, I mean, one of things that we do when we cook a lot is, we’re always tasting along the way.
Jo Stepaniak: Right
Caryn Hartglass: So, how were you able to come up with the recipes? Was it something where you create a batter and then taste the final product, and then make adjustments from there.
Jo Stepaniak: There was a lot of experimentation. Yes, and I knew about the batter first hand. So, I can pass on that tip!
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Hey, I will that’s really good to know and I’m definitely going to pass that on- all over the place
Jo Stepaniak: But, the recipes did require a lot of testing and a lot of experimenting and they’re gluten-free recipes are often not as quite as forgiving as those that contain wheat and other gluten products. So, it is important to follow directions, and measure accurately.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, OK. I’m going to start jumping into this very soon and if I have any problems, I’m going to call you.
You’ve got some other great cookbooks. My favorites are the Uncheese Cookbook, which has now been updated and revised, and is now the Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook.
Jo Stepaniak: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: And, my other favorite was the Saucy Vegetarian.
Jo Stepaniak: That is one of my favorites. Of all the cookbooks I have. Actually that’s not a cookbook, I have to say it’s an un-cook book.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, right. That’s true.
Jo Stepaniak: Because, none of the recipes require cooking.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s mostly a blender book.
Jo Stepaniak: It’s a blender book and a whisk book. All of the recipes can be made in 5 minutes. So, and then with each recipe, I have a sort of creative ideas for how you can use the recipe itself. They are all no cook sauces and dressings. So, whether you follow a raw diet, or whether you follow a micro-biotic diet, or whether you follow any diet of your choice- as long as its vegan. You can use any of the recipes in the book and be very creative. And, its fun when you really don’t want to think. You can throw together a meal of whole grain noodles, or brown rice and vegetables, and tempeh or tofu, or beans, or nuts, or whatever you want and add the sauce- and there’s dinner.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, there’s so many things I love about it because for one. I think that when you go through the book and you try all the different recipes. After a while, you get a feel of it and you can do it on your own without using the book, anymore.
Jo Stepaniak: Right. In the front of the book, I exclusively tell readers how you can create your own sauce, and, be creative with it. Because I do want people to be able to experiment. So, there’s sort like, the old Chinese restaurant: Column A, Column B, Column C- where you can pick one from each, and you create the sauce of your choice with what you have on hand. Or with what your favorite flavors are.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s great! It’s somewhat liberating. Because, some people when they are transitioning and they just feel like, “This food doesn’t have any flavor- What am I going to do?”. And, these sauces are just so great! Especially, if people want to watch their salt, or their fat, or whatever. They can always just keep the sauce on the side and add as little or as much of it as you want. Great on salads or great for a dip. Like you said a stir fry. They’re really versatile and like I said its one of my favorites. So, thank you for doing that. Now, let’s jump to Ultimate Cheese Cookbook. As, we mentioned before, so many people love cheese, so many people have that addiction. Not just the addictive properties, but we love fat, love salt. All of that’s in cheese. And, for those that want easy, tasty meals. They might throw those same healthy ingredients: vegetables and whole grains. But then they’ll just grate a pile of cheese on top of it. And, that’s dinner.
Jo Stepaniak: Right. And, their goes all the helpfulness right down the chute.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Jo Stepaniak: And, the good thing… the great thing about the Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook is that really now you can have your cheese and eat it too. And, still be healthy. The ingredients in the ‘Uncheese’s’ are helpful to start with, and again you can control everything that’s in them. You can control the fat, you can control the sodium. You can use only the ingredients that you most want to use. And, a number of the recipes have beans as their base, surprisingly. Or they may have tofu as the base. And, people may turn up their nose and go “How that possibly be cheesy?”. But, the combination of ingredients and seasonings and flavorings is incredible.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. So, what are some of those flavorings. There is nutritional yeast.
Jo Stepaniak: Nutritional yeast. Yes, I use a lot, and which is a wonderful ingredient because not only does it have a lot of B vitamins and other nutrients in it. I recommend using Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula Nutritional Yeast because it has a great flavor and it’s also fortified with Vitamin B12, which is something that everybody should supplement with. So, that gives you a tasty way to get it.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, I have seen some nutritional yeast that have whey in them.
Jo Stepaniak: Yes, and that is another reason I recommend this particular one. Again it’s Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula Nutritional Yeast. There are some that have whey in them. There’s some that have honey in them. There are some that have both whey and honey. And, there are many that are not fortified with Vitamin B12. And, unfortunately some companies have labeled their products, their nutritional yeast products as brewers yeast. And, they’re actually nutritional yeast. And, the problem with that is that brewers yeast has a bad reputation. It does taste bad. It’s very bitter. It’s not a primarily grown product. It’s a by-product of the paper making industry…. or the brewing industry. I’m sorry, torula yeast is from the paper making industry. So, there are a number of yeast products and you want to make sure you get the right one. That’s important because the taste really is what adds/contributes to –
Caryn Hartglass: Nutritional yeast isn’t a by-product.
Jo Stepaniak: Nutritional yeast is not a by-product. It’s a primary grown yeast, which means its not grown for any other purpose.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Okay.
Jo Stepaniak: So, that’s one of the main ingredients used. I use things like miso which is fermented legume paste, usually made from soybeans. But, it can be made from lots of other beans. There’s a chickpea miso that I absolutely love and I think it has fabulous flavor. That’s one I would recommend using in my ‘Uncheeses’ that calls for miso.
Caryn Hartglass: The amazing thing about miso – there are so many different flavors.
Jo Stepaniak: Oh, yes!
Caryn Hartglass: Many of them are made from fermented rice, and/or soybeans. There are a variety from different grains: barley, and chickpea as you mentioned. But, there are so many different kinds. Some are milder, some are really intense flavors, and all very salty.
So little goes a long way, but it gives the ‘cheese’ that saltiness that it needs, because most of the standard dairy cheeses are pretty salty.
Jo Stepaniak: And, what is also does the lighter ones are less salty but they add the aged flavor that we’ve come to expect of dairy cheese. Right, so it does contribute fat and then, the other seasonings are very basic common things: garlic, paprika, salt, onion. Some recipes call for richer ingredients such as cashew butter or tahini, which gives that wonderful mouth feel, similar to some cheeses. The ingredients are actually quite simple and the ‘uncheeses’ are incredibly easy to make. Again, if someone can operate a small electrical appliance, like a blender or food processor. You’ve got it made! They’re very easy!
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Well, great. I love that book. People should definitely check it out. And, the last one I wanted to talk about is the Vegan Vittles.
Jo Stepaniak: Yes, because we all love comfort foods, and that’s what Vegan Vittles is all about. This is book also in its second generation. It’s Vegan Vittles, Second Helpings.
This was created in collaboration with Farm Sanctuary, which is an organization that rescues and rehabilitates farmed animals, and educates the public, and is working towards changing legislation about animals, and what we want to do was create a book with recipes that had alternatives all the animal recipes that people traditionally find in most cookbooks- in most conventional cookbooks. And, we tried to come up with everything that most people would consider to be their comfort foods that they would miss.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, I’m looking at a list of them here. Pecans, sticky buns,
Jo Stepaniak: Oh, yes.
Caryn Hartglass: Sour Cream, Streusel, Coffee Cake… Let’s see, Welsh Rarebit, and… Let’s see, what else looks good here. Lentil and Eggplant Goulash…
Jo Stepaniak: Pot Roast…
Caryn Hartglass: Potatoes Gryuere… (laughs), and creamy raw spinach sauce.
Jo Stepaniak: That’s actually incredibly good.
Caryn Hartglass: So, wait and there’s pot roast. Now, how do you that?
Jo Stepaniak: Well, the pot roast is made with – it does have gluten in it- but it’s made with instant gluten flour which is also known as fiber wheat gluten, and seasonings. And, when you mix everything together, you basically make a version of seitan, but its in a big roast and it has vegetables with it that all cook together just like an ordinary pot roast. Except this one is made from plant products and when its finished roasting. You blend most of the vegetables to create the most incredible gravy in the world. It’s so goood!
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I’m going to have to try that one. That sounds really good!
And, you know that’s one of the message that I always want to put out is that the food that vegans eat has so much variety. It is so delicious and, you know as you said before, when people ask you why you’re vegan. You know there’s really no reason not to be. I just…. the diversity, and the variety, the taste textures; It’s infinite. It’s fabulous. You really don’t…. I don’t feel like I’m deprived of anything.
Jo Stepaniak: I don’t either. When people have asked me, “Well now that you’re not having animal products- What’s left?”. Well, I said, “Well, now, there’s room for all the good stuff!” (laughs)
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I’m always discovering new things, and I think we’re all doing it together. You know, you started over 40 years ago, and the knowledge you experience. We’re just getting more and more creative.
Jo Stepaniak: Yes, it’s true. There are so many new authors, and up and coming chefs- who are just jumping on the bandwagon. They’re really, really coming out with some fresh are original ideas that are very exciting.
Caryn Hartglass: Do you have any new cookbooks coming out? Do you plan on doing any new books?
Jo Stepaniak: I might be getting involved in a new project. but really… right now, I can’t say much about it, because it’s just in the very early stages. But, for the most part what I do now is that mentor new authors, and I edit a lot of books for new as well as seasoned authors. My hand and eyes, and everything else, are constantly involved in the new material that’s coming out. And, I’m endlessly impressed, and its exciting because there’s something for everyone, for those who want the familiar flavors- such as Vegan Vittles, it’s there. But, for those who want something gourmet and fancy the options are there. People who need gluten-free, there’s the Food Allergy Survival Guide, and mixes and other books. Lots of things. It’s just endless. When you start discovering what there is, it’s overwhelming.
Caryn Hartglass: I wanted to talk about children, before we finish. We still have a few minutes left. You’ve written book over raising vegetarian children. It’s raising children- to begin with I don’t have any- but I know how challenging it can be in this world where everyone’s trying to get a piece of them. At least, in terms of their dollar capabilities. So they’re bombarded with all sorts of commercials, and images all over the place. How does one raise a vegetarian child?
Jo Stepaniak: Well, again. It goes back to having a commitment. It’s harder to.. It’s easier to raise a child from birth, when the parent- or if there are two parents, are vegan/vegetarian. If later on the child wants to become vegetarian and the parents aren’t there can be conflicts. If a parent wants to become vegetarian/vegan and the child is not, there can be conflicts. So, there are all kinds of situations, and some of those I talked about earlier, that we covered in the book. On how to be supportive of your children, regardless of the situation that you’re in. How to be supportive of your partner, regardless of the situation you’re in. How to deal with those family situations. The times when Grandma wants to take you’re daughter or son to the zoo, and you oppose to it; What do you do? Or, when your great-uncle wants to buy Tommy a hamburger; What do you do? So, there are an incredible number of situations that could be very problematic. We do talk about those. We spend a lot of the book on the psychological aspects and the social aspects, the relationship and family aspects of raising a vegetarian child. Then, we also have menus and nutrition information because my co-author, Vesanto Melina is a registered dietician. So, we cover all of those issues from A to Z, really.
Caryn Hartglass: So, if people have issues. The best thing to do is to just get you’re book and read it.
Jo Stepaniak: Exactly!! (laughs)
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I guess talking with you today, I think people should realize there really is no reason not to adopt a healthy vegetarian diet. It certainly is good for health, for the planet, for the animals. And, there are plenty of books- many of them authored by you. And, then there are so many more. But, you cover everything. You know any issue that people may have- the answers are in your books.
Jo Stepaniak: Well, thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s really no reason and it’s delicious, it’s easy, it’s healthy, and I really, really enjoyed talking to you. I really am in awe of everything you’ve done. I have some of your books, and I’m realizing that I need to pick up a few more.
Jo Stepaniak: (laughs)
Caryn Hartglass: And, let’s read a few of these titles: Dairy-Free and Delicious, Nutritional Yeast Cookbook, Delicious Food for a Healthy Heart, Table for Two…
Jo Stepaniak: That’s one of my favorites too…
Caryn Hartglass: …, and we talked about the Saucy Vegetarian. Vegan Deli: Wholesome Ethnic Fast Food. So, there’s something for everyone. So, again, thank you so much for joining me. It was really great talking to you. And, we’ll see be back next week with It’s All About Food. Thank you.
Transcribed by Jennifer Tzoc, 5/10/2014