Sea Shepherd’s Laura Dakin and Speed Vegan author, Alan Roettinger
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s ship the Steve Irwin was docked at Chelsea Pier in Manhattan for a few days. Caryn spoke with Laura Dakin, the current head cook for the Steve Irwin about the organization and what they do and what kind of vegan meals are served up to the hungry hands on deck. Established in 1977, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) is an international non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organization. Their mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species.
Caryn’s second guest was Alan Roettinger, author of the new cookbook, Speed Vegan. Alan Roettinger has been a private chef for over 28 years, serving a broad spectrum of high-profile clients, from entertainers to presidents. A world traveler, he absorbed elements from many cuisines to synthesize a unique, creative, personal style. Alan’s first cookbook, Omega-3 Cuisine, showcases his ability to bring health and flavor together, offering a wide range of dishes that are simultaneously exotic and accessible to the home cook. In Speed Vegan, Alan has kept flavor and health, but expanded these parameters to include quick, easy, and strictly plant-based.
TRANSCRIPTION PART I:
Caryn Hartglass: Hi. I’m Caryn Hartglass, your host of It’s All About Food. It’s all about food. Thank you for joining me. This is a live call-in show and you can call in with comments and questions. You know the number, 1-888-873-4643. I also take email comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. email@example.com. I know you’re going to have some comments today because I think we’ve got a really exciting show. I recently found out that the Steve Irwin—this is a ship with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society—happened to be docking in Manhattan for a few days and I was able to get someone from the ship to come on the show and talk about what they’re doing. Laura, are you with us?
Laura Dakin: Hey, yes I am.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, great. Laura, is it Dakin?
Laura Dakin: Laura Dakin.
Caryn Hartglass: Laura Dakin. And you are the crew’s cook.
Laura Dakin: Yeah, I’m the head chef on board the Sea Shepherd, yep.
Caryn Hartglass: Head chef, great.
Laura Dakin: Or chief cook, whatever.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, we’re going to talk about food because it’s all about food. But first I’m just going to read the Sea Shepherd’s mission statement and then I thought you might tell us about what you’re doing.
Laura Dakin: Rad, cool.
Caryn Hartglass: “Established in 1977, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is an international nonprofit, marine wildlife conservation organization. [Their] mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species. Sea Shepherd uses innovative direct-action tactics to investigate, document, and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities on the high seas. By safeguarding the biodiversity of our delicately balanced ocean ecosystems, Sea Shepherd works to ensure their survival for future generations.” Wow. You know, a lot of people don’t really think about the ocean that much in terms of what’s going on. It’s almost like another planet. It’s a place that we don’t know very well and very few actually get to get under and see all the beautiful life that’s there. I think unfortunately because of that big separation, we really take advantage of what’s going on there and we certainly don’t think about the life that’s there as anything of value.
Laura Dakin: Yeah. Very true. Very easy to forget about the oceans and they’re pretty much on the way out. They’re dying in our time.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, there are so many species that are extinct now.
Laura Dakin: Yeah. So many. Certainly like the campaign that we’re just getting ready for here, is to save Bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean. They’ve basically been given three years before they go extinct if something serious and drastic isn’t done about it. The price of one Bluefin tuna now is like something in the $200,000/lb. range like Sterling for one fish. The more endangered they’ve become, the more people pay for them.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, the more they want them.
Laura Dakin: More poaching. Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: So what does the Sea Shepherd actually do? I know that I’ve heard different stories over the years, some of them quite sensational. But it sounds very… Well…
Laura Dakin: Radical.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, the word that’s coming to my mind, it’s like you’re like the vegan pirates or something out there, but doing good like the Robin Hood of the sea somehow.
Laura Dakin: Yeah. We kind of call ourselves pirates of compassion, hunting down the pirates of profit, I suppose. ‘Cause I guess people are calling Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd the pirates and he’s like, okay. We’ll go with that. Kids love it. We basically take direct action to stop the poaching of any kind of endangered marine wildlife, which is pretty much everything right now. So we do the seal campaign in Eastern Canada. There’s about 360,000 baby harp seals are slaughtered for their fur. And obviously the whale campaign, and that’s the big one we just came back from. Animal Planet are also filming a show called Whale Wars. But we just go and we get in their way and we use our ship to physically intervene and stop them from killing whales. So if they started harpooning whales in the past, then we literally just take our boat and try and cut through their lines, often ending in collision or little bumps.
Caryn Hartglass: And how successful are you other than pissing these people off?
Laura Dakin: Well this year their quota of over a thousand whales, they only went back home with five hundred whales so we managed to save over five hundred whales, which was one of our best campaigns yet. I see like when I first joined, our first campaign to Antarctica, we had an old, slow boat and we managed to disrupt them enough to save around eighty whales. Just every year we’re getting stronger and stronger and we’re getting more and more support so we’re able to have just last year, three vessels and it really shows how effective we are. We’re literally with the fleet for as long as we can just harassing them and they certainly don’t get a chance to catch a single whale while we’re with them.
Caryn Hartglass: What are whales used for mostly?
Laura Dakin: Well a lot of it, I think it’s mainly become… I think a whaling fleet was given to Japan after World War II by the Americans? It was used to get protein and as basically a food source. Now it’s become more a matter of national pride I guess and kind of a blood sport. I think a lot of it’s just stubbornness; they don’t want to be told what to do. A lot of the whale meat’s being pushed into schools, which is terrible ‘cause it’s not very healthy. But a lot of it’s being pushed into schools and sold as like, whale burgers. You can buy whale burgers and all that kind of thing. It’s done under the guise of scientific research, which is totally bogus.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. So how is the harpooning done? How are these precious animals caught? It’s kind of sophisticated, isn’t it?
Laura Dakin: Yeah. The harpoon vessels are literally killing machines and they can turn on a dime and they’re so fast; they can go over twenty knots. They basically will spot a whale and the whale will start to run away. And obviously as it’s running it’s taking shorter breaths and so it can’t get a big enough breath to dive into safety. So they basically just like run after it and chase it down until it’s too slow and too tired to put up much of a fight. Then the harpoonist will point the harpoon and fire. A lot of the time they might not get a very good shot and they’ll harpoon several times, like they’ll use several shots or use guns as well. It can take up to about twenty minutes for a whale to die. It’s a really long, drawn out, painful, horrific experience I hope I never have to see again. It’s really horrible. Then they drive the ship—the whale, sorry, up against the ship—and then they steam down to the Nisshin Maru, which is the factory whaling ship, and they do the transfer of the whale in about thirty seconds. One year a couple of years ago they started to whale in front of us for the first time; they’d been too scared previously. By the time we could catch up to them and knew what was going on they had four whales onboard. And then during the transfer of their fourth whale or their fifth whale, rather, we were kind of on top of them in time and we managed to cut through them and after that they didn’t try and get another whale. We had a collision with one of their harpoon vessels and it got quite heated. But yeah, it’s a factory.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s just incredible what people can do and you really wonder what they’re thinking and what’s in their hearts. Because I think all animal species are precious myself. The whale in particular, we know how majestic and how intelligent they are. There’s probably so much that we can learn from them.
Laura Dakin: Yeah. I think if we can’t save these big, beautiful, intelligent mammals, then what hope is there for any of the smaller species that are going extinct? I think over 50,000 species on the planet will go extinct because of human impact on the world. So if we can’t save the whales then, oh my gosh, everything else is doomed. Feels like it’s a pretty important campaign because of that because people relate to the whale campaign and it’s something that people have been screaming about.
Caryn Hartglass: How did you get involved with the Sea Shepherd?
Laura Dakin: I got involved because I was living in Bermuda, actually, and I just had recently gone vegan and I started learning a lot about animal rights stuff and just kind of once I started learning a few things I just wanted to learn everything and then I found out about Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd and I liked their kind of direct-action, hardcore approach. The boat just then came into Bermuda when I was working and they were a day away from leaving on their seal campaign. I hadn’t met any other vegans at that point and so I went and had dinner with them and I met the crew and there was only eleven crew, there was no women onboard. It was really small; we had this old rusty bucket ship. I just was like, “Well, I’m just going to do it,” and I left and I told my boss I’ll be back in three weeks and that was five years ago.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh my goodness. Wow, that’s really courageous.
Laura Dakin: I got completely consumed; I just love it. It’s satisfying.
Caryn Hartglass: And so now you’re the chef. How many people are on Steve Irwin right now?
Laura Dakin: So right now in New York we have about twenty crew? For a big campaign we have up to about fifty crew members.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow. So what is it like, cooking on the ship and what do you prepare and how does that work?
Laura Dakin: It’s pretty challenging, cooking on the boat. I’m a bit used to it now, so it gets easier as you go along. But definitely it’s every day, three meals a day. We do breakfast, lunch, and dinner and then snacks in-between. There’s usually about three of us in the galley during a campaign, so there’s lots of help around. Everyone chips in with prepping and chopping and we have a garlic-peeling party. Obviously when the weather gets rough it’s challenging and you’re not feeling the best and you’re basically holding on. You don’t want to make soups or anything like that; you try and make usually a lot of rice and ginger and that kind of thing. Just plain foods when it’s rough weather. Also because the crew are working outside in cold conditions often their appetites are massive, so lots of comfort food. We put on a big Christmas dinner. But it definitely moves around a lot, like a lot of the time you’re just grabbing everything you can find and holding on for dear life because the ship’s just lurching and twisting and crazy. So many meals end up on the floor.
Caryn Hartglass: How long is a campaign? How much food can you get on the ship and what do you do about fresh food?
Laura Dakin: We can stay out for about fifty or sixty days with our usual consumption, depending on if we sit idle for a little while. We take on a lot of food. Produce lasts for about two weeks. Once that’s up it’s all frozen and canned food after that. Everyone’s a really good sport about it ‘cause everyone’s away from their families and it’s Christmas time and they’re eating frozen broccoli. But yeah, it’s cool. Everyone is there for the right reasons. Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I wanted to talk about it because you know a lot of people think it’s difficult to prepare vegan food. I know it isn’t; I’ve been doing it for several decades. I thought it would be great to talk to you because you’re just adding another level of challenge. You’re doing it on a ship.
Laura Dakin: Yeah, it’s crazy. It’s not hard. Basically what I tell people is anything that you normally eat, you can pretty much “veganize.” There are so many awesome products. If you don’t like soymilk, there’s oat milks and almond milks and they’re great. Like, you can whack them into anywhere that says milk. There’s Earth Balance margarine instead of butter and it’s healthier and it’s really yummy. And there’s so much fake meat available so if you want to have sausage rolls or hot dogs, I think you can find everything. We eat pizzas and curries and pasta and I cook burgers and all that kind of thing. You can do anything, really.
Caryn Hartglass: What’s a typical menu, starting with breakfast?
Laura Dakin: Okay, so for breakfast we’ll have pancakes or hash browns or sometimes like a tofu scramble, like a fake egg scramble. We’ll also have cereal and toast and stuff like that too. And fruit if it’s the first two weeks of the campaign. Now lunch we might have… I’m a big fan of soups, salads, and breads. We make tons of fresh breads and scones and things like that onboard ‘cause people are hungry, like lots of hungry working people. But we also have pastas and might do theme nights. So we’ll pick a country and we’ve got an international crew, so we have crew members from Japan and from Brazil and from Germany, all over the world. We’ll have Mexican night or we’ll have Japanese food night. We usually just kind of do a theme night most nights of the week actually. Then obviously we do the Christmas dinner and we’ll have like a special dinner party and try to make it fun ‘cause food is really what keeps the morale high. What everyone looks forward to, and so I think it’s really important that it’s exciting and fun for them.
Caryn Hartglass: Have you ever thought of doing a cookbook?
Laura Dakin: Yeah, I’m actually doing one right now.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh great!
Laura Dakin: It should hopefully be finished. It’s basically a day-to-day of the campaign. So our position where we are ‘cause obviously the weather depends a lot on the food that you make. On action days where the crew are literally up and out on-deck, sometimes twenty-four hours, we have special kind of foods that we put on then: warm comfort foods. So yeah, I’m doing a cookbook at the moment. Hopefully it’ll be finished by the end of this campaign.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, great. That’ll be really great fun to see. Is everyone vegan on the ship, or just some people?
Laura Dakin: Well it’s certainly not required at all. We have a lot of crew members that aren’t vegan, which is awesome. They come onboard and they are all really good sports and give it a go. All the food that served onboard is vegan, all the communal food. The crew know that when they come onboard, so they’re all prepared to give it a go and a lot of people have been reading about nutrition and they realize that you can get a fully balanced nutritious diet on vegan food. You certainly don’t miss out on anything. We eat tons of protein and we get plenty of iron. Just a matter of working out where it is. So usually people feel pretty cool when they come onboard and they all eat vegan while they’re onboard. Pretty much I’d say almost a hundred percent of the crew leave saying that they’re definitely going to change their diets because their eyes kind of open up to how diverse and easy and yummy and you try foods that you’d never normally eat. We eat these crazy combinations every day of different things. So that’s really inspiring.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I really appreciate it because there are many environmental groups that have different campaigns and missions to save one thing or another and they’re not vegetarian or vegan and yet the connection is so blatant and there just seems to be a level of hypocrisy.
Laura Dakin: Yeah. I think it seems to be one of the things that people have just had a hard time connecting, and that’s enough. Because even deforestation, a lot of forest is wiped out to create grazing land for cattle. It’s definitely a massive part of being environmentalist is not contributing to factory farming and mass production of any kind of food, particularly animal food. And also with us a lot of seafood and fishing byproducts is fed to cattle. So vegetarian animals, cows and pigs, are being fed seafood. That just seems totally hypocritical to be eating cows and trying to save whales and kind of just canceling out the good that you’re doing in a way.
Caryn Hartglass: I wanted to… What did I… It just came in and just came out. Let’s see. So how did you, before you got on the ship… Oh, I have another question. I remember reading something about the United States government in their dealings with the Japanese about whaling and how the Japanese would come back and say, “We don’t have to listen to you. You have factory farms and you’re doing all of this slaughter of animals so who are you to talk?” and it’s somewhat hypocritical. And I agree. That’s another difficult line, when people are a single issue and they don’t see the whole picture.
Laura Dakin: Yeah, definitely. It’s a big problem. But I mean, I don’t think it cancels out. I think just because someone else is doing something bad certainly doesn’t give anyone else the right to continue doing their bad thing.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh of course not. But they use it.
Laura Dakin: But yeah you’re right. It is hypocritical. It’s hard for countries to point fingers at other countries when basically we’re all bad. Australia has a massive kangaroo slaughter, slaughtered over a million kangaroos brutally every year. Every country has their dirty secrets. I think the reason why we focus on whales is just because it is an easy one for people to wrap their heads around and it seems that people take the consumption of animal flesh really personally and get quite defensive about it. So it’s not as easy to approach because people instantly put up a barrier or blockade ‘cause it’s something they’re contributing to. But when you can step aside and say, “Well Australia’s killing kangaroos and Japan’s killing whales, how horrible.” They’re not to blame so much, you know what I mean?
Caryn Hartglass: So how did you get started? Why did you become a vegan?
Laura Dakin: I think… I can’t even really put my finger on it, but I didn’t even go vegetarian. I just went from, I think I said I’m going to be vegan this week and I’ll let myself eat whatever I want on Sundays, and when Sunday came around I was like, “Oh no.” In that week I’ve been reading up on different things and found all these links on this and that and then I went down to the, I was like trying to find where the slaughterhouse was on the island of Bermuda and I was like, “I need to know exactly what’s going on.” And then I felt I’ve been lied to. So yeah, it just kind of happened. It was just kind of a natural… I don’t even know what… I think what triggered initially, I’d gone into a health food store and I’d seen a book on healthy living which is called vegan pretty much for the most part by default. So I started reading up about it on that level and then of course once I started really looking into recipes and there became links to different environmental reasons and health reasons and ethical reasons as to why it’s good and I just definitely got taken. Made sense.
Caryn Hartglass: So I’m talking with Laura Dakin. She is the chef on the Steve Irwin, which is a ship doing some campaigns for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. You can go to their website at seashepherd.org, and that’s spelled s-e-a-s-h-e-p-h-e-r-d.org. Lots of great information up there. Now you’re docked right now in Manhattan at the Chelsea Piers. What’re some of the events that’re going on?
Laura Dakin: We have an event tomorrow night, actually, off the subject of the Sea Shepherd. This awesome couple of people in New York City have started an animal hospital in Galapagos. That’s a Sea Shepherd campaign; we’re doing Galapagos, protecting the waters around there. They were there and just saw the dire condition that animals were in so they started an animal hospital. So me and a few others have been baking away and we’re having a bake sale tomorrow night to raise funds for the animal hospital. Tons of vegan treats and cakes and cookies and savory stuff, and I think people will be quite surprised at how yummy everything looks, hopefully. That is at the Angels & Kings bar. It’s 500 East 11th Street, between Avenue A and B. The event’s from 7 ‘til 9 and there’s lot of pretty reasonably priced drinks and lots of rad people and a lot of the Sea Shepherd crew will be there if people want to meet them.
Caryn Hartglass: Great.
Laura Dakin: And then we have basically the position of our boat is Pier 59, Chelsea Piers. It’s kind of behind the golf driving range. We’re inviting people to come down to the boat. We’re only here for two more days. We’re inviting people to come to the boat, have a tour of the ship, meet some of the crew, and we’re desperately looking for donations of vegan food and produce and stuff like that so we can do our next campaign because we pretty much rely solely on donations. So if anyone has cans or margarine—Earth Balance—sitting around or even a pumpkin or a sack of potatoes, we desperately need that kind of thing.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, great.
Laura Dakin: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: So that’s down at the Chelsea Piers down in Manhattan.
Laura Dakin: Yeah. Yup. And also on the website there is a Sea Shepherd event on Friday night and all the information is on the website, www.seashepherd.org.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I love the idea of having vegan bake sales as a fundraiser where you’re making all of this wonderful, yummy, delicious stuff for something really unfortunate that’s going on because it’s a real positive way to make a difference. With yummy, delicious, great vegan baked goods.
Laura Dakin: Yup, exactly. It’s really cool.
Caryn Hartglass: Have your cake and eat it too and help something unfortunate.
Laura Dakin: Help the animals.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
Laura Dakin: It’s good too, like when there’s so many massive organizations out there it’s hard to know who to support. But these are really great two kids who’ve just put their whole souls into it, so it’s really rad. It’s totally for a good cause.
Caryn Hartglass: I was reading an article about Bryan Adams. Do you know Bryan Adams, the Canadian rock star?
Laura Dakin: No.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I was just reading an article. I just thought about you guys because he’s vegan and he’s a big whale activist where he’s doing work to ask whaling countries to save the whales.
Laura Dakin: Oh rad, Bryan Adams. Cool.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. So I just wondered. Thought it’d kind of fit in with the story here.
Laura Dakin: Yeah, I don’t know. I’m a bit behind the times, I think…
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Well no, you are the times. You’re news, you’re making it happen.
Laura Dakin: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: We all have a responsibility to make a difference, and we all can make a positive difference. The easiest thing that we can do is something three times a day with what we eat, which can make a tremendous difference for the environment and our health and the animals. But you’re going the extra mile. I mean, you’re really getting your hands dirty and you’ve been doing it for five years and very courageous, very brave and thank you.
Laura Dakin: Thank you. Thank you. Yeah, I just think everyone’s got to be kind of upset about something enough. Even if it’s a community project or something that’s at school or something in the workplace that you’re not happy with. You can’t expect to change the world if you don’t change yourself. And you’re right, by choosing every dollar is a vote. By choosing to eat as ethically as possible and also buying organic and local produce too, because transport and chemicals sprayed on non-organic crops is also very harmful to animals too and to your body.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Gosh the list is long, isn’t it?
Laura Dakin: Yeah. And organic food just tastes so much yummier.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely. It has flavor. I was at an event at noon today by my friend Linda Long, who has a cookbook called Great Chefs Cook Vegan and she invited all these different non-vegetarian chefs to prepare a vegan thing in her cookbook. She had an event today and one of the chefs she had talked to had said, “Good soil makes good soup” and the way I connected that is organic. When you nourish the soil and feed it with nutrients, the food, the plants that you’re going to get is ultimately going to taste good.
Laura Dakin: It’s true though. It’s crazy. Like, it sounds a bit weird but it’s not. It does, like it really does make a difference. You just feel better, you know?
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Okay. So do you have anything else you want to add?
Laura Dakin: No, not really. Just encourage everyone to check out the Whale Wars website if they want to watch Whale Wars and see what it’s like on the boat. And to come down and visit the boat. We’ve only got two days. Even though it’s cold, it’s warm inside.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Laura Dakin: Yeah, no worries.
Caryn Hartglass: I know you’ve been really busy, and I really appreciate talking to you and I’m going to try and come down to the ship.
Laura Dakin: Cool. Well thank you very much for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Thank you.
Laura Dakin: Cool. All right, bye-bye.
Caryn Hartglass: Bye. Well that was Laura Dakin, the head chef at the Sea Shepherd’s Steve Irwin that’s parked right now down at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan and they’re doing some wonderful work to save the whales. I think we’ll take a short break and we’ll be right back.
TRANSCRIPTION PART II:
Caryn Hartglass: Hi. Okay, we’re back. You’re listening to It’s All About Food. I’m your host, Caryn Hartglass, and we talk about everything related to food. Because everything is related to food. This is a live call-in show. If you have comments and questions you can call in at 1-888-873-4643 or send me an email now or at any time during the week at firstname.lastname@example.org. Love to hear from you, like to know what you’re thinking. And that’s that. email@example.com. Okay, so that was a pretty heavy first half hour when we were talking about the Sea Shepherd. Now we’re going to lighten things up a bit and talk about my favorite subject, which is food. But the lighter side of food. I’ve got Alan Roettinger as a guest, and he’s got a brand-new cookbook out called Speed Vegan. He’s been a private chef for over twenty-eight years serving a broad spectrum of high-profile clients from entertainers to presidents. A world traveler, he absorbed elements from many cuisine to synthesize a unique, creative, personal style. Alan’s first cookbook, Omega-3 Cuisine, showcases his ability to bring health and flavor together, offering a wide range of dishes that are simultaneously exotic and accessible to the home cook. In Speed Vegan, Alan has kept flavor and health, but expanded these parameters to include quick, easy, and strictly plant-based. For more information he has a website, alanroettinger.com. I’ll spell that: a-l-a-n-r-o-e-t-t-i-n-g-e-r.com. Alan, welcome to the show.
Alan Roettinger: Hi, Caryn.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi. So you’re out there in Boulder.
Alan Roettinger: Nice, beautiful weather. I’m on a shady street. Hope you don’t have any background noise.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. No, it sounds good so far. So thanks for joining me. I just got your cookbook, so I haven’t had a chance to make anything in it but I have been thumbing through it. It’s really beautiful.
Alan Roettinger: Thanks.
Caryn Hartglass: Just like your bio says, I find there’s a lot of really creative things in here. I’ve looked at a lot of vegan cookbooks and fortunately there are so many out today and we need more of them. Often times they are not that innovative—at least not to me, who’s been cooking vegan for over two decades. But there is some interesting things in here that I have not seen and I can’t wait to try them.
Alan Roettinger: Well I’m glad to hear it.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. It sounds like, just from the little I’ve been reading in here, you’re a bit of a comedian. Is that true?
Alan Roettinger: Comedian?
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, there’s a little sense of humor in this book.
Alan Roettinger: Well I think a sense of humor is important, isn’t it? It gets you through the tough spots, and there are plenty in cooking.
Caryn Hartglass: So I want to talk about the first little bit of humor in here that I saw, which is the news flash where you talk about how you were an omnivore when you started this book and then you began a strict vegan diet.
Alan Roettinger: Well actually I consider myself an omnivore because I can eat anything I want, and I think that’s important. Well I think it’s important because if you box yourself and you say, “I’m a vegan,” that’s fine for you and everyone inside that box. But it shuts everyone else out. I’m not evangelical at all; I think everyone should make their own decisions like I have. But for those people who feel strongly that a vegan diet would be better for the planet and everyone in general, I think it behooves everyone that would like other people to join them if they don’t put themselves in a box. Say, “No, I’m an omnivore, and I’m making specific choices in my life.” ‘Cause that opens the door to, well what choices are they and why?
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I like that.
Alan Roettinger: Whereas if you say, “I’m a vegan,” the people that aren’t, they can shut you off and say, “That person is weird. They’re a vegan. I don’t have anything to do with that.” And then they don’t have to think about it. But if you put yourself on the same side of the fence with them and you say, “Well I’m doing this differently now,” it kind of leads to the question, “Well, why? How do you feel about it? What is the result? Do you feel any different?” All these questions come which wouldn’t come if you had shut yourself off. That’s the way I feel about it, anyway.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh no, I agree with you.
Alan Roettinger: I’m an omnivore, but I’m choosing.
Caryn Hartglass: I do prefer saying that I eat a vegan diet than saying I am a vegan.
Alan Roettinger: There you go.
Caryn Hartglass: The labeling is very subtle, but it makes a difference and I often say, especially to children when I talk to them about what I eat—they ask a lot of questions and they get concerned. I always like to say that… They’ll say to me, “So you can’t eat this?” or “You can’t eat that?” And I say, “I can eat anything I want. I choose to eat this.” And I think that’s important.
Alan Roettinger: I think it is too. Because you’re actually choosing for your palate and you’re choosing for your health. And the more you read, the more concerned you are, you’re choosing for other reasons too. But when it starts out, it starts out like, what do I like? What do I want? And then what agrees with me? And then what agrees with me in the long-term? And then what agrees with me in terms of my environment and other people and economics and the environment and everything? Eventually it encompasses a lot, but it starts with your own tongue. Palate.
Caryn Hartglass: Now what motivated or inspired you to make this book?
Alan Roettinger: To make this book, well my publisher asked me to do this. I originally—Omega-3 Cuisine was a vegetarian book. I was an active omnivore when I made that book. I had actually gone for encyclopedic, it was about three times the size. It included eating fish and everything. He said, “Look, we’re a vegetarian outfit and so you’re going to…” I said, “You know what you’re doing,” so I just cut out everything that was non-vegetarian and we made this book and I’m very happy with it. So I asked for another project and he said, “Okay we’ll get back to you” and they said, “Okay, how about Vegan Quick?” And I said, “Fine.” “Recipes thirty minutes or less.” I said, “Fine, let’s call it Speed Vegan.” He liked that. So I started cooking whatever I could do in thirty minutes, which was unusual for me because I never really measured the time. If I knew I was starting a long project I would start early; I wouldn’t try to cram it, I wouldn’t cut corners necessarily. I would never cut corners that would interfere with the quality of the product. It had to be good. So it took me a while because a lot of things that you dream up don’t cook that fast. I took out a lot of things like brown rice, which is kind of a staple, because that takes too long. So I eventually came up with a good collection of recipes that can be done quickly. The way I measured it was if I can dream it up, start making it, write it down, and get it done in thirty minutes, the average home cook could probably follow the recipe and get it done in thirty minutes.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s great.
Alan Roettinger: So in the process of doing it I thought, “Well why don’t I just try this diet and see how it goes?” Making sure I get all my amino acids and everything, ‘cause I’m semi-athletic and I like to be active. And I tell you, I feel great. I’m a martial artist and last night I was in the dojo and they were saying, “Did you have some coffee or what?” and I said, “No, actually I don’t drink coffee at all anymore.” They go, “What?” I’m 57 and I was competing with twenty-somethings and that made me feel really good.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I love to hear that. And I hear it so often and it’s just amazing. People think you’re a little nutty sometimes because you’re jumping off the walls and you’re feeling great and you’re looking great and you have all this energy. And you just say, “It’s from what I’m eating and what I’m not eating.” And it’s really hard for a lot of people to fathom.
Alan Roettinger: Well especially… The guy that was there said, “Well no, you’re never going to talk me out of having my steak.” And I said, “Look, I’m not here to talk you out of anything.” But I’m jumping around and you’re standing on the sidelines, so, you know. You eat what you want. I don’t want to interfere with that.
Caryn Hartglass: But you just brought up a good point and I don’t know that it was intentional. But just by saying what you eat all of a sudden puts everyone else on the defensive and it’s not even your intention. But all of a sudden they feel like they have to defend themselves.
Alan Roettinger: Well that’s a good thing. Because so far it’s been the other way around. I think it was Jonathan Safran Foer in his book said, “We should actually be the ones who don’t have to apologize for what we eat.” Instead of saying, “I’m sorry, I can’t eat that; I’m a vegetarian” or “I’m sorry, I’m a vegan,” they should be saying, “I’m sorry, I eat meat. Is there anything else we can get you?”
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, it’s funny when people say, “Oh I’m so sorry you can’t eat this.” I’m not sorry.
Alan Roettinger: Yeah I had my sister say to me, “But isn’t it so limited?” I said, “Well, let’s count the number of forms of meat that you’ve had, okay?” We got to her ten fingers and I said, “Now let’s count the number of variations of lettuce that you’ve had.” And we’re onto her toes and she was still going.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Alan Roettinger: So I say, “Okay. So what’s limited?”
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. Count the number of different kinds of potatoes.
Alan Roettinger: And that’s just lettuce. We’re not even getting into the other things.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. Oh! Speaking of that, okay, I never heard of green garbanzos.
Alan Roettinger: Well there’s a reason for that. They’re a fresh item. And there’s an outfit in Idaho, I think it’s called Edge, Clearwater Edge or something like that. They’ve been growing green garbanzo… They’re grown all over India; they have them. There’re green garbanzos, they’ve purple garbanzos and everything else. We only usually get the blonde ones, which are Middle Eastern. But the green garbanzo when it’s fresh is very tasty. It’s like a green pea, but it’s very tender and all it needs is a blanching and it’s basically raw when you eat it and it’s delicious. It’s higher in protein and all the minerals and all that than the dry variety. It’s fabulous food. Unfortunately it’s hard to get right now but I think they’re getting the distribution down. It’ll be available in health food stores eventually.
Caryn Hartglass: Well here’s the problem with our current food system—and there are many, many problems—but one of them is most of our food comes from giant agribusinesses and they’ve put out of business and continue to put out of business a lot of small family farms. What they do is they monocrop and they grow lots and lots and lots and lots of one kind of something. One kind of potato. One kind of bean. One kind of whatever. So this huge variety of food all over the planet is slowly diminishing.
Alan Roettinger: That’s why it’s nice to go to a place like India or Thailand where they have tons of varieties of everything because they’re grown on small farms.
Caryn Hartglass: And I’ve heard so many sad stories, and I hope this is turning around when we see all these heirloom varieties of different kinds of food coming out, but I had heard about all of these rice seeds for so many different varieties that were being saved in Mexico and some of them got contaminated with genetically modified—or maybe it was corn—
Alan Roettinger: Corn.
Caryn Hartglass: —with these genetically modified varieties. It’s really, really sad. But I’m hearing more about different beans that are becoming available—heirloom varieties of beans—which is very exciting.
Alan Roettinger: Well you know, it’s an interesting thing about this country. When I came here—I grew up in Mexico and I came to the United States when I was 22 or something like that—I was shocked. You couldn’t get a decent cup of coffee. It was all the same kind of watery… You couldn’t get a cappuccino. There was no Starbucks, anything like that. If you think it’s limited now, it was really limited then because people didn’t even know anything beyond iceberg lettuce. It was really hard to get variety, and I grew up with massive diversity. Now, because of the travel that the baby boomers have done and because the world has shrunk for us—we’re much more in communication with other countries—we’re actually exploring more, and I think that’s going to lead to a demand for more variety, not less. And I think that the agribusiness is going to have to either accommodate that or it’s going to get crowded out by small farms, and I think small farms should definitely win. Definitely.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh gosh. It would help for so many reasons because we would have a lot more variety. And certainly we have to go more towards locally grown as shipping and transportation become more and more expensive.
Alan Roettinger: That’s another thing, yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Well let’s get back to your book.
Alan Roettinger: Okay.
Caryn Hartglass: So one of the things I find about cooking fast is that it really helps if you are prepared and organized so that you have what you need ahead of time so when the time comes you can throw something together in a half hour.
Alan Roettinger: That’s right.
Caryn Hartglass: You talk a little bit about stocking the pantry, which is really important and a lot of important things to consider. I recommend getting the book and reading the beginning of it. It’s so important to organize because… I’m going to say two different things here. I have been able to make lots of wonderful one-pot dishes in a hotel room. Or also in a hotel with just a microwave or some really efficiency kind of kitchen. That is possible. But it’s so much easier if you have the right pots and pans. You don’t have to be outrageous and get all kinds of expensive things, but you do have to have some of the basics. Then to have a pantry of interesting spices and vinegars and dried foods, grains and beans and things. That makes food preparation, when it’s time to make the food, fast.
Alan Roettinger: It only helps if you’re organized. Yep. You don’t have to go hunting for things. It also helps you begin to get an understanding of what different herbs and spices taste like and what’s available. Some of the things in the book, like Ras el hanout—which most people have never even heard of—a fabulous spice mixture. You can do a lot of things with it. It doesn’t have to be Arabic, it doesn’t have to be Moroccan. It can just be something you just put a pinch of it in and it throws it in a different direction and it makes it unusual. And then your food is interesting. Then your palette goes, “Mm. Ah. Nice!” Yeah. That’s important, that’s really important. A lot of people don’t understand this, but it’s important for your health that your food taste good to you. Because your body will open up. Even just the smell of it cooking can be intoxicating, and then you start salivating and all the juices start flowing so when the food finally goes in, your body is ready. I used to say this to everyone and I’ve been saying this for years, and now there’s a study. They did it with a Thai lady and a Swedish lady. They tested their blood and then they fed them both really spicy, really exotic Thai food. The Thai lady loved it, the Swedish lady hated it. Then they tested their blood and the Thai lady got more nutrition from the same exact food in the same exact quantity than the Swedish lady. So then they reversed it and they gave them both Swedish food on a different occasion and the opposite happened. The Swedish lady got more from the food that she liked than the Thai lady got. Then they said, “Well, hm.” So they gave the Thai lady the same kind of food that she loves but instead of beautifully presented, all blended up into a disgusting slop. Same quantity, same exact ingredients, same exact preparation, and she got even less from that than she got from the Swedish food. So I rest my case.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, very interesting. Now some would say it’s anecdotal because you didn’t have a large pool of people being tested. But I believe in what you’re saying.
Alan Roettinger: Get a pool! Get a pool; try it!
Caryn Hartglass: Get a pool, we’ll all jump in.
Alan Roettinger: You know what, I will not even eat as much quantity if it doesn’t taste good to me. In fact if it doesn’t pass the taste test, I don’t have to eat it. I’m not going to die if I don’t eat today. I’m not going to eat it if it doesn’t taste good to me.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh you’re bringing up so many things that I’m loving. I’ll see how many I can remember. I was at an event I was talking about earlier today and somebody was telling me about an event she was at where there were meat-eaters and chefs and this one overweight chef was talking when she ate some vegan thing that was offered, I think a collard roll or something—it was raw vegan, actually. As she was eating it and liking it, she said, “Diet food needs to be chewed.” It was just kind of an interesting concept and I don’t necessarily agree with it.
Alan Roettinger: Diet food needs to be chewed. I like that.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Oh, this must be diet food because you have to chew it. I mean, does that mean all the food the standard American diet of processed foods and meats and things you can just vacuum down, I don’t know. But it is very important to chew your food. It’s important, just as you said, to like the food, to want to eat it, to salivate. Get those digestive juices going. Chew the food, enjoy it while you’re chewing it.
Alan Roettinger: Experience it. Enjoy it.
Caryn Hartglass: And you’re going to get so much more out of it.
Alan Roettinger: Absolutely. Not to mention that you’re going to have more fun.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right.
Alan Roettinger: People talk about it’s so limited and it’s boring and you don’t get to have the meat. Well what difference does it make if you’re wolfing it down in a car going down the freeway? Out of a paper bag.
Caryn Hartglass: And you don’t even realize what you’re eating. Yeah.
Alan Roettinger: Well there’s still bad stuff in there. I don’t know if you’ve read this book called The End of Overeating?
Caryn Hartglass: No.
Alan Roettinger: It’s written by a former FDA, the head of the FDA, what’s his name, David Kessler I think? He talks about what they do to the food to make it palatable for people so that they’ll eat more of it. Manipulating fats, salts, and sugar. One of the things they do is they puncture it many times with these needles and inject it with salt and water, which is basically predigesting the chicken or whatever it is so that you don’t basically have to chew it. It is soft.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Alan Roettinger: So you could eat it faster and you can eat more of it. So I think if you have to chew your food, that’s a good sign.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely. Yeah. I felt that was really funny, what she said.
Alan Roettinger: Diet food. What’s diet food anyway?
Caryn Hartglass: Exactly.
Alan Roettinger: You know what the purpose of life is, right?
Caryn Hartglass: Eat to live. No, what is it? Live to eat.
Alan Roettinger: Joy!
Caryn Hartglass: Joy! Oh that’s right. Oh, I was supposed to—
Alan Roettinger: I mean, everything you do, you do to get some joy. Whether it’s having kids or finding a mate or getting a good job or what it is. So you can have some joy. Why would food be any different? The reason diets don’t work is cos there’s no joy.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. I saw that as one of your questions that you wanted me to ask, the purpose and meaning of life.
Alan Roettinger: Well there you go.
Caryn Hartglass: I was kind of chuckling when I saw that because I thought, “Oh is this a joke question?” but actually you’re right.
Alan Roettinger: No it’s not, it’s very serious.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s to experience joy.
Alan Roettinger: I think people that don’t stop and think about it are missing the point. I mean, one of the most important things is to understand where you’re going and what it is that you want. Because if you don’t, you may actually get it and not recognize it and go on to something else and never come back to it. If you understand what it is you want out of this life, that’s the purpose. And when you get it, there’s the meaning. When you get that joy, you feel it. There’s no question. You’re satisfied, and that’s the whole point.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. That’s right.
Alan Roettinger: I think food needs to be part of that. That’s why food should taste good, because there’s joy when you eat it. And if there’s no joy, it’s not good for you. Doesn’t matter how many vitamins, minerals, whatever else is in there. If you’re not enjoying it, you’re not getting it.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I think a lot of times portions are tremendously large and people keep eating them because it isn’t satisfying. The food really isn’t good, it doesn’t have nutrition, the brain wants more food, and you end up getting fat but not satisfied.
Alan Roettinger: Yeah, but they’re also manipulating your taste buds. There’s an autonomic response to fat, salt, and sugar in the right proportions that makes you—
Caryn Hartglass: Eat more.
Alan Roettinger: You know that saying, “betcha can’t eat [just] one?” That’s a real bet, because they put stuff in there to make sure you can’t eat just one. It’s scary. It’s actually scary.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Well I have also read that aspartame, the artificial sweetener that’s in a lot of diet drinks, has an appetite enhancer to it.
Alan Roettinger: Yup. And it’s something that causes stuff.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. And on and on. Okay so back to your book Speed Vegan. One of the first chapters is jumpstarts. What I like about it is you’ve got a number of different recipes for sauces or dressings—mayonnaise, purees—things that you can make in advance that will last for a while that you can ultimately use quickly when you’re ready for them. This is so much better than buying so many of these prepared things in the stores that have some questionable ingredients in them. There’s just some wonderful things in here like, well of course the roasted garlic. I am a big fan of making roasted garlic puree, and you have a recipe here. It’s very simple and very wonderful.
Alan Roettinger: Thank you. And thank you for always coming back to the book, by the way.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, well. It’s all about food for me and I’m hungry right now. I love looking at all of this stuff. Here in Manhattan we have a lot of Indian restaurants and Indian stores, and there’s a number of places that have a lot of spices in bulk. They’re just wonderful. I love the chipotle peppers, and there’s just an endless variety of curry powders. Just different mixes, so many. Instead of the little jar that you get in the supermarket, I mean there’s just so many different potions of curry alone. So you buy a few of those and you just sprinkle them like you said, and wow. Doesn’t take much.
Alan Roettinger: It really doesn’t. In fact the more you dabble in the kitchen, the more you’ll suddenly realize that you can make infinite varieties of things. I’ve actually cooked for people. Wealthy people like to be surprised and some of them will tell you what they want and you’ll have to make exactly that, but the adventurous ones will just say, “Surprise me.” I worked for one gentleman when I was living in California. He lived in Malibu. His doctor told him, “Look, if you don’t cut out the meat products and the dairy products, you’re going to die” because his cholesterol was like 400-something. They were giving him Lipitor and everything else and it was still not contained. He came home and he was totally depressed because he liked to go out and shoot things and bring them in. I said, “Look, just trust me. I will make you really, really interesting food. You will not feel deprived.” He said, “I don’t believe you.” I said, “Well just trust me. Are you going to commit to cutting out the animal products or not?” He said, “No I have to.” So okay. Done. Now I will cook. And I cooked for him for another, I think it was six months after that, never ate the same thing twice, never had any animal products. No dairy, no meat, no nothing. And he was thrilled. So it’s obviously possible for a person. When you’ve resigned yourself, okay I’m going to change my diet. I’m going to eat only this. It doesn’t limit you. The only thing limiting you is your ability to accept something new. You can accept something new, you can have something different every day. Some nuance, some variations, some totally different thing. The world is full of incredible things to eat.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I love to cook and I’m great in the kitchen. I’m sure a lot of people are thinking, “Yeah, well if I had my own chef to prepare me something different every day then I could do it.”
Alan Roettinger: Oh, I can’t afford me. Yourself?
Caryn Hartglass: I mean, that’s why some of these cookbooks that are out, including yours, are so great to have, because I really encourage people to get back into the kitchen as often as they can. It’s so important to make healthy food, and you can make delicious things.
Alan Roettinger: It’s enjoyable! You can actually enjoy doing it. It’s fun.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I think it’s enjoyable, but some people I think it’s not in their DNA.
Alan Roettinger: I disagree.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay.
Alan Roettinger: Cooking is the most ancient activity of civilized man. Making weapons I’m not counting. But when they started making clay pots, why did they make clay pots? Cos they wanted to combine different things to make food taste good. That’s before they even started cooking. They were trying to say, “Well what if we take this chokecherry and we mash it up and we get some of that sweet thing over there and we mix it together, we put this with that, how would that look? Ooh.” Instead of just eating buffalo tongue, why don’t we have some plants with it? This has been going on as long as there’s been human beings who actually stop and think about what they’re doing. There’s no reason why we can’t, in this modern age, with all these conveniences that make it quick and easy, we can’t do the same. You don’t necessarily have to go out and hunt. You can just go to the store and buy it, and then it’s very easy. And it’s fun.
Caryn Hartglass: I totally agree with you.
Alan Roettinger: As soon as you start doing it, it’s addicting because you suddenly, it opens up a world—like any art. When you start practicing it, it flourishes. And then you start going, “Wow, this is incredible.” Everyone I’ve talked to who’s ever started cooking has really loved it.
Caryn Hartglass: We have about a minute left and I just wanted to mention a few recipes in here that I found very different that I’m looking forward to making, like your Pimento Soup with Vermouth.
Alan Roettinger: It’s the vermouth that does it.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it sounds really good. Well, cooking with vermouth is somewhat like cooking with wine, and that always really enhances food. I like sometimes to cook with wine or cook with tea, and that’s a great way to get some nice flavors in the food. And then you have a Glass Noodle Salad. I love that because I’m a fan of glass noodles and I’ve never made a salad of the glass noodles and so I’m looking forward to trying that.
Alan Roettinger: That’s about the only pasta salad I really liked.
Caryn Hartglass: Glass noodles are made from—
Alan Roettinger: I always like pasta hot, you know?
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Glass noodles are made from mung bean. They’re pretty easy to find, certainly in health food stores and Asian food stores, some supermarkets have them. They’re really easy to make. They cook, I mean you just have to put them in hot water and they get soft really fast.
Alan Roettinger: In seconds, yeah. You basically reconstitute them, yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: So before we go, do you have a favorite recipe?
Alan Roettinger: Do you have a favorite day? Do you have a favorite leaf?
Caryn Hartglass: Good answer.
Alan Roettinger: No, I mean it’s… They’re all good, otherwise they wouldn’t be in there.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right.
Alan Roettinger: I did some things that weren’t good and I didn’t put them in there.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s just so many good ones in here, I’m just thumbing through. I put all these yellow sticky papers in the book and the whole book is yellow.
Alan Roettinger: Nice. Really good.
Caryn Hartglass: Anyway, thank you so much. Alan Roettinger, the author of Speed Vegan.
Alan Roettinger: Thank you for inviting me.
Caryn Hartglass: Thanks for coming on today. We’ll be in touch. I can’t wait to try out some of these recipes.
Alan Roettinger: Well let me know how it goes.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Thanks for joining me. You’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. I’m your host, Caryn Hartglass, and join me again next week. Thanks for listening.
Transcribed by JC, November 28, 2016