Wednesday, July 13, 2016
10 Questions: Vegan Foodie with Jocelyn Graef of Fast Easy Vegan
One of the great things about being a vegan today is that there are so many delicious, animal-free replacements for the foods we once ate and loved. With vegan cheeses and eggs, ice creams and candy bars, creamy salad dressings and even bacon-flavored potato chips, it is easy today to be vegan without saying goodbye to any of our old favorites and maintain our commitment to an animal product-free diet. As someone who has been vegan for more than 20 years, I can tell you that opportunities to indulge just like our omnivorous counterparts are at a level I never could have predicted when I began on this path. It is a boon for the animals when people discover that they don’t have to eat or harm them to enjoy corn dogs and cheesecake but, yeah, not so great for our waistlines. Highly seasoned, rich, crunchy and creamy foods are not off limits to vegans anymore and it means that “slim” and “vegan” are no longer synonymous.
Enter Jocelyn Graef.
Jocelyn is the down-to-earth powerhouse behind the highly accessible Fast Easy Vegan meal plan and service. For just $1.99 a week, FEV sends subscribers different weekly dinner recipes that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less and emphasize the most nutrient-dense ingredients without sacrificing taste, convenience or enjoyment. Best, subscribers will learn lifelong skills and techniques for preparing healthy vegan foods with ease and an eye toward thriftiness. The recipes you will get as a FEV subscriber (find some sample recipes here) or in Jocelyn’s helpful cookbook, The LowFat Herbivore, are simple and uncomplicated, relying on the flavors of whole, nutritious ingredients to help transform your taste buds to crave more delicious plant-centered foods. With a re-booted website (Jocelyn is a Vegan Street Media client) and a passion for creating a kinder, healthier world, Fast Easy Vegan is poised to create positive change in countless lives. Please like her on Facebook and help to spread the word about Fast Easy Vegan. Healthy living doesn’t need to compromise flavor, convenience or our values. We are honored and excited to showcase Jocelyn Graef of Fast Easy Vegan as this week’s Vegan Foodie.
1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?
As a child, my Mom encouraged exploration and learning of all kinds and cooking was definitely a part of that. I was encouraged to be independent and self-reliant in all ways. My father was German and his mother lived with us in my younger years, so I was also exposed to different foods than my friends. I was raised with lots of wonderful dense, whole grain breads and vegetables and salad were a part of every dinner. They still are.
2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?
I was raised by a Mom who was nutritionally conscious. In all the wrong ways, as it turns out, as she was a victim of the trends of the day – lots and lots of protein. Lots. As a result, my brother and I were often sick. I didn’t put the food pieces together until I was a teenager and everything changed for me when I took control of my diet and became a vegan, then explored vegetarianism and cleansing diets and raw food and, and, and. The health connection was always the key for me. I didn’t grow up with junk food or processed foods (thanks, Mom) so I never developed a taste for them, and everything we made in the kitchen was made from scratch. Dropping the meat and dairy was an easy transition for me. Same real food, sans animal products.
3. What is the best vegan meal you've ever had? Give us all the details!
That is such a difficult question to answer! There are several, and all for different reasons. One was a meal at Dirt Candy in NYC. It was the first high-end vegan meal I’d had in a restaurant. The owner/chef was filling water glasses as well as cooking and serving in this tiny, tiny place down some stairs in a room with just a few tables and two people working. She had created a theme for the night around beans. Every course had a bean dish. Black beans, green beans, kidney beans. It was fun, interesting and inventive. Not all the dishes worked, which I also appreciated because it showed that she wasn’t afraid to get out there with her ideas. It was a memorable meal. Many years later, I’m still thinking about it.
Another memorable dining experience was at a place called Aska in Brooklyn. At the time it was a pop-up and my son (a true foodie and erstwhile chef) and his wife (also a foodie) and I had to check it out. Not a vegan place, they rose to the challenge of spontaneously making a vegan version of every course just for me. Talk about cooking chops! I was absolutely blown away at the level of taste they achieved from a spontaneous effort without having a knowledge of vegan cooking. Their effort and creativity was marvelous.
Finally we come to Millennium. Close to home here in the Bay Area of California where my husband and I live, we go to Millennium in Oakland for the most special occasions. A topflight true vegan restaurant, I have never had anything less than a stellar meal there. There are too many too recount. In fact, we are looking forward to dining there in a few days where a guest chef is presenting a 5 course Latin American meal. Now how could we miss that?! Sometimes the food itself is the very special occasion.
4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?
I think the one person I would like to cook a meal for would be my grandfather. Raised on a farm, he became a “people’s” artist who loved sketching and painting people as they went about their daily lives. He frequently contributed to a political German magazine – and was executed for it by the Nazi’s. I never had the pleasure of knowing him. I would like to honor him for elevating the value of working people everywhere through his art, as well as to share with him the bounty and the beauty of “peasant food”: The foods that are the most abundant, the cheapest and the healthiest. It would be a simple, hearty meal, reflecting the favorite tastes of Germany: A mushroom mixture of wild mushrooms, thickly sliced and sautéed, simmered in a brown gravy and spooned over a dish of spaetzle. Accompanying this would be a robust portion of bright green asparagus with a citrusy piccata sauce drizzled over. An accompanying salad would be served on the side, filled with fresh vegetables and a variety of baby lettuces and dressed in a light vinaigrette. A crisp and light white wine, German of course, would accompany the meal. The blissful ending would have to be some sort of torte; the flavors of raspberry and chocolate with a thin layer of marzipan, and a sweet dessert port to finish. Add some good conversation and it would be a night to remember! I only hope he’d want seconds.
5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?
This is an easy one: fake meats!! I have never understood why people who stop eating animals spend so much time trying to replicate the taste and texture of flesh. It isn’t pretty, dead animals aren’t cute and plants don’t taste like animals. Stop with the trying! It will never happen and that’s a good thing. Cheese is a close second, being, in the hilarious words of Dr. Neal Barnard, “70% grease, which is one step away from Vaseline.” He was actually talking about dairy cheese, but vegan cheese qualifies, too. Eat whole foods. If you’re trying to win over the carnivores, don’t try to compete. It doesn’t work. Prove to them how delicious the differences are instead.
6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment?
Right now, in July, I am a fiend for fresh fruit. I don’t do anything but wash it, peel it and cut it up into fruit salad. There is nothing better. A few different ripe melons, chunks of nectarine and ripe peach with a sprinkling of blueberries. And a fork. Sometimes, unadulterated Nature cannot be improved upon.
7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?
Mexican, Middle Eastern and Italian. In that order.
8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.
Since I connected with food as medicine as a teenager, I have always believed intuitively and logically that veganism is the best diet for humans. That said, I never made a long-term commitment to it until the end of 2003. Shortly thereafter, The China Study came out and the science proved it all. Between that book and Dr. John McDougall’s website I have found all the answers, and more, to all my questions. I have researched everybody else in the vegan world, to the point of overwhelm, but I keep coming back to Dr. McDougall and The China Study as my foundation. The McDougall website is the deepest and most information-generous on the web. He and his wife, Mary, run many group events and live-in trainings as well as offering free webinars for those who can’t afford to attend in person.
9. What issue is nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like people to know more about?
Food is medicine. I am at the age where I hear all my friends talk about their health woes. Many of them are felled by heart attacks or strokes, beset by diabetes or cancers of all flavors. Some of them have embraced a plant exclusive diet and recovered, thrillingly. I started the Fast Easy Vegan menu planning service to make it easy for people to get healthy and eat plant exclusive, without the problems caused by processed foods and oil. I get that it’s overwhelming at first. Make it easy on yourself and find a program where you can simply follow the plans. If you don’t like mine, find another one. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll love it and see how simple it really is. I want everyone to be healthy!
10. Last, please finish this sentence. "To me, veganism is…"
To me, veganism is a circle of harmony. Everybody/everything benefits and nobody/nothing gets hurt. The perfect system! The beauty of a plant exclusive diet is not only health-giving, but utterly delicious. Vegetables and grains in and of themselves have a variety of taste and texture that is nearly endless, as well as being beautiful to behold. When I stopped eating animals and their products I was amazed to experience a layer of grief lift off of me that I hadn’t known was there. As I thought about it, it made perfect sense that I would experience that as I was no longer ingesting the terror and pain of sentient beings. I was also doing my heart and overall health a huge favor. Too, the environmental damage caused by a brutal and widespread animal industry was something I was no longer participating in. Everybody wins! To me, that is the proof that people are intended to eat plants as their native diet. It is a joyful experience, nobody is hurt in the process and our health improves as an end result. There are many doors to veganism: environmental, health, love of animals. Enter one and you will also connect to the others. It all works.