Wednesday, March 21, 2018

10 Questions: Vegan Foodie with Matthew Prescott

t-based cookbooks keep getting more and more impressive and one that recently arrived on our doorstep is no exception. Food is the Solution: What to Eat to Save the World by Matthew Prescott is an ambitious undertaking, Full of informative chapters on how animal agribusiness harms animals, people and our planet – and plant-based diets help all of the above – Food is the Solution concentrates on persuasive arguments in the first half and great recipes in the second half. All is lushly photographed, well-organized and written for people to absorb in bursts, though it’s hard to resist the temptation to thumb through from start to finish. With accessible recipes for beginners to slightly more experienced home cooks, the dishes span the globe from Sourdough Panzanella (Italy) to Coconut-Lemongrass Curry with Rice Noodles (Thailand), Pistachio and Sunflower Seed Dukkah (Egypt) to Spicy Chocolate Milk Shake with Whipped Coconut Cream (Mexico), relying on flavorful, fresh ingredients but occasionally assisted with some convenience foods like packaged vegan cheese shreds and proteins. In all, it’s a cookbook with a mission: wake people up to the reality of what is happening to our planet and her inhabitants but it’s a lot less doom-and-gloom than that. Mainly, Food is the Solution reminds us that the keys to our future are solidly in our possession and it will not take sacrifice and scarcity to make things right. With the abundance of rich and flavorful plant foods, there has never been an easier time for conscientious people to transition away from supporting animal agribusiness and with Matthew Prescott’s Food is the Solution, it is just that much more within reach. I am honored to feature Matthew 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?

When I was about 10, my father and I built a small garden in our backyard, planting peas and carrots and peppers and squash. That was my first introduction to real food, and I fell in love. From there, I started preparing my own dishes—simple kid foods like microwaved pancakes made in a mug. I took great joy and pride in organizing our spice cabinet. I even once took my mother’s favorite recipe clippings and pasted them into a homemade book made from construction paper and illustrated with crayons—my first cookbook, if you will. On top of that, my family always ate meals together around the table, which really fostered for me a love and appreciation for eating and mealtime.

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 ate what I think was a fairly typical diet as a child. We’d host BBQs and order pizza and have taco night—the usual. We did always have a lot of fresh produce—and barely any junk food—in the house, which in hindsight was pretty atypical for the 1980s, when everyone else seemed obsessed with convenience foods and sugary cereals and such. We’d also have a big salad most nights with whatever else we ate—something I still enjoy today. Growing up in coastal New England, we also ate a lot of seafood, which admittedly hasn’t been easy as a vegan. But that’s changing, with companies like Good Catch Foods and Gardein making met-free fish, and with so many delicious recipes for vegan chowders and other dishes that might normally contain seafood. I like those products quite a bit, and I still really enjoy preparing vegan versions of the things I ate as a kid: grilled cheese sandwiches and burgers and tacos and all the rest. I think the way we eat when we’re young really influences how we eat as adults, even subconsciously, and I was fortunate to have a mostly-healthy (though far-from-vegan) and quite varied eating experience as a kid.

3. It’s late at night and you just got home: What is your favorite quick and simple vegan meal?

Leftovers, leftovers, leftovers. Whatever that may be. If I’m getting home late, it probably means I have a drink (or three) in me, and I go straight to the fridge for leftovers.

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’d love to make a vegan Reuben sandwich for my (Jewish) grandfather, Ben – my mother’s father. He died when I was very young so I never got a chance to know him. I’d love to sit down and chat over a nice, sloppy Reuben. 

5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?

I think the mistakes in vegan cooking tend to be the same types of mistakes made in other forms of cooking – using too many ingredients, going too heavy on the spices, making things more complicated than they need to be. I prefer simple, fresh meals that focus on a few choice ingredients to really make the flavors pop.

6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment? Also, what ingredients do you always like to have on hand?

As someone who became vegan in the 90s, I’m especially psyched about all the dairy-free milks and cheeses and ice creams out there – made from a variety of ingredients like nuts and oats and so much more. Twenty years ago, we had one brand of ice cream and nearly every milk and cheese was made from soy or rice. Today we can cook with almond milk ricotta and make milkshakes with cashew-based ice creams. We can make heavy cream from nuts and even Parmesan cheese from sunflower seeds. I tend to keep on hand a range of nuts and seeds to turn into these types of ingredients.

7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?

If I’m traveling, Thai – because most cities have Thai restaurants and they all carry tofu, which I love. I could eat Thai food every day for the rest of my life and be happy. I also really love Ethiopian food a lot, and am fortunate enough to live close to two Ethiopian restaurants. (If you’re ever in Austin, go to Habesha and order the “Veggie Dulet” – a vegan version of a classic Ethiopian dish that’s essentially a pile of spiced ground beef and jalapeno peppers.) And if I’m going for comfort, there’s nothing quite like Italian food.

8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.

From a culinary perspective, I was turned onto meat-free eating by my sister, who came home from middle school one day and proclaimed herself a vegetarian (after learning something about meat production in science class that apparently didn’t sit well). That had a lot of influence on me, because I was then opened-up to many different types of foods I’d have otherwise probably not even thought to try. So I was able to see from an early age that there’s a whole wide world of ingredients and produce and proteins out there, and that by sticking with a meat-and-potatoes diet, I was really limiting myself. From an ethical perspective, probably the first vegan-centric film I saw was the 1977 British documentary, “The Animals’ Film.” I watched that when I was about 16, and it made a huge difference in my evolution as an activist.

9. What issue is nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like people to know more about?

Food, of course! Food itself is a major social issue, since how we eat impacts so much of the world around us, and ourselves. Food is an extension of what it is to be human, so when we change our diets to better reflect our morals—whether we care about the planet or animals or health or basic principles of kindness—we can really begin to transform the world around us.

10. Last, please finish this sentence. "To me, vegan food is…"

…delicious and everywhere! J

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