Interview with the Vegan Epicurean

5 Oct

I was inspired to start this little blog by so many of the great food writers out there. One of my favorites is Alicia of Vegan Epicurean. I love her blog so much that I wanted to share it with all of you, so I put a few questions to the lovely writer herself.

1. Tell me about your blog. When did you start it and why?

I started my blog in April 2009.  The reason that I started it was two-fold. All of the vegan blogs I was reading at the time were various degrees of unhealthy which really surprised me.  I wanted to show that you could eat a healthy whole food plant based diet that also tasted good.   Additionally I wanted to share information on health and nutrition for those that were interested. Once you have been impacted by cancer you look at lifestyle choices much more critically and that includes what we eat.  Also facing cancer makes some people go on a quest for things they can do to help themselves. I wanted to tell people what I was learning about the impact of diet on cancer that the MD’s don’t tell you.

2. Where do you find inspiration for your recipes?

My recipes come from a few different places. Some of the dishes are things I used to make back in my unhealthy omni days, or things I had in restaurants in the past.  Many of my dishes just come from what I bought at the farmers’ market and how I decide to combine them.    I have loved to cook for as long as I can remember which means creating recipes is something that I find to be relaxing. Cooking isn’t a chore for me most days.  I view cooking as a form of relaxation.

3. Share a link to one of your favorite recipes. Why do you like it so much?

Wow, that is a tough question. It is like picking a favorite child or feline.  I am going to select a favorite for me and another for my husband because they are very different.   My favorite recipe would be the baked falafel since I took something that was fried and not particularly and turned it into a crunchy baked snack.

This is my favorite because it is easy to grab out of the freezer to turn into a protein packed nibble or to add to a salad.  I like the convenience factor quite a bit.  My husband loves the Neapolitan lasagna and would eat it every day if I would let him.

He likes comfort food and I like that it is a healthy version without any commercial vegan dairy substitutes which typically contain soy protein isolates.

4. How do you stick to a healthy diet when traveling?

That is a great question because I know it was hard for me when we first changed to a healthy diet.  If we are driving we pack a cooler of things from home that we replenish at local grocery stores.  Also the Vitamix goes with us if we are driving since green smoothies are easy to make.  If we are flying then I use Happy Cow to look for health food stores or vegan restaurants.  In Italy I find it is easier to stay healthy since there are vegetable markets in most of the major cities and you can always order healthy appetizers and contorni (side dishes) and make a meal that is reasonably healthy.

5. What food could you eat every single day?

There are a few things I could eat every day:  grapes (frozen or refrigerated), baked falafel, green salad with salsa, and green smoothies to name a few.

6. What is the biggest challenge of maintaining your incredibly
healthy vegan diet?

Eating out is tough in most restaurants which is why we tend to visit our chef friend Ian so often.  He does a great job of modifying his omni food to mostly conform to how we eat. I say mostly because he can’t wrap his head around the concept of cooking without out so we know we get olive oil when we are eating his food but at least he keeps it to a minimum for us.  I also have found that if you stick to salads (dressing on the side) and appetizers and side dishes that you can craft a meal that is reasonably healthy in most restaurants.

7. What advice do you have for people who want to cut the meat and
dairy from their diets? What about folks who just want to eat
healthier?

Transitioning from an omni to a vegan diet seems to go in stages.  Initially people seem to find meat and dairy analogs that they use to replace the omni original. However after a while those seem to lose their appeal for most people. Nut cheeses are simple to prepare and are a reasonably good substitute for dairy cheese only much healthier.

In general I think it is important to learn how to cook so you can control what you eat.  The other day I was looking for whole wheat wraps at the grocery store and couldn’t find a single brand that didn’t contain soy protein isolates.  Once you start reading labels it is scary the things you find in food.  I also think it is important to be adventurous in terms of trying unfamiliar cuisines.  Much Japanese, Indian or Thai food is naturally vegan (or easily prepared without meat).  Also those cuisines rely on herbs and spices for flavor and can result in very interesting and flavorful dishes that make you forget you are eating vegan.

For people that want to eat healthier I would recommend consuming less meat (particularly processed meat), and no dairy.   Cancer is so prevalent in our society with 1 out 2 or 3 of us (depending on whose statistics you use) predicted to suffer from cancer during their lifetime.  From all the research I had done I am convinced that the casein in dairy fuels cancer growth. Since many of us have tiny undiscovered cancers now why fuel that growth with what we eat.  Additionally the nitrates and nitrites in processed meat have also been tied to cancer.  I think lunchmeat and hot dogs are almost as hazardous to our health as smoking.  Sugar is also an issue since it fuels cancer growth.  I would suggest removing as much sweetener from your diet as possible.  In general I think we closer we all can get to a diet that consists of vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains the healthier we will all be.  I know these sounds like a very spartan diet but it doesn’t have to be, which you know from reading my blog.

I suggest to my omni friends that they start by adding veggies, fruit and beans to their diet first rather than focusing on eliminating other foods.  As they add more plant foods (like salad or smoothies) and consume those at the beginning of the meal they have less room for the unhealthy foods.   Some of them have told me they feel so good so quickly that they stick with it.  I think a healthy diet is a process and we are all on different points in that spectrum. We could all eat a more healthful diet, me included.

8. Anything else you’d like to share?

My husband and I used to eat a very unhealthy gourmet diet. There was nothing we wouldn’t try.  If we can change our diet I think anyone can it is just a matter of motivation. In our case cancer was that motivation but I am hopeful that other people will make changes before they are facing a crisis like cancer.  Now that we have made the switch and feel so much better neither of us have any desire to go back to eating the way we used to.

Thanks so much, Alicia! Now go check out her wonderful blog.

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