Anthony Bourdain may have called veganism a “Hezbollah-like offshoot of vegetarianism,” but the diet—which eschews all animal products, including meat, dairy, and eggs—is gaining in popularity, thanks in no small part to “occasional” vegans like Oprah Winfrey and Mark Bittman. But Isa Chandra Moskowitz has been writing vegan cookbooks for six years; her Veganomicon has sold some 175,000 copies. Moskowitz was visiting New York recently to publicize her new book, Appetite for Reduction (Da Capo Lifelong), and talked about her new book and veganism’s rising profile.
Why did you write a low-fat vegan cookbook? Isn’t vegan food low-fat already, since it doesn’t include bacon and cheese?
Vegan food isn’t automatically low-fat. Nuts, oil—they all have fat. And so many low-fat books have fake food in them, like, ‘Take this non-fat gelatin and mix it with all these prepackaged things, some chemically thing, and make a pancake out of it.’ What about making chili or awesome, filling salads, and curries and things like that?
What makes this new book lighter compared to your previous books?
For this book I was focusing on different ways to get flavor rather than the usual nuts, oils, high-fat ingredients route. It’s more about coaxing flavor out in interesting ways. So I’m adding creaminess by using just a handful of cashews and blending them really well together; and doing things like roasting cauliflower instead of frying it. There are lots of dressings that are low-fat.
Vegan food is so popular now. Do you think it still has a stigma?
There’s definitely still a stigma. I’ve even spoken to people this week [in New York] who are like, ‘What do you eat? I can’t live without cheese!’ And then there are people who are anti-vegan for political reasons. And your grandma—well not your grandma—may not have heard of it. I think in 10 or 15 years everybody will have heard of it. But there’s still quite a bit of ways to go. There’s still only 1% of the population that’s vegan.
Why do you think the stigma persists?
I think being vegan, there is implicitly a judgment if somebody’s not vegan, and so they get kind of defensive: ‘Oh, you think it’s wrong to eat animals so you think I’m an awful person.’ Also, I think experiences with vegan food may not have been that positive. Plus, there’s people out there like Anthony Bourdain, who are anti-vegan.
What do you think of Oprah’s recent campaign to “go vegan” with almost 400 of her employees for a week?
I always say we can’t control what Oprah does, but we can control what we do with what Oprah does. She got the word vegan out there, so it’s up to vegans to be like, "This is what it’s about." At least it gets people talking about veganism. Then it’s up to us to blog a lot that week, write awesome recipes, do volunteer work and outreach and keep veganism this awesome thing that attracts people. What she did wasn’t an anti-vegan thing; it just might not have been the most perfect portrayal. But it’s still good for us.
How have you seen people's perception of veganism change during the past 20 years that you’ve been a vegan?
Just this conversation—it wouldn’t have happened 20 years ago. Nobody was interviewing vegan chefs 20 years ago. This restaurant we’re sitting in. Oprah saying “vegan.” A lot of people who have problems with it have been vegan for like two years and they’re not old enough to remember when Oprah saying “vegan” would have been a really big fucking deal.