Livin' La Vegan Loca
by Jessica Rae Patton - November 17, 2005
One recent night at a Lower East Side book signing, all was not as it appeared. About 50 people shouldered into a storefront to peruse funky shoes, gnaw on chicken drumsticks and take a gander at a subculture celebrity author. The chicken, however, was a culinary imposter--a really tasty fake-meat facsimile. And not one pair of shoes--all of them stylish, sexy, practical or all of the above--was crafted from an animal's hide. (Though some were artfully decorated with hair from the several rescued kitties who live in the store, Mooshoes, and lounge among the footwear.) The author, though, was the real deal, all five-foot-nothing of her with her lit-from-within smile, body art-a-plenty peeking out from her vintage sweater, and cute Canuck accent.
Sarah Kramer was in New York promoting the third in her trilogy of vegan cookbooks, La Dolce Vegan! (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2005). With their sassy retro design, kitschy cheesecake photos by Kramer's husband, Gerry, of the author in vintage ensembles, and punny titles ( How It All Vegan! , The Garden of Vegan ), hers stand out amidst the crowded market of guides for making animal-free grub. And though the covers will make a person of a particular sensibility or curiosity pick them up, it's what's inside that earns these books a home in many a compassionate kitchen. In addition to the recipes themselves, all three books feature low-downs on the whats and wheres of vegan ingredients; poignant (and never preachy) personal reflections of this life path; answers to FAQs asked via her website (www.govegan.net) or while she's out greeting and feeding her readers; and lists of the multitude of uses--household cleaning, pest control, health aides--for pantry staples, such as baking soda and salt.
How It All Vegan! was a how-to manual with lifestyle tips, resources, a "Vegan No-Nos, A-to-Z" appendix, simple and recognizable recipes (lots of familiar dishes, veganized), and stories of how the authors arrived at their own veganism. The Garden of Vegan stretched its scope a bit, with some fancier recipes, as well as a section of "Microwave Meals" written with college students in mind, and in the back are lots of craft projects and theme party ideas. (Tanya Barnard and Kramer co-penned the first two cookbooks.)
The subtitle of La Dolce Vegan! is "Vegan Livin' Made Easy," which is the focus this time around, directly addressing the concern many have that it's just too difficult to survive (never mind thrive) without animal protein in one's diet. As Kramer writes in the introduction, "I don't have a lot of free time to muck around in the kitchen and I suspect you don't either. I want to walk in the door, bang some pots together, and eat so I can get to work on the rest of my life."
The recipes here are geared more toward two eaters than 10, and most take no more than a half-hour to prepare. (Those with a few more steps involved are marked with a retro clock icon.) Some great time-management tips for the kitchen are provided, as well, regarding prep work and cleaning as you go. There are more fun crafts, too. Kramer is a thrift-store diva and loves nothing more than making gems from junk--wind chimes out of old utensils, "found object" jewelry, DIY fridge magnets, tea trays made from board games...
The recipes are simple and fun, and the end results are consistently dang good. A nice addition to the categories in the first two books is "Faux Fare," in which readers learn to make their own tasty versions of those mock meats that can substantially drive up a vegan's grocery bill. But it's the introduction to La Dolce Vegan! that warrants this be shelved with one's favorite inspirational writings.
"When you are clear on who you are and what you stand for, nothing is difficult. It's just your life," Kramer writes. Sometimes having to resort to a plateful of side dishes at restaurants is a drag. So is scanning clothing tags for that sought-after phrase "All Man-Made Materials." As is figuring out if and how to cohabitate with carnivores, and occasionally having to contend with other people's snarky remarks and with one's own feelings of disgust with those who dine on decomposing flesh (and the icky feelings of self-righteousness and moral superiority that may arise from said disgust).
If the daily travails of living as cruelty free as possible feel too burdensome, Kramer suggests taking stock: Are you beating yourself with the vegan stick? Isn't this choice about love, ease of conscience and nourishment, not rigidity and deprivation? She says, "If you find yourself waning, then try revisiting those things that gave you inspiration in the first place... find where you lost your passion and fire it up again." She also gently suggests stashing away the animal-rights literature for a while if it has you so bereft you don't want to get out of bed, never mind seize the day. She commiserates, cheerleads and offers encouragement; she's firm in the face of silly excuses, i.e., "I don't like tofu." Her reply (since tofu is extremely versatile and truly takes on any flavor it's introduced to) is, "That's just silly. That's like saying you don't like cake flour." Yet, she clearly avoids passing judgment on someone else's dietary needs or choices.
Kramer herself, though a born-and-bred vegetarian, went vegan only when she was hit with a health crisis that forced her to reevaluate her whole mode of living. She knows the best she or anyone can do is, well, their best.
"I drive a car. There is animal-derived glue in my seats and blood is used to make the pavement I drive on. No one can be 100 percent perfect at this, and we all make personal choices along the way," she says.
One of those is that she and her husband own a tattoo shop in their hometown of Victoria, B.C. (When asked what role she plays in the shop, she laughs and says, "I'm the boss!") Is the tattoo ink Gerry uses in his work free of animal derivatives? It isn't a question she'll answer since it's proprietary information, only saying that they use the best-quality inks possible. She also doesn't hold her dog to her dietary strictures, as some vegans do.
"Fergus is a meat-eater. I've tried to figure out the best diet for him, but he was very sick and when I switched him to this organic, human-grade, local raw meat diet... it was nearly miraculous. He was better in two days," she says. "I have more raw meat in my freezer than any vegan cookbook writer should! But I just don't think there's enough information out there yet about long-term effects of meat-free diets for cats and dogs."
When asked what future ventures she has in mind after wrapping up her book tour this month, she says "a nap!" After that, she dreams of her own cooking show, and "I would also like to do a project with kids," she says, commenting that when children are involved in the cooking process, they are more likely to try new things and feel more connected to their food. As a child, "the kitchen was the place to be," she says.
Her mother was a vegetarian and made everything from scratch in their remote home of Regina, Saskatchewan. Kramer recalls that she and her brother always had their hands in some bowl or another, helping and absorbing the culinary alchemy that would later inform both their careers. (Her brother is a professional chef.)
Does Kramer herself have any formal schooling under her apron? "I'm a licensed cosmetologist," she laughs. All she's learned about cooking has occurred in her own childhood and adult kitchens, from coauthor Barnard and from fans who send her recipes and kitchen tips--many of which are incorporated, with glowing kudos, in La Dolce Vegan!
For now, she is celebrating her solo literary-slash-culinary accomplishment, and reveling in sharing it with fast fans and vegan neophytes alike. As she writes in her acknowledgments, "It's a new veginning, my friends. Let's see where it takes us! Enjoy the book!"