There will be all kinds of experts talking about how to incorporate more veggies into your diet at VegFest Colorado, at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds Saturday, July 6, and Sunday, July 7. JL Fields is coming up from Colorado Springs to do a cooking demonstration with registered dietician Virginia Messina (who's co-author of Fields's upcoming book, Vegan for Her); we caught up with Fields to talk about her cooking style, nutrition and more.
Westword: What's your background with food -- how did you first become vegetarian?
I grew up in the Midwest, in a very rural area in Illinois, and we were not even close to vegetarian. We were very much a meat-and-potatoes kind of family, with no judgment on my family at all -- spaghetti came from the Kraft box of spaghetti. We didn't eat beans per se; we ate green beans from the garden, but no lentils or black beans. We were this family of six, we had fish sticks at night, hamburgers on the broiler. Food was about having a meal; it wasn't an event or anything.
And that was always how I approached food. When I was young and after grad school, I was a pot roast kind of gal: put a pot roast in a crockpot with some potatoes. I wasn't a very inspired cook. I saw cooking as this thing you did in order to eat food. I went vegetarian in my late thirties with no intention at all, had never even thought about it, but I went to Africa for work -- I used to run a nonprofit, we ran a safehouse for young women who were fleeing genital mutilation -- and there was this big celebration, and this elder from the community walked in with a goat. They subsequently slaughtered the goat, stewed the goat and had it for dinner. That was the last time I intentionally had meat, and I called my husband and told him I was a vegetarian. And by the time I got back to the States my husband, who did most of the cooking, had learned how to press tofu.
I didn't have to do much about the change in diet because he did so much. The year I turned 45, I went vegan. It was January, I went on a cleanse with a nutritionist and realized when I was done that I hadn't had any animal products except one hard-boiled egg, and I realized eating vegan wasn't so hard. That's when I threw myself into the kitchen.
Tell us about Vegan for Her.
The book is a nutrition book that has a cookbook in it. Virginia Messina, the Vegan RD (registered dietician), she's co-authored many books, but a couple of years ago she and Jack Norris co-authored Vegan for Life, and it was during the time when people would say, "I wanted to be vegan but my doctor says I need meat in order to be healthy." They wrote that book to tell people that it is possible to have a healthy vegan diet. And Ginny had the idea to write something for women.
About a year and a half ago I got an e-mail from her, the e-mail subject line was, "Write a book with me?" She said, "I'm writing a book for vegan women to help women, no matter what age they are, to create a healthy, plant-based diet. I want there to be a cookbook, and you cook the way I want it to be, will you join me?" Obviously with Vegan for Her, the nutrition advice is for women, but the recipes are for everybody. I've included recipes that are complementary to what we say about vegan female athletes or foods you eat when you're trying to get pregnant, but it's really for everybody. The advice isn't for everybody, but the recipes are.
How would you describe your cooking and teaching style?
One of the things that I talk about a lot -- I'm actually a certified vegan lifestyle coach, so down here in the Springs, I do cooking classes and vegan lifestyle classes where I teach classes. Whether you're vegetarian, vegan or veg-curious, at the end of the day, all I'm interested in are people eating more plants. I don't care what they call themselves, I don't care about perfection, but if people are interested for health reasons, that's great for them and awesome for the animals.
I do kitchen coaching and was just in someone's house for three hours, and they made food and I coached them through it. They had taken a class in March and they teased me and said, "When I took the class, they said, I bet she's really radical." And I am in the street, but in the classroom, I don't care why you're there. I do it for a reason. I don't call myself plant-strong or a plant-based person, I'm a vegan. But I also know that I want to invite people into this lifestyle.
People want information, and that doesn't mean that you'll walk in an omnivore and walk out a vegan. That could happen to somebody -- I know somebody who walked into a farm animal sanctuary an ominivore and walked out a vegan. But it's really about information. How fun to go to VegFest, eat a little food, get information about the environment, get information about animals, get ideas from different chefs -- you don't have to walk out a vegan, but oh my gosh, look at all the information you got, and you can start using more vegetables. I'm not here to tell you how to eat or what label to pick, but I want you to know that eating plants is super-easy, it's fun, you'll probably feel pretty good and here are some ways to do it. I've had some friends who say, "My mother makes the best pot roast and I could never be vegan," and what I say is, "Go and have your pot roast when you visit your mother, and be vegan the other 364 days of the year." It's not about perfection.
So how does that apply to VegFest and what you'll find there in terms of lifestyles?
The majority of people who come to VegFest are not vegan or vegetarian; they're people who are interested. When you see something like this going on, go for it. Why not spend a day eating food and getting literature about something you might not know much about? And for vegans, I would encourage people if they're interested to go to veganforher.com. We started a website to support and augment our book, and we have discussion forums, if they're thinking about it and have advice for our peers. The week we launched we had a man who introduced himself; he said, "I'm not a vegan, but my wife is, and I'm joining your community."
What can you tell us about your appearance there?
Ginny's not on the schedule, but she's kind of a big deal. She's the kind of person who, when people ask, "Is a vegan diet the best diet?," she'll say, "I don't know, the science doesn't support that because they haven't really studied vegans, but if you go vegan for the animals you can't go wrong." She's very scientific in her approach, very reasonable and practical. I'm doing a cooking demo at 12:30 on Sunday, and I'll pull her out of the audience and I'll have her debunk some of those soy myths people are trying to perpetrate. I think that'll be a fun addition to the cooking demo: We'll have a nutritionist pop up and talk about the food.
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Vegan for Her is available now on Amazon and will be in stores July 9 -- or swing by the VegFest table and pick up a copy!