Sarah Kramer's career as a lauded vegan cookbook author began by accident when, in 1996, she and her friend Tanya Barnard designed and printed a small 50-page cookbook to give out as holiday gifts. The feedback they received from family and friends was so positive that the two decided to print another thousand copies, which they sold at punk shows and over the internet. Before they knew it, they had a book deal with Arsenal Pulp Press. In 1999, How it All Vegan! was published, followed by The Garden of Vegan in 2003, and La Dolce Vegan! in 2005. A true renaissance woman, Sarah Kramer has her "thumbs in many pies." Despite a busy schedule that includes writing a column for Herbivore Magazine as well as running both a tattoo shop and her own professional photography business, Sarah found the time to chat with Pickled about veganism, Jewish food, and more.
How has the culinary world (or at least, North America) changed since you went vegan in the early 1990's? Well there’s now an actual “vegan/vegetarian” section at the cookbook store and the shelves are brimming with excellent vegan books, back in the day it was slim-pickins for vegan cookbooks. Most restaurants in my neck of the woods now have at least one or more vegan/vegetarian choices on the menu. I remember a time when all I could order was a dry baked potato and a wilted iceburg salad. There’s also the internet … now you can live in butt-fuck nowhere and have access to any vegan ingredient your credit card can buy. Once generally misunderstood, veg*anism is starting to take on a "cool" all it's own in urban centers and beyond. Trendy–and even some gourmet–vegan (and vegan-friendly) restaurants are popping up in Los Angeles, New York, and even Akron, Ohio, where Chrissie Hynde recently opened her new eatery, VegiTerranean. Could "vegan" be the new "it" cuisine? Where do you see this going? Trends are for suckers. Lifestyle change is the new trend. *laugh* I don’t really care what the hipsters are up to. I’m just doing my thang and if people dig it… I’m stoked. I often encounter questions from people who aren't familiar with what it means to be vegan. They want to know why I've chosen this lifestyle, as well as what I eat. How do you explain veganism to the ultimate layman? My quick and dirty answer is: “A vegan is someone who doesn’t use or consume any animal products”. Where do you get your protein? Tee hee. Where don’t I get my protein?? *laugh* Protein is the last of our worries for vegans, we need to pay more attention to our b-12. What are your favorite childhood food memories? Are there any traditionally Jewish foods that you miss, or that you've veganized? I don’t have one specific childhood memory but I have great memories of just spending time in the kitchen with my family making food and just hanging out. We Kramers really like food. As for traditional Jewish foods, my Dad loves Gefilte fish but as a kid I could never eat fish… especially fish that smelled that terrible. *laugh* I really miss dessert knishes with cottage cheese. I have yet to find a good vegan substitute for cottage cheese. What do you feel are the worst misconceptions about vegans/veganism, and do you think they're changing? That we’re righteous or judgmental. I mean… there’s lots of vegans who are that way but same goes for carnivores. I also find that people are surprised by how full of delicious food my life is. A lot of people have a misconception that we’re denying ourselves so much… but if you look at the big picture it’s really only a few ingredients that we’ve opted out of. In reading the ingredients list on a package of "soy cheeze" recently, I noticed that it surprisingly contained casein, a milk product. What other non-vegan products masquerading as "vegan-friendly" should we be on the lookout for? There are some GREAT vegan cheezes on the market right now. Just look for the vegan symbol “V in a heart” on the package. Vegan-rella, Follow Your Heart, and my new favorite: Sheese. It’s the kind of “cheese” you can serve with a cracker and a nice glass of wine. It’s expensive, but it’s worth every penny. There's also a lot of fake meat products on the market right now… but you have to check for eggs and whey powder. Recently, I was invited to a dinner party. Although I alerted my hosts to my dietary restrictions long beforehand, and even offered to bring my own meal, they promised to prepare something suitable for me. When I arrived, I found there was nothing for me to eat. I sat hungry and embarrassed while the others ate a meal of fillet mignon and cheesy mashed potatoes. What's the worst social vegan experience you've had, and what related advice do you have for others? First off. NEVER attend a dinner party with non-vegans without bringing your own food. Second. Never feel embarrassed for your convictions, it is your host who should feel embarrassed. If that ever happens again … get up and start going through their cupboards and make yourself a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich. *laugh* There’s a fantastic book called Vegan Freak that talks about all the trials and tribulations of navigating your vegan self through a non-vegan world. It’s a great read. While backpacking through Europe a few years ago, I was thrilled to find an awesome vegetarian restaurant in Helsinki, Finland, of all places. Where have you found the most surprising veg*an dining options? I was shocked when I went back to my home town in Regina, Saskatchewan (beef country) and found a fantastic japanese restaurant that had actually put a little “carrot” symbol beside all their dishes that were veggie friendly. It was great!! What are your favorite restaurants around the globe? I love Cha-Ya in Berkeley. Red Bamboo and Hangawi in New York. Fresh and Live in Toronto…. I could go on forever. What books, food-related and otherwise, have changed your life? Food wise: Early on, Laurel’s Kitchen inspired me to start documenting what I was doing in the kitchen. Life-wise: Other books that have changed my life … how long do you have? *laugh* Anything written by Douglas Coupland. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto and anything written by Paul Fieg. Who inspires you? My dog. Your cookbooks have been a phenomenon, and you write a column for Herbivore Magazine, which has labeled you "The World's Coolest Vegan." What other creative projects are you working on, and what's on the horizon? Well I’m being very domestic right now. My husband and I just purchased our first home so I’ve been up to my armpits peeling really bad 1970’s wallpaper off the walls. Renovating our place has been all consuming … but I’m enjoying myself immensely. I also own/run Tattoo Zoo with my husband and that keeps me very busy, as well. I’ve also been doing a lot of photography and I’m also working on a novel. I’m always doing something creative and have my thumbs in many pies. And no. I’m not working on any cookbooks right now. *laugh* The trilogy of HIAV, GOV and LDV will have to tide you over for now.