THE TRUTH ACCORDING TO.. THURSDAYS- URBAN VEGAN

Hey everyone,

Welcome to The Truth According To..Thursday! I am so excited to bring you yet another interview! I had the wonderful opportunity to pick the brain of fellow vegan and blogger The Urban Vegan, Dynise Balcavage! I have been a follower of her blog for two years and her blog was a huge catalyst in prompting me to start my own! She graciously agreed to take time out of her day to answer some questions about her journey as it pertains to veganism, blogging and cookbook writing! Read on!

THE TRUTH ACCORDING TO THE URBAN VEGAN!


Cwrites:
How long have you been a vegan and what prompted you to become one?

UV: I've been vegan about 5 or 6 years, now. Growing up in the a small coal mining town, I was probably the only vegetarian in my county! I tried veganism unsuccessfully in my early 20s--and there was essentially no resources for vegans back then, plus at that time, I didn't cook much. The thing that really prompted me to go vegan was when I fully realized that, after animals used to produce eggs and dairy are no longer useful, they are then killed for meat or other products. Even though this seems painfully obvious now, I honestly didn't fully realize this until that "aha" moment. After that, I read as much as I could physically and emotionally tolerate about factory farming and the environmental, and health benefits of veganism. And I realized that there were absolutely no downsides to plant-based diet.

I also bought more vegan cookbooks and tried more vegan recipes. I found that I loved the challenge of vegan cooking.. Most vegan food I had tried had honestly tasted either too stereotypically "healthy" or "crunchy." (And to be honest, a lot of it still does.) I was determined to cook vegan chow that blew omnivores away and chipped away at the age-old myth that "meat = tasty."

Learning to cook and eat vegan was easy and simply a matter of changing old habits...they say you must repeat a behavior 21 times to change it, whether you are giving up smoking, biting your nails or baking with eggs! One of the greatest culinary myths is that eggs and dairy are requisite ingredients for baking. They aren't!

Cwrites: When did you start blogging and what prompted you to do so?

UV: I started my original blog (urbanvegan.blogspot.com) in March 2006. I had been feeling a bit isolated in my beliefs and wanted to connect with other vegans since we seemed to be so few and far between. I discovered that a powerful new frame of mind and social consciousness existed via the Internet and blogosphere. When I found all the vegan blogs, web sites and message boards, I learned that veganism is viral...viral in a good way. And that was just a few years ago--the number of blogs--and vegans--has increased dramatically! In addition, I'm a writer by profession with an undergraduate art degree, so blogging was another expressive outlet.

I took down my original blog down after my marriage broke up; besides chronicling my vegan adventures, it also documented my life with ex, and it was just too painful for me to keep it up. (An aside: many people ask about some of the old posts, like the "101" lists, so I am thinking about republishing a few of the more popular stories.) I started my current blog (urbanvegan.net) in 2009.

Cwrites: Being a longtime follower of your blog, I am always amazed at your wonderful recipes. Have you always been into cooking and baking?

UV: Well, not always, but I started cooking and baking at around age 7, and I have such fond memories of my childhood kitchen. My older sister, Debbie, taught me to bake; we used to make cookies, cakes and cream puffs--and I always loved licking the beaters. (Talk about positive reinforcement!) The first recipe my mom taught me to cook was pancakes, and later, grilled cheese. But I think I learned the most about cooking by osmosis, by watching my mom, grandmother and aunt cook. They usually asked me to help. For example, being Polish, we ate a lot of potato pancakes; we called them "bleenies," and in Jewish cuisine, they're called "latkes." My job was to peel the potatoes hand grate the onions and potatoes. We had a blender, but to use it to grate the veggies would have been taboo! So I learned an important lesson from grating all those potatoes –– that process affects the product.

I now own close to 200 cookbooks, but we didn't have a single cookbook in my house growing up (although mom did clip recipes from the newspaper on occasion). My mom cooked just about everything by instinct--so I guess I learned to cook by instinct by watching her. The funny thing is that, cooking was not my mom's favorite thing to do! To her, it was more of a chore.

Cwrites: You just recently published a cookbook, "The Urban Vegan: 250 Simple, Sumptuous Recipes, From Street Cart Favorites to Haute Cuisine" , how did that come about and how long did the entire process take from start to finish?

UV: I had published many of my original recipes on my blog and readers, friends and family really enjoyed them and gave me such positive feedback. Living in the city had totally influenced my cooking and realized it I had a cookbook concept! Although I had already written 10 kids' books, I always wanted to write a cookbook. I put together a proposal, found an agent, and the rest is history. In the end, several publishers were interested in the book. I was very lucky. It's hard to say how long the book took, but I would guess about 3 years total.

Cwrites: Do you have plans of publishing anymore cookbooks in the future?

UV: Yes, I'm currently working on my second cookbook, and I have a few other book ideas marinating!

Cwrites: What advice would you give to someone embarking on cookbook publishing?

UV: Be prepared to roll up your sleeves and do a lot of work! First and foremost, writing a cookbook just doesn't involve cooking: it involves writing. So make sure your wordsmithing is up to snuff. Revise, revise, revise!

You also have to put your business hat on: understand the market and learn as much as you can about publishing. Chances are, a book deal is not going to find it's way to you. You are going to have to use all of your savvy to make it happen. Doing anything creative requires that you have a tough skin. Don't take rejection personally--learn from it instead. A few possible lessons from rejection: 1) you have to work on your manuscript/proposal to make it better, 2) your book was not the right fit for the publisher.


Cwrites:
What is one of your favorite recipes to prepare?

UV: I like to make different recipes on different days. I get bored very easily, so experimenting with new techniques and cuisines keeps me fresh. But one recipe I always come back to when I'm tired and hungry is pasta with lots of olive oil, garlic and any vegetable.

Cwrites: Have you convinced anyone to become a vegan with your cooking or lifestyle?

UV: I don't believe in proselytizing, so I am not out to "convince" anyone of anything. In fact, when someone tries to "convince" me to do something, I find it usually has the opposite effect. I only talk about veganism when asked.

Although of course, I wish everyone were vegan or vegetarian, I have no control over what people do. I can only live my life according to my own ethics. But having said that, lots of my readers have told me that my blog influenced their decision to go vegan/veg or to eat less meat. That makes it all worthwhile. As Gandhi said, "You have to be the change you want to see in the world."

Cwrites: You have a great compassion for animals and have fostered and adopted stray cats, have you always have this sensitivity or did it come about along with becoming a vegan?

UV: I was born loving animals. My older sibling are also animal lovers. But of course, the more you learn about animals, you can't help but have even more compassion and respect for them.

Cwrites: What do you think some of the greatest misconceptions are about veganism and what advice would you give to those transitioning into this lifestyle?

There are so many misconceptions that are not based on fact. First, the protein myth. People always ask me how I get my protein. Most foods have protein, and the fact is that most Americans get way too much protein. Westerners are suffering from diseases of overconsumption--like cancer and heart disease, and not diseases of underconsumption. I just ran my first half-marathon and am training for another one, so I'm not exactly a weakling. And on an elite level, just look at some of the great athletes out there, like Robert Cheeke, the bodybuilder, and Scott Jurek, the ultramarathoner.

Then there's the calcium myth: Most Americans assume, for example, that the only way they can get calcium is through dairy, when in fact, countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis like the US, England and Sweden, drink the most milk. China and Japan, on the other hand, have low rates of osteoporosis even though people consume very low amounts of dairy and protein. [Reference: Nutrition Action Healthletter, June, 1993]

The fact is that The American Dietetic Association, the world's biggest nutritional professional organization, reviewed all existing scientific studies about vegetarian diets. They found that vegetarians have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and obesity than people who eat meat. They even wrote guidelines on vegetarian and vegan diets, stating they are are suitable appropriate for all stages, including infancy and pregnancy, and that in fact they have "health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases." But this never seems to make it to the mainstream media. Lots of ad revenue to be lost in making this fact public, right?Another myth--and there used to be some truth to this one--is that vegan food tastes bad. I've tasted plenty of bad vegan food (and then again, before I was a vegetarian, I also tasted plenty of bad "omnivorous" food!). But since veganism has become more popular over the past few years, the "tasty" bar has definitely been raised!

Wow! Thank-you so much Dynise for sharing your experience and so much knowledge!

Please be sure to check out her blog at urbanvegan.net and pick up her cookbook! Dynise is also in the 10th anniversary issue of VegNews sharing some summer drink recipes, so be sure to check that out as well!

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