Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Veggie Hero: Beverly Lynn Bennett

Chef Beverly Lynn Bennett is a Veggie Hero extraordinaire! She is the author of the extensive vegan recipe site, The Vegan Chef, writes the popular "Dairy-Free Desserts" column for VegNews Magazine. Moreover, Beverly and her husband Ray wrote the essential "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vegan Living." Released last year, the book's 384 pages are jam-packed with all kinds of useful info relating to many aspects of vegan life, including 50 super recipes.

Vegetarian or vegan?

How long have you been veg*n?
I've been vegan for the last 17-18 years but started transitioning from a meat-based diet to being vegetarian nearly 23 years ago.

What inspired you to go veg?
There were many reasons. I first learned about eating vegetarian when I was 16 from a coach; I was wanting to lose a few pounds because I was a synchronized swimmer and constantly battling with my weight. She gave me some advice on how to eat better and suggested I try eating vegetarian. Even though I was a teenager and got little support from friends or family, I did manage to stick with it for quite a while. But it was my love of animals and learning about the abuses that they have to endure at human hands that really opened my eyes and helped me take steps toward living a compassionate vegan lifestyle. I thank my husband Ray for his positive influence and all of the great books that I have read to further educate and enlighten myself.

What's your best story of trying to find veg food?
Well finding good veggie food can be tricky no matter where you go, which is why I usually pack along some of my own food to ensure I get something nutritious to eat wherever I go. But once, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a town where antlers are proudly displayed in arches in the center of town, I wasn't quite as prepared as I should have been. I ordered a simple black bean dish, or so I thought. I told the waitress that I was vegan and then went into the usual explanation about what I can and can not eat. I was very specific about my order, and she repeated it back to me. The first time my food arrived, it was covered with cheese and sour cream, so I sent it back. The second time, no sour cream or cheese on top, but there appeared to be some inside; it was then that I realized that they had just scraped off the dairy and re-sauced my plate. Back it went. When my plate appeared for the third time, it came out looking fine, no cheese or sour cream, but as I quickly noticed little pieces of steak mixed in among the black beans. When I asked the waitress about it, she stated that they always cook the beans with meat. What? Why didn't she say so in the beginning when I mentioned that I don't eat any meat or dairy? Even my carnivorous family shook their heads in amazement.

How do you handle family holiday dinners?
I find the best way to handle family meals and gatherings is to bring my own food. Depending on the event, it may be a side-dish or a hearty salad, and I usually like to bring a dessert as well. Bringing your own food ensures that you can eat just like everyone else and it usually makes it easier for the host as well. Even if they do make something that is vegan, you can share what you brought and show others how delicious and "not so weird" eating vegan can really be. Bringing a dessert with "wow appeal" can also open minds while filling their stomachs, which I am really into doing. It can be a great way to inspire others to make more plant-based food choices.

What's your favorite veg food?
Without a doubt it would have to be wraps. I really love eating anything rolled up in a tortilla. Take some leftover beans, noodles, grains, add in some veggies, a little lettuce or greens, some dressing or spread, roll it up in a warm tortilla, and you have an instant hearty meal with endless possibilities. But my favorite combination is made by layering some baby greens and lettuces, shredded carrots, beets, yams, zucchini, cucumber slices, and sprouts with either some creamy tahini-based dressing, hummus, or a horseradish and white bean spread. I particularly like whole-grain tortillas, especially the sprouted ones by Ezekiel, but be sure to warm them first for easy rolling. You can also skip the tortilla and roll the ingredients up into a large lettuce or cabbage leaf for a wrap with crunch or a raw taco kind of a thing.

Do you have a favorite veg book?
I have many, my husband and I both love to read, and between the two of us have acquired quite a little veg library. Some of the books that have influenced me a lot as a veggie would be "Diet for a New America" and "The Food Revolution" by John Robbins, "The Sexual Politics of Meat" by Carol J. Adams, and many of the books by Jo Stepaniak, Bryanna Clark Grogan, and Nava Atlas.

Tofu or tempeh?
Tough one. I'm split, I really love using them both in my cooking and baking. Tempeh would be my first choice for an entree or sandwich as I really like the earthy, mushroom-like flavor, but definitely tofu for my dessert. Nothing like a creamy tofu cheesecake, or whipped topping on a piece of cake or pie, or a bowl of cool and creamy non-dairy ice cream to finish off a meal of a savory tempeh stroganoff or stir-fry.

What did you have for breakfast today?
I usually try to eat some kind of fruit for breakfast, whatever is seasonal, fresh, and on hand. Or I'll make a smoothie if I want an extra kick-start for the day. Today, I had a couple of fresh peaches, which I followed up a little later with a bowl of oatmeal with flax seeds and cinnamon. May sound a little boring, but I usually like to eat something with whole grains early in the day, whether it be toast, oatmeal, or cereal, as it gives me lots of energy to start off the day.


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