We spoke with former lawyer Lindsay Nixon, the creative cook behind the Happy Herbivore website, about her vegan diet and upcoming cookbook.
Have you always felt passionately about healthy eating and cooking?
Like most people I didn't care much about my health or eating right until I had a major health scare. It was both fortunate and unfortunate that this happened to me in my early 20's. From a hindsight perspective, I'm happy it happened because the whole experience put me on a path to wellness that I probably would not have stumbled on otherwise. Today, my mission is to prove that healthy cooking is easy, affordable and most importantly -- delicious!
What was the push for you to adopt this kind of diet?
After my health scare, I went vegetarian because I thought it would help me make better food choices. I went vegan roughly a year later and a few months after that I adopted a whole foods, low-fat vegan diet. I've been eating this way for three years I've never looked or felt better.
How long have you been vegan?
Four wonderful years this December.
When you were working as a lawyer, how did you balance eating well with working long hours?
It involved a lot of planning ahead--I'd pack a healthful lunch, dinner and snacks every morning before work. I'd have a huge tote bag full of food and my coworkers often joked that I was going camping, or something -- because I had so much food. I wanted to surround myself with healthy choices so I wouldn't fall into the trap of having to rely on junk food from the vending machine or ordering take-out. I also saved a lot of money this way.
When you're traveling, do you have any go-to snacks that you always carry?
I like to have fresh and dried fruit with me at all times, but I also take a box of Nature's Path granola bars or crispy cereal bars on long flights. (They're vegan).
When you started cooking vegan dishes, were there any cookbooks or websites that inspired you or helped you?
When I went vegan it wasn't as mainstream as it is now. There were a few vegan cookbooks and blogs, but not many. Plus most of the recipes used weird or expensive ingredients or gobs of fat and processed flours.... that's why I decided to start happyherbivore.com-- to put recipes out there that were healthy, used every day ingredients and were accessible to everyone. The first cookbook I ever bought was Vegan with a Vengeance and the first blog I ever read (and still read!) was Vegan Dad.
Do you have a favorite dish or meal that you make for yourself?
My preferences come and go in waves. Right now I'm really diggin' the fat-free vegan nacho recipe in my cookbook, but last week I couldn't get enough of HH's Teriyaki Chickpeas.
What's something you make for non-vegan friends when they come over for dinner?
Tacos. Everyone loves tacos. I usually make the "beef" or "chorizo" tacos from my cookbook, though if I think my omni friends are willing to be a little adventurous, I make HH's chickpea tacos.
Have you ever been to a dinner party where the host didn't know you were vegan?
My friends/relatives/coworkers know I'm vegan so if they invite me over for dinner, chances are they are already planning to accommodate me in some way. For example, perhaps they make sure all the veggie side dishes are vegan or maybe they make a meal where people can add meat or dairy if they want to, but it's not already combined.
I feel it’s my responsibility to warn people about my diet. Not that I expect them to accommodate me, I always offer to bring something for myself, but I imagine any host would feel terrible if a guest showed up and couldn't eat the food they prepared. I wouldn't want to be that host so I try to prevent that situation.
That being said, if I don't think the host is aware of my diet, I say politely "by the way I'm vegan, which means I don't eat meat, dairy, eggs or any other animal products. I don't want you to go out of your way for me though, please let me know how I can help." In the three instances I've had to do this, the host was actually really excited to try something new and work with me. Hosts that knew I was vegan from the get go have also solicited my help for creating recipes or dishes and it's always a pleasure to collaborate and expose others to vegan food.
What inspired you to start your e-courses? Have you gotten a lot of positive feedback from people?
Over the past year or so, I noticed I was getting the same questions over and over again via my blog, facebook, twitter -- I thought why not assemble all this information together in a fun, comprehensive e-course?
So far I have three courses, with more to come later. The response and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Several past students have sent in testimonials that can be viewed on the courses page.
What would be your advice for someone who is considering a vegan diet or for someone who is just starting out?
Take the HH "Vegan. Now What?" e-course. ;-) Seriously, though, that's exactly what the course is designed for. Also remember that the more plant-based meals we eat, the more benefits we feel and bestow. Adopting a vegan diet is the single best thing you can do for your health, the animals and the environment.
Tell us a little about your upcoming cookbook and what inspired you to create it:
The Happy Herbivore Cookbook is essentially an extension of HappyHerbivore.com. I created my website to share healthy and delicious food to others and the cookbook emulates that vision.
True to my cooking style, each recipe is made with whole foods and no added fat. You won’t find processed flour, refined sugars, or gobs of oil and margarine in my recipes. What you will find is food that is good for you and tastes great. With my cookbook you’ll eat what seems like pure decadence with nothing but sweet, sweet rewards of health and vitality.
I've including some blog-favorite recipes in the book, but the majority of it is new material--more than 175 fat-free and low fat vegan recipes. The Happy Herbivore Cookbook will be released in stores in Jan 2011 but it can be pre-ordered now through Amazon, Borders and B&N.