A Word with Terry Hope Romero - Meat and Vegetable Week
ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS Margaret Jacobi

It’s a common misconception. Without eggs, dairy, or meat, how could food possibly taste good? Terry Hope Romero, author of Viva Vegan, and co-author of such titles as Veganomicon and Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World, has made it a personal challenge to put this stereotype to rest.

Photo courtesy of Terry Hope Romero.

Her recipes diverge from the typical, simplistic approach to veganism with inventive substitutions and taste combinations that prove just about anything delicious can be veganized (with perhaps healthier ingredients.)

With Viva Vegan, Romero offered the traditional Latin American recipes of her heritage with a vegan twist. Now, her upcoming book, Vegan Eats World, slated for early November, will be a further installment on her efforts to make international cuisine accessible to vegans.

Declaring vegan food “the new creative cuisine” of today, Romero is set to explore the new and expanding possibilities for the lifestyle, making damn good food while she’s at it.

Photo courtesy of Terry Hope Romero.

BTR sat down with Romero to talk about veganism, her approach to cooking, and the motivations behind her career.

BreakThru Radio: How long have you been vegan and what made you make that decision?

Terry Hope Romero: Well I went vegetarian at 16, that was so like a billion years ago. I don’t have any one particular moment or anything like that. I think at the time I was really interested in eating healthier, which I know is totally weird for a 16-year-old, but I’d been cooking forever. I was cooking long before that. So I loved experimenting with food and trying out new things and new combinations. I like the idea of the challenge of making things meatless too. That was interesting to me and there were not a lot of options in New England in the 80s. So I had to cook for myself anyway, and it just boiled down to that. Much later on, in the mid-90s, when I moved to New York City, I met a lot more vegans and a lot more vegetarians too, and there were so many more restaurants; there was like nothing [vegetarian to eat] where I was in New England. Oddly enough, the first vegetarian restaurant I ever went to was in Venezuela in the ’80s. I remember going to Venezuela in, I don’t know, ’86 or ’87, maybe even earlier than that, and there were vegetarian restaurants. It was awesome to go eat there because I was already excited and I had wanted to try being vegetarian, even at 14. When I came back to the states, it was really disappointing that there was nothing around me.

So later on, when I finally moved to New York in the mid-’90s, I started meeting vegans and started finding places to find vegan food. The transition was a process from there, but it just made a lot more sense in my life.

BTR: Why did you start cooking at such a young age? Was it an adjustment to start cooking vegan food or was it just a new challenge?

THR: It was a new challenge and it really wasn’t a big deal. As I said, I was interested in cooking and food. I was probably cooking at nine or 10, just baking and making stuff. I just liked doing that. I just really like the challenge of making new things, of trying out new recipes, or seeing, [for instance] what it would be like if you tried to barbeque tofu. Those were the types of things I was interested in at 16 and later on. Also, when I moved to New York and started to get to know more vegans, go more places, and meet more new people, the other aspects of the diet became interesting to me; the whole concern for the environment and the impact that the commercial factory farming has on animals and how messed up it is. All that stuff became more apparent as I got to know more people.

BTR: Why did you decide to become a cookbook author?

THR: Part of it was meeting Isa Chandra Moskowitz, at the time we had been talking– I mean, do you know about the Post Punk Kitchen? That preceded the cookbook.

BTR: That was aired in Manhattan and Brooklyn on public access TV, right?

THR: Yeah, that was on BCAT, which is the public access channel in Brooklyn, and honestly I don’t think I ever saw it on TV. I barely had a TV, I don’t even have one now, and the hours were crazy. They’re like, “we’ll show it at 3 a.m. on a Thursday.”

That was before super widespread use of putting video on the internet, so if you watch our episodes today, they’re like half an hour long, they’re impossibly long and really funny. We would not do it that way today if we did it that way. But the show preceded the cookbooks. Isa knew I liked to cook, that I had worked in several vegan restaurants, and I’d worked in other restaurants. She just knew I was this person that did a lot of cooking on a professional level and also as an interest and a hobby. So she asked me, “Hey, do you want to do a public access show?” and I was like “yeah, sure,” so we did four episodes of that crazy show and then later on down the road, as aspects of the show started to wind down, the idea of doing cookbooks came about. We were approached by an agent and we worked together and made one cookbook and ever since, it just kind of rolled into that.

BTR: Oh, it snowballed. How do you distinguish your cookbooks from other vegan cookbooks?

THR: We were one of the first cookbooks out there to decide, “we want to make vegan food yummy and delicious.” While we like tofu as much as the next guy, we embrace ingredients that 70s and 80s type vegans would be like, “no you can’t use brown sugar or you can’t use white flour.” We do use some of that kind of stuff; it’s not all sprouts and brown rice. It’s funny, because we do eat a lot of vegetables and we do create wholesome meals as well. We wanted things to taste good though, and we really kind of got away from the old style where everything is heavy and kind of bland; we didn’t want that. Also, our own personal aesthetics — like I mentioned we did a show called the Post Punk Kitchen, you know, we don’t wear Birkenstocks. We hate the Grateful Dead, We have tattoos. Our aesthetics are punk. That’s the kind of thing that got us into being vegan and vegetarian. Not granola and Dave Matthews, but rather, this sense of DIY and the whole culture and music behind becoming aware of society and where your food comes from, and [how] evil corporate interests that are trying to manipulate us. We don’t want that. We want to take control of our lives, and the way that we wanted to do it was through making awesome vegan food. It’s a lot more fun doing it that way.

BTR: And what is the process of creating a new recipe for you? Is it always trial and error?

THR: There is no one process. We’ve been cooking for so long, there’s still a lot of trial and error. It’s funny, just before you talked to me, and part of why I’m running around like a maniac, is I’m trying out all these new dumpling fillings. I’m making these middle-eastern style pumpkin dumplings and I’m making these Polish pierogis with spinach. There is be a lot of trial and error; it depends on the dish. Baking can require some time, doing several versions of something because that’s a little more science-y. But putting together a salad almost always tastes good; you don’t have to do too much to a fresh vegetable. There is no one process. The way I do it is that I get an idea, I like to write it down first, and then I go in there and make it and make changes based on my observations.

Oatmeal Chipacada Cookies.

Photo courtesy of Terry Hope Romero.

For more of our interview with Terry Hope Romero, check out the latest episode of Third Eye Weekly, airing tomorrow on BTR.

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