My JGV Interview series is making a comeback and I am really excited to kick it off with an interview with the lovely and inspiring Kenden from Jewish Food Hero. From travelling the world working with the UN and NGOs, to being a working mum, to writing an awesome blog and cook book, Kenden has a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. I have absolutely loved hearing more about her journey and lifestyle and I’m positive you all will too ►▷►
Q: How did your vegan journey start, what were your main inspirations and influences?
When I was 12 years old, I became a vegetarian after reading a part of a simple book about Mahatma Gandhi. His commitment to nonviolence in all aspects in his life, including food, inspired me to change the way that I ate. As I became an adult and started traveling all over the world as an aid worker, I started to see and experience more traditional food cultures, which are starch centered (rice, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes). During my overseas experience, I read the Starch Solution. This book coupled with my field experience reaffirmed my commitment to plant based eating.
Q: You have an awesome blog – Jewish Food Hero, tell us all about how you got into blogging and the inspiration behind JFH.
I yearned for healthier Jewish food options that were modern, plant based and beautiful. When I couldn’t find recipes that inspired me for the holidays, I created my own.
Shortly thereafter I started Jewish Food Hero to share recipes and inspire other Jewish women to include healthier foods on their tables. At it’s core, Jewish Food Hero is a place that nourishes the minds, bodies, and spirits of women around the globe. I also provide inspiring and beautiful resources, such as the luxe letterpress holiday calendar, to support women as they engage in Jewish life.
Q: As well as creating Jewish Food Hero, you’ve spent 10 years working with the United Nations and NGOs which has taken you all over the world. I’d love to hear more about your fascinating career and travels and how you maintained a vegan diet whilst travelling?
Since 2005, I have lived in worked in five countries (India, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Switzerland and Cambodia) in addition to traveling a lot in Africa, Asia and Europe. At the beginning of this global experience, I stopped being exclusively vegan for one year as an experiment. At the time, I was not sure how to negotiate my food preferences with the multicultural experience I was having. To put it simply, I did not want to go around saying “no” to people who wanted to share their cultural foods with me. My health deteriorated during this year.
Looking back, I feel grateful that I had a non-vegan experience with food because it showed me two important things. First, it is showed me that I like creating an inviting atmosphere around food (it really is more fun to say “yes” than “no”). It is important to me to be kind to others and allow them to share with me. Sharing food is a common gesture in every culture. Second, it allowed me to recommit to eating plant based as an adult. Plant based eating is the best choice for me because it aligns with my values and it makes me feel physically well.
Now, I find it very simple and exciting to be a vegan as I travel. There are so many vegetarian and vegan restaurants now (I use the Happy Cow app and search “vegan food in city X” on Google to find healthy places to eat wherever I am).
Q: Where in the world have you found the best vegan food?
For me, Asia!
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: Hum Vegetarian Restaurant and Cafe offers an ambiance that is beautiful and well thought out. Each dish is plated beautifully, and the food was fresh and delicious. The restaurant tagline is “Peace comes from within” and this is indeed how I felt eating there, both during and after the experience.
Bali, Indonesia: I ate a beautiful organic vegan meal at Liat Solomons Down to Earth Cafe. The cafe feels aligned with Solomon’s values to create a business that is grounded in love, non-violence and health-conscious living.
Kyoto, Japan: Zen Vegetarian lunch at the Tenryu-ji Temple is nourishing and peaceful. The meal in this Zen monastery “is just enough to satisfy the palate and the soul.”
Q: They all sound great! I love finding delicious vegan eateries when travelling. What are your top tips for someone travelling as a vegan?
Transform anxiety into excitement: Looking back, when I had a hard time being vegan, it was less about the geographic location and more about me. When I was younger, I was less willing to speak up about my food preferences. I had in my mind that I was holding onto a perspective that I might burden others, or that my preferences indicated that I was “difficult” or “controlling” about food.
Ask for what you want and be specific: When I travel now, I create laminated business sized cards that say “I eat vegan. No Meat. No fish. No dairy (milk, butter, yogurt). No oil.” in the local language. When I go to restaurants, I show this to the server so they know help me order food that meets my preferences.
Eat your starches: Eating simple starches every day will keep you energized and your digestive system in good shape as you travel. My favorites are rice (white and brown), potatoes and sweet potatoes.
Q: I love the idea of carrying a card in the local language explaining your dietary needs – I’ll definitely use that tip when I visit Asia later this year! Now, onto your delicious cook book, what kind of recipes does it contain and do you have an absolute favourite?
Jewish Food Hero Cookbook: 50 Simple Plant-Based Recipes for Your Holiday Meals offers simple and healthy recipes for 10 major Jewish Holidays. The recipes align with what we know about the benefits of plant-based food, and pull from our Jewish traditional and symbolic dishes. That said, anyone can enjoy these recipes!
A Sweet Squash Spread that can be served with apple slices, break-fast Cardamom Coffee Cake, Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie… I can’t choose!
If you’d like to get a taste of what’s in the cookbook, you can download my mock chopped liver recipe. It is delicious, healthy and touches at our Jewish food memories. It is a savory dip made from mushrooms and walnuts and can be enjoyed on a salad or as a spread on healthy bread and crackers.
Q: If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be?
I would (and will) eat simple meals for the rest of my life. For me, this means centering my meals around a starch (brown rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc), and eating a variety and good quantity of vegetables and a bit of fruit every day.
Q: Describe a day in the life of Kenden.
My daily routine and schedule is that of a working mother in perhaps a somewhat exotic location. Here are some details that happen daily:
Early Rise: I wake up very early and try to have 30 minutes to one hour to myself before the rest of my family wakes up. I drink 1 liter of water with apple cider vinegar or lemon and then enjoy a fresh cup of coffee. I sit quietly, pray, and/or do some intentional reading as a way to grounding myself for the day.
Family: I became a mother in 2010. My daily rhythm includes caretaking: making and sharing meals, brushing teeth, reading together, practicing piano, bedtime rituals, and school drop-offs and pick-ups.
Work: Quite simply, when my daughter is at school, my heart and mind are devoted to Jewish Food Hero.
Community: I create community mostly through cooking and sharing meals. Our family sits down together to share 2-3 meal a day. I connect with 2 close female friends per week via skype and by going out to coffee together. We happily invite guests (the more the better) to our table every Shabbat dinner (Friday night).
Q: Do you have a favourite inspirational quote to leave us with?
Thank you so much to Kenden for sharing her story with us! To find out more about Kenden, head over to her blog jewishfoodhero.com ♥