interview

INTERVIEW WITH KENDEN FROM JEWISH FOOD HERO

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.   
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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.

JEWISH FOOD HERO BLOG

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.  

JEWISH FOOD HERO COOK BOOK

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.

jewish food hero plate

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.

Move my body: 4-5 days per week, I do some type of physical movement.  For the last years, I have been enjoying barre3, yogaglo and pilates anytime.   

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?

inspiring quote

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 ♥

Interview with Tom from Spiced!

Today, I’m super excited to share with you guys an interview with one of my favourite internet friends – Tom. Tom runs a blog, youtube channel and vegan business at tomfromspiced.com. Read on to learn more about the inspiration behind Tom’s business and what it’s like to be a young, vegan business owner. I’m sure you’re all going to enjoy getting to know Tom as much as I did ▷►▹▸

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Q: How did your vegan journey start, what were your main inspirations and influences?

A: Ever since I can remember I’ve had pets and as such I’ve always called myself an animal lover. However as I got older I started to become aware of how hypocritical this was given that I was eating meat and so for a couple of years I was in the position of knowing I should go vegetarian but not following through on it. Then one day in 2011 I was chatting to my brother Rob when he said I should go vegetarian, so I did! And veganism naturally followed last year when I once again realised I couldn’t call myself an animal lover and environmentalist when I was consuming animal products.

In terms of inspiration and influence it’s unquestionably my aforementioned brother. He went vegetarian at 8 which I have huge respect for as he was constantly bullied at school for it and it takes a lot of conviction at that age to persevere with what you believe in. He went vegan at 19 and looking back I’m annoyed I didn’t join him sooner!

Q: That’s so cool that your brother inspired you to go vegan and that has now led to you starting your own vegan business! Tell us all about your business Spiced! and how you became a small, vegan business owner.

A: I sell handmade spice pastes that contain no gluten or oil. They’re currently available in three varieties – Caribbean (with sweet allspice & nutmeg), North African (with zingy cayenne pepper) and South Indian (with tangy tamarind) – although I have plans for more in future!

After I graduated in 2013 I took a well-earned break, got (and left) a part-time job and generally spent a lot of time trying to think what to do with my life. Then in early 2014 I watched a cooking programme which had a segment about home food businesses and I thought I’d give it a go. Initially I thought I’d just be testing the waters to see if it was viable but once I started I really wanted to see if I could make a career of it and here I am!

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Q: That’s awesome, I bet you’re so glad now that you took a chance on your idea! Have you got any tips for someone hoping to start up their own vegan business?

A: I still consider myself fairly clueless about business (which is one of the beauties of it; you’re constantly learning) but if I had to offer three tips they would be:

  1. Find people who will give you honest feedback. That way when they say your product’s good you know it’s good!
  2. Get involved in the vegan community. Whether it be online or in real life there is an amazing community of friendly, passionate and supportive vegans and vegan business owners out there. Twitter chats in particular are a great way to find them!
  3. Sell at vegetarian/vegan events rather than general markets. I’ve done four days at my local market and they went quite poorly which – without wanting to sound arrogant – I think was largely due to it not being my target market at all.

Q: Great tips, it’s definitely important to find the right target market for your product! Speaking of your awesome products, what’s your favourite recipe to cook with spiced! products?

A: Probably a tagine that I make with my North African paste. It’s one of the first recipes I ever made when I started cooking and it’s survived to this day!

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Q: As well as being a small business owner, you also blog and have a YouTube channel, what kind of videos do you share with your audience?

A: All sorts! Everything from books and music to health and fitness to recycling and the vegan lifestyle. I’ve been on a little break from blogging and YouTube recently in order to focus on other areas of the business but I’ll hopefully be back to producing regular content soon!

Q: I think it’s really admirable that as well as blogging/vlogging/running your own business, you volunteer as an assistant camp leader at teen vgn summer camp. If you could give one piece of advice to a young person who wants to go vegan what would it be?

A: I think my general advice to anyone wanting to go vegan is that it doesn’t have to be an overnight process; even the smallest change is having a positive impact! For example before I went fully vegan I swapped from cow’s milk to soya milk and whenever I did baking it was always vegan. If it takes you a couple of years to transition that’s ok because for something like this which is such a fundamental part of your life you have to be doing it because you truly believe in it.

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Tom with his adorable cat Bobby

Q: Since going vegan I have experienced so many amazing health benefits; what positive effects has adopting the vegan diet had on you?

A: Honestly I haven’t really noticed any because I was eating almost entirely vegan for well over a year when I was vegetarian. Rather the biggest health improvements in my life have come from generally eating a lot more healthily, eating more quantity-wise and exercising regularly.

I guess you could equate my love of vegetables and healthy eating with my transition to veganism, but I think it’s actually a bit of a misconception that veganism automatically equates to being healthy. It’s certainly possible to have a very unhealthy lifestyle and be vegan!

Q: If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would you choose?

A: If we’re looking at this purely from a taste rather than health or nutritional perspective then I would have to say (assuming it counts as a meal) cereal. I’ve loved it my entire life and I consider myself to be somewhat of a connoisseur!

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Tom cuddling up to kitty number 2 – Tiny

Q: Describe a day in the life of Tom.

A: Obviously it varies depending on the day but a lot of my time is spent on my laptop doing business-related things, whether it be sending and replying to e-mails, running my social media accounts, thinking of new ideas for content or working on my website. Moving forward I’ll hopefully be spending a lot more time at vegan events, meeting customers and selling face to face!

Outside of the business I listen to a ton of music, I try to read every day and I lift weights twice a week. I also love American football but sadly the NFL season doesn’t start again until September!

Q: Do you have a favourite inspirational quote to leave us with?

A: Whilst I am a bit of a sucker for inspirational quotes I don’t know if I have a personal favourite! However, if I had to pick something to leave you with then ‘treat others how you’d like to be treated’ is a mantra I try my best to abide by. It’s so obvious and simple and if everyone did their best to act on it I think the world would be an infinitely nicer place to live!

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Sophie the cat who is too cool to pose with humans!

Thank you so much Tom for sharing your story with us. Be sure to check out Tom’s website: tomfromspiced.com where you can read his blog, watch his videos and buy Spiced! products ♥

Interview with Valentina of My Vegan Valentine

I recently got the chance to have a chat with the awesome Valentina from My Vegan Valentine and I am so excited to share this interview with you all. Valentina is an animal rights activist, volunteers at her local animal shelter, and promotes a healthy and kind vegan lifestyle on her blog. What’s absolutely insane is that she does all of this, and she’s still in school! How freaking incredible is that? Watch out world, I predict big things from this girl!

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Q: How did your vegan journey start? What were your main inspirations and influences?

A: I have always loved nonhuman animals. I’ve never met an animal I didn’t like – I just have a special connection with them. That’s why when I heard about how animals were treated to produce meat and other products I couldn’t stand to be part of that culture. All animals have the right to live without being exploited, and us cramming them into giant factory farms, denying them attention and love, and slaughtering them for food is a violation of that right.

Q: Are any your friends and family vegan too?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole ton of vegan friends and family. That’s why I was so ecstatic when I began diving into the world of vegan blogging! Through the internet, I am able to connect with vegans around the globe and share my experiences with them.

Q: What would your top tips be for someone in school who wants to go vegan?

Explore your options! A lot of people think that all vegans eat are salads and tofu all day, every day. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There are vegan versions of most of your favorite foods, including pizza, jerky, and ice cream. Really expand your horizons beyond tofu. Also, remember to never let peer pressure affect you. If your friends are giving you a hard time, think of it as an opportunity to educate them about the horrors of the animal product industry.

Q: You have an awesome blog where you share a variety of food & animal posts. It’s amazing to see someone so young speaking out for animal rights in such an insightful way. Tell us about your blogging journey and the inspiration behind My Vegan Valentine.

First, thank you so much for your kind words! Well, around the same time I decided to adopt a cruelty-free and vegan lifestyle, I started researching it on sites like PETA2 and the Humane Society. I soon became passionate about a plethora of other animal-rights-related causes. My heart swelled with compassion for these underprivileged animals, and I knew I just had to get the word out. I started writing about animal rights and veganism for my school newspaper, making posters for my local library, and educating my friends and family. Soon, I wanted to expand my audience base and got into blogging. This way, I can educate people all over the world. For example, just today my blog got five views all the way from Hong Kong! My inspiration behind My Vegan Valentine is that no living being is “better” than another, and that nonhuman animals should have rights too. I’m so grateful to be on this blogging journey, and so grateful for everyone who reads my message and takes it to heart. 🙂

Q: On your blog you talk about volunteering for an animal shelter; that’s such an incredible thing to do, tell us more about that.

A: The first animal rights cause I became passionate about was pet overpopulation and animal rescues. It began when I adopted my own dog, Tika, from an animal shelter. As soon as I locked eyes on the poor animals at the shelter, I wanted to take them all home with me. I suggested this to my parents, who for some reason weren’t fans of the idea. 😉  The next best thing, in my opinion, was to volunteer at the shelter. I had this idea in my head of Super Volunteering Valentina who would find perfect homes for all of those animals. I waited for years to implement this plan, and this year I am finally old enough! I’ve finished my first training, which was incredible, and I am enjoying working for these deserving animals. As soon as possible, I will start documenting my journey at the animal shelter on my blog, so be sure to stay tuned. I plan to get my first post on this subject out on November 1st or 2nd.

Q: If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be?

A: My signature Starbucks drink, of course! Vanilla Bean Frappuccino with soy, no whip cream, no caffeine. Perfect!

Q: What is your favourite cruelty-free beauty/hair product?

A: I have a minor obsession – make that major obsession – with beauty products by Pacifica. I love their makeup and skin care because not only is it super vibrant and beautiful, it is really accessible. You can find their products at most common grocery store beauty aisles. My favorite product of theirs is the Stellar Gaze Length and Strength Mineral Mascara. It makes your lashes super-duper-long and doesn’t smudge easily.

Q: Going vegan has been an incredibly healthy transition for me, what positive effects has adopting the vegan lifestyle had on you?

A: Most of the positive effects of eating vegan, for me, are mental. When I was just on the verge of going vegan, I would have mini panic attacks when someone served me chicken. When I eat a vegan meal, my conscience is 100% clear. :-).

Q: Describe a day in the life of Valentina.

A: As a dancer, my daily routine is always changing. My rehearsal schedule is very erratic! Generally, I am at school or at a rehearsal until maybe 3:30 PM. If I am performing that day, I won’t be finished until almost 10:30! After that, I take walks with Tika, write for my school newspaper (I’m the editor), read, draw, volunteer, and create flyers, posters or displays about animal rights to place around town.

Q: Do you have a favourite inspirational quote to leave us with?

A: When it comes to animal rights, Ingrid Newkirk really sums it up in this lovely quote: “When it comes to pain, love, joy, loneliness, and fear, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”

A huge thank you to Valentina for sharing her vegan story with us. Be sure to check out her awesome blog here.