Interview with John Schlimm, author of Grilling Vegan Style
September Cooking Tool of the Month – Grill
When I chose the grill for the September Cooking Tool of the Month I instantly thought I need to contact John Schlimm who wrote Grilling Vegan Style. Who better to share with us about grilling?! Let's get to know John a little better. Keep an eye out next week for a few delicious recipes from his book and a giveaway for Grilling Vegan Style! Lucky us!
What first inspired you to go vegan and share delicious food with others? Did you make the change overnight or gradually to a vegan lifestyle?
It was a slow process (often without me consciously even knowing it was happening) and then it all just clicked into place. Some background: I live in a small town in Western Pennsylvania (St. Marys) where the area is saturated in the hunting and meat-eating culture. In fact, as children (as is still the case today), we would get off of school for the first days of deer hunting season — I always went holiday shopping with my mom on those days while other classmates took to the woods, guns in hand. As a child, my father owned and operated a meat-processing business, particularly during hunting season in December. Like most children, I wanted to fit in and do what my parents were doing, so as a 10 year old, I tried each of the jobs in my father's meat-processing operation, including skinning the deer (I was no good at it as it's really tough to do — After all, we living beings are all put together pretty well!), cutting the meat (way too gory and smelly for me!), prepping the hides (WAY TO SMELLY and oh, the ticks! ICK!), making sausage (AGAIN, way to smelly, especially when your nose is basically at table level), etc… — Somewhere deep down, instinctually I assume, I knew I was not cut out for this — I eventually was relegated to the front desk where I would write down what the hunters wanted done with their deer and then with a rubber band, I would attach the rolled-up instructions to the inside of the deer's ear (I know, YIKES & ICK!). And, if they wanted the horns, they had to cut them off — I wasn't strong enough to do that job either. I think my dad paid me about $2.00 or $3.00 an hour to do that — It's almost poetic when you think that was literally my first paid "writing" job and now I have the honor of writing vegan cookbooks and speaking on behalf of animals as an activist — Talk about a journey, and that's just part of it!
I started writing cookbooks in the early 2000's — They were not vegan, as neither was I at the time. Then a few years ago I started taking more of an active and mindful interest in the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle — I started to study about it and better understand what it was. I don't recall ever even hearing those words mentioned in my small hometown while growing up or even in more recent years. The immediate result was that the meat portions on my plate started getting smaller and the veggie sides started getting bigger. I wasn't quite sure how to make the full transition. Then I read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer — On page 266, he writes about Thanksgiving turkeys and he basically says, they go through life "unloved." When I saw that single word — "unloved" — on page 266, it was an electrifying moment for me. I circled the word, I highlighted the word, I never wanted to forget that. It all became crystal clear for me: No living being, human or animal should ever go through this life unloved. That was the "click-over" in my mind. After a slow build-up, I went vegan over that one word, which packed a very powerful punch. It was also the combination of my childhood/cultural background briefly mentioned above and this "unloved" story that landed me on Ellen with Jonathan. It was on there that I got to utter that line: "No living being, human or animal, should ever go through this life unloved." It was probably the most perfect line that will ever come out of my mouth. And, to be able to connect with millions of my neighbors across the country with that line and in that moment was AMAZING and life-changing! I also express this in the identical dedications that appear in both Grilling Vegan Style and The Tipsy Vegan, which read: "To all the animals, so you know that you have not passed this way unloved".
If someone is a die-hard skeptic of how delicious vegan food can be what meal would you feed them?
I really try hard to craft my vegan cookbooks so that you can serve non-vegans any of my dishes and they would enjoy the meal. My vegan cookbooks are what I call "small town friendly," meaning, for the most part, my small town family, friends, and neighbors can walk into any of our grocery stores (and on occasion, liquor stores) and find all the ingredients they need. My point is that my vegan recipes are regular, easy recipes that anyone can enjoy — In Grilling Vegan Style, there are recipes like Tattooed Watermelon Salad, Party on South Peach Salsa, Drive-in Popcorn with Spanish Seasoning, Midsummer Night's Asparagus with Mandarin Orange & Pimiento Sauce, Italian Herb Burgers, Shiny Happy Poppers, Starry Night Tart with Grilled Eggplant, Zucchini & Plum Tomatoes, and S'More Is Always Better! — I also recommend creating a fun, family-friendly DIY Kebab Bar, using a mix-and-match buffet of favorite fruits and veggies along with tofu, tempeh, and seitan and any of the marinades in my chapter on marinades.
You have a book on booze and another one on grilling, which seem to reach the male population most strongly. Can you share some advice or tips you have for dudes who want to go vegan but have fears of it not being manly?
This is a great question because when it comes to my cookbooks and recipes — via my concept of being Parties-in-a-Book to which everyone is invited — I never think in terms of gender, I think in terms of EVERYONE. After all, the best parties are the ones with a fantastic mixture of people, anchored with great food and drink.
In terms of the male/female dynamic and my cookbooks:
With Grilling Vegan Style, I am inserting a new concept, a new philosophy, a new way of having fun and grilling into this discussion — there is no man/woman issue here, that's been removed — My philosophy is that this is a party EVERYONE is invited to: vegans and carnivores, men and women, young and old, backyard dwellers and beach bums — The only requirement is that you have to want to have FUN (that's non-negotiable where I'm involved — After all, you're talking to someone who co-hosted a yearlong pub crawl for charity last year via my family's Straub Brewery! HA! — Not to mention, I would refer you to my "Party Like U Mean It" board on Pinterest).
Consider Grilling Vegan Style my SIZZLING dissertation on how the grill is now a place where barriers are torn down, whether we're talking about gender/who is serving as grill master or food/what fantastic plant-based ingredients are being tossed on the flames. The perceived "macho" or "feminine" aspects of the grill have always been about who's standing in front of the grill and flipping the burgers; that's the short-sighted and shallow cliche of what is manly or what is not — I don't have time for such silly, primitive, and fictional limitations like that — What makes the grill master (male or female) a ROCK STAR is (and always has been) the FOOD and if it is eyes-rolled-back-in-your-head-scrumptious — That's what Grilling Vegan Style (and The Tipsy Vegan) is all about.
To your actual question, I have not met with any resistance or tired old gender stereotypes in response to Grilling Vegan Style — I believe that is because the language of FUN and delicious food transcends all that nonsense and resounds loudly and clearly on every page and in every bite of Grilling Vegan Style!
If someone wants to "flex their muscle" so to speak and feels the need to take a "manly" approach to the vegan lifestyle via Grilling Vegan Style, I suggest they try the Tempeh Steaks on the Grill or head to Chapter 8: The Burgers Are Ready! or Chapter 9: The New Tailgating Classics — But I would warn them, women will ROCK those recipes and chapters just as well!
Who's work do you love in the vegan/health world? Who inspires you?
Honestly, I draw inspiration from just about everyone who is working in this field, even if it's just a small morsel of information they provide that I didn't know before, or perhaps they themselves have a certain personality that inspires or energizes me (Your use of "Blissful" inspires me — It make me happy every time I see it in print!). For example, I recently had lunch with Victoria Moran in NYC — I have rarely met a person who exudes peace and calm like she does! Her sense of balance and mindfulness was infectious — I practically floated out the door afterwards. This was the day after I had attended the American Humane Association's "Super Heroes Among Us" Hero Dogs event at Gotham Hall — where I got to sit next to Daniel (a Hero Dog), who as a homeless/abandoned dog had been placed into a gas chamber in Alabama with 18 other dogs. When the humane officer opened the chamber, the 18 other dogs were dead, but Daniel was still wagging his tail! He was then put up for adoption and has now inspired "Daniel's Law" to outlaw the use of gas chambers. I spent most of the night just staring at him in awe — I mean, talk about the will to live — Daniel's example says it all! Likewise, this was during Fashion Week in NYC when everyone is out and about — I got to have fun and run around town with pieces by two of my favorite vegan designers, who both inspire me: Inder Bedi of Matt & Nat and Elizabeth Olsen of OlsenHaus.
Those are just a few of the countless examples of those working in the vegan lifestyle realm whom I admire. You could literally name just about anyone else in the field and I could tell you how, in some way, they have touched me, moved me, INSPIRED me!
What does a typical day in your life look like and what kind of meals are you eating?
My typical day is often bookended by meditation, then starts with a work-out and catching-up on the news, usually at the same time — I do some form of aerobic exercise, such as walking, running, biking, using my stepper, swimming, etc., one day and then weight-training the next day, alternating like that — I also do yoga as often as possible. Then I am normally at my desk for the rest of the day and into the night, working on whatever projects I have going at the time — which might be a new book, an article I'm writing, a charity event I'm organizing, or a short art film I'm creating. Several afternoons a week I volunteer at our local Humane Society shelter where I walk and run with the dogs, all of whom inspire me beyond words. I also do a lot of charity work at the grassroots level here, such as serving on the Board of Directors for our local domestic, emotional, and sexual abuse (of women, children, and men) organization and shelter called C.A.P.S.E.A. (Citizens Against Physical, Sexual & Emotional Abuse), as a team captain for Relay for Life, and I'm the founding co-director of Team Straub, the fundraising arm of my family's Straub Brewery.
When I'm home, even in my quiet small town, my life is pretty busy, so my meals are simple and fresh. Breakfast is usually a bowl of Kashi (the high-protein line) with vanilla almond milk; lunch is almost always a HUGE salad with mixed greens, sauteed veggies of all kinds (from the Farmers Market during that season), and a simple homemade balsamic and herb dressing; and supper can be anything from a veggie burger or marinated tofu before a charity meeting to a full-on grill fest with family and friends that lasts all night long. AND I drink tons and tons of water throughout the day, saving my favorite extra-extra dirty vodka martinis and Laughing Stingers (see "The Nightcap" on page 156 of The Tipsy Vegan) for weekends and parties!
For me, the concept of vegan is not just what I put in my mouth, it's a full lifestyle — It's a lifestyle that strives for a balance of mind, body, and spirit; it's a lifestyle where there is no room for judgment; and it's a lifestyle where I try my best to embrace compassion in everything I do — In fact, "compassion" was a main theme running through the recent commencement address I delivered.
What are five vegan staples that everyone should have in their pantry?
ONLY FIVE?! Ha! There are so many, but if I must, here it goes:
Beans (lots and lots of different kinds, and experiment with them!), Extra-virgin olive oil (to saute!), Vegan sugar (such as Florida Crystals, for baking!), Vegenaise (vegan mayonnaise), Tofu (and tempeh and seitan if they're available where you live — However, find some great recipes for tofu, et al. like the ones in Grilling Vegan Style and The Tipsy Vegan, because a bad tofu dish/recipe can turn people off from the start — I happen to LOVE-LOVE-LOVE tofu!)
What is your favorite restaurant in the world to eat at and why? Favorite dish there?
I have been extremely fortunate to eat in some of the best restaurants and have some of the most amazing chefs prepare food for me, so this question is, of course, impossible to answer — However, before I became vegan, I always ate the Hunan Chicken dish at the Green Jade Chinese Restaurant in my hometown. When I went vegan, I asked if they could transform that into a veganized Hunan Tofu dish for me. They did and it is one of my absolute favorite dishes to eat — And, many of my non-vegan friends now also order it.
What is in store for you? Do you have any speaking engagements this year and new books on the horizon?
As for speaking engagements, I will be speaking and signing books at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford on October 10 to benefit their Friends of Hanley Library organization, and I will be speaking at Boston Vegetarian Food Festival on Saturday, October 27 — For more information on my schedule, which is always evolving, readers can go to my web site.
As for new books, I am currently working on two new books:
First, I am working on my newest cookbook, which is titled The Cheesy Vegan — We have entered the Age of Vegan Cheese — Jo Stepaniak's Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook broke ground in this realm years ago, and recently Miyoko Schinner's Artisan Vegan Cheese elevated it to a sophisticated art form — I plan to now turn vegan cheese in a party for all to enjoy!
Second, I am also working on a book titled Stand Up!, which is going to be an anthology of stories written by young activists, age 25 and under, about the amazing work — often at the grassroots level — they are doing to ROCK the world. Below is the link to that book project for anyone who is a young activist (in any area) or might know of one — I hope they will please submit their stories for consideration (the submission deadline is November 1).
Finally, I am also working on an exclusive Halloween Party Tips & Menu for VegNews.com, which will be posted at the end of October.