hot for food founder, best­selling au­thor, and ve­gan chef ex­traor­di­naire Lau­ren Toy­ota talks com­fort food, cook­books, and the fu­ture of plant-based eat­ing.


Hot for Food founder Lau­ren Toy­ota dishes on the evolv­ing world of ve­g­an­ism

Once re­garded as a pe­cu­liar and ex­pen­sive lifestyle choice, ve­g­an­ism has un­der­gone a re­nais­sance over the last decade. Doc­u­men­taries such as What the Health (2017) and Food, Inc. (2008)— as well as a bevy of op-eds ex­pos­ing poor food prac­tices and the en­vi­ron­men­tal and phys­i­cal hazards of meat and dairy con­sump­tion—have opened (and ed­u­cated) many eyes across the globe. One of the ex­cit­ing fig­ures push­ing the move­ment for­ward is Cana­dian tele­vi­sion host turned chef Lau­ren Toy­ota. Here, Toy­ota opens up about her blog, hot for food, and how she’s striv­ing to shat­ter pop­u­lar mis­con­cep­tions about ve­g­an­ism. What was your mo­ti­va­tion be­hind mak­ing the switch to ve­g­an­ism? “I had been let go from my tele­vi­sion job in 2008, and be­cause I had so much time to my­self, I re­al­ized that I wasn’t feel­ing great—just based on the way I was eat­ing. At the time, I was an om­ni­vore, but I had been veg­e­tar­ian for a while prior to that when I was a teenager, and had al­ways gone back and forth. Re­al­iz­ing I was feel­ing sick from food, I started do­ing some re­search and read­ing a lot. I watched Food, Inc., which is a documentary about the food in­dus­try and how cor­rupt it is, and I went, ‘I re­ally need to make a change.’ Jan­u­ary 1, 2010, is the date I de­cided to elim­i­nate ev­ery an­i­mal prod­uct. I did that and just felt so much bet­ter. It was mainly for health at the be­gin­ning, but I had al­ways felt that eat­ing an­i­mals was weird.” Did you ex­pe­ri­ence any phys­i­cal changes? “I mainly just felt clearer and cleaner. I didn’t get stom­ach aches from eat­ing food any­more, which was al­ways a prob­lem for me. [Be­fore], ev­ery time I ate some­thing, I felt sick, and that was mainly be­cause of dairy. I can’t re­ally digest meat, so I just felt lighter and health­ier. I felt I was mak­ing a bet­ter choice for my body phys­i­cally, but also men­tally and emo­tion­ally.” Were there any chal­lenges in be­com­ing ve­gan? “The main chal­lenge was fig­ur­ing out what to eat so that I felt sat­is­fied and not empty. At the time, the op­tions that were avail­able in restau­rants or even prod­ucts at the gro­cery store weren’t ex­cit­ing. I was look­ing at recipes and try­ing things, but was never too im­pressed with any­thing. I thought [ve­gan op­tions were] miss­ing the flavour, the fat­ti­ness, the creami­ness—all of the things that you crave in food that you of­ten only get with an­i­mal prod­ucts. That’s what re­ally in­spired hot for food. I was re­ally bored with what was avail­able and started ex­per­i­ment­ing a lot more. It was [that] chal­lenge that in­spired me to start do­ing my own thing, to make my own recipes and share them with peo­ple in hopes that it would con­vince oth­ers that be­ing ve­gan isn’t bor­ing and bland.” What’s the big­gest myth you per­son­ally fell for? “I fell into that trap at the be­gin­ning of think­ing that I needed to eat a lot of raw foods and a lot of smooth­ies and stuff, and I got so bored of it quickly. That’s a mis­con­cep­tion that I am fo­cused on try­ing to change in peo­ple’s minds, be­cause it’s re­ally about eat­ing the same foods that just hap­pen to be plant-based.” What are some of the most ex­cit­ing things you’ve seen hap­pen in the ve­gan mar­ket? “Ve­gan food is chang­ing and be­com­ing a lot more ac­ces­si­ble, less in­tim­i­dat­ing, and more palat­able. It’s hap­pen­ing across the board and I am glad to be at the fore­front of that move­ment, be­cause that was my in­ten­tion when I started out eight years ago. I am so im­pressed by the prod­uct in­no­va­tions. When I first started, there weren’t even any good cheese op­tions or sub­sti­tutes. Now, there are way bet­ter op­tions than eat­ing the pack­aged, pro­cessed food that con­tains an­i­mal prod­ucts. I re­ally like what Beyond Meat and Hamp­ton Creek are do­ing—all those Sil­i­con Val­ley–based [man­u­fac­tur­ers]. All the money and in­vest­ments that are [go­ing into] ve­gan food prod­ucts are be­cause peo­ple are see­ing that there’s this huge gap in the mar­ket, and that’s help­ing to cat­a­pult the ve­gan lifestyle into the main­stream.” How do you see the ve­gan in­dus­try evolv­ing? “I think you’re go­ing to see meat sub­sti­tutes that are made out of plant-based and pea pro­teins ap­prear­ing in restau­rants with­out re­ally men­tion­ing that they’re ve­gan. You’re al­ready start­ing to see the ‘Im­pos­si­ble Burger’ and Beyond Meat prod­ucts on reg­u­lar menus at chain restau­rants. In the U.S., they’ve in­te­grated plant-based meat sub­sti­tutes onto Ap­ple­bee’s and TGI Fri­day’s menus, and that’s huge be­cause that con­trib­utes to the big-pic­ture en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact that the meat in­dus­try has on our planet. If all of these mas­sive food chains can start mak­ing those changes, that’s go­ing to af­fect the de­mand for meat a lot, and then we’ll start to see real shifts in the kinds of food that is be­ing pro­duced around the world. We’re not go­ing to change the fact that peo­ple want to eat out and have con­ve­nient food, but I think that if we can make the op­tions bet­ter, peo­ple will make the bet­ter choice.” What ef­fect did your me­dia ca­reer have on you even­tu­ally writ­ing and pub­lish­ing your own cook­book, hot for food: Ve­gan Com­fort Clas­sics? “Pro­duc­ing con­tent and cre­at­ing things have al­ways been in me, and work­ing in TV as a host and pro­ducer for al­most 10 years gave me the skills to be able to un­der­stand how to tell a story through video or pho­tos. I thought I would never get sick of [tele­vi­sion], but I did. I found it to be cre­atively sti­fling. Once I found my pas­sion in cooking and be­ing ve­gan, I be­came so [fo­cused] on it, be­cause it was such a life-chang­ing de­ci­sion. Although I didn’t plan on mak­ing a book, I have al­ways wanted to say some­thing and have it mean some­thing, so that was re­ally just part of the path. I re­ally feel like I’ve found my real plat­form, my real voice, and my real mes­sage in what I do. I can’t imag­ine ever putting this much work into any­thing else.”

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