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Interview: Susan Voisin of Fat Free Vegan Kitchen

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Susan Voisin

Susan Voisin is the powerhouse blogger behind Fat Free Vegan Kitchen, one of the most beloved and oft-referenced vegan food blogs on the Internet. Her tasty recipes have a tendency toward winning everyone over—including carnivores. We’re certainly not the only ones who love what she’s doing, but we’re definitely among her biggest fans. Check out Susan’s recipes and gorgeous food photos at her award-winning blog, Fat Free Vegan Kitchen.

Why “fat free”?

There’s a whole long, boring history of the use of the name “fatfree” on the Internet—well, as long as a history of anything on the Internet can be—but the short answer is that my website [Fat Free Vegan] was set up to help people who follow a fat-free vegan diet, whether to prevent or reverse heart disease, to treat diabetes, or to lose weight, find recipes that they can use. My blog grew out of that site, and I started it mostly as a way to keep myself accountable. In other words, I planned to write down everything I ate in order to stick to my diet and post it on my blog. But soon after I started it, I began posting more of my own recipes to show people that a fat-free vegan diet can be varied and interesting and delicious. Still, I never really expected that the blog would catch on with people who aren’t fat-free or vegan, but it has.

You were the food photographer for Vegan Express by Nava Atlas. Tell us about that experience.

I learned so much from Nava and from the book’s art director about what goes into a good photo—everything from choice of dishes down to having all the bell peppers cut the same size. To tell the truth, I really wasn’t ready for the job, but it made me grow as a photographer much more quickly than I would have otherwise. I’m now working with Nava on a much bigger book (Vegan Holiday Kitchen, due out Fall 2011) with about five times as many photos, and though I still think my photography has a long way to go, I’m happy to see that it continues to improve.

Any plans for writing your own book?

Yes, I just need to find the time. I feel an obligation to my blog readers to keep the free recipes coming, but I also know a lot of them want a book they can hold in their hands. It’s a balancing act that I haven’t quite figured out how to perform.

What’s been the most unexpected benefit of authoring Fat Free Vegan Kitchen?

I never would have dreamed I’d be taking the photos for a Nava Atlas cookbook or cooking side-by-side with Bryanna Clark Grogan at a McDougall Celebrity Chef Weekend, but I have. Nava’s and Bryanna’s cookbooks were invaluable to me when I first became a vegetarian, and Bryanna and Dr. John McDougall were doing fat-free vegan cooking long before I got my first email address. I’m honored—and surprised—to have been able to work with them.

What’s the biggest challenge?

Coming up with new recipes. I’ll be honest with you: I often feel like I’ve cooked everything there is to cook. Or if I haven’t cooked it, someone else has, and I’ve never felt the need to tinker with other people’s perfectly good recipes. Trying to come up with new flavor combinations and innovations while still sticking to mostly whole foods, no oil, can be difficult after you’ve been doing it for a while. Sometimes I just need a few days off from thinking about food or blogging, but it’s hard when so much of the success of any blog is that the content is always fresh and new.

What are you most proud of having accomplished?

I feel the greatest sense of accomplishment when people tell me that I’ve helped them to either become vegetarian or to stick to a healthy diet. I get emails and Facebook messages all the time from people who plan their meals around my blog and who describe all of the health benefits they’ve gained from cutting out fat and animal products. And I’m very vain about my recipes, so I feel pretty proud when people tell me that their non-vegan friends love them.

A lot of your recipes involve vegetables from your own garden. What tips can you give to gardeners who are just starting out?

My best advice is to start a compost pile. If you do a lot of cooking, you have lots of scraps, and those potato peels and onion skins make beautiful compost if you just save them up and layer them with some leaves and grass clippings in a corner of your yard. Give it some time, and you’ll have a rich, organic fertilizer to add to your soil. There are even compost systems for people who live in apartments, so you never need to throw away your vegetable scraps.

How do you deal with people who have a negative reaction when they learn that you’re vegan?

I ignore them. Not that it’s happened very often. People in the South are much too polite to say anything right to your face. But every now and then I’ll meet some hunter at a party who, after a few drinks, wants to go into detail about his last kill. I just smile and find someone more interesting to talk to.

How’d you learn how to cook?

My mother taught me the basics, and I still call her when I need help with something she made when I was growing up, like her strawberry pie or cornbread dressing. But it wasn’t until I moved out on my own that I really started to learn my way around a kitchen. A friend’s mother gave me an ancient copy of Joy of Cooking, and I used it to make myself dishes that I’d heard of but, at the time, never tasted (Chicken Kiev, Chocolate Dobosh Torte). This was all before I was vegetarian, much less vegan, and I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I cooked my way through all the egg dishes. Joy of Cooking may not be what foodies now think of as a gourmet cookbook, but it was plenty haute to me at the time and taught me the basics of making a sauce or baking a cake.

You used to be a college English instructor. Do you think you’d ever go back to a life in academics?

No. The thing I liked best about teaching, reading books and discussing them, I can do with my family and friends, without the added burden of grading hundreds of freshman comp essays. Besides, blogging meets my definition of a dream job—something I can do in my pajamas with a cat on my lap.

What’s next for you?

I have another photography job lined up, a cookbook that I can’t talk about just yet. And I’m going to make a valiant attempt to finish my own cookbook. But mostly I’ll be blogging.

Nikki Jong is an earth-friendly eater who’s never met a vegetable she didn’t adore. In addition to her edible plant obsession, she nurses a neverending hankering for sustainable seafood and is a champion oyster eater (and shucker). Nikki loves hoppy beers, bold, spicy reds, and believes that nothing beats a cold glass of moscato d’Asti on a hot summer afternoon. As Editor of The Menuism Blog, she has the pleasure of interviewing some of the hungriest, thirstiest and most ambitious folks in food and wine.


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