Susan Voisin is a true bright light of the vegan world: Creating delicious and accessible recipes on her popular website FatfreeVegan.com since the early days of blogging, and she hasn’t slowed down in all these years, developing new, gorgeous recipes for the public all the time. (Please dig into her impressive treasure trove of beautifully photographed recipes when you get the chance.) In addition to Susan’s devotion to the cause as an ethical vegan and a creator, I especially appreciate her no-nonsense approach to some of the “health” and body-shaming propaganda of many plant-based folks, reminding us that veganism is a social justice movement grounded in compassion and justice, not promises of weight loss and becoming bullet-proof. I am honored and delighted to feature Susan Voisin as this week’s Vegan Foodie.
1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?
My mother was definitely an influence. She cooked almost every meal for my family when I was growing up because eating out was a very rare luxury. When I got my own apartment, I was constantly on the phone to her to find out how to cook the dishes I grew up eating, and I was also teaching myself to cook with The Joy of Cooking and any other cookbook I could find. But as I always say, I don’t cook because I like cooking; I cook because I love eating! I come from a long line of hearty, though not necessarily adventurous, eaters.
2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?
I guess our diet was pretty standard 60’s-era American food, with a splash of local Louisiana flavor. But there was also an emphasis on fresh vegetables because my father was a horticulturist with the university agricultural research station, and he brought home loads of fresh vegetables and grew oranges and other fruit. So I grew up eating fruits and vegetables that my friends thought were weird, like kumquats, eggplant, and persimmons.
The two dishes I absolutely had to recreate when I became vegan were red beans and rice and my mother’s beef stew. They’re still favorites.
3. It’s late at night and you just got home: What is your favorite quick and simple vegan meal?
Honestly, if it’s really late, I’d probably go for a frozen pizza or burger. But if I have a little time, I like to make breakfast for dinner — scrambled tofu with toast or grits. I put a lot of frozen vegetables in the tofu, so it’s a quick meal that touches all the nutritional bases.
4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?
I’m going to tell you a secret: I’m a true introvert, and the idea of cooking for other people terrifies me. Since I started blogging, I’ve gotten even more reluctant to cook for people because I feel like expectations are too high (my own, mostly, not theirs.) But if I have to cook for someone, I’d love to make a cheesecake for Tig Notaro. She’s vegan, and I love her comedy. If you’ve seen her web series Under a Rock, her interviews are kind of awkward, so I feel like we could have coffee and cheesecake and be awkward together.
5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?
As a recipe blogger, it drives me crazy when people switch out multiple ingredients in a recipe and then complain that the recipe doesn’t work. Along those lines, I don’t think that dishes are usually successful when people take a non-vegan recipe and do a straight-up substitution of vegan ingredients. Most dishes need flavor added when you take the meat, dairy, and eggs away. I’ve had too many bland vegan dishes.
6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment? Also, what ingredients do you always like to have on hand?
This time of year I’m excited about winter squash and pumpkins. I’ve probably got about one more butternut curry and a couple of pumpkin pies left in me before I hit my limit for the year.
I always have a freezer full of frozen vegetables and a cabinet full of canned beans and tomatoes, so with a little pasta or quinoa, I can throw together an easy meal.
7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?
That’s a tough one. The three that first come to mind are Ethiopian, Cajun (because I’m from Louisiana), and Indian. Or Thai. Or Korean. This is too hard!
8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.
John Robbins’ Diet for a New America came out right before I became vegetarian and was instrumental in keeping me vegetarian and convincing me eventually to go vegan. From a cooking perspective, Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East Vegetarian Cooking taught me so much about Asian cuisines and cooking; I still go back to it for inspiration and information.
9. What issue is nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like people to know more about?
Mammograms! I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 because of a routine mammogram. The cancer was aggressive and fast-growing and totally undetectable by touch. But here’s the thing: I had been vegan for 20 years, and a lot of the famous plant-based doctors recommend not getting mammograms or colonoscopies or even doing routine breast self-exams. They may not explicitly say it, but what many plant-based people believe is that their diet protects them from cancer. I think this advice is so dangerous, and whenever I get the chance, I plead with people not to think their diet makes them bulletproof. Eat healthy and exercise, of course, but when it comes to making major decisions about your health, don’t blindly follow anyone on the internet. Even me.
Also, adopt, don’t shop! 😀
10. Last, please finish this sentence. “To me, vegan food is…”
Love. Oh jeez, that’s so corny, but it’s what popped into my head, so maybe it’s true. Love animals, love the environment, love yourself and the people you feed.