5 Tips to Be a Better Vegan Food Activist from vegan chef Jason Wyreck

We all can get so excited when we find something new and important to us, sometimes we can overdo our enthusiasm and it takes awhile to find the right level of passion. It can be that way with vegans and I always get a chuckle about the jokes around vegans and how serious they are…and yes, it can be true. This blog from vegan chef Jason Wyreck has some great ideas on how to be approacheable and share with others the many benefits and reasons why being vegan is a good thing and…. that the food is GREAT! When I’m developing recipes my goal is always to make it tastes great first and be satisfying to anyone, otherwise people think all we eat are salads.   🙂

Link to his blog the vegan taste

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5 Tips to Be a Better Vegan Food Activist

January 30, 2014 By

I became a vegan food activist the moment I became vegan. Every time I served vegan fare to friends in my home or I went out to eat, people watched what I was doing. They couldn’t help it. Food is so emblematic of who we are both individually and as a culture, any deviation from the norm is bound to garner attention. My story is not unique. It happens to us all when we go vegan. Our non-vegan friends can’t help but watch and be influenced by what we do. How that influence plays out and whether it ends up being a positive or a negative influence is shaped by our food and by how we present ourselves. We are all vegan food ambassadors. This is even more true when you jump into the public eye, whether you are tabling, doing a cooking demo, teaching a class, or are on TV. I’ve been vegan for 13 years and a vegan chef and instructor for nearly as long and I’ve done well over 3,000 hours of classes, food demos, and tabling. This is what I’ve learned.

Tacos make a great dish to show the public. They are familiar, tasty, hearty, and bold.

Tacos make a great dish to show the public. They are familiar, tasty, hearty, and bold.

1. Bold Flavors and Substantial Food Will Win the Day

I liken eating meat and dairy dishes to looking at a strobe light. It’s hard to notice anything else. That means when you need to get a non-vegan’s attention, you need bold flavors to cut through that strobe light effect. Save the subtler flavors for later. It’s one of the primary reasons I focus on foods like chillis, tacos, grilled foods, caramelized onions, salt, sundried tomatoes, and other strong components when I am featuring vegan food to non-vegans for the first time. It doesn’t just make for flavorful food, it cues the eater into the fact that they won’t be missing the level of flavor they are accustomed to having when they eat vegan. You also need to cue the eater so that they understand that vegan food is substantial and they won’t be hungry two hours later. That means don’t serve dainty food! I see this happen way to often, even by those vegans who are prominently in the public eye. The food may be spectacular, but to the average non-vegan, it looks like food that will make them want to run to Burger King after they have eaten said dainty food. Chances are, people that like light fare are already vegan or vegetarian or eat a diet loaded with veggies. It’s preaching to the choir. You want food that will make everyone in the family, from the burger eater to the salad lover, feel like they are happy and satisfied.

2. Serve Familiar Food

I am a food explorer. I like some crazy stuff and I’ll try anything if it’s vegan. I also don’t use a lot of meat or dairy substitutes when I am making food for myself. When I am out in public presenting vegan food, though, I set my food snobbery to the side. It’s not about me. It’s about showing people that they can go vegan and be happy doing it. I choose my dishes based on what I think people will be willing to make at home and I try very hard to present food that doesn’t stretch their comfort zone too much (although being who I am, I can’t resist stretching it a little). If I am serving food at the Scottsdale Culinary Festival, they expect some crazy stuff, but even then, the majority of people that come through the festival will get more excited about a mesquite smoked Tofurky veggie dog with caramelized onions, grilled peppers, stone ground mustard, and a vegan garlic mayo than they will about my fancy chipotle smoked almond torte with a roasted garlic chip that I spent hours making. You’ll notice my Tofurky dog is a little upscale, but that’s ok. It’s still readily identifiable and it has the advantage of being better than all the meat-based dogs being served around me. It’s familiar and awesome.

3. It’s Not Vegan Food, It’s Just Good Food

This one is more about attitude than the food itself. To me, it is eminently important that it is vegan food. However, when I first present my food, I first present it as simply good food. People still know it’s vegan, but I don’t make that the focus of the experience. I let them enjoy the food first based simply on the fact that it is great food, and then I talk about it being vegan. Once people understand that they can have still have good food, they become much more amenable to becoming vegan. If make your focus the other way around, you will lose people you could have won over before they even try your food.

A confident smile will do just as much good as your  food. Have fun!

A confident smile will do just as much good as your food. Have fun!

4. Wear Your Confidence with a Smile

Let’s face it. Humans are hierarchical animals and we are constantly subconsciously processing social cues. We favor strength over weakness and we gravitate towards those who project that strength. That means you need to be confident in your food and in being vegan. It means, whether we like it or not, people will pay more attention to what you have to say when you project confidence in what you have to say. If you act wishy washy or shy, or even act like you don’t want to be there, you will turn people off immediately, regardless of how good your food is. Love your food and love what you do. Be nice, but don’t compromise about your convictions. When people tell me it’s all personal choice, I may nod and smile, but I never agree with them. If I do, not only am I agreeing with something I don’t believe (how can it be personal when you include another creature in your decisions?), it instantly tells them I don’t really mean what I say. That comes off as weakness and we know how that plays out. Being confident, however, doesn’t mean being an argumentative jerk. I smile when I talk to people. I joke with them. I make them feel comfortable and I never get antagonistic or combative (unless they are trying very hard to provoke me, and then I bring the smackdown; that happens very rarely). I don’t put on my chef’s coat when I teach classes because I want people to feel relaxed. It’s a quiet confidence to which people respond, not a loud aggressive one. You aren’t cool if you have to say you are and you don’t look confident if you have to be obnoxious about it.

5. Understand You Are Part of a Continuum

I used to get very upset when I couldn’t convince someone to go vegan. We often experience this with our families. Then I realized that it was not my job and my job alone. We are part of a continuum of positive vegan messages. You may not be the one to convince this person to go vegan, but if you left them with a positive message, you made it that much easier for the next person to do it, and so on. Consequently, if you leave them with a negative message, you made it that much harder. Leave them with a good message and you have done your job. When I figured that out, it took away a huge amount of stress I was suffering about it, and that made me feel lighter when I taught classes and did demos. That translated directly into my presentations, which ironically made it easier for me to convince people to go vegan. Don’t get me wrong, I still get a headache when a student comes up to me and tells me they added chicken to one of my recipes. Internally, I sigh, but outwardly, I tell them they did a great job cooking for themselves and maybe they can try using mushrooms or beans or something else appropriate to what they are making. It’s positive reinforcement that becomes part of a continuum of positive messages that will make it that much easier for that student to eventually choose vegan. In short, don’t take that huge burden of convincing someone to go vegan upon yourself. Realize that you are one of many messages that will eventually take root.

I could probably write pages and pages and even more pages on how to be an effective vegan food activist, but that’s it for today. Next week, how to be a vegan HEALTHY food activist!

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