Jason Wrobel is a graduate of the Living Light Culinary Institute with national certification as a Professional Raw Food Chef and Instructor. A vegan for nearly 20 years, he has shown hundreds of thousands of people how to prepare deliciously easy and satisfying plant-based recipes. His popular YouTube channel, The J-Wro Show, features over 250 vegan recipe demos and vibrant living vlogs. As the first-ever vegan chef on Cooking Channel, his TV series How to Live to 100 merged healthy comfort food recipes with a humorous blend of sitcom skits and epic animation. His new book Eaternity: More than 150 Deliciously Easy Vegan Recipes for a Long, Healthy, Satisfied, Joyful Life is now available.
Chic Vegan: What motivated you to become vegan? Was it an overnight switch or more gradual shift?
Jason Wrobel: The initial seed of inspiration to become vegan was observing the health issues in my family. In 1995, my Grandfather lost his second battle with cancer and it made me deeply question the lifestyle choices, diet and habits in my family. I took a good, honest look at how I was living and how I was eating. At that time, I took to the web to start researching nutrition, animal rights, global warming and factory farming. The more I learned, the more I realized that I was not living in alignment with my ethical or moral values. Over the course of a few years, I shifted from a Standard American Diet to vegetarian to eventually vegan. By spring 1998, I was fully vegan and I’ve never looked back. It’s been the single most important, defining decision of my life thus far.
CV: When people learn that you are vegan, what is the #1 question they ask and what is your response?
JW: The #1 question I get is, “Why are you vegan?” It’s pretty easy for me to answer. It’s the one choice I’ve made in my life that has simultaneously improved my personal health, reduced the suffering of animals and minimized the burden on our natural resources and environment. After I did my research, I found no other lifestyle choice as compelling or compassionate. I choose to be vegan because I want to create more love, acceptance and healing on this planet, while reducing suffering and cruelty as much as possible.
CV: Tell me a little bit about your new book Eaternity and what inspired you to write it.
JW: Eaternity is my baby. Seriously, it’s probably the closest thing to giving birth for me. It’s the culmination of 2 ½ years of writing and research. The whole intention of the book is to show people how to improve specific aspects of their life with the right foods and nutrition. The book is divided into 14 benefit chapters such as “Eat for Better Sex” and “Eat for Energy”, which show you the specific nutrients, foods and recipes to help you achieve those health goals. It features 154 of my absolute best vegan and raw food recipes and the photos, oh boy, the photos. We needed to add a drool-proof coating on the pages (just kidding!) I’m so proud of this book and can’t wait to share it with the world.
CV: What inspires you to create a new recipe?
JW: It’s either a bolt of inspiration from a new ingredient, a social media post… or flat-out creative boredom. I always want to innovate with flavors and ingredients. I’m motivated to try things that I’ve never done before and I try to think of recipes or ingredients that are going to challenge me. I often look to Instagram accounts, Bon Appetit or Food & Wine and look at both vegan and non-vegan recipes for creative inspiration. We live in a food-obsessed culture right now and there are a ton of epically talented cooks and chefs out there making some mind-blowing food. Collectively, I think it pushes everyone to improve their skills and attempt more outlandish, creative dishes. When I find a new ingredient I’ve never heard of before, that also motivates me to experiment with new recipes. That’s why I love to travel – it exposes me to a new culinary culture and that’s incredibly inspiring.
CV: Do you have any favorite recipes in the book?
JW: Definitely the Gluten-Free Butternut Squash Mac n’ Cheese with Crispy Sage Leaves. The Strawberry Tomato Crepes (if for no other reason than it took me 20 attempts to finally nail the batter!) I also really love The Impasta Bowl when I’m craving something fresh, raw and Asian-inspired. Shells-down, though, my #1 recipe of all time is the Cauliflower Lentil Tacos with Fresh Guacamole. To this day, people still freak out over that dish. The vegan taco “meat” in that dish is probably the best in the world. It’s insane how good it tastes.
CV: What foods would you say are essential to a healthy diet?
JW: That would depend on the individual. I’m a big proponent of people getting their blood panels tested to get a clear picture of their vitamin, mineral, protein and hormone levels. So, it’s hard to make a sweeping generalization here. However, the most nutrient dense foods that are staples of my healthy diet are: hemp seeds, goji berries, chia seeds, blueberries, kale, watercress, quinoa, brown rice, coconut (all forms), lentils, chickpeas, black beans, sweet potatoes, beets and avocados. Those 15 foods are the building blocks of my current eating regimen. My nutritional philosophy is to focus on maximum nutrient density with smaller portion sizes. This encourages maximum assimilation of beneficial nutrients while reducing the burden on our digestive system.
CV: What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow a healthy vegan diet but doesn’t know where to start?
JW: Start gradually. It’s never been easier to be vegan in 2016 with the venerable plethora of amazing options on the market, even in mainstream grocery stores. But it can also be potentially confusing with all the subgenres of vegan diets out there: raw vegan, 80/10/10, whole food plant-based, macrobiotic, and so on. My advice is to be willing to experiment with new foods and recipes until you find things that feel good to you. What works for someone else will not automatically work for you. There’s a ton of pressure-filled dogma out there about veganism and the only way to cut through it is to listen your own body and keep trying new foods until you find what works for your individual constitution. There are a ton of great vegan cookbooks and amazing blogs with delicious recipes and health information out there. Also, try substituting just one thing in your diet at a time with a healthier vegan option. For example, instead of baking with eggs, use ground flax or chia seeds and water. I have an easy-to-use ingredient substitution chart in my new book that breaks down some familiar options.
CV: What is your favorite vegan indulgence?
JW: My default always seems to be ice cream in any form: cones, sundaes, sandwiches, floats – doesn’t matter to me. As the winner of the world’s first raw vegan ice cream contest in 2010, it’s really tough to impress me though. There are a few ice cream shops in the U.S. that have totally blown my mind. Right now, my top two are Blythe Anne’s in New York City and FoMu in Boston. Come to think of it, I can never turn down a good vegan strawberry shortcake, especially if the crème is on point!
CV: What vegan product could you not live without?
JW: I could name so many wonderful products, but it’s got to be coconut milk. I use coconut milk for SO many different recipes: oatmeal, ice creams, puddings, parfaits, lattes, curries, stews, soups, smoothies… jeez… maybe I need to invest in a coconut farm this year.
CV: In your wildest dreams what will your life look like in 5 years?
JW: The last time I answered this question was 2006 and what I said actually came true (first vegan TV series with Food Network/Cooking Channel) so I definitely know the power of having a clear answer here. Okay, 5 years from now, I see myself living in nature in a beautiful, modern eco-friendly house, growing my own food, probably living off the grid, with a pond or spring on my property, hosting my new children’s series online, writing more best-selling books, making new music and enjoying my life with a beautiful family and a creative, supportive, conscious community surrounding me.