Named one of the “Vegan Men We Love” by VegNews magazine, John Schlimm is an activist, educator, artist, and international award-winning author of such books as The Cheesy Vegan, Stand Up!: 75 Young Activists Who Rock the World, And How You Can, Too!, Grilling Vegan Style, The Tipsy Vegan, and The Ultimate Beer Lover’s Bar Snacks & Beer Cocktails (coming Summer 2014). A member of one of the oldest brewing families in the U.S. and the son of a former butcher and meat-processing business owner, John came out on The Ellen DeGeneres Show as a pro-meatless, pro-vegetable loving kind of foodie, expressing the sentiment that “no living being, human or animal, should ever go through this life unloved” to Ellen’s millions of viewers.
There’s a stereotype in the omnivore world that vegan food is boring. John’s books prove that they’re anything but boring with fun recipes that can be made with ingredients that can easily be found in any grocery store. He has a fun, playful way with food and his sense of humor shines through with recipe names such as “Cocky Coconut Rice” and “Oh Snap! Stir-Fried Sugar Snap Peas”.
Without further ado, here’s John…
Chic Vegan – What motivated you to become vegan and was it an overnight switch or more gradual shift?
John Schlimm – This is always one of the first questions I get from media and audiences when I travel around the country. The more you ponder the question, the more it turns out to be a fascinating question, for sure, and with an answer that reaches further back than just some light-bulb moment, which I will get to. I was raised the son of a butcher in the heart of the hunting and meat-eating culture in Western Pennsylvania.
Growing up, my Dad owned a meat-processing business, which was particularly active during deer hunting season, and which was right down the road from the brewery that my great-great-grandfather Peter Straub founded in the 1870s. We were the original Buck Dynasty! HA!
As a child around seven, eight, nine years old, I tried my hand at each of the jobs in Dad’s meat-processing business—skinning, cutting meat, making sausage, tanning hides, and so on. Well, when your nose is at about table height, those jobs don’t work out so well. And, frankly, I just didn’t feel right about it, but those feelings weren’t something I could explain or fully understand back then.
I was eventually relegated to the front desk where my job was to write down what the hunters wanted done with their deer. It’s almost poetic now to think how that was my first paid writing gig (at like three dollars an hour), and now I have come full circle, writing vegan cookbooks.
As for my cookbooks, they weren’t vegan at first, as neither was I. But interestingly, as I wrote more cookbooks and went out on national book tours, words like “vegan,” “vegetarian,” and “factory farm” starting popping up on my radar, and I started taking notice. These weren’t words I ever heard growing up in my small town. Also, the meat portions on my plate started getting smaller and smaller, even when they were recipes from my own cookbooks at the time.
The big light-bulb moment that many vegans and vegetarians talk about having came for me when I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. On page 266, he writes about Thanksgiving turkeys and the horrific treatment and abuse they’re subjected to on factory farms. Jonathan wrote how these birds (and really all factory farm animals) basically go through their lives “unloved.” It was that one word, on that one page, in that one book—UNLOVED—that was the click over in my brain. I circled it, I highlighted it, I never ever wanted to forget it. That word became my rallying cry! From that moment, my diet and lifestyle transitioned to plant-based, and my career as a cookbook author changed as well.
It was that incredible moment of enlightenment combined with my background in Dad’s meat-processing business that soon thereafter landed me on The Ellen DeGeneres Show with Jonathan. There, in front of millions of my neighbors across the country and globe, I got to deliver what will probably be the most perfect line to ever cross my lips: “No living being, human or animal, should ever go through this life unloved.” That declaration has become a motto and call-to-action for me as an author and as an activist.
In each of my three vegan cookbooks, you’ll notice identical dedications that allude back to that epiphany: “To all the animals—So you know that you have not gone through this life unloved.”
CV – Your father is a former butcher who used to run a meat-processing business. What was his reaction when you went vegan?
JS – At first, both my Dad and Mom feared that it was unhealthy, which is one of the great misconceptions about a plant-based lifestyle. My response was simple and to the point. I told them, “The last person who wants to do anything that will harm my health is me.”
I’m not someone who is preachy about my plant-based lifestyle. In fact, I think those types of people often do more harm to our mission than good. My first rule for those of us who lead a plant-based lifestyle: Judge not!
I prefer to lead by example and by writing vegan cookbooks that are what I call a “party-in-a-book” to which everyone is invited. They are fun, easy, accessible, and what I refer to as “small town friendly,” meaning I use ingredients that my friends and neighbors in my small hometown can get at our grocery stores (and occasionally the liquor store –wink, wink!). It’s just normal food, which happens to have no animal products in it, which everyone from longtime vegans and the veggie-curious to my most carnivorous pals will all enjoy!
You’ll love this! As for Dad, the former butcher, a few months ago, he came to me and said, “You know those veggie burgers you’re always eating? Could I try one?” I simply smiled and led him to the kitchen. Now, this doesn’t mean he’s going vegan or vegetarian overnight, but this is certainly progress—one small step for man, one giant leap for veganism!
CV – Congratulations on your new book The Cheesy Vegan. Tell me a little bit about what motivated you to write it.
JS – Thank you so much! I’m beyond excited to share The Cheesy Vegan with everyone!
From the very beginning when I wrote my first plant-based cookbook, The Tipsy Vegan, and then the follow-up Grilling Vegan Style, I was determined to smash through all the silly and ridiculous stereotypes about the vegan lifestyle. I think a lot of people out there think all we eat is something akin to hummus smeared on cardboard, using weird ingredients you can only find in some obscure health food store on Mars. This will never be the case on my watch!
I was determined to show how plant-based eating is fun, easy, and delicious, and can appeal to everyone. I first did that by adding loads of alcohol to plant-based dishes—It came in handy that I’m a member of one of the oldest brewing families in the country, and the love of tipsy food and adventures literally flows through my veins. Next, I reclaimed the grill for vegans by writing the first comprehensive plant-based grilling guide and cookbook.
Now, with The Cheesy Vegan, it is my goal to bring plant-based cheese home to Main Street for all of us to enjoy. As one of my good friends said, this cookbook is “cheesy, easy, and delicious!” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
JS – I am absolutely over the moon about the release of Stand Up!: 75 Young Activists Who Rock the World, And How You Can, Too! This is one of those books that you look at as a writer and say to yourself, “I was born to create this book!”
Part of my background is as an educator, and as such, I have long championed causes dealing with young people. I really am their biggest fan! So much has been said and written about young people in the last few years, and much of it has been unflattering, yet so little of it has been in their own words. So, a year and a half ago, I sought out 75 of the world’s most dynamic and amazing young activists, some of whom started their work as early as three years old and many have launched their own nonprofits and grassroots missions around the globe.
I asked them to answer one simple question: What do you stand up for and why?
The resulting book is a generation-defining collection of stories written by these incredible young people. Stand Up! is an inspired blueprint and call-to-action for people everywhere, especially other young people, to do good works at school, in the community, and globally. It is this Generation-X writer’s gift to the new generation of leaders and all the young people out there who are wondering what is possible in this world. This book provides that answer loudly and clearly.
To further help teachers, students, parents, community groups, book clubs, and others use the stories in Stand Up! to spark important discussions about all the major issues and causes confronting us today, I also wrote the eBook companion Stand Up! Discussion Guide, which is available for free download on my web site and elsewhere.
CV – You’ve had a very varied career over the years, you’ve worked in the Vice Presidential Communications Office, you were a country music publicist and you’ve also worked in radio production. What made you start writing cookbooks?
JS – HA! That’s an easy answer: My love of beer! My first cookbook, The Straub Beer Cookbook, was a regional cookbook I wrote using the beer created by my family’s Brewery as a main ingredient in the recipes. That first cookbook led to a sequel, The Straub Beer Party Drinks Handbook.
And, after a few more regional titles, I landed my first national cookbook, The Ultimate Beer Lover’s Cookbook, which is the largest beer cookbook ever published and it went on to be awarded both “Best Beer Book in the U.S.” and “Best Beer Book in the World” by the international Gourmand Awards. That then led to a paperback adaptation titled The Beer Lover’s Cookbook.
I’m excited to tell you that I am currently working on a beer-themed, plant-based cookbook, which will be coming out Summer 2014. Stay tuned!
CV – I love that your cookbooks are about having fun with food, such as adding booze to dishes and cooking on the grill. Both of those topics are on the “manly” side. Veganism and cooking both tend to be stereotyped as feminine. Have any men told you that you helped convert them to veganism and/or cooking?
JS – This is a great question! The simple answer is yes. I hear from men (and women) and meat-eaters of all kinds, who tell me that either my cookbooks have helped them to transition to a plant-based lifestyle or, at the least, have helped them to reduce the amount of meat they eat.
While smashing through ridiculous vegan stereotypes, my cookbooks have also done the same for gender stereotypes. I don’t have time for these silly notions that something is either manly or feminine. My ultimate goal for each of my plant-based cookbooks is to create a party where everyone is welcome, and where everyone is going to have the time of their life.
Our daily lives have become so nonstop, crazy-busy and we are always being inundated with challenges and horrible things happening in the world. With my cookbooks, the reader gets to check reality at page one, forget about all that craziness for a while, and come along with me on a fun adventure, one bite at a time!
Likewise, when it comes to stereotypes of gender, age, and so on, Stand Up! is also revolutionizing how people think about those things. The young story contributors aren’t letting gender, age, race, religion, disabilities, or anything else get in their way as they are rocking the world with hard work, creativity, positive energy, and compassion!
CV – Do you have any favorite recipes from your cookbooks?
JS –Tsk. Tsk. HA! That’s like asking a parent which of their kids is their favorite. There is not a single recipe that would be in my vegan cookbooks if it weren’t one of my favorites.
In The Cheesy Vegan, a few suggested recipes to start with include:
Page 144 ~ Flying Buffalo Dip
Page 136 ~ Blue Moon Dip
Page 150 ~ Fried Olives Stuffed with Smoky Cheese Hummus
Page 149 ~ Minced Chipotle Pepper and Cheese Dip
Page 46 ~ Mrs. Cleaver’s Cheddar Muffins
Page 77 ~ Smoky Mountain Tomato & Cheddar Soup
CV – What is your favorite vegan indulgence?
JS – Of course, I love delicious vegan food! That’s a given (I’M LOOKING AT YOU . . . Tequila Seduces Guacamole and Salsa ala Vodka in The Tipsy Vegan, Tattooed Watermelon Salad and Italian Herb Burgers on Focaccia in Grilling Vegan Style, and the entire Mac ‘n’ Cheese chapter and The Cheesecake Extravaganza in The Cheesy Vegan).
But honestly, my greatest joy as a vegan cookbook author is two-fold:
First, it will always be one of the great honors of my life to know that in some way I am helping all my animal friends out there, especially those on factory farms and in shelters. I am humbled and inspired by them everyday.
Second, I love being out on the road meeting fellow vegans, as well as our more carnivorous friends, and showing them how fun and incredible plant-based eating can be. I’m on the lecture circuit, which has been fantastic—Last year, I delivered my first commencement address, which was such a thrill, and then this past summer, I spoke at the very first Rehoboth Beach VegFest in Delaware, delivered the opening keynote address at the 2013 Colorado VegFest, and, more recently, I served as MC for the 2013 DC VegFest, which was part of the East Coast Launch for The Cheesy Vegan in Washington, D.C.
And, how fun is this?! . . . The Cheesy Vegan is being used as part of the curriculum for three classes in the Hospitality Management Program at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford this semester. As a class project, the students are studying the book and using it as the cornerstone for organizing a huge event they’ve titled “The Big Cheese” in November. This project and event will teach them lessons about every aspect of planning, managing, and hosting an event from the ground up and a better understanding of different diets and lifestyles. And, I get the pleasure of being back in the classroom to mentor and guide them. Their energy and enthusiasm are so awesome! This, to me, is one more way to embrace compassion and move the world ahead in a positive direction.
On a much lighter note, my current vegan fashion obsession is my new Raylan bag by one of my favorite vegan designers, Matt & Nat. It goes everywhere with me, and I can fit my whole life in it!
CV – What would you cook for a dinner party of die-hard meat-eaters?
JS – Since my recipes mostly use easy, everyday ingredients, meat-eaters will love pretty much any of the dishes. After all, cooking should be just as fun as eating!
From The Cheesy Vegan, here is one dinner party menu option to consider serving all your pals, including the biggest meat-eaters:
Page 142 ~ Amazo-Queso Dip
Page 152 ~ Cheesy Hummus, including such variations as Blue Cheese Hummus, Hot Pepper Cheese Hummus, and Smoky Cheese Hummus
Page 158 ~ ‘Tis the Season Fruit & Nut Ball
Soup & Salad Course:
Page 68 ~ Swiss Meets French Onion Soup
Page 75 ~ Chorizo-Pepper-Onion Stew
Page 83 ~ Tomato Meets Mozzarella, Falls in Love
Page 84 ~ Spicy Green Salad with Swiss Cheese & Pears
Page 173 ~ Triple Your Pleasure Fondue
Page 187 ~ Lemony Parmesan Linguine
Page 190 ~ Brie & Tomato Pasta Shells
If this is for Breakfast or Brunch, checkout:
Page 50 ~ The DIY Cheesy Scramble
Page 55 ~ You Gotta Frittata!
Page 215 ~ Cheesecake Party Parfaits
Page 216 ~ White Chocolate Cheesecake Petit Fours
OR, simply dazzle all your guests with a cheese/wine/beer/cocktail pairing party, using the two dozen homemade vegan cheeses in Chapter 1: The DIY Vegan Cheese Kitchen and my detailed tipsy pairing suggestions in Chapter 10: Vegan Cheese Pairings: Wine, Beer & Cocktails.
CV – What’s next for you? Are there any more books in the works?
JS – Yes! I’m working on an exciting and super fun, beer-themed cookbook that will be released Summer 2014. As you know, craft beers are taking over the world, and so I’m adding some incredible plant-based food and even some other alcohol to the mix to throw another party-in-a-book that everyone will enjoy.
Stay tuned, and get ready for the party to go on, and on, and on. After a great meal, this new cookbook will also get you right up there on top of the table dancing next to me, which is one of my favorite places to be! HA!
Follow John at:
Web site: www.JohnSchlimm.com