Today I’m sharing this space with friend, neighbor, vegan chef, author, award winning magazine columnist and a woman who shares my love of fine confections, Allison Rivers Samson, also known as the “Maven of Mmm…” and founder of Allison’s Gourmet. If you’re not familiar, Allison’s Gourmet is an online vegan bakery that creates and sells delicious organic, non-GMO and fair trade sweets like cookies, caramels, fudge, cocoa and even coffee. Allison and I met several years ago through a mutual friend as we live in the same community. Over the years I have had the pleasure of getting to know Allison as well as the members of her family (both furry and non) through personal interactions as well as vegan related events. Allison and I share a love of animals, healthy and nutritious (vegan) food as well as the simple life in the beautiful Sierra Nevada foothills in Northern California. Welcome to Cowgirls & Collard Greens Allison, thank you so much for allowing me to interview you today!
Cowgirls & Collard Greens: Though you and I have known each other for a few years, and I am somewhat familiar with your vegan story, can you share with my readers why you went vegan and the story behind it?
Allison Rivers Samson: In 1989, I went vegetarian mostly as a response to seeing my family suffer from ill-health and obesity. Even though I was vegetarian, I always leaned toward eating vegan, but didn’t know any vegans and didn’t have many resources for recipes or other vegan food. In 1997, I joined EarthSave Seattle and finally declared myself vegan for both my health and to divorce myself from the horrors of the industries that label animals as commodities and process precious beings into “products.” It was one of the best decisions I ever made, and I have never looked back.
C&CG: In terms of food, did you always have a sweet tooth? How did Allison’s Gourmet come about?
ARS: Oh yes, I have always had a special place in my heart (and mouth!) for sweets. As a child, gum and candy were my first allowance expenditures! Admittedly, I somewhat selfishly created Allison’s Gourmet to satisfy my own cravings for outrageously delicious and high-quality sweets, and I’m overjoyed every single time someone tells me how much they love my goodies.
C&CG: It’s my understanding that Allison’s Gourmet was one of the first, if not the first vegan online store. Is that correct?
ARS: Yes! As a second-generation entrepreneur, my first “business” was selling mangoes from a tree in my grandparents’ backyard when I was just eight years old. I set up shop on a busy street in Miami, and a police officer pulled over to ask me if I had a business license. I told him that I didn’t know what that was, but that he could have as many mangoes as he wanted for free. 😉 He kindly explained that this wasn’t a safe place for my enterprise and scared me into closing the business.
My entrepreneurial spirit wasn’t completely thwarted and a little more than a decade later, in 1987, I began my first legitimate business ownership. At the tender age of 17, I bought a mail-order chocolate company I’d been running for my boss. Even though I was in love with the business model, it ended up being a brief run once I realized the products weren’t in alignment with my values. In 1997, I got clear on what those values were—vegan, organic, and fair-trade—and I started from scratch, creating my business, Allison’s Gourmet (then Allison’s Cookies), the very first online vegan bakery. That was more than 18 years ago!
Originally, I offered various baked goods, including cakes, tarts, scones, muffins, etc., and delivered them all over Seattle. Since I lived on Vashon Island, which is accessible only by ferry, my profits were quickly dwindling with all the extra time and expense of deliveries. It was clear that shipping was the way to go, and cookies were the perfect shippable item. My dream of having another mail order business was realized! This time, with my own products.
C&CG: Besides being a multi award winning company, what sets Allison’s Gourmet apart from other (vegan) companies who create sweets?
ARS: Allison’s Gourmet focuses on classic sweets, created with ultra-clean organic and fair-trade ingredients. It’s always been important to me that each goodies’ ingredient list be clear and easy to understand. No one needs a chemistry to understand what we’re made of. As a super-taster, I have a very sensitive palate and can detect nuances and flavors that often go unnoticed, so I seek out and use top-quality ingredients. Even though the level of quality I use costs more, I will never cut corners. There are plenty of products out there that are made with inferior ingredients. I’m more of a leader than a follower, and I certainly don’t think the world needs another low-quality sugary anything.
Desserts are an important part of my daily ritual and I like to make every bite count, so I take my time and pay attention to what I eat. Of course, this only works when what is being tasted is worth tasting. When inferior-quality ingredients are used, the end-product isn’t something to be savored. In fact, if you take the time to truly taste something that’s highly processed, there’s a good chance you’ll stop eating it. When something is cheap, there’s a reason. I’d rather pay more and eat less of something that’s actually worth tasting.
C&CG: I know that you wrote an e-book called Comfortably Yum in 2013 that includes many delicious vegan recipes. Is this your only book and do you have plans to write more in the future?
ARS: At this point, Comfortably Yum is my only cookbook. These days I’m spending a lot of my time writing, but the majority of that isn’t recipes. For the long-term, I’m working on a project that’s close to my heart and very personal. In the short-term, I’ve got something very exciting up my sleeve that will be released in 2016. I’ll keep you posted!
C&CG: Aside from your professional life, how else do you spend your time?
ARS: My husband and I are committed to conscious parenting, which requires a significant amount of presence, time, and energy. We believe that it’s important to raise our daughter with a lifestyle of kindness that respects and protects other beings.
To support me in all that I do in life professionally and for my family, I have a strong spiritual practice that includes meditation and a holistic movement form called, Nia, which incorporates dance, martial arts, and yoga. I take classes and teach Nia locally, and have taught sessions at Vegetarian Summerfest. It’s a thrill to bring together two of my worlds that mean so much to me by sharing the fun and joy of Nia with my vegan community.
And of course whenever I get the chance, I love to visit our friends at Animal Place, a sanctuary not only for farmed animals, but for compassionate human animals as well.
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