While thinking about who to schedule for my blog interview guests this year it dawned on me that I had yet to interview my good friend Chris Cooney of The Vegan Zombie. Chris and I have been close friends for years, have collaborated a number of times (in fact, I appear more frequently on The Vegan Zombie videos and vlogs than any other guest!) and while I have done a review of his cookbook here on my blog, I haven’t interviewed him…until now. I thought my readers would be interested in learning more about how Chris, a longtime vegan, began his vegan journey (long before veganism became a fad and when it was much more difficult to find plant-based foods) and how he’s been successful with creating a career around veganism.
Welcome to Cowgirls & Collard Greens Chris; thanks for stopping by!
Cowgirls & Collard Greens: Because I’ve known you for a while, I know the answer to this question, but my followers may not. Can you share with us why and when you went vegan?
Chris Cooney: My martial arts teacher introduced my two friends and I to a vegetarian lifestyle when I was 14. I stopped eating meat overnight and began the journey. Not knowing any other vegetarians other than those two friends, we began reading labels and learning to cook our own meals. I had always been an animal lover and over the next few years I learned enough about the meat and dairy industry to not want anything to do with it. At that point, I no longer considered any animal products to be food and chose a vegan lifestyle. That was on September 23, 1994 while I was at Taco Bell with some friends– so a little over 22 years.
C&CG: Why zombies? What was your premise for starting The Vegan Zombie?
CC: I love horror! Especially zombie movies. Actually, I was at work, driving the back-roads of upstate NY in the early Spring of 2009. I was a special investigator working for national security. But I grew to dislike my job and I was a little bummed thinking that if I didn’t make a change, I would end up doing the same routine every day until I retired. That was a horrible thought to me. So I began brainstorming things I liked doing and was passionate about. I loved film. I loved making short videos with my friends. I specifically loved the horror genre and of course veganism had been part of my everyday life since I was young. Immediately, I came up with the concept for a zombie movie where the zombie infection was brought on by the meat and dairy that people ate. So I wrote a script for a short movie that I planned to make. But I wanted to get better at editing first so I decided to do some short skits on YouTube. I decided to do a vegan cooking show that was set in the zombie apocalypse. It was my way of doing what I loved and at the same time promoting a vegan lifestyle in a fun and entertaining way. I called it The Vegan Zombie.
C&CG: Where did you get your love of film, editing and making videos? Did you attend film school or have any official training?
CC: My father was always making home movies when I was little. I’ve always been around cameras and seemed to always come up with fun ideas for videos. When I was 16, I worked all summer and saved my money. I was going to buy a car but then decided to buy a camcorder instead. I am 100% self taught. I have years of experience and many hours of online tutorials but no film school.
C&CG: You’ve had great success with your YouTube cooking show. Have you been surprised at your dedicated following? Can you share any interesting projects or connections that have come about since launching the videos?
CC: Absolutely. When we first started, Jon (co-host) and myself couldn’t believe that we got 60 views on our first video. Our audience kept growing and that pretty much opened the doors for more opportunity for us. We have traveled all over and met so many cool and interesting people because of TVZ.
C&CG: A couple years ago you and your The Vegan Zombie counterpart, Jon Tedd, published your first book– a vegan cookbook called Cook & Survive! What was it like writing a cookbook? Do you have plans for future books? Where is the book available?
CC: In 2013 we launched a kickstarter campaign to produce our own cookbook. We raised almost triple the amount we were looking for and published our first cookbook. It even has a short comic-like story of TVZ at the beginning. It was a fun project. I do plan on publishing more. I’d like to continue the story along with all new recipes. You can find it on our website. It’s also in ebook format and has been translated to German and French.
C&CG: Do you have a favorite vegan meal in the cookbook? Outside of your own cookbook, what’s your hands down all-time favorite vegan meal?
CC: My favorite meal in the cookbook would probably be the Broccoli & Spinach Stuffed Pizza. It’s so good! Vegan pizza in general is one of my favorite foods. Miyoko’s mozzarella is my favorite cheese to use. I’ve eaten at so many amazing vegan restaurants that it’s hard to choose one favorite meal. But I can always go for a Raw Fiesta Burger from SunCafe in Studio City, CA and some Cauliflower Bites from Sage Vegan Bistro at any one of their Southern California locations. So good!
C&CG: In addition to being a vegan who’s enthusiastic about making videos and loving zombies, you also enjoy working out everyday. What’s your trick to stay healthy and trim on a vegan diet?
CC: I don’t eat too much processed vegan junk food. Although I do indulge sometimes. There has to be a balance and I think I have that figured out pretty well. You have to figure out what works best for you. I do work out every day but I don’t spend hours doing it. Just a few simple exercises 10-15 mins a day. I have a few videos on my channel that go into detail.
C&CG: I know you stay very busy creating, shooting and editing videos and vlogs; is The Vegan Zombie a full time job for you?
CC: I’ve been doing this now for 8 years with a full time job that pretty much paid for everything I put into it. On top of my day job, I put full time hours into TVZ as well. Thankfully, as of this past summer I was able to quit my day job and focus on this full time. I’ve been persistent and never gave up on my passion.
C&CG: Are you working on any interesting upcoming projects that you can share?
CC: I have been posting a lot of travel and restaurant review vlogs. I’m planning on going to the West Coast for some events and collaborations next month and I hope to start working on the second cookbook this year.
C&CG: Many people believe that going vegan is super challenging. Can you share any tips on going and how to stay vegan?
CC: For me, once I made that connection and stopped thinking of meat and dairy as food, it was smooth sailing. It can be challenging at first, when you don’t know how to cook or what to eat. I always suggest making a list of all your favorite meals and then looking up vegan versions of them online. If you try something and you don’t like it, don’t worry. There is bound to be a better version out there. There are bad vegan cheeses and there are good ones. Don’t give up if you don’t like one. Try others. The internet is your friend. All the information you need is right there and there are so many other vegans at different stages in their transition that are available to help. There are support groups, health tips, cooking shows and more.
C&CG: What would you say motivates you the most to stay vegan?
CC: I cannot think about consuming pieces of animals or byproducts that came from them. I don’t want to be part of the suffering and killing of innocent beings. With everything I’ve learned in all these years and knowing what I know now, I could never go back to an omni diet. There are so many reasons to go vegan and no reasons not to. Taking that first step when I was fourteen was probably my single best decision I ever made, not knowing it at the time.
Chris is a a videographer, lover of film, a YouTuber and longtime vegan. He lives in Syracuse, NY with his German Shepherd, Indy. He is an award-winning cookbook author and the creator of the YouTube channel, The Vegan Zombie. The channel is most known for the vegan cooking series and more recently, travel, interviews and reviews. He loves to travel to new vegan restaurants and meet new people.
You can check out The Vegan Zombie’s website and follow Chris on the popular social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat (@delicti23). You’ll see a lot of food and Indy too.