Please excuse my absence from blogging last month…I took a little break because life was busy between travel to Southern California where I attended the 3rd annual Vegan Street Fair in North Hollywood and scrambling to pick up the pieces after loosing my social media management job (that I loved so much!). Not to worry — I am back at it, albeit still looking for work, and I am beyond excited to welcome new interview guests to the blog!
It is with great honor that I welcome Michael Suchman and Ethan Ciment of the Vegan Mos today! Though sadly I have never officially met Michael or Ethan, I’ve discovered that we’ve all been at the same place at the same time on more than one occasion. I’m determined that we will all meet in person soon, but until then…I hope you enjoy this interview about what keeps this fabulous vegan couple happy and healthy in NYC!
Cowgirls & Collard Greens: Welcome to Cowgirls & Collard Greens Michael and Ethan! As a longtime follower of the Vegan Mos, I am so honored to have you here today to discuss how and why you both went vegan, your newly released cookbook and more. Thanks so much for being here to share today!
C&CG: I like to start of my interviews by getting a sense of why and when my guests became vegan. Can you share with us your vegan stories?
Ethan: I initially went vegetarian for health reasons. At 38 years old I was over 40 pounds overweight and already taking medication for high cholesterol for a number of years. I joined some friends in my neighborhood who were doing a group challenge to go on Weight Watchers and I decided to do it as a vegetarian because I knew I would lose weight fast that way. While I was doing this, a friend recommended that I read The Face on Your Plate: The Truth About Food by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and learned for the first time about the horrors of factory farming. I knew after reading this that I could not continue to eat any animal products or benefit from animal exploitation. Ethically, being vegan was the only logical choice and after 5 months of being vegetarian, on Thanksgiving Day 2009 I committed to becoming vegan. We went to Michael’s family for the traditional annual gathering and family meal, but I didn’t eat anything. They all thought I was avoiding the food because I was dieting and still on Weight Watchers. When we came home, I prepared the Tofurky Thanksgiving Feast and made all of the sides vegan, and ate my first-ever fully vegan meal. I then realized that if I could do Thanksgiving- my favorite holiday of the year- as a vegan, I could be vegan all the time. It was like flipping a switch- at the end of the meal and coming to this realization, I turned to Michael and said, “That’s it- I’m vegan.”
Michael: During this time, I was working out of the house and doing most of the cooking. I had to learn how to make food that Ethan would eat and that I would like. So, even though I wasn’t even considering being vegan, I was learning how to cook vegan food. Also during this time, Ethan, like most people when they first learn the horrors of factory farming, became full on vegangelical and would continually ask me questions like, “how is your plate of murder?” Rather than getting me to go vegan, this had the opposite effect. I can be very stubborn and wasn’t about to be bullied into doing something. Thankfully, Ethan soon realized that this was not working and accepted the fact that he was the one the changed and it was not fair to expect me to change as well. As soon as Ethan stopped pushing, space was created that allowed me to walk forward. After seeing Kathy Freston on Oprah talk about “leaning in to veganism” and being “felxitarian” I started doing meatless Mondays. I eventually added in Tofu Tuesdays, Wegetable Wednedays, Tempeh Thursdays, etc. I didn’t say a word to Ethan about what I was doing, but as soon as I completed a full 7 days vegan, I looked at Ethan and said, “It’s been a full week, I am vegan now.” I then of course went through his own vegangelical phase and found myself doing the exact same things Ethan did. Luckily, I soon stopped.
We both learned that shouting at people drives them away. So, rather than pushing people away, instead we invited them closer and started sharing delicious vegan food with them.
C&CG: What was the primary reason that you started Vegan Mos (and for those of us who don’t know, what does Vegan Mos stand for)?
Vegan Mos: We’ll take those in reverse order. The “Mos” in our name is short for “homos”. Our friends Dan and Mike already had the popoular blog “The Gay Vegans”, so we decided to use vegan as the adjective to modify Mos. In the 90’s in the LGBT community, using the term “mo” became a way of referring to one another “Oh, he’s a mo,” so we decided to reclaim it. We began Vegan Mos as a way of sharing recipes for delicious, homemade vegan food. We wanted to show people that going vegan did not mean giving up any of the flavors we loved. We also wanted to highlight the intersection of LGBTQ rights and animal rights. We wanted to help people see that speciesism is no different than homophobia – both stem from a fictitious belief that one group of beings is superior to another and therefore can oppress the perceived lesser one.
C&CG: Do either of you have any formal chef training? Did you enjoy cooking prior to going vegan?
VM: We are both primarily self-taught cooks, with no formal training. We have both always love to cook and thankfully we have parents that encouraged it. We each primarily learned from watching our mothers and grandmothers in the kitchen. To us, preparing food for someone else is a deep expressing love.
C&CG: Your new book, NYC Vegan: Iconic Recipes for a Taste of the Big Apple was just published this month. How exciting! What can we expect to see inside?
VM: In NYC Vegan, we pay homage to the diversity of America’s largest city as represented in the cuisines that immigrants to this city brought with them. Of course, with a city as large and diverse as New York, it’s impossible to represent every ethnicity and cultural background in one book. Therefore, focused on showcasing many of the classic foods that people associate with New York City. From blintzes and churros, to Italian ices and knishes, we will share our recipes for vegan versions of the foods that New York made famous. We will also take you along on a journey through the different neighborhoods of the city such as the center of Greek-American life in Astoria where you can enjoy a traditional tzatziki. We can hop on the G train to eat savory Polish pierogis in Greenpoint, and then take a taxi up to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx for a bowl of minestrone. Whether it’s matzoh brei on the Lower East Side or caramel corn at Yankee Stadium, we will show you how to make delectable vegan versions of your favorite New York City foods.
C&CG: Next to Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon, I’d imagine that NYC is another hotspot of vegan-friendly eateries. Do you have an all time favorite local restaurant?
VM: That is a tough one to answer. There are so many amazing vegan restaurants to choose from in NYC.
Michael: I am going to pick 2. My new vegan restaurant is Modern Love in Williamsburg. And my favorite NYC staple has to be Candle 79.
Ethan: AHHHH!! It’s like Sophie’s Choice, if Sophie had 20 children! I agree with Michael that Candle 79 sits in a class all onto itself and it’s unfair to compare other restaurants to it. And while I, too, think the food a Modern Love is spectacular (and dangerously close to our apartment) I’m going to say Delice & Sarrasin is my new favorite. I came to French food very later in my life, only a few years before going vegan. When I went vegan, I really felt like I’d lost something in not being able to have good French Cuisine. All of that changed when Christophe Caron Soriano and his mother opened this spectacular French vegan restaurant in the West Village.
C&CG: Favorite (at home) go-to vegan meal?
Michael: I like using soy curls, so any way I can use them is great for me. Sometimes I will make a batch of barbecue soy curls to keep on hand and either add them to a salad or have them as part of a big bowl with rice, greens and roasted veggies.
Ethan: We like to do bulk cooking on the weekends and so just pulling together a grain, a bean and a green is my go-to for a quick, easy, healthy meal.
C&CG: When you’re not cooking food, writing content for your blog or doing recipe development, what other passions and hobbies do you both enjoy?
Michael: I meditate every morning before starting my day and I try to get the gym at least 5 days a week. I am a TV junkie and love binge watching shows on Netflix. I also love to travel and find new vegan restaurants to try.
Ethan: I also start my day with meditation and get to the gym each morning. They are two very necessary mind and body balancing rituals. I spend a lot of my free time in a volunteer role as a member of the board of directors for Woodstock Farm Sanctuary and I try to get up there as much as I can. I’m also a travel junkie and we travel as frequently as possible.
C&CG: Now that your book is officially published and available to the public, do you have any ongoing or future projects you’re working on that you can share?
VM: I actually have ideas for a few other cookbooks I would like to write. I am not sure about them yet, but the ideas are bouncing around in my head. And of course, we will still be adding recipes, travel reviews, and thought pieces to VeganMos.com.
C&CG: Do you have any tips for those who are new to veganism or eating plant-based?
Ethan: I think it’s human nature to gravitate towards the same 5-10 go-to foods. For example, most Americans eating S.A.D. (the Standard American Diet) eat chicken or cow meat and some starch (rice, potato, pasta, etc…) We fall into ruts. We don’t branch out in variety of foods and that’s true whether you’re vegan or not. It’s often just a reflection of laziness or, more often, lack of time and gravitating towards convenience. I just encourage folks to recognize that the overwhelming abundance of food available to us are plant-based foods; Fruits, veggies, nuts, grains, seeds, legumes and beans… there’s so much to draw from when you take the animal products off your plate. So instead of focusing on what’s “missing” from your plate, see that empty space as an opportunity to discover new foods. Try wheatberries, quinoa, amaranth or barley if you haven’t tried them. Maybe you could try Anasazi or Fava beans? Ever try a broccolini? What about Romanesco? There are so many amazingly delicious, unique and nutrient-dense foods out there. We just need to open ourselves up to trying them.
Michael: take it one meal at a time. Do not worry about what you are going to do on Thanksgiving, or about your birthday cake, or any other far off meal. Also, shifting the focus from yourself to the animals you are saving really helps. No animal product tastes as good as saving that animal’s life.
C&CG: What inspires you both to stay vegan?
VM: Oh, that’s easy; we both stay vegan for the animals.
Michael Suchman and Ethan Ciment founded and run the popular blog VeganMos.com. Through their recipes, they show that eliminating animal products does not mean giving up your favorite familiar foods. Together they were named one of the top 10 male vegan bloggers for 2015 by VegNews Magazine and won a 2016 Bloggy Award as one of the top vegan blogs to follow from the same magazine. The Vegan Mos regularly speak and hold food demos at veg fests around the county. Their first cookbook, NYC Vegan: Iconic Recipes for a Taste of the Big Apple is due out May 9, 2017. Michael is a certified Vegan Life Coach and educator through Main Street Vegan Academy. He is also a certified Food for Life instructor through the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. Ethan is a podiatric surgeon in Manhattan who serves on the board of directors of Woodstock Farm Sanctuary. They share a home in Brooklyn with their two vegan dogs, Riley & Charlie.