Isa Chandra Moskowitz is a believer in the power of baketivism. Emerging from the wilds of Food Not Bombs mass meals and the New York City punk scene, Moskowitz started a community access TV show, The Post Punk Kitchen in 2003. Since then she's gotten five animal product-free cookbooks published, starting with the seminal Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World (Da Capo, 168 pages, $15.95) and progressing to her latest, Appetite for Reduction (Da Capo, 336 pages, $19.95) -- a collection of low-fat recipes (a couple of which we featured over the holidays), the result of Moskowitz's doctor's suggestion she cut back on fat after being diagnosed with a hormone imbalance.
She's vegging out in SF this weekend -- you can catch her doing a cooking demonstration and book signing at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market on Sat/12 -- and hell, read that bio again, awesome. So we interviewed her and now we know where to get vegan cheese that actually tastes good, among other highly salient points.
San Francisco Bay Guardian: When and why did you become a vegan?
Isa Chandra Moskowitz: My vegan journey began over 20 years ago, when I was 16. Yes, it’s a journey, just like on the "Bachelorette." It was pretty simple for me, I just couldn’t see any reason to eat animals. I’ve always been an animal lover and the thought of any animal suffering or being killed just drives me nuts. I didn’t want any part of it.
SFBG: Have you seen a change in the animal product substitutes offered in stores since your early vegan days?
ISM: Yes, and what’s even more drastic is how widely available vegan meat substitues are. I’ll be honest, I don’t really care for many of the products -- I prefer to cook whole foods. But I appreciate that the subs exist and there are some yummy ones out there, like the Field Roast sausages [editor's note: soy-free, yay!] and Tofurkey slices, which make great sandwiches in a pinch. In terms of pastries and sweets it’s like we’re living in a completely different world. Sweet & Sarah Marshmallows are to die for, and there are so many awesome cookie companies that they're too numerous to count. And ice cream is much better, especially the coconut milk varieties.
SFBG: Do you think the US qualifies as a vegan-friendly country now? Where, in your eyes, are the best places for vegan dining?
ISM: Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s such a big country. Of course there are more vegan-friendly places than others. The best places are probably pretty similar to the best places for food in general - NYC, Portland, and here in San Francisco. Those are also the places where I most often find myself, so go figure!
SFBG: What (if any) has been the most compelling argument you've heard NOT to be a vegan?
ISM: I honestly haven’t heard anything that sounded like a good argument. The only thing that makes sense to me is when people are like 'well, I don’t really care.' I mean, at least it’s honest!
SFBG: When I became a vegan, I had to deal with a lot of flack from family and friends, even those that were totally cool with my ten years of vegetarianism. Did you run into that when you decided to go animal product-free? Why do you think people get so crazy about the dietary choices of others?
ISM: I hear this type of thing a lot and I have to say I did not experience it at all. I mean, there’s always that annoying guy who’s like 'PETA means People Eating Tasty Animals!!! Guffaw! Snort!' but he’s not my friend and he will probably drown in his beer hat so I’m not too worried about it. But in terms of friends and family, people either didn’t think anything of it or didn't get into it with me.
SFBG: What's the best vegan cheese you've run into out there? I'm having issues with that one.
ISM: I am not crazy about any of the US cheeses on the market at the moment, but I had the most amazing vegan cheese from Switzerland called Vegusto. It’s not available here, unfortunately, but if anyone is listening and wants to make a million dollars, strike some sort of deal with that company and bring it to the US. It will change your life. In any case it’s good to know that a delicious creamy vegan cheese is possible, hopefully it will exist here someday.
SFBG: It seems like a lot of vegan cooking revolves around processed animal product substitutes. How do you feel about that?
ISM: Ha, this whole interview was about products and processed food and yeah, in all my books I pretty much make it clear that I’m not into that. I cook with whole foods.
SFBG: Finally, where/what are you planning on eating in SF?
ISM: I’m definitely going to eat a couple million burrito spots, but also Millenium, Cha-Ya, Gracias Madre and hopefully a kind soul will bring me something from Cinnaholic because I don’t think I’m going to make it over to the East Bay. I already went to Papalote tonight and then had the tiramisu at Cafe Gratitude so I’m happy.
Isa Chandra Moskowitz
Sat/12 11:45-12:30 p.m., free
Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market
One Ferry Building, SF