Many years ago, when I was just a baby vegan, I started reading vegan blogs to figure out what the hell I should be feeding myself. One of them was Get Sconed!, a friendly and accessible account of the everyday culinary life of Jess Scone, a 20-something living in Portland, Oregon. Little did I know that, a few years later, I would get to know Jess Scone in real life and we would become fast friends.
In addition to writing Get Sconed!, Jess is co-founder and director of Vida Vegan Con, a vegan lifestyle bloggers conference, which is basically a three-day vegan wonderland featuring workshops, discussion panels, speakers, special events, vegan food and very exciting swag bags. I attended and spoke at last year’s conference, and will be doing the same at the next Vida Vegan Con happening in Portland from May 16th – 24th, 2013. I convinced Jess to sit down with me and talk about the history of her blog, why the next conference will be so awesome (spoiler alert: discussions about veganism and social justice and feminism!), and whether queer women being vegan is actually a thing. She also shared a recipe for Roasted Chickpea Tacos with Garlic and Lime, which I will be making ASAP.
When did you first go vegan?
I first started on the vegetarian path when I was 10. I started cutting out animal products from my life because I thought they were gross and I was beginning to make the connection between animal products and furry pets. Then I had this cousin who, out at a restaurant, just ordered vegetable lo mein, and I had no idea that even existed as an option. Being picky and thinking the little pork bits were gross, I learned about vegetarian options.
I officially went vegan when I was about 19. Like all college students, I was learning a lot about the world and I took an animal philosophy class in college and started buying my first little animal rights pins. I decided to phase in organic milk and organic cheeses, and then within a month or two of doing that, I learned about pus in dairy and I decided it was really pointless, and then I went vegan. I’m vegan for moral and ethical reasons. I don’t want any part in the exploitation of animals, and though I’m not an expert, I also feel like a plant-based diet is healthier for my body.
When did you become interested in cooking?
I was always really into baking when I was younger and I realized that chocolate chip cookies were the only thing I wanted to eat. When I went off to college I had to learn how to feed myself, so I slowly learned how to make mac and cheese and pasta. When I moved to Portland, the farmer’s markets were so inspiring and palate-expanding. I told myself I wanted to learn vegan cooking, and I did.
Why did you decide to start a vegan food blog?
Back then there were about five other vegan food blogs, including FatFree Vegan Kitchen and What the Hell Does a Vegan Eat Anyway? I decided to make my own blog because it seemed like something feasible that would be a great documentation of what I was doing. This was back in 2005 on Blogspot; I’ve been on WordPress, with my own domain, since 2009.
How did the Vida Vegan Conference come about?
My friend Janessa of Epicurious Vegan approached me with the idea of doing a conference for vegan bloggers to grow the community and see what was out there, and come together and talk about how we can make things better and what the hot topics in vegan blogging were. I thought the idea was really neat and we had a few meetings about it, and then it really came into fruition when we brought in Michele of Vegtastic Voyage, another friend I had from Vegan Iron Chef. The three of us just worked really well together and we decided to hold this conference because we all really believed in the potential. We held the first conference in August 2011 and it was more successful than our wildest dreams. It’s really exciting, just bringing all these people together that you’ve read for years and wondering, can they talk? What will they say? Are they cool in real life? When I met Susan Voisin of FatFree Vegan Kitchen I didn’t even know what to say to her. I was giddy.
I love the idea of improving the world of vegan blogging. When you get all these other vegans together you find out, hey, everyone finds this annoying, and everyone finds this useful, and people are doing this other thing that’s new. Like, maybe two people mentioned Instagram in 2011, and you can see where we are today.
So what is the world of vegan blogging like these days?
Food blogs are just totally normal now. For veganism, I think it’s a step more than say, my sister’s food blog, who’s not vegan, because there is that thing where you want to tell people about how you’re vegan and you’re really proud and you want to inspire people to eat more vegan food. I think vegan bloggers are everyday inspirational activists in that way.
I take vegan cooking seriously, and I think your vegan plant-based cruelty-free concoctions are just as serious as your filet mignon dinner. Either can have a red wine au jus. I think a sauce made from soaked cashews that you’re mixing with a little nutmeg and a little nutritional yeast and some roasted garlic over this handmade sweet potato gnocchi, and a side of some smoked tempeh and and some broccoli raab is just as exciting.
You’re creating something fresh. If you go to a farmer’s market, more than likely you’re working with a lot of vegetables, and that is wonderful. It’s so fresh and it’s showing the bounty of what you have there and it’s not watching a pig cry. I don’t care if it’s local, it’s sad.
I don’t think that pig tears are even that high in sodium.
That’s what I’ve heard.
What new and exciting things are going to be happening at the next conference?
I’m really excited about creating more conversations. I’m not discounting talking about what you had for dinner, but I think it’s really exciting that critical conversations can happen and that will happen at the next conference. We have a panel about veganism and social justice. There are also some people who want to talk about veganism and feminism.
Including Jamie of Autostraddle, right?
Yes, I’m really stoked that she’s involved! And I’m really stoked that you’re involved again! There’s also a class about veganism and body acceptance that I’m really excited about, as a nontraditional vegan body type.
Do you think there’s a lot of negative body talk in vegan blogs?
With any movement related to diet, you’re going to have the crazy fad dieters who treat veganism as something else. Through the years I’ve seen a lot of people hide eating disorders with veganism. I’ve also seen a lot of people with eating disorders come to veganism and change their lives around. But yeah, you do see negative body image. You have Skinny Bitch, which I find horrifying. Most people find out you’re vegan and they go, oh you’re not skin and bones, what’s that about? I’m like, no, I’m vegan, I love to cook.
Who do you think should go to Vida Vegan? Do you have to have a blog?
You definitely don’t have to have a blog. Basically if you’re vegan and you’re living in the 21st century and use the internet, you should come and check it out. If money is an issue, we have scholarships. If you’re someone who’s interested in trying more plant-based dishes in your life, and you want to see what the conversations are about, you want to see what trends are happening, you want to see what the latest cookbooks are and what these cookbook authors have planned for the future, check it out. It’s really a lot of fun. We’ve expanded from a two-day to a three-day event, at the Portland Art Museum, and we’re packing in more than 40 classes in those three days.
How much do you talk about your personal life on your blog? Do you have specific boundaries about what you’ll talk about and what you won’t?
I only talk about my personal life when I feel very comfortable with it, and I can’t say that always happens. But I’m at a stage in my life right now where I am very happy with my girlfriend. I do mention her on my blog.
So your girlfriend is actually a food blogger too, right?
She is, yeah. My girlfriend has a blog with her sister and it’s so cute, it’s called Sister Legumes. It shows how normal food blogging is. Everyone you know has one. We’ve all gotten used to waiting for everyone to get out their camera before we can eat. Don’t worry, there are discussions on food blogging etiquette at Vida Vegan Con.
So this is your first relationship with a woman—was it a big deal to come out as queer on your blog?
No, it was not. I’m so happy with my relationship, I feel like my life has changed in a lot of good ways, it makes me want to call bullshit on anything anyone ever told me about dating and “identity.”
Say I was trying to woo a vegan girl with a fancy meal. What do you think I should make her?
Well, my girlfriend, when we first started dating—she’s not much of a cook—made me this vegan lasagna with a heart of tofu ricotta on top. As an Italian, I’m very picky about my pasta, and it blew me away. So make that.
What advice do you have for a nonvegan dating a vegan for the first time?
Find out why they’re serious about veganism. And don’t give them a hard time about it! Because odds are, if you’re an omnivore, you’re really picky about a lot of shit too. Is your shit based on moral or ethical reasons? Or do you just not like onions? If you’re dating a vegan, talk to them about it, and if they’re going militant on you, tell them to take a chill pill. Make dinner together. You like stir fries, I know it. Eat vegan with them. The bases of your meals are probably already vegetables.
Do you feel like a lot of queer women are vegan?
I haven’t done many studies, but I feel like once you open your mind and your heart to one type of revolutionary thinking, you’re able to open your mind and heart to other things as well.
I think that makes sense.
Yeah that was beautiful, I know.
Roasted Chickpea Tacos with Garlic & Lime
When you’re vegan and budgeting, cooking beans from scratch is a way of life. So are tacos. Last week, my life seemed to revolve around chickpeas. I make them the “long” way, which is really just the “forget about them all day” way, which involves soaking them all day, simmering a couple of hours, and then throwing them in a pitcher in my fridge (which will last 2 weeks if you change the water every other day or so) to use until they run out. This recipe calls for cooked chickpeas – which are the same thing you can get in a can, for the bean-wary. When nearly dry-roasted with spices, they make one heck of a flavorful taco filling with the help of your favorite taco fixings. I created this recipe as part of 100 Days Homemade Project, and my girlfriend Julia gives it a thumbs-up.
2 cups of chickpeas, drained
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt (optional: use ½ teaspoon smoked salt)
1 tsp dried oregano
pinch black pepper
pinch cayenne or hot sauce
pinch nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ lime, juiced
2 cloves garlic, minced
few splashes of water
additional lime juice/segments for servings
corn or flour tortillas, warmed before serving (wrap in foil and pop in the oven for a few minutes towards the end of cooking)
vegan queso or shredded vegan cheese
cilantro (or if you’re like me, banish that)
cooked rice or other grains
Preheat your oven to 400F.
Add the first 10 ingredients into a lightly greased 9×13 pan. Stir together well so the oil hits everything. Roast at 400F for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove from the oven and stir in the minced garlic, lime juice and a few splashes of water. Increase the heat to 425F and roast an additional 10-15 minutes, until crispy and golden, stirring periodically.
Remove from the oven, put in tortillas with additional lime juice and assemble with your favorite fixings.