Today we’d like to introduce you to Ellen Kanner.
Ellen, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
A friend calls me the First Vegan. I went vegan way before Joaquin Phoenix or any other celeb. I’m a soulful vegan, too, a storyteller, an award-winning author and contributor to numerous outlets including Huffington Post, Civil Eats, and the upcoming anthology What I Do to Get Through. I’m a recipe developer, a home cook.
Telling stories and feeding people go together — sitting around the campfire eating together and telling stories taps into something ancient and primal and deeply, deeply human. I think stories can impact people in a way statistics just don’ t. My book Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner, named VegNews’ Book of the Year, gets its title from a Buddhist concept. Hungry ghosts start out as people who are always hungry, just desperate and clutchy and needy. They’re that way even when they die, so they’re hungry even beyond the grave. Then they come back to haunt us.
In Hungry Ghost festivals across Asia in the summer, people pray to their hungry ghost ancestors and bring them food offerings. And I thought, wow, the same thing words for us. When you nourish us and show us compassion and attention, it quiets our craziness, it soothes our hunger. We’re hungry, not just for great food, but for connection, for love, for meaning, for the bigger picture. That’s what I try to provide, whether through my writing, my classes or my recipes.
My ideal dinner party has a guest list of ten billion. That’s all of us, that’s how many people are predicted to populate our planet by 2050. However different or divided we are, we all need to eat, and I want every guest to be fed and nourished and celebrated. That’s probably going to mean a whole lot of rice and beans. That’s okay, that’s food that’s sustained us since the beginning. I’ll add sumptuous warming spices, and, if I can, some greens — I’m desperate for people to eat their greens. So instead of focusing on what divides us, I believe in what connects us, Beans, whole grains, fresh produce have sustained us throughout our history. These simple foods are actually a feast in disguise. We will all be at the table together and celebrate.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Being plant-based is central to who I am. But being ahead of the herd that way could feel challenging, isolating, especially in meat-centric Miami. On the upside, it encouraged me to become self-reliant. I taught myself to cook because there weren’t many plant-based options in stores, at least anything worth eating, and restaurants just weren’t offering vegan options.
As a professional writer, it took a lot of convincing before editors appreciated the market for a plant-based lifestyle. So I didn’t always focus on that, especially when food is so much more. I drew on my strength as a storyteller to explore food as culture, community, a means to wellness, sustainability, social justice and so much more than what’s on your plate.
When I started out, I was not able to tap into a community of likeminded people. I was never mentored. But it forced me to become self-reliant. That said, I don’t think anyone should have to go it alone. Connection is what I bring to the table, so to speak, through my writing, teaching, advocacy and recipes. This is not the most lucrative career path I could have pursued. But I think it’s among the most vital. At a time when we’ve become such a divisive global community, food is a connector. However different or divided we are, we all need to eat.
We’d love to hear more about your work.
If change was easy, we’d all do it. The thing is, to be human is to be complicated. That’s where the soulfulness comes in. As a soulful vegan, I’m presenting and writing a lot these days on mindfulness, America’s #1 wellness trend. I like to bring mindfulness into the kitchen and to the table because most of us are fortunate to eat every day, and food is a connector — however different or divided we are, we all need to eat.
In all my writing and presenting and demos, I give you lots of seasonal recipes, but I also try to feed your soul through what I call gentle nudges, tips to deepen your connection with what you eat, how you feel and how we live. I write and cook but I also love to feed people. In an increasingly virtual world, we value, we seek real connection — the authentic, the tangible, something you can see, touch and taste.
Mindful eating starts with learning to feeding yourself well, but that consciousness grows and you become aware nourishing, accessible sustainable food is a human right and a global necessity. It’s the best multitasker there is.
What were you like growing up?
I’m a fourth-generation Miami native and an only child. So this set me apart early. So did my decision to stop eating meat. I was 13 and did it because I love animals and wanted to piss off my parents a little bit. My mother, after a brief freak-out, said okay, but I’m not cooking anything different for you. Well, this was a problem, because my dad loved dessert but never liked vegetables. So I taught myself to cook. This turned out to be not just about feeding myself. It’s a great education about wellness and a plant-based diet. It gave me confidence that I could figure things out on my own and is a great pleasure to me, as well. I discovered feeding people well makes them happy.
If my father wasn’t big on vegetables, he instilled in me a love of the natural world, especially our own Everglades, a place unlike any other. As an adult, that led me to understand what’s on our plate not only affects us, it impacts the planet.
- Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner $15.95, Amazon, indie bookstores and www.soulfulvegan.com
- Beans — A Handful of Magic e-book $7.95 www.soulfulvegan.com
- Veg Therapy — Conscious cooking/mindful eating class — $70
- Website: www.soulfulvegan.com
- Phone: 3057105350
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: Ellen Kanner
- Facebook: soulful vegan
- Twitter: soulfulvegan