Peggy Brusseau is the author of the new book The Contented Vegan: Recipes and Philosophy from a Family Kitchen. Originally from Minneapolis, she is based in London.
Q: What inspired you to write this cookbook, and what first interested you about veganism?
A: I’ve eaten a vegan diet for more than 30 years but, before that, I went through every pre-vegan stage imaginable! I was raised on a traditional diet, which included meat and dairy. When I first lived in the UK, I ran a smallholding and it was then that I realized I didn’t want to participate in animal husbandry. I became vegetarian soon after.
Gradually, I found the flavor and scent of dairy foods off-putting. I realized, too, that animals suffered at least as much in their use for dairy as in their use for meat. When I eventually settled into a fully plant-based way of eating, I felt relief. I knew I had found my dietary “home.” Adopting a plant-based diet is one of the smartest choices I have ever made.
I am fortunate in that my husband, who like me was vegetarian when we met, also shifted to a vegan way of eating. We made the switch together and shared the frustrations of, for instance, restaurants demanding that we give them two weeks notice before we booked a table.
In the early years, there were many such challenges. When I became pregnant, many people disparaged me for my decision to continue eating a plant-based diet. But I had done my homework! And so had my husband. We raised two strong, healthy sons on a vegan diet. Both of them are now excellent plant-based cooks.
I learned a great deal in a time when plant-based wasn’t a term one used. I read medical and scientific papers to inform myself and so that I could talk about my choice with others, including doctors, nutritionists and people who simply were antagonistic toward the idea. I wrote The Contented Vegan to share that acquired knowledge and experience.
Over the years, many people quietly asked me how a plant-based diet might help them with, for instance, a health problem and, also, how to “do” the vegan way of eating. I have tried to put all of that in the book, though I did run out of pages!
I know that a growing number of people are very interested in the environmental and ethical consequences of veganism; as they are also in the spiritual, or inner, effects. I’ve addressed those matters just enough to open the discussion and hopefully encourage people to take it further.
Q: What do you think are some of the most common perceptions and misconceptions about veganism?
A: There is an image of a vegan that persists and describes an anaemic-looking, weedy person who doesn’t get any protein and cannot carry their own shopping. Yet, there are numerous award-winning vegan bodybuilders and athletes who prove otherwise.
Another perception is that all vegans are bellicose: wanting to convert and to have a good fight in the process! I guess some do, probably out of anger and frustration for the plight of animals and the environment. But most simply want to be healthy and to do no harm.
The most surprising assumption is that there is some sort of Vegan Overseer who determines what a person can or cannot consume. The fact is, the plant-based way of eating is a personal choice and the details of it are up to the individual. Few people “go vegan” overnight; it is usual for the transition to be gradual or perhaps only partial. Each person sets their own pace and diet pattern.
Q: Do you have a favorite recipe or two from the book that you'd especially like to highlight?
A: I like Quick Patty Cake Mix (p. 50), which is a dry mixture that is hydrated in a few minutes to make patties, sausages or cutlets. It is infinitely adjustable in flavor and texture just by adding beans, spices, grains or vegetables. I store a few portions of the mixture specially to provide a very quick and easy meal solution.
Spinach & Artichoke Tart (p. 258) is delicious hot or cold, in winter or summer. A wonderful point about this dish is that it puts non-vegan people at their ease because it looks like a meal with which they already are familiar.
Cream of Mushroom Soup (p. 111) is made with plant milk and you wouldn’t know it! I’ve been told that I’ve “stopped that diet” when I’ve served this to non-vegan folk. It’s that creamy.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: I would like them to realize that it is very easy to gradually, comfortably shift their diet to include more plant-based meals. I introduce the 80/20 Rule early in the book. This gentle rule states that 80 percent of one’s diet is already likely to be plant-based and that one need only focus on “vegan-izing” 20 percent of their diet. This really takes the pressure off and puts the reader in control of the speed and degree of change they introduce.
I have included topics that the reader might wish to follow through on, such as the many benefits to health and the environment that a plant-based diet confers. I have tried to open the door to some of the ethical discussions that can arise via the vegan way of eating and, of course, I’ve offered many delicious, simple recipes, which I hope the reader will enjoy.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am writing several articles, at the moment, each of which focuses on a single problem and how a plant-based diet might help to resolve it.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: There are hundreds if not thousands of research papers, done by medical and environmental scientists, which support the plant-based diet in terms of its beneficial effect on environmental health and on chronic diseases in all life-stages. However, there are so many such papers that it is likely your doctor will not have time to read them all. You might have to help them out!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb