Jazz musician Laura Theodore’s path to a vegan lifestyle began more than 25 years ago with a focus on her own health and evolved into a stronger commitment as she learned more about where meat comes from and developed a compassion for animals. “Then, as I started researching my book, I also realized it helped save on carbon emissions and helped prevent global warming, but if there was one moment in my life when I was certain about my choice, it would be the compassion for animals,” she said in an interview this week.
It’s a path that gives her insight into people across the eating spectrum, from committed vegans to omnivores who are just as strong in their plans to keep eating meat. Theodore, who launched one of TV’s first vegan cooking shows this fall, “Jazzy Vegetarian” on PBS, created the entire first season around vegan versions of familiar dishes, from a breakfast scramble made with tofu instead of eggs to hearty chili made with black beans rather than ground beef.
“When I started developing recipes for my family and friends over 20 years ago, there wasn’t anybody to learn from. Being a jazz musician, I started improvising with the recipes my mother and grandmother liked, first making them vegetarian, then vegan. And I started coming up with my own ideas.”
On her show, Theodore makes it a point to venture out of the kitchen with trips to the garden to educate viewers on how easy it is to grow herbs, and each episode includes a segment with nutritionist Jonny Bowden explaining the health benefits of a particular ingredient. “I tried to make it really colorful, so it moves along and has some interest no matter what age you are. From day one, the Jazzy Vegetarian was someone who was not just about cooking but about a whole lifestyle. “
Still, the stars are the easy-to-make meatless dishes, many of which will also be featured in Theodore’s upcoming cookbook. They’re proven crowd-pleasers, she says, tested during years of creating weekends’ worth of vegan menus for friends and family, many of whom don’t typically eat a meatless diet.
Theodore offers some simple, affordable changes restaurants can make — and boast about — to their vegetarian guests.
- Offer vegan broth (rather than animal base) as a base for pastas, soups and veggies, etc.
- Offer nondairy margarine (like Smart Balance) in place of butter for spreading on bread and as a base for any veggie dishes.
- Offer nuts, organic tofu and/or avocado as a replacement for the meat in main dish salads.
And three simple dishes designed to please vegan and omnivore customers alike:
How does your restaurant cater to vegetarians?