I’m very excited to announce the first post in my new interview series on this blog, Vegans of Color! The conversation around race and food is an important dialogue to start and continue, as media outlets are still making missteps in representation at every turn.
My relationship with my own half-Japanese half-Caucasian identity is nothing short of complicated, and it’s definitely not made easier when the conversations about cultural foods are often led by white voices. I decided to start this series to celebrate vegan content creators, chefs, and personalities. In these Q&A segments I hope to showcase their stories, talents, and what it means to be a #veganofcolor.
For this first installment I spoke with Sarah Sullivan of Sarah’s Vegan Kitchen. She’s a YouTuber and blogger whose recent videos include fun taste tests, original recipes, and vlogs that showcase her active lifestyle.
Below, she talks about her Southern California upbringing, her transition to veganism, and veganizing Filipino food.
What is your ethnic and cultural background?
My dad is just a mixture of Irish, German, French-Canadian. And my mom is full Flilpino, her parents came to the United States to the Philippines. I grew up in Southern California, and my mom’s family was all in San Diego, so we spent a lot more time with them. My mom was a stay at home mom, so I feel like I identify a lot more with that part of my culture.
What kinds of food did you eat growing up? Did you eat a lot of Filipino food?
My dad was kind of picky, so when we were at home, my mom had a few staple Filipino dishes she would make She’d make adobo, and there’s this noodle dish called pancit, and she would make that a lot for birthdays, because the noodles represent long life. We’d have those on birthdays. And we’d make lumpia, which are like spring rolls. Those most commonly, and some other dishes when we were visiting my grandparents, because they would cook a lot too.
Were there any dishes you remember having for certain holidays or occasions?
Those three dishes were the celebratory dishes, definitely the pancit and the lumpia. And then at a couple of parties, I don’t know if you’re familiar, they have the entire roast pig called lechon. At bigger family gatherings, we would have that a lot.
When did you decide to go vegan, and what led you to that decision?
I went vegan in November 2015, almost two years ago. I’d been vegetarian off and on, probably starting in middle school. I don’t know what initially drew me to it, when I was at that age. But when I got older, what really made it stick eventually was that my dad had got sick, he had cancer, so I started thinking a lot more about my health. That was what got me interested in it, and I did all the research. I think that happens with a lot of people, when you do the research you realize there are so many good reasons to be vegan—environmental, ethical. Now it’s the whole framework for me, it just makes sense.
Are any of your family members vegetarian or vegan? How did they respond to your decision to be vegan?
No, none of them are. I haven’t lived at home for a long time, since college, and that was when I really started taking vegetarianism seriously and learning how to cook [that way]. Any time I’ve ever visited them, they’ve been really supportive. I know it’s not something that they would ever adopt on their own. But I know a lot of other people deal with disapproval from their families, and I’ve never had to deal with that. My nuclear family (my mom, sister, and my dad), they’re really supportive and they’ll try new things with me. And I think my extended family, my mom’s family, they don’t really understand it but they think it’s an interesting thing about me. They never try and make me eat meat or anything like that, but I think they don’t really get it.
How do you handle food situations when you visit family? Do you make something else, or do they try vegan things with you?
They’ll try foods with me, if I’m the one who’s bringing it. And oftentimes we’ll do family barbecues, and there’s always ways to make [vegan options]. Baked potatoes, grilled corn and vegetables. I just have to be pretty proactive about making sure there are a lot of options for me, and my family will eat those dishes too. [My family has] gone to a couple of vegan restaurants with me. I’ve been traveling a lot this past couple of weeks, and I went to Seattle with my mom, my aunt, and my grandma. We went to two vegan restaurants there—the three of them, they’re not picky. My mom has gotten to a point where she gets excited about new vegan products that are coming out, like Gardein and Daiya and brands like that.
Why did you decide to start creating vegan content?
I’ve always wanted to have a YouTube channel. I had a makeup channel in college that I closed down, but I’d been thinking about making cooking videos in general for a long time. When I was working, and I didn’t have time to. When my dad got sick, I quit my job so that I could spend more time with my family. That opened up a lot of free time for me to start making content. I started my channel and I went vegan right around the same time. I was turning over a new leaf with my diet, my lifestyle, and I wanted to document that.
Have you ever tried to cook vegan versions of Filipino dishes, or would you ever try to?
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Astig Vegan, but she has a recipe blog, and I think she also has a YouTube channel now. She does a lot of live cooking demonstrations. She lives in the Bay Area, like me. I know she’s recreated a lot of vegan Filipino dishes. I’ve tried a couple of them, I’ve made longanisa, a sweet and spicy sausage, that was really good! A lot of Filipino food is stew-based, so it gets a lot of its flavor from the fat of slow-cooking meat, and also from fish paste. So it’s a little more difficult and less straightforward to replicate than American comfort food. But I know it’s possible. And I definitely want to try more of Astig Vegan’s recipes. It takes a lot of creativity!
Did you have an interest in cooking before you went vegan?
My mom and dad met when they were both working at a restaurant, and my dad had been in the industry, he was a huge foodie. All of my earliest memories involve cooking with my dad, or with my mom, so I’ve always loved that. I started baking a lot in high school. And I thought in college, that after I graduated and got my “normal” degree, that I would go to culinary school afterwards, because I loved cooking so much. I wanted to do pastry art. It didn’t end up happening, and I ended up going vegan. I don’t know if there even are any vegan culinary programs out there. And going vegan, a lot of people will say that you’re limited as a vegan, but I think it makes me be more creative and more resourceful. I’ve learned more about cooking since going vegan.
What inspires you to adapt the recipes that you adapt, like your more recent fast food recipe adaptations?
If you look back at my earlier videos, a lot of them are super, super healthy. I think that a lot of people, at least a lot of people online, have gone through that [healthy] phase—high carb low fat was very trendy, and there was a lot of pressure to eat that way. Like eating only fruit, or no oil. I definitely started my channel that way, thinking that was the only way to eat, especially because I was more concerned about health at the time. I think that gradually, I missed being able to cook in the way that I used to. Cooking for me has always been an art, a way to explore. I’d spend my free time testing recipes. And that’s not to say you can’t be creative with healthy food—especially with raw food, I think some gourmet raw food recipes are pretty creative. I think that gradually, I started to regain comfort eating a more moderate, balanced diet.
I will say that I’m a lot healthier now than I was before I went vegan. I eat a lot more whole foods. And I actually eat a lot healthier than you might think I do, based on videos. I don’t record all the more boring, healthy dishes. I think that gradually I regained comfort with cooking the way that I wanted to and being more experimental with recipes and using things like vegan cheeses and butter.
Who are some vegan content creators who inspire you?
Oh wow, I feel like I watch a lot of people. I definitely watched a lot of Freelee the Banana Girl when I first transitioned, I really like hot for food, of course, Lauren Toyota, love her. I just started watching Avant Garde Vegan, have you heard of him? Oh my god, his channel is amazing. I think it’s professionally produced, like he has a crew and everything. And he makes some really creative dishes, like they all look like something you would order at a fancy vegan restaurant. I’ve been loving his channel.