Interview With Shirley Skiebe, Vegan Cook, Author and Proprietor of Basically Vegan

More and more a problem people are having is that they know they need to be living better, but honestly have no clue what to do with healthy foods to make them taste good.

Today’s interview is with Vegan chef Shirley Skiebe, who specializes in making diverse recipes for all occasions at her website Basically Vegan.  Her recipes are custom designed, “mostly vegan”, and span alllll genre’s of eating.

All of her work is worth cooking, but what I like best is her diverse collection of ethnically diverse foods. I’m getting ready to make her mediterranean salad.

She’s going to talk about her work, lifestyle habits, and what it’s like being vegan.

Shirley Skiebe

Veganism

1. Why did you choose to become a vegan?

A few years ago I read The China Study by T. Colin Campbell.  According to his lifetime research as a nutrition scientist, Dr. Campbell found that a diet with 20% animal protein caused cancer tumors to grow while reducing a diet to only 10% animal protein would stop the growth and sometimes even begin to shrink it.  I was shocked by what I read and faced with such evidence I could no longer eat meat and dairy with a clear conscience. Cancer runs in my family—both my father and my oldest brother have died from it—and I know several extended family members and friends who have struggled with it over the years. If I could be proactive with my health and make a difference I wanted to do it! Dr. Campbell advocated a whole-food, plant-based diet and that is what I chose to adopt.

2. What are the biggest benefits of being vegan?

  • Health!
  • Less animal fat = lower cholesterol = less chance of stroke or heart attack.
  • Higher metabolism.
  • An alkaline or basic body—as opposed to acidic—cannot feed cancer and many other diseases.
  • A basic body also neutralizes harmful chemicals, such as fertilizers and pesticides, which may be ingested with food.
  • Vascular repairs from blood clots. I have personally experienced this.
  • Other things I noticed within weeks of the change in diet are better sleep, more energy, less brain fog, regular bowel movements.
  • Flavor! The plant kingdom isn’t called a kingdom for nothing and the choices are vast. When plants are cooked to enhance their flavor, rather then smothered with cheese and sauces, an extensive variety of flavors are available.
  • Timesaver! It’s so much faster to shop when entire sections of the grocery store are no longer relevant.
  • Money saver! My grocery budget was slashed in half.

3. What are the challenges of a vegan lifestyle?

The question I dread hearing is, “Do you want to go out to eat?” Dining out is very difficult because most restaurants usually have only one choice—a tossed salad with processed dressings. This is especially frustrating because I live in Texas, where Mexican restaurants and smokehouses rule! Traveling—whether on a road trip or abroad—presents its own challenges. It is tough to find 3 meals each day that provide the flavor and nutrition that I am accustomed to. I learned very early that my homemade food was superior to most restaurant meals. I do still eat out with friends, however it is not the treat it used to be.

4. Do you ever get cravings for meat?

At about the 1-year mark of my strict adherence to a vegan diet, I began to desire some of my old favorite meat-based meals. I did eat a few meals and was surprised by how little I enjoyed it; they weren’t as good as I had remembered. Occasionally I might try a bite of something but it usually reinforces that I am not missing anything!

Lifestyle

1. How does your typical day look like, in terms of the food you eat?

For breakfast, I concentrate on whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Normally I eat Luxury Muesli (which I make from mostly raw ingredients) with vanilla soymilk. When lunch comes around, I finish leftovers from the night before. On the rare occasions when there are no leftovers, my favorite lunch item is a sandwich made with a chickpea filling on toasted sprouted whole grain bread or a cheese-less quesadilla made with refried beans. Because I have trouble getting enough fruits in my diet, I make fruit smoothies with my Vita-Mix as a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. Dinner is where the fun happens for I usually try a new recipe. These feature vegetables, beans and legumes.

2. Do you mostly prepare your own food, or eat out?

Most of the meals I eat are home-cooked from scratch, however I typically eat out about twice a week. Once is breakfast with a group of friends and the other is date night with my husband.

3. Do you have any particular philosophy or rules you abide to when it comes to food?

Simply put: a whole-food, plant-based diet.  Many people associate vegan food with tofu, seitan, faux food (soy everything – cheese, hot dogs, etc.) and other unusual things.  I wasn’t looking for faux replacements for meat and dairy but rather how to amplify vegetables, fruits, berries, grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds to make complete, yet satisfying, meals. When I think of a whole-food, plant-based diet, I think of it more as a chef going to a market, selecting a variety of fresh produce, and making food that tastes really good—not just good-for-you!  Or think of food that was—and still is—typical in Europe (Mediterranean, French, Italian, Greek), Africa (Moroccan, Lebanese, Phoenician, Jewish), or Asia (Thai, Korean, Chinese, Indian).  Then there are also island foods (Caribbean) and Latin influences (Mexican).  So many of these cultures rely on fresh whole foods or dried beans, grains, nuts, and fruits with little or no meat or dairy.  The foods burst with flavor because of the use of quality produce made with a variety of herbs and spices.

Dr. Campbell’s research found that a diet of 10% animal protein was safe health-wise. Although 10% is allowable, I don’t want to be in a position where I am analyzing every bite I take, so I choose to be mostly vegan but have the freedom to eat small amounts of meat and dairy if I wish to (butter and eggs when I bake or a small amount of cheese in risotto) or if I am in a situation where it cannot be avoided (i.e.: restaurant with friends or as a guest in someone’s home. The judicious use of small amounts of butter, cheese and meat are occasionally used to enhance a dish, but they play a supporting role rather than taking the lead.

4. How much do you typically spend on groceries?

When I switched to a vegan diet my grocery expenses were slashed in half. Right now I spend about $50/week to feed my husband and myself.

Her Projects

1. What are you currently working on now?

I am a compulsive teacher, so when I learn something new, I have to share it. Basically Vegan is a vehicle through which I can reach out and teach others the wealth of information I have learned. I communicate through my website, Facebook fan page, Twitter, and blog along with several other social media platforms. In each location I focus on conveying a different message, but all are linked to the same purpose of sharing the recipes, health and nutrition tips and research I have learned.

On my web site, BasicallyVegan.com, you will find my personal collection of whole-food, plant-based recipes. A selection of good recipes makes all the difference between adhering to healthy vegan diet and cheating or quitting; if you have great-tasting, everyday recipes then you won’t feel like you are making a sacrifice.  My site is organized so that you can easily search for a recipe by a produce item.

On my Facebook fan page, Basically Vegan, I take a weekly challenge of working with one particular whole-food item and try new recipes that feature it. You can follow my cooking adventures and learn about the successes and failures on a daily basis. My kitchen is real – it is not a test kitchen- and my husband and I eat whatever I have cooked that day so my recipes have to be practical and reasonable for everyday life.

On twitter, @BasicallyVegan, I share interesting and helpful tidbits of information; links to health and nutrition articles; nutrition facts; food and cooking-related quotes from celebrities, chefs, cookbook authors, etc.; health-related quotes from holistic leaders whom I respect. I love to pass on anything I find helpful.

I use my blog, blog.basicallyvegan.com, as a platform for sharing my thoughts on issues important to me at the time. Everything from expanding homemaking skills to extensive research on the best apples for different applications and the best food sources of potassium to help remove sodium from your body (hint: it’s not bananas like your doctor probably told you).

2. What’s your reason for doing it?

When I first began eating a vegan diet, I kept coming across other people wanting to do the same, but they were struggling with what to eat.  I would share my recipes with them.  As my collection increased, my method of sharing became too cumbersome—I needed a central repository that anyone could access. I wanted to create Basically Vegan to have a place where I could share my recipes and inspire others to eat fresh, flavorful food. I quickly realized that handing over my recipes wasn’t enough. Many people do not have the confidence or cooking skills to try something new, so I made the decision to photograph each recipe step-by-step to show that healthy, flavorful food is easily attainable.

As I have worked on the site my vision has expanded. I want to pass on so much more than recipes. I also want to share information—everything from nutritional facts about plant foods, how to select and store them, health and nutritional news articles, and resources such as books, DVDs, blogs, internet sites, etc. In short, I am developing the resource I wish I had when I became a vegan. I’m passing on all that I have learned—and am still learning—so that each new reader does not have to “reinvent the wheel.”

3.What makes your contribution to the vegan world unique?

Though I am Canadian by birth, I have also called Thailand, Germany and Texas home. Many vegan products, that we take for granted in the USA, are not available in rural areas, Canada, or overseas. But that does not mean healthy eating is not an option outside of the large cities of America. Plants are available worldwide—that is why I focus on them. I want my family and friends around the globe to be able to enjoy the same recipes that I cook with. My love of cooking and using fresh ingredients, along with my exposure to many cuisines, have equipped me to tackle the challenge of combining a plant-based diet with the same culinary variety, excellence, flavor and presentation that my family and friends have always enjoyed. Basically Vegan allows me to share whole-food, plant-based recipes in a forum that puts my skills and successes at the fingertips of others.

4. Is there anything else you want to say about Basically Vegan?

Basically Vegan is fun!  Yes, it is a lot of work, and most days I feel overwhelmed, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!  I appreciate the opportunity to exercise my brain and stretch myself in so many different areas: business development and strategizing; marketing; computer skills; finance and law; graphic design, etc.  It is much more than cooking.  It is finding a dream so much bigger than myself, or what I would have dared to dream for myself, and taking the plunge to do it.  It is like having a second lease in life.  As an empty nester my life is not over—it feels like it is just beginning.

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Comments

  1. how much time do you spend cooking? is it more than when you weren’t vegan? is it hard to grocery shop?

    • Jonathan says:

      betsy,

      I can’t speak for Shirley, but I know for me I spend about 10-40 minutes a day cooking. It depends on other things of course, but that’s about the norm. I find that in general, being vegan usually means you’ll have to cook a little more than you would otherwise.

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