It’s time to shine the spotlight on one of our regular VeganMoFo’ers again, and this time we’re introducing you to Jen, a vegan superstar: she runs a vegan B&B in the Florida Keys, maintains a blog (Living the Dream @ Deer Run) and YouTube channel, and is an all-round great advocate for veganism. And somehow she still had time to answer a few questions and help us get to know her a bit better!
How long have you been vegan?
Approximately 16 years, but I’m not sure of the exact date…it could be closer to 20.
How long have you had your vegan B&B, and what inspired you to open it?
About 13-14 years. We used to come here for vacations (it was a non-vegan B&B) at the time. I really fell in love with the area and together we started coming here 3-4 times a year. As we became friends with the prior owner through the years, the other happy vegan began to help her fix things and tinker around the place to help her out (she was a little older). Ultimately, a few years into our visits he finally said to her, “If you ever want to sell this place, give me a call.” She called!
I was reluctant to take the plunge at first as back then The Other Happy Vegan (my partner) was not yet vegan (he is now, and for about 10 years or so). I knew I couldn’t run a business serving non-vegan food. I agreed to partner in the business and move here for one year ONLY if it would be run vegan. He agreed immediately. We’re still here.
What’s the best thing about running a vegan B&B?
The best thing about running a vegan B&B is a combination of meeting like-minded people, because that really bolsters our own morale knowing we’re not alone being vegan in a non-vegan world. The other best part, although it sounds very cliché, is when people tell us they have “seen the light” and are going to go vegan. We never know for sure if those who tell us they have had a perception shift decide to stay vegan, but we are able to offer support, resources and an abundance of gratitude to them when they set their intentions. We really do believe food is a large part of advocacy and activism – every bite of food we serve or distribute is literally saving lives.
What inspired you to start your blog and YouTube channel?
I started these things because I needed a positive outlet to discuss veganism and all the changes in my own life. Instead of feeling isolated being vegan in a non-vegan world, I opted to do something positive and constructive and create my own support system. Despite running a social business, a lot of my part of running this business is solitary – being in the kitchen alone. Since this region of the world is so different from where I’m originally from, I thought maybe a few others would like to experience part of this. I don’t write as often as I used to for the first few years, but I will not abandon my blog. I also really enjoy VeganMoFo as it holds me accountable for a reason to get a post up.
What’s the best feedback you’ve had on one of your recipes or dishes?
If you said “what’s the worst feedback” that would be easy, but the best? There are people who have said my food was life changing for them. Being brutally honest, the people that will forever stick with me are those who are in some type of health crisis and are searching non-stop for ways to restore health.
I do remember one person who had a very debilitating chronic health condition who I made a very special breakfast for. After she took a bite, she literally began to cry. Long story short, it turned out it had been over a decade since she had any form of pancake as she thought she couldn’t have any with her restrictions. She loved pancakes before her chronic disease diagnosis and missed them immensely. I didn’t know any of this. I gave her the recipe I had created for her to take back home so she could make them too. That was really the first time here that I realized the profound effect my food might have on some people.
How often do you create new recipes? Where do you get your recipe inspiration from?
I used to create new recipes on a weekly basis because I get bored easily. However I don’t have as much free time anymore, plus it is pretty costly and labor intensive getting a recipe from research & development to the table. I write a few new recipes every year just to keep my edge, but my latest passion is buying vintage cookbooks and veganizing recipes I think have potential. I live on an island, so my access to books can be limited. Vintage cookbooks are fun to play with, and they give me a “base” recipe. My professional culinary training has been almost exclusively privately with chefs, I’ve never had the time to go through an entire culinary program for a chunk of years at one time.
Are there any other vegan blogs you love?
I absolutely love reading blogs. I get really disappointed and sad when authors I grow attached to either don’t keep up or abandon their blogs (insert sad face here). Thankfully there’s a lot of bloggers I look up from time to time (SO many I’ve discovered through VeganMoFo!). I especially love The Vegan 8 because the concept is perfect for my life… vegan and 8 ingredients or less is speaking to my soul. I’m a passionate baker, but a very reluctant cook. I could spend all day in the kitchen baking (and often do), but if someone puts a pile of cooking ingredients in front of me I have nowhere near the same excitement. The Vegan 8 to the rescue for sure.
What’s your favourite cookbook?
Truthfully, my favorite cookbook is a VERY old school out of print vegan book which I don’t talk about because no one can get it anymore. For great modern vegan innovators, I especially enjoy Isa Chandra Moskowitz‘s books and always recommend them (I can’t wait to visit one of her restaurants too!).
I also think the Vegan Black Metal Chef (pictured above in gingerbread form) is fantastic as he is able to connect with an often ignored segment of vegan society: metalheads! He’s edgy, smart, a good thinker, and has a sharp sense of humor too. I think anyone who can inject humor into life is probably someone I’ll gravitate towards. It’s a hard world, and a little levity goes a long way. I think his cookbook (I have it, we backed his Kickstarter) is brilliant. Out of hundreds of cookbooks his stands out for the photos, the ease of creation, the philosophy and personal element he has injected into every aspect, and the music. Additionally, it’s very modern in that every recipe has a QR code. There is so much thought and work behind his book, it far exceeded my own expectations. It’s helped me be more adventurous in my own personal meal creation.
What’s your favourite cuisine?
My favorite cuisine by far is Italian. Good authentic Italian food is exceptionally limited in the Florida Keys, but there is one authentic Italian restaurant in Key West we’ll go to occasionally. There are limited vegan options, but what they do offer to us is excellent. When I travel up north, I practically live on Italian food to make up for lost time down here.
What’s your favourite travel destination?
Admittedly I am not well traveled anymore since we came to Deer Run. Our focus remains on our community, volunteer work and our business. Despite this we make an effort to do a road trip in Florida for a week or so every year. Plus we both have a desire to rent an RV, load up our animals with us and see our country (especially Oregon, we hear it’s so vegan friendly). As far as international travel, we’ll be visiting Thailand most likely when we are able to set aside enough time. Vegan food, beaches, and Thai massage sums up my idea of perfection.
Have you stayed in any all-vegan accommodation?
YES! The White Pig Sanctuary in Schuyler, Virginia is WONDERFUL. It’s truly an oasis. We have been there a couple of times, and will absolutely go back. It was actually at The White Pig that the other happy vegan went vegan on the spot. Dina (owner/proprietor) allowed us into the pig area to interact. One of the pigs went up to The Other Happy Vegan and began nudging him…. He started to pet the pig, and soon enough this giant sweet pig rolled over just like a dog for a belly rub. At the time, The Other Happy Vegan was not yet vegan (this was a long time ago….) although I was already vegan. I could almost literally see the paradigm shift within him as he was petting that pig. It was in that actual moment that he declared himself vegan, and never looked back. I think if everyone could visit a sanctuary and visit with animals in safe and loving environments allowing their (the animals’) personalities to come forth, it would be a much better world with a heck of a lot more vegans in it.