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Debra Wasserman: Author of several books and co-founder of the Vegetarian Resource GroupHow long have you been vegan and why did you go vegan?
I've been vegan over 20 years (since 1980). I became vegan for ethical reasons and a strong belief in non-violence.
How many books have you written and can you please give us a list?
I've written or co-authored 5 books as listed below:
Meatless Meals for Working People
No Cholesterol Passover Recipes
The Lowfat Jewish Vegetarian Cookbook
I also edited the following books:
Vegetarian Journal's Guide to Natural Foods Restaurants in the US & Canada
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I am the co-founder and co-director of The Vegetarian Resource Group. In September 1982, myself along with 4 other individuals sat down and created what was then called Baltimore Vegetarians (we later changed the name of the group to VRG to better reflect our ongoing national scope and purpose). Charles Stahler (the other co-director and co-founder) and I had been involved in the Vegetarian Society of DC before moving to Baltimore. We decided that there was a need for a vegetarian group in this area.
I am the managing editor of VRG's quarterly magazine Vegetarian Journal and quarterly newsletter Vegetarian Journals Foodservice Update. I also do some of the groups' accounting and a lot of educational outreach (speaking, demos, etc.).
What resources does the VRG provide to help veg*ns?
This is just some of what we do: As mentioned above, VRG publishes Vegetarian Journal which is vegan and our quarterly foodservice newsletter which is vegan, too. VRG published all the books I wrote as well as several others by different authors. We are one of a handful of publishers that focus on vegan books. VRG also produces and distributes numerous vegan friendly brochures and handouts. Some are even available in Spanish. VRG offers vegan information on our very popular website www.vrg.org. We also offer an online course on vegetarianism. The VRG works with mainstream professional organizations and businesses with the goal of making them more vegan-friendly.
What advice do you have for busy moms who don't have much time to make nutritious meals for their kids?
This I know very well since we have a 4yo vegan son. Most importantly, I think kids often mimic their parents' or guardians' eating habits. If you eat relatively well (ie eat a wide variety of healthy foods), so will your child, generally speaking. My son has been following a vegan diet easily and he's been in pre-school since the age of 18 months. Fortunately, he's in a school that does not allow meat and poultry in the building, which makes life easier for him and us. They also do not serve cow's milk.
Here are some items my son enjoys that are relatively simple too prepare (or involve no preparation):
Peanutbutter and Jelly on vegan whole grain bread (try different types of nutbutters)
Vegan granola bars
Vegan deli slices and soy cheese sandwich
Pasta with sauce
Cooked soy sausages or vegan hot dogs
Vegan "chicken" nuggets
Vegetarian baked beans
Hummus and crackers
Nutritional yeast sprinkled on popcorn
Noodles with stir-fried broccoli, carrots, tofu, etc.
Wide variety of fruit
Guacamole and crackers
Are you currently working on any new cookbooks?
I've mostly been editing and doing the layout of VRG books written by other authors right now. I'm always creating new recipes for future books.
What advice do you have for moms who are trying to transition their school aged children to veganism?
You need to make it look easy to eat vegan. That means, don't start off serving unusual items such as tempeh. Start with breakfast. Many foods you eat are already vegan at breakfast or easily can be made vegan (such as French toast (dip bread in soy milk instead of cow's milk and skip the eggs), vegan pancakes, hot cereals, purchase vegan frozen waffles or vegan toaster pops, etc.). For lunch and dinner, think ethnic food. Italian food usually works well. Make vegan pasta dishes, vegan pizza, etc. Mexican dishes such as vegan tacos or tortillas are great. Kids love salsa on anything. Vegan Chinese dishes are also easy to prepare. Most importantly, make sure you explain to your children why you are choosing to follow a vegan lifestyle. Don't simply force your child to eat this way without an explanation and good reasons (ie ethical, environmental, etc.).
Do you or the VRG ever demonstrate vegan cooking in a classroom setting? If so, how do the kids usually react?
Over the years we've had many opportunities to promote vegan cooking with children (including at a boy scout jamboree!). Once again, if you cook foods that the children are already comfortable with the reaction will more often than not be positive. In other words, don't start with seitan, etc. Also, remember that most kids today are not use to seeing anything cooked per say (they live on fastfood or convenice food items). We were amazed at how many kids had never even made a fresh fruit salad. They thought it only came in a can! I'd try Mexican dishes such as make your own tacos.
Tell us about the college scholarship fund the VRG is setting up.
Thanks to a generous annonymous donation, starting in 2003, annually VRG will be offering two $5,000 scholarships to graduating high school seniors who have promoted vegetarianism in their school and/or communities. Students will be judged on having shown compassion, courage, and a strong commitment in promoting a peaceful world through a vegetarian diet/lifestyle. Students must be a high school senior at time of application. For details, visit