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Marie Oser: Veggie chef, author, and speaker.When and why did you become a vegan?
I have been vegetarian since 1971, but was lacto-ovo vegetarian. Back in the 1970's the prevailing medical advice was that the vegetarian diet was somehow lacking and we needed to use dairy products in order to get enough "protein." Of course, we know now that is simply not true.
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So, to answer your question, my initial reasons were prompted by health concerns and a growing awareness of a more enlightened approach to eating. A new kind of medical professional was gaining prominence, Drs, Ornish, McDougall, Barnard, etc. And, certainly I have a sensitivity toward the plight of animals.
How did your friends and family react to your change in diet?
My son was 11 years old in 1990. That was when I gave him John Robbins', book, "Diet for a New America" to read. He became vegan halfway through the book. He is still a committed vegan and wouldn't have it any other way. I have a daughter who is lacto-ovo vegetarian.
I have been vegetarian for a very long time. However, it was when I chose a vegan or pure vegetarian diet, that friends were most inquisitive. Invariably, the first response was, "Are you sure its safe?" I'm proud and happy to say that several of my friends have since adopted the plant-based diet and are far healthier and more energetic for it.
What is your educational background?
I studied Psychology at St. Joseph's University in Pennsylvania and I counseled pregnant and newly delivered mothers in the 1980's for the Childbirth Education Assoc.
What was your first book? How was it received by the public?
My first book was "Luscious Low Fat Desserts" Chariot Publishing, 1994. 89 recipes and it is, like all my work, vegan. It was well received, although I had a very small publishing house and limited distribution. It is still available for $12.95 by calling 800-628-8244
Why did you decide to start writing cookbooks?
In the 1980's I went on to a career in television, producing 30 & 60 second spots (commercials). Pretty intense, especially with 2 children still in school. In 1990 I decided to stay home "for a while." I have always been a gourmet cook and had an intense interest in food, health, and nutrition. My newly acquired plant based diet and the kitchen science I employed created outrageous desserts. Since they were vegan they contained no eggs or dairy, and as a bonus no added fat. I started writing for national magazines such as Vegetarian Gourmet & Veggie Life and for newspapers in the Southern California Scripps Howard group. My editors encouraged me to put my work in book form. My first book was a dessert book, and scrumptious desserts have become my signature, even though I am not particularly into "sweets." Dessert is the one course where vegans are very limited in a mainstream restaurant. Safe would be sorbet, or some fresh fruit "hold the whipped cream".
With my second book, it became apparent to me that I was utilizing soy in just about every course of every meal. I was also aware of the research going on regarding soy and its role in nutrition and disease prevention, particularly Dr. James Anderson's work in the area of cholesterol reduction. So it was a natural for me to focus that book on the Mighty Soybean. Soy of Cooking, John Wiley & Sons is a bestseller and now in its 6th printing.
What's the best part about what you do?
That's a difficult question. I just LOVE what I do. When I first decided to stay at home in 1990, it wasn't long before I realized that "I'm never happier than when I'm in the kitchen." I have been quoted often saying that and it is still true.
I enjoy writing more than any other work I've ever done, and I get to write about what I do: Create gourmet dishes with plant based ingredients. But I guess the very best part is the opportunity to make a difference in people's lives, to share what I have learned, to do my part to raise awareness, and improve the quality of life on and for the planet.
Where do you see the trend going as far as the public eating more soy foods?
Every day more soy based products enter the market. Manufacturers have responded to the public's demand for alternatives to the high fat and cholesterol laden foods that make up the traditional western diet. The good news is that these products are turning up on the shelves of supermarkets across North America. New soyfood products are lighter and easy to use, and products like the widely available aseptically packaged tofu (Mori-Nu) and Tofu Hero mixes help busy moms make a meal in minutes.
Also I see more people making purchases from the internet. Online shopping has extended to health food items and herbal remedies. The Mail Order Catalog is online at http://www.healthy-eating.com with a wide variety of soyfoods like many styles of T.V.P (textured vegetable protein), soymilks, and soups, etc. I guess that the bottom line is that soyfoods are far more widely available and are lower in fat and higher in quality than ever before.
Have you received feedback on your books from young people? What do they think?
I do seminars at Universities and have found that far more college students describe themselves as vegetarian, than you would ever find in the general population. And a large number of them are vegan. Young people are very open to the plant based diet for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is the impact that animal farming has had on the environment.
What's in store for you next? What projects are you working on now?
I just completed my 3rd book, More Soy Cooking, John Wiley & Sons, inc. It will be in bookstores by October 6, 2000 My discussion board "Soy Talk with Marie Oser" on VegSource keeps me pretty busy as does my newspaper column. My column appears weekly in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday edition. It is entitled, "The Enlightened Kitchen," and May 28 marked the column's 33rd consecutive week. I hope to have the column in syndication by years end. Anyone who is interested in seeing this plant based column in their city, should call the editors & publishers with their requests.