Catskill Animal Sanctuary, a farm animal sanctuary in New York’s Hudson Valley, has come out with its first vegan cookbook, Compassionate Cuisine (Skyhorse Publishing, 2019). Co-written by chefs Linda Soper-Kolton and Sara Boan, it grew from the sanctuary’s culinary program of the same name.
Says Chef Linda: “Our culinary program, Compassionate Cuisine, is one of the things that differentiates us from other sanctuaries. The program was the brainchild of founder and director, Kathy Stevens, who felt that if our mission was to create vegans, we needed to teach, not just preach, about a vegan diet.”
Chef Linda discusses the evolution of the Compassionate Cuisine program, its mission, and lots more in the interview following. Catskill Animal Sanctuary also offers New Leaf, a mentorship program for new vegans who feel they’d benefit from one-on-one support.
CAS has had a strong culinary aspect, perhaps more than any other farm animal sanctuary I’m aware of. Can you talk about how that came about, and your role in it?
Aside from providing a safe haven for rescued animals, farmed animal sanctuaries that are open to the public provide an opportunity for people to make an up-close and personal connection with animals and reconsider them in a new light. Once you hug a chicken, get licked by a cow, or nuzzled by a sheep, it’s hard to look at them as food.
But once your heart is open to this idea that animals are unique individuals and want their lives as much as you or I do … then what, what can you do about it? You start in the kitchen. You change the way you eat. Compassionate Cuisine was designed to empower and support people in their journey to reducing and eliminating animals from their diets.
I found my way there as a guest chef. I was invited to teach classes during open season seven years ago after the sanctuary’s first chef left. He had only been teaching a short time so the intent was for me to be here for a season and fill in until Kathy and others figured out what to do with the program.
As the season was coming to a close, Kathy and I felt sure that there was a place for permanent cooking classes, and in fact, a larger role for food education in the sanctuary’s overall strategy. So I stayed on, building up our class offerings and essentially trying to lay a foundation for this program.
Growth has been steady, our cooking classes are nearly always sold out and we were recently voted the best vegan cooking class in the Hudson Valley by Hudson Valley Magazine. Our food blog, Compassionate Cuisine, created after our classes were stabilized, allows us to reach people who are too far to visit and provides inspiration with lots and lots of recipes and information.
Then we moved on to create a food demonstration program that allowed weekend visitors who had just met our animals to see and taste vegan food. Many people come here not as vegans, but because they are curious or because they love animals so this program is often the first exposure to vegan food for some people. And of course, our first cookbook is out! That project took many years and we’re so proud and hopeful for what it can contribute to this movement. We’ll continue to look for new ways to help people eat plants not animals!
Chef Linda Soper-Kolton
What culinary programs have been the most popular at CAS?
All of the things we do in the Compassionate Cuisine program seem to draw great interest from our friends and supporters probably because everyone loves to eat! In terms of our cooking classes, we offer such a wide variety of topics and yet it seems they’re all popular!
There are some classes that we have to run multiple times in a season because we have a waitlist. Life After Cheese, Vegan Comfort Foods, and of course, our Thanksgiving classes are all in high demand. We also cover basic topics like Vegan 101 and Vegan Baking for people who are just getting started, and our global cuisine classes always seem to be popular.
Ethiopian, Jamaican, Lebanese, these are some of the flavors of the world that we bring into our teaching kitchen. We never run out of ideas, that’s for sure!
You also ran a veg/vegan café in Fairfield, CT. Can you tell us about it?
I opened up my café 6 months after graduating from culinary school. It had always been a dream of mine. To me, food is love and it’s how I connect with people so the idea of my own place where I could cook and share seemed like a natural fit and an exciting next step for me. Culinary school was a mid-life thing, following a dream I had tucked away in my heart. I attended school while working full-time.
The leap from the security of a full-time, steady job to opening up a food business was like jumping from the proverbial frying pan right into the fire. I sure did learn a lot, and the most important thing I learned was that I wanted to teach people how to eat without using animals. The connection between a whole foods plant-based diet and quality of life is irrefutable so I felt compelled to teach classes at night after I had closed the café for the day.
It was hard, make no mistake: I have a deep respect and admiration for people who make and serve food. It’s not for the faint of heart. In life, we often come to a crossroads and we need to choose what path to take. As I was trying to figure out the way forward … do I keep the café or do I pursue teaching, I was invited to be a guest chef instructor at the sanctuary and without too much hesitation, I took that path and never looked back.
I sold the café when the teaching season was over and believe wholeheartedly that I made the right choice. One piece of advice I always give when asked how I got here is “believe in your dreams and follow your heart.”
Sample Blueberry-Banana and Praline French Toast Casserole
from Compassionate Cuisine by Chefs Linda Soper-Kolton and Sara Boan
CAS has a vegan mentorship program. Is that ongoing, and if so, how can people find out more about it?
New Leaf is our vegan mentor program and we are so excited about it! While some people make the transition to a vegan lifestyle easily, others feel overwhelmed and have lots of questions. Learning new things to cook, where and how to dine out, and how to educate uninformed friends and family sometimes requires a little help. That’s why we created this program.
Through an online program, New Leaf connects you with a trained mentor for one-on-one individualized support. Whether you’re committed to protecting animals and veganism or you’re seeking a healthier, more ecologically friendly diet, our mentors will help you reach your goal. They’ll answer your questions, share information and resources, discuss challenges and celebrate your successes.
We have such a diverse group of volunteers who are passionate about helping others but they all have one thing in common: they’re vegans who are non-judgmental, respectful, kind, responsible, and resourceful. And did I mention that the program is free? It’s another powerful way Catskill Animal Sanctuary is leading the way in this area. Find out more at New Leaf.
Chef Sara Boan demonstrating vegan truffles.
Follow this link for her recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles
What is Chef Sara Boan’s role at CAS, and how is it different from yours?
For years, I was the only person in the Compassionate Cuisine program. In order to expand, I needed another chef. It’s not easy to find someone with all the right attributes, who is professionally trained in plant-based cooking, and who also lives the lifestyle. Sara is all of that and more!
I had a feeling we would be a good fit because she too, graduated from Natural Gourmet Institute where I was trained. I don’t think she knew it when she applied for the job, but she is a gifted teacher and has an amazing way of connecting with people. We are so lucky to have her!
I wanted to be able to expand the number of classes being taught, so Sara jumped right in and added lots of creative new classes to our calendar and continues to do that every year. I also gave her the responsibility of building our fledgling weekend food tastings program into a robust demonstration program.
In my role as director of the program, I’m responsible for not only teaching and participating in the public-facing aspects of what we do, but also the back end of things–strategic planning, budgeting, administration and all that other fun stuff! We do work more closely together when we cater large events and things like that … for some things, two cooks are actually better than one!
Beet, fennel, and citrus salad is an example of a plant-based dish
that’s festive yet simple to make and good for you!
As you know, both “vegan” and “plant-based” seem to be having a moment. I’ve been involved in the movement for a long time, and the current level of interest is unlike anything I’ve seen. What’s your perspective on this?
We know there are generally three reasons people turn to a plant-based diet; ethics, health, environment. At the sanctuary, we’ll always try to reach into the hearts of people who love animals and inspire and empower then to change, but it seems that the urgency brought about by the current health crisis and the environmental crisis demands that, now more than ever, people consider the benefits of reducing and eliminating animals in their diets.
Veganism isn’t just for animal lovers anymore — it’s gone mainstream. Pick your poison! Climate change, topsoil erosion, species extinction, ocean dead zones the size of New Jersey. Or what about chronic diseases that can, in large part, be attributed to lifestyle choices we make … like the food we eat? High blood pressure, high cholesterol, chronic heart disease, cancer, diabetes …
With all the information that’s available today and with the level of awareness of what our current way of eating is doing to billions of animals each year, our planet, and our bodies, there’s never been a better or more important time to move to a whole foods plant based diet.
Sweet Potato, Kale, and Chickpea Soup is just one recipe proving
that comfort food and compassion go hand in hand
As a vegan chef, what do you see as the lingering barriers or myths that prevent even more people from going vegan, and for home cooks to commit to cooking more plant-based meals?
In my role, and in my personal life, I talk to lots of people about eating more plants. There are a few themes that seem to run through the conversations I have with folks.
People often say they don’t have time to cook or time to change the way they eat. They think it’s easy for me because I’m a chef.
I always tell people, that while I’m a chef and may seem to have some advantages when it comes to cooking, I still have to get dinner on the table for my family almost every single night after a busy day of work. I have to make breakfasts and lunches every day. I still have to shop and cook and make choices about how I spend my money as a consumer.
I still have to balance the rest of my life with the choice I’ve made to eat plants not animals. Yes, now it’s second nature because I’ve been doing it for so long, but the common denominator, I think, in the lives of people who eat a plant-based diet long-term is that they do cook for themselves, at least most of the time.
You have to see the virtue in providing for yourself and the people you are responsible for. There’s no way around it. Yes, preparing food takes time but vegan food is no more difficult to make than animal-based food.
There is a period of transition but ultimately, eating can be as simple or complex as you would like it to be. And there are so many wonderful foods on the market today to help you transition, from milks to cheeses to burgers, there’s really never been a better time to make the change.
Another fear is that people are afraid of giving things up – they think going vegan is a life of feeling deprived. Nothing could be further from the truth, in fact, a whole world of new food seems to open up. You look at grains and vegetables and beans in a whole new way. And you start to change from the inside out.
I don’t know how to communicate this any more clearly, and this is not only my personal experience but the experience of countless people I talk to in my role at the Sanctuary, when you choose to eat plants instead of animals (and with that, I mean a whole foods, balanced diet) everything about you changes. Your body changes as you move away from things that cause addiction, disease, inflammation, digestive issues, and sluggishness.
Your taste buds literally adapt and change, your cravings change. Your brain chemistry changes as you eat food that is alive with nutrition. Your energy levels change. There are lots of physiological things that change but other things change, too. Your ideas about food change — your palate expands and you don’t see deprivation — you begin to see abundance because you are eating things you may not have thought of when you relied on meat to take up one third of your plate.
Your heart changes and your perspective begins to expand and shift. You begin to see the connectedness of being part of the living world. As you think about your choices in a new way, you see that they are not really personal choices.
From the environment to the cost of healthcare to the future of our food systems, like it or not, we are all connected. The choices we make about what we eat 3 meals a day, 1,000 meals a year over the course of our lifetime is one of the most important things we need to consider as global citizens. So that’s a long way of saying there isn’t a day that goes by that I feel deprived because I have chosen to give up a few things in my diet. I feel blessed by the abundance that’s available.
And of course, there’s always the protein question — as in “where will I get mine?” I cover this in our book. There is just too much information available to rely on that as a reason not to give up animals in your diet. Often, I think questions like these are based on the fear of change. And that’s not to minimize someone’s fear, but fear is just an emotion that we can move through.
We are always stronger as a result of moving through our fears. Maybe people don’t know that protein can be found in almost every whole food we eat; from broccoli to oranges. We don’t have to overdo it and eat tofu at every meal or load up on protein supplements. Eat a variety of real food and you won’t ever need a protein shake. Same goes with minerals like iron and calcium. Plants have it all!
I believe one day, we will all eat plants not animals. I hope that day comes sooner rather than later, but in the meantime, everyone who is eating more plants than animals is moving in the right direction.
Thank you, Nava, for all that you do to promote a vegan world and for the opportunity to share my thoughts with your audience!
Compassionate Cuisine by Linda Soper-Kolton and Sara Boan
is available wherever books are sold
To visit Catskill Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties, NY: Open on weekends for tours, April – November. Here’s more visitor information, and make sure to explore events. CAS also has a seasonal Bed & Breakfast called The Homestead.