Transcript of the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 53.
Chef Dustin Harder on bridging the gap between vegans and non-vegans, community over competition, and more
Karina: You're listening to the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 53. Chef and creator of the travel series, The Vegan Roadie, Dustin Harder is on the show to chat with me about an awesome new book, Epic Vegan, the concept of community over competition within veganism, traveling while vegan, and much more.
Hey, welcome to the show. I'm Karina, your vegan fitness coach and bullshit-buster. Thank you so much for tuning in. First of all, a quick shout out to be B Radle who left a short and sweet review of this show. “What an awesome variety of topics presented in a fascinating way. Thanks so much for offering this podcast.”
Well thanks B Radle. You are awesome. And listeners remember that I've made an executive decision to keep this podcast advertisement free. So, the best way to support this show is to leave a review on iTunes. It helps other people to find this show. So, you can do that at nobullshitvegan.com/itunes for a chance to get your five seconds of fame and get a listener shout out on the show. Now, Dustin Harder is a private plant-based chef in New York City and the host and creator of the original vegan travel series, The Vegan Roadie. He's also a cooking instructor, recipe developer and author of the Simply Vegan cookbook and the newly released Epic Vegan cookbook. He's been featured in big name publications like VegNews, Paste, Eating Well, et cetera, and he also worked alongside Chef Chloe Coscarelli in recipe development. Dustin's favorite food is vegan mac and cheese.
Dustin says that the mission of The Vegan Roadie has always been to bridge the gap between vegans and non-vegans. He says, I always like to hone in on being compassionate to each other as humans. If we can't do that, how can we be compassionate for the animals? I think that's an excellent point, and we discussed this and a lot more in our conversation. So, let's get to it. Hey Dustin, welcome to the show. I'm super excited you're here and I'm getting to know you along with my listeners because we haven't connected until now. So, I've got all these questions about who this Dustin character is! So why don't we start with your vegan story? That's what I like asking everyone was on the show who's vegan. Why the hell did you choose veganism and how did it happen? When did it happen?
Dustin: Of course. It's been about 10 years and I first went vegan for health. I was a big meat eater, grew up in Michigan and you know, meat and potatoes – grew up that way. I went vegan for health and then as a couple of years went by, I started to see all the other positive things that come out of it, and started to get to know a lot of really great people in the vegan community, and after that it just started spiraling into everything, animals, environment, and of course my health as well. So, it's all of the things now.
Karina: All of the things. Yeah, it's definitely that. You know, you're not the only one. I feel like that's pretty common where people have the main catalyst or the main reason that they go vegan and then they realize down the road like, oh shit, there's more awesomeness here.
Dustin: I eventually went into food because I was trying to create things. People were like you're going to go vegan; you can never have that again, and I was like, ha-ha, watch me! I try to be as accessible to people as possible and not judge them wherever they're at. That's always been a big thing of mine. Early on it was hard and there were a lot of different people doing different things and everyone's got an opinion about where you're at and why you're going vegan, you know?
Karina: That is true. So, have you, in your work, which we're going to talk about in a second, have you encountered a lot of people who are just not into it and don't get it or, or push back at your ideas?
Dustin: Well, why I went into what I do is to one, create that nostalgic food we're speaking of, which I spoke of, but also because early on I did feel, and again, this was like 10 years ago, there were people coming at me being like, oh well you're doing this and that's wrong and you should be doing this. I stepped back and I just got very overwhelmed and was like, well I might as well just go pour cows milk on my cereal again if everyone's going to be mean to me about how I'm trying to at least make a change. It's not that now. I can sort of filter it out, but back then it was all coming at me and you tend to latch onto the negative. So, I'd be like, oh, well this person says I'm doing it wrong. I'm a terrible person, instead of like, oh, look at what I'm doing, I'm trying to make positive changes, you know? If I can eliminate the one thing and put something else in that I'm making a change for the better and I need to honor where I'm at on my path in all of this and be true to myself and take this one step at a time. So, there have been people along the way, but now I feel it's less and less because I'm also more authentic about just saying, okay, well screw it. This is what I'm doing and this is where I'm at. So, you know it comes in waves, I think different people, different stories, different times, different things.
Karina: Absolutely. It really has changed in the past couple of years, even like two to three years. That's a pretty short timeframe for things to just explode.
Dustin: Absolutely. It’s with everything in terms of vegan food and vegan fashion, everything that we want to be doing to have the change more accessible to us so we can be like, oh; I am able to do that now. Where are these different shoes or whatever it is? It's becoming more accessible and more affordable. It's still going to take lots of time, but we're moving and it's nice to see the progress.
Karina: Absolutely. So, I was reading that you're really into bridging the gap between vegans and non-vegans. I was also checking out your show, The Vegan Roadie. Is that something you're trying to do with the show? Maybe you can tell us about the show itself and then also the piece around bridging the gap.
Dustin: Five years into being vegan, I was working on a Broadway show and in the middle of it I got exhausted by it all and it was like, I don't know what I want to do next. I've been really into food since I went vegan. So why don't I go to culinary school for a little bit? In the middle of that, I then had the freak out of, why am I in culinary school? What am I doing here? You know, it's a lot of time to invest in it and then to suddenly be like, I don't know why I'm here beyond the fact that I love to create food and I love to create dishes and things that are you know, nostalgic for what I miss in a plant-based way. Then I knew I was going back on the road with a theater show and I was like how can I take this on the road? I was like, oh my gosh, there's not a vegan version of diner drive in’s and dives out there. I was like, I have the opportunity to create that now I'm going to be on the road and raise the money and get a camera man and do all these things. I can do it. When you make a decision like that, the universe says, no, not yet, or the universe is like, yes, let's go. Everything sort of fell into place, and my whole purpose with that and doing that was to just bring people together, showcasing the one thing we all love, whether it's vegan or not, and that's delicious food So, my focus was on vegan food, but my point of that is it was all delicious. I was like, everyone can like this, its okay, I'm not going to judge you for where you were with anything, I'm just going to be entertaining and show you this delicious food and where to get it. That was my way of creating that welcoming, accessible content. That to me has the power to bridge the gap between vegans and non-vegans.
Karina: That's amazing. Very cool. Thank you. So, what are some Dustin experience highlights from doing this show? Is there anything that stands out as like the vegan food experience that you shared with your viewers?
Dustin: I don't know about the food experience but the biggest takeaway I got from it on a personal level went beyond the food. It went to the people that I met making the food. The people opening these businesses, because they were all people that were very invested in being the change they want to see in the world. You know, we say it all the time; you need to create the change you want to see in the world. These people were quitting their nine to five jobs and opening food businesses to make food more accessible to people who wanted plant-based food because they saw the change that it made in their life. They were like, I want to make a positive impact on the world. That takes a lot of bravery to do that and to take the risk and to put yourself out there. For most of them it's paid off and it's in the sense that they've created this community wherever they're at, of people that really love their establishment, love their food. I have found these people that are creating food from compassion also have a lot more compassion for their employees and their customers. So, meeting the people doing these things was really a rewarding experience on that end.
Karina: That is really cool. So, is this how you met Chef Chloe or was that kind of a separate thing because you were a recipe developer in her test kitchen, right?
Dustin: Yes. Chef Chloe bless her, she's one of the most amazing people I've ever met. Chloe Coscarelli. She actually went to the same culinary school I did. When you finish your program there, you have to do a 100-hour internship and they give this big long list of places you can look at and her name got tossed out there, I sent my resume in and I went to talk to her and she was like, I don't have anything. Then all of a sudden, she was like, I'm working on this new book and this restaurant concept and all of this, please come. So, I was very fortunate to get roped into her world with her beautiful team and get to work with her on recipes and I still do so to this day. She's absolutely lovely.
Karina: She’s one of my vegan food chef idols. Seriously, she's awesome.
Dustin: For good reason. She's amazing. That beautiful personality that we all see in her books and on TV, it's absolutely authentic and real and wonderful, and she's been nothing but supportive of everything I've done. I've been very grateful.
Karina: That's fantastic. So, you're still working with her testing recipes for her? Various concepts and books and restaurants and things?
Dustin: Occasionally I get to do stuff with her. I actually get really sad because she just did a really great pop-up in New York and I always get the email or the call with her handful of devoted people, it’s like if you're free and you're around, you want to come like this is happening. I wasn't able to do this last one, but because it really is a rewarding experience working with her because she treats everybody so well and you learn so much from that. So, I didn't get to do this last one, but I do get to do some stuff with her still.
Karina: That's fantastic. Now you travel around a lot. You're a performer. So, you've been traveling around for 15 years or something like that?
Dustin: Oh, it's probably more like 20!
Karina: Goodness. So, talk to me about what you do as a performer and then also what the situation is with being vegan and traveling so much.
Dustin: I used to travel in theater. I was originally an actor. I used to travel around in song and dance in the musical theater world. When I first went vegan, it was very difficult to eat. That was 10 years ago. So, I started getting crafty in my hotel room. That meant piecing things together, making a grilled cheese quesadilla with aluminum foil and the hotel iron. It was delicious and it satiating, but as an actor, your job is done at like 11 o'clock at night. Everybody, when their brain works in that form of like, Oh, I'm out of work now it's time for dinner, as actors we sleep in and our workday is later. So, I find myself creating these things in a hotel room. That was another thing when I filmed The Vegan Roadie, I was like how can I transfer that over? I did a five-ingredient challenge at the end of every episode where I would put something together in my hotel room with just five ingredients, not with the idea to cook in your hotel room, but more so to say, hey, if I can do this on the road with five ingredients, it's easy. You can do it at home.
Karina: Yeah, and dude, if you can make freaking quesadillas on an iron, you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want!
Dustin: I thought I was just trying to show people how easy it can be. Thankfully now there are vegan options popping up everywhere, so it's easier to eat on the road than it was for me 10 years ago.
Karina: I think that's pretty much the deal everywhere. I feel fortunate to be able to see the vegan world in a lot of different places because my clients are from all over, like Dubai and Thailand and Australia. In some places it's more difficult being a vegan. I've got a client in Brazil, for example, where it's just now that the vegan culture is really popping up. It's happening everywhere. It's super exciting. It's awesome. So, talking about traveling as a vegan and how it's all possible now, and it's easier than it was a decade ago, which it totally is, it's been 16 years for me that I've been vegan, and I remember the one option at the restaurant that we went to 15 years ago that was vegan, was like, here, have some iceberg lettuce with a little tomato sauce on it. That has changed, right? So, what do you tell people who come to you saying, Hey, I'm not vegan, but I'm interested? Like the veg-curious?
Dustin: I say hello! That's fantastic. What do you want to know? Ask me any questions that you have. Often, they want to be like, I eat steak four times a week. As time has progressed that phrase does get me, it catches me a little more off guard now. I have to remember my main mission, which was to bridge the gap. So, they say that and I go, okay, great. Well how can I help you? What can I do for you? What do you want? What questions do you have? What are you curious about? Then I do my best to answer them and help them in any way I can, facilitate it in any way that I can with as little to no judgment as possible, so that they feel comfortable coming back again and again to ask questions and feel comfortable taking a chance to try things. I always try and tell them it's about trial and error. Even as a non-vegan, you don't like everything that you eat. So, as a vegan, wouldn't it be wonderful if everything was just amazing that we consumed? But that's not the case. That's not just about being a vegan, that's just about having a personal preference. I just tell them it's the same being vegan, and with vegan products, you're going to try things you like and try things you don't like. So just don't walk away from veganism because you have one meal that you don't enjoy.
Karina: That is something, I think that's super important. That's a great point. Whether you're vegan or not, there's food we like, food we don't like.
Dustin: Let me tell you, if I would have went off the first time I tried Daiya cheese 10 years ago, I would've walked away.
Karina: I'm with you on that one.
Dustin: You’ve got to be a little open to say, okay, that one's not so much for me, but maybe I'll try something else.
Karina: Maybe I'll try something totally different or just try and do an iteration of that 10 years later when they actually get it.
Dustin: Exactly. That is awesome.
Karina: So, what, what are some things that people will say? Like when they come to you interested and you say, hey, what do you want to know? What I can, what can I help you with? What are some common things that you end up addressing with people?
Dustin: Well, it's always the protein and the cheese. Those are the two things. People always say where do you get your protein? Then people always say, I just love my cheese. I just can't give it up.
Karina: Oh, I've heard that way too many times.
Dustin: Yes, and to which I say, I understand. I've been there before and what do you need? What do you want from it? It’s usually like, well I have wine and cheese and I just love those things and I yet to have a vegan cheese that can satiate that. And I say, I completely understand you. You know, these are what has come out these days. You know, Miyoko's cheese is delicious. A perfect example. Hers is a nut cheese. For me it's important to say that it's a nut cheese. It is not a dairy cheese and therefore it comes out a little differently, and so adjust your expectations going into it, say, okay, that's something I really liked, but here's a substitute. It's not going to be exactly the same, but does it taste good?
It’s crazy the advances being made in cheese. We're going to get there to where you can't tell the difference. The Herbivorous Butcher in Minneapolis is doing a fantastic job producing some cheeses that really are just creamy and delicious and the mouth feel is exactly the same. I had just had one in Philadelphia on my book tour by this guy at the name of the company is Conscious Culture's Creamery and it was a Brie cheese with the Rhine and it was a coconut cashew base. I'm telling you it was like eating cheese again. That's the other thing I tell them. We need to be patient. We’ve made all this progress and it’s coming, it’s happening. So if that means you need to eat cheese once a week now, but you're going to give it up the rest of the time, I support you wherever you're at on that. If you're going to make steps and eliminate it from five times a week down to one time a week, that's still progress in your world. You know, trying to support them and meet them wherever they're at and support that change no matter what that is, instead of making it an all or nothing sort of situation because that freaks people out.
Karina: It does. I feel like on the other hand, us accepting people where they are freaks out a lot of vegans.
Dustin: That makes us in some people’s eyes less vegan and bad vegans, and that's exactly the thing I'm talking about. There are vegans out there who want to just judge everybody for doing it the right and wrong way. We do get frowned upon sometimes for that sort of open attitude.
Karina: Really when you think about it, this whole bridging the gap and creating community and stuff, we all have the same goals in the end. So, what we need to look at is what's working? Does it work to judge people and be like, oh, you can't eat cheese ever, or you're a horrible person. It doesn't work when you think about it.
Dustin: I always think we all play our different roles. If my role is to be this open embracing person who's going to look at where you are in the middle and not judge you when you say, I ate three steaks last week, there is that other person out there who is going to tell you all of the issues with the environment and with animals and eating three steaks a week, but maybe that person is not ready to hear it. So, the universe brought them to me in that moment, but maybe a month after that or a year after that, they're going to meet that other person whose specialty in this field is to explain that to them and maybe they're going to be a little more ready to hear it. I think we all serve a good purpose there, I think we all fit. We're all a piece in that puzzle.
Karina: Absolutely. I think it's important for us all to remember the context. We were all there at one point in some form. We were all people who weren't vegan, you know? I think, especially for the long-term vegans like us, sometimes it can be difficult to remember the context of what it felt like. Plus, like you're saying, everybody has different things that they connect with. Maybe in some cases being yelled at and hit over the head with the environmental destruction that your food choices are causing maybe that works for some people.
Dustin: I met a girl once who was like, I saw someone on the street and they told me all about farming and animals and how tortured the animals are, and I went vegan the next day. I was amazed. I was like, oh, that actually worked. That is the approach that does work for some people.
Karina: I don't think that would've worked for me.
Dustin: I know for a fact it wouldn’t have worked for me 10 years ago, it just wouldn't have. I guess it's a selfish thing because what worked for me was my health. I was like, this improves me. This is my health. So I'll do it for me. Then as years progressed, I met some really amazing people in the vegan community. I was able to see the truth more and feel good about the difference I was making. So it's an interesting, very specific path for everybody.
Karina: Totally, and it's different for everybody. So, on this whole community concept, what do you think we need more of in the vegan community? Where can we go in the next five years with us vegans as this hugely diverse group of people?
Dustin: I would say community over competition. We get wrapped up in this world of this is the right way and this is the best way, and they're doing it better than that person. For example, the Impossible Burger. I posted about it and before I did I thought twice about it because I was like, ooh, this is going to bring them out. This is going to bring everybody out. The comments are going to go crazy. And it did. But mostly I was happy to see it in a very positive way. People want to tell the truth and people want to be heard and people want that one truth to effect, how we’re seeing the overall picture as well. It's a very difficult, tricky thing. I think if we remember the overall big picture and how much progress this is and work as a community, I think that we only stand a bigger chance of pushing this out to the mainstream as much as we can, which I think has always been my goal just to make it as mainstream and as accessible as possible. I don't think we can do that by pushing each other down, I guess is what I'm saying. We need to work together as a community to do it and lift each other up.
Karina: Oh, I fully agree. I also feel there's got to be some room there in any social movement though, for constructive criticism within our movement.
Dustin: Absolutely. All progress comes with some setbacks and some challenges and I think those need to be brought out and they need to be discussed so that we can still continue to have the progress, but also make adjustments to those setbacks and challenges that we have.
Karina: This is again, where the whole community over competition thing comes in. A lot of vegans will just shrink away from any sort of criticism, even though it might be in the best interest of our movement. Like you're criticizing how this person is doing their activism. Oh, you're not a good vegan, you know? But you’ve got to think about the movement as a whole.
Dustin: Absolutely. Even if it's a young person making cupcakes for their bake sale that are all vegan, that's a wonderful, beautiful thing, and that's an act of activism. I think that's lost now in this world as it gets bigger and more mainstream. It's lost that the little step also hold that bigger thing up. The person making these cupcakes for 24 people and then after they all eat it and they say, oh my goodness, that's delicious., they can go, oh, well, they're all plant-based. They're all vegan, and that changes people's minds without drama.
Karina: That's what we need less of. Generally, I've got a zero-tolerance policy for drama, but that's a good point. I've always kind of seen education as a form of activism too, especially in the vegan world. So many different types and what you're doing, which is also partly education obviously, but it's also hands-on, showing people implementation like, here's how you can make A, B and C and it's fricking delicious, and here I'm traveling to A, B, and C and here's how you're vegan in these places. I would say that's a form of activism.
Dustin: I agree with you wholeheartedly. Thank you for seeing that, saying that and noticing that as well. When I did decide to go vegan, I was reading the book Skinny Bastard and it was making me laugh, but also making me think, and in doing so, it also helped me latch onto the concept a little more and not be as freaked out by it. So, what I've always tried to do with everything that I do and that’s why The Vegan Roadie came up because I was like, I'm going to take what I do best, which is entertainment, and then take it to the thing I'm most passionate for, which is food, and combine the two and then maybe I can make a change with that. So I'm constantly on the mission to entertain people and educate. At the same time, it's been the case of the show, the case with my books, and I travel around and I teach cooking classes and it's always the same when I'm teaching to make people feel comfortable around vegetables and cooking them. I'm trying to make them laugh at the same time, so they're having a good time with it.
Karina: Yes. It's like that whole thing that people are not going to remember what you said, but they're going to remember how you made them feel, and they're going to have an awesome time in your classes and maybe consider the whole veganism thing if they're not already there.
Dustin: That's my hub. I love it more so than anything when I'm doing a class and I often get mostly non-vegans in my cooking classes and I love it as they're excited to be there and they're excited to learn. That's the coolest thing, and they always leave being like, I didn't know that was possible, and they're excited to go home and cook and like show their friends, which is really cool too. Most of them are like, I have a vegan friend and I wanted to do this. I'm taking this. So it's cool to give them the tools to go out and make things for their friends and show them.
Karina: What a cool place to be for you to have all these aha moments and people stoked about food.
Dustin: It is pretty magical. I'm not going to lie. It's a cool experience.
Karina: No kidding. So tell me about your books. You have one book that's called Simply Vegan and then you've got your newest one called Epic Vegan?
Dustin: Yes. So the Simply Vegan book came out almost a year and a half ago and it’s essentially 150 recipes with two variations on each. So that's 450 recipes with 7 to 10 ingredients in each recipe. Most of them take about a half-hour to make, so that's really for someone who's like, I'm curious about all this plant-based stuff and I want to get in, get my hands dirty, learn a little more. That book is for them. I do keep it simple and basic. Almost all the ingredients are stuff you can find at your regular supermarket. Then just a month ago I released my second book, Epic Vegan, and the basis is still the same. It’s all streamlined ingredients you can find at a supermarket and the first three chapters are basic recipes you can pull together, but then we take it a step further and we make epic recipes in the following chapters, like over the top Instagram worthy, crazy food combinations or nostalgic fast food replica's. Things that basically people said, I would love to go vegan, but I love this and I can never have it again. It was inspired originally by the crazy milkshakes that have been out in the restaurant world last few years with crazy stuff piled on top of them, where you look at it and you go, how the heck could I even eat that? So, it was funny building these. I was like, I feel so silly building this because how the heck can you eat this? But then I was like, I'm going to find a way.
Karina: There's always a way, man.
Dustin: Right. So it was super fun to do. But it's just that sort of book where this is the type of thing you can take like vegan or not. You take it to your non-vegan friend and you're like, oh my gosh, this milkshake, let's make it together. You know, it's got a couple of steps to it. You can get in the kitchen on a Friday night and you can build stuff with your family. It's meant to bring people together in the kitchen to cook things together. Or if you're the chef in the family, you can create something for a party and everyone's going to all over it, that sort of thing. But then again, the book does start out with basic recipes. So if you're like, okay, I want to get this, I don't want to get the Simply one, I want to get this one and start out with some easy stuff, it's still in there. It still has Macaroni and Cheese, that sort of thing and all this stuff that's really basic in that world right now.
Karina: Well, what a cool concept. That's your favorite dish, isn't it? Mac and Cheese?
Dustin: Yes, and pizza.
Karina: So what's on your pizza then?
Dustin: I live in New York and I have always been a fan of the straight-up cheese pizza and there's not one in the book because it's kind of that thing where I'm still perfecting it and it's also doesn't seem epic enough. I love to make a cheese pizza at home and I make it with like a little drizzle of the cashew mozzarella, just a small touch of the cashew shreds and then like a tiny drizzle of oil because then it gets nice and brown and crispy on the top, like a New York slice. It’s totally not good for you, but it's delicious and it's a heck of a lot better for you than an actual slice of cheese pizza. That cheese pizza has been my little work in progress for the last couple of years. I love it.
Karina: That's awesome. Like you were saying, I feel like vegan cheese, in general, is still a work in progress.
Dustin: Absolutely, but you find a way to play with it. We're getting there and it certainly aids this cheese pizza all along, but I have to zhuzh it up a little bit.
Karina: That makes sense. Well if it's going to be anything like the Impossible Burger or the Beyond Burger, there's going to be some decent cheese options down the road. We're just kind of in the waiting stage, you know?
Dustin: Some people really know how to use it. There is a place here in Brooklyn called Screamers Pizzeria, and they make a delicious vegan pie. Several. They're all vegan, but it's all like New York slices. It's amazing.
Karina: Man, you're making me super hungry. So much delicious food. So speaking of all the food, where can our listeners go to get your books and to connect with you and check out all of the food?
Dustin: The books are available everywhere that books are sold, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, all that stuff. You can always go to my website; www.veganroadie.com and you can click there for books and events and see where I'm on the road. Then on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter –it's @TheVeganRoadie.
Karina: Well that makes it easy. We are going to have show notes, so we do have all that info in one place for our listeners. So what do you want to leave our listeners with? What's a little, a tidbit here? I feel like I could talk to you for like five more hours!
Dustin: I think the tidbit is that if we can't be compassionate for each other, how are we going to be compassionate for the animals? So I think if we can take a step back, take a pause and just know that we're all different people, we're all doing our best, and just have some compassion for each other.
Karina: I love that. If we can't be compassionate to other humans, then how are we supposed to do it for the animals? That's brilliant. Genius. Well, it's been great getting to know you and speaking with you. Thanks so much for coming on the show. It's been awesome.
Dustin: My gosh. Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure to get to know you as well.
Karina: Thank you Dustin for sharing your awesomeness with me and our listeners. I really appreciate you coming on the show. Head to our show notes at nobullshitvegan.com/053 for links to connect with Dustin on social media and to check out his show, The Vegan Roadie. Thanks as always for tuning in and I hope to see you in our next episode. Thanks for listening to the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast at nobullshitvegan.com.