The Internet features more than its share of negativity and snark—sometimes you’ve just gotta vent. But there’s plenty of room for love, too. With Fan Up, we ask pop-culture people we admire to tell us about something they really, really like.
The fan: Throughout her career, actress Mayim Bialik has played multiple indelible characters—among them, young Bette Midler in Beaches, a sometimes-lesbian on Curb Your Enthusiasm and a guidance counselor on The Secret Life Of The American Teenager. But even today, the actress is still most frequently associated for her time playing the spunky, fashionable namesake of the early ’90s sitcom Blossom, a role that made her an idol for teens raised on Sassy and grunge.
Currently, Bialik is on The Big Bang Theory, where she plays Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler, brainy girlfriend of Sheldon Cooper. But Bialik—who also holds a doctorate in neuroscience from UCLA—is a regular contributor to a Jewish parenting blog, mother of two children, and author of several books—including the new vegan cookbook, Mayim’s Vegan Table: More Than 100 Great-Tasting And Healthy Recipes From My Family To Yours—as well.
The fanned: Vegan food
The A.V. Club: When did you become vegan? How old were you?
Mayim Bialik: I’ve been vegetarian since I was 19 and then kind of cut out dairy in college and haven’t had a sinus infection since. I was eating a little bit of dairy still, but my first son was allergic to any dairy in my breast milk, so then I cut out dairy completely. I was still eating trace eggs and dairy in candy bars or pastries. About six years ago, I cut that out after reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.
AVC: So it seems like there wasn’t any one thing that kind of pushed you over the edge, but a combination of things.
MB: For me, it was a lot of things—and you know, I think that’s important to point out. For some people it needs to be gradual and it needs to be slow. It worked really well for me to do it that way.
I mean, being vegan in the last five years is so different than it was even 10 years ago. There’s substitutes in consistency, if not flavor, for just about everything. You know, I recently started experiencing all of the artisan vegan cheeses. They’re amazing—it’s not just, like, “Oh, crumbly weird vegan cheese.” There are artisan vegan chefs spending hours and hours and hours making things that taste like goat cheese—and they do!
AVC: Being vegan is one of those things people didn’t expect to go mainstream, and that’s so gratifying to see that it actually is.
MB: Oh, I mean we weren’t even sure that we wanted to use the word “vegan” in the title of this book when we pitched it a couple of years ago. We thought that people might be like “Ew, vegan? No, I don’t want to deal with vegan stuff, it’s crazy!” Now it’s sort of everywhere, that word. [Laughs.]
AVC: What are the biggest misconceptions about eating vegan?
MB: One of them is that “You must not like how food tastes, to eat vegan, because it’s so yucky.” That’s obviously not true. Another thing is that it’s super-expensive or time-consuming, or that it’s some snobby rich white person’s thing. [Laughs.] But it’s none of those things. I mean, anything can be expensive. If you only eat out at restaurants, no matter what you eat, it can only be expensive. I eat simply a lot of time so that I can budget for the things that I want to buy vegan or specialty.
AVC: That’s what’s nice about your cookbook: the recipes are totally makeable.
MB: Yeah, they’re not hard. There’s a couple of things that I say are a little more labor-intensive. If you want to make vegan jelly donuts? Yeah, it’s a little more labor-intensive. The risotto is a little more labor-intensive. But for the most part, I’m not eating super fancy food every day. I don’t have a chef—that’s not how it works.
AVC: And you have kids—there are other things to worry about.
MB: Yeah, I have kids and I actually take care of them. [Laughs.] I don’t have someone cooking for us. I feed them.
AVC: How long did it take to put together the book?
MB: Oh, gosh. I mean, I’ve been cooking most of these recipes since I was a kid or at least since I was a young adult. You know, the writing of it, [co-author] Dr. Jay Gordon obviously is a pediatric nutritionist, and I had to edit a lot of that text and make the nutrition stuff palatable to everyone. It happened over the course of a year—I’m kind of a fast writer. The recipes had to be entered, honestly, from my crazy cookbook.
AVC: Is there a non-vegan food that you miss that you haven’t been able to replicate?
MB: Not really. I never really liked meringue. That seems to be the only consistency that I don’t know how you replicate. But no, Baskin-Robbins peanut butter chocolate ice cream was my favorite thing and I’ve never gotten close to it. And whatever, it’s okay. [Laughs.]
AVC: What’s the best vegan meal you’ve ever had at a restaurant?
MB: Oh gosh, I was just in New York and I went to Pure Food And Wine, which is a raw vegan place. It sounds crazy, but I went with a true carnivore and his mind was blown. So even blowing a carnivore’s mind with vegan food is amazing, but the fact that it was also raw, it’s just an incredible restaurant. They had some dehydrated kind of mushroom tart thing with pickled vegetables and cream on top—it was insane but so good.
AVC: In L.A., are there any really good vegan restaurants that you like?
MB: Yeah, there’s a lot. I like Native Foods, which is in Westwood. That’s kind of fun vegan food. There’s a place called Doomie’s Home Cookin’, which has a vegan Big Mac and vegan mac and cheese—incredible home cooking and fun trashy vegan food. For healthier stuff, obviously, I like Real Food Daily [and] Veggie Grill’s got some amazing stuff now that their menu is bigger, I’ve been really happy there. There’s great vegan places here, but I think the best vegan food is in New York, personally.
AVC: I feel like Blossom would have definitely been vegan when she grew up. Would you say that?
MB: I think so, yeah! I was very similar to her sensibility and always felt weird about eating animals. I think that definitely would have been that kind of thing for her too.
AVC: Are there any other characters you think would have grown up to be vegan and vegetarian?
MB: Oh, I don’t know. You know, like all of the quirky girl characters that I like, like Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days Of Summer. I would think that quirky girls like that, I want to have them be vegan. And also any sensitive male from any movie, like from any John Hughes movie. Like Andrew McCarthy in anything, should be vegan! [Laughs.]
AVC: What’s the perfect spring vegan recipe?
MB: Gosh. I like quinoa. I have a mango quinoa recipe, if mangos can be gotten. It’s good and it’s simple. It uses lime juice. I use cashews, and it has basil. It’s really good. It’s Passover coming up in the spring, so for the Jews, that means a lot of quinoa with your vegan.
AVC: Quinoa seems like it’s this year’s kale.
MB: Yeah, you can do a lot of things with it. I don’t like mushy quinoa and a lot of times that’s how people will serve it, just kind of like mushy, weird, wet rice. I don’t want that. I like it with stuff in it and nuts and sometimes I defrost frozen peas and do herbs with olive oil and garlic. I think that’s the best way to do it.
AVC: What would you say to someone who is on the fence about becoming vegan to persuade them?
MB: This is not an all-or-nothing decision. It doesn’t have to be an overnight decision. There’s a lot of ways to learn to enjoy foods that you maybe didn’t realize are already vegan technically—things like pasta marinara with vegetables, bean chilis, and things like that. Asian food is very easy to have vegan—those are great ways to just learn and adjust your palate. It’s healthier for everyone, it’s healthier for the planet—it can be baby steps, you know?