The other day I had the opportunity to interview renowned vegetarian chef, Cindi Avila. I have to say, I was pretty excited to be able to get some insight into her life as a vegetarian as well as a chef. I couldn’t wait to find out what inspires her to create the incredible recipes she’s made for us all so far!
I hope you all enjoy getting to know Cindi a little better, I know I did!
Me: When did you become a vegetarian & what made you first decide to do it?
Cindi: I stopped eating red meat when I was in high school. We had a class project where we had to pick a charity to go on a mailing list for, and I just happened to pick PETA. I started receiving things in the mail about what happened to animals that we eat and I was completely shocked. I immediately stopped eating beef, and from there I gradually gave up everything else over the years. I think the reality is that a lot of people are detached from what they eat and would rather turn a blind eye.
Me: Tell me about your family. Do they follow a vegetarian diet as well?
Cindi: After I first decided to stop eating beef, my mom slowly started giving up certain meats after seeing how I was affected. My husband is a meat-eater but he eats vegetarian whenever he is at home, because of my cooking of course! He likes fish a lot and says that he just can’t seem to cut that out. I try not to impose my beliefs on others; instead I try to set a good example for living a healthy lifestyle.
Me: What came first; your career as a chef, or your life as a vegetarian?
Cindi: Life as a vegetarian came first for me. Eventually I realized that I wanted to combine them both and it sort of evolved from there! I realized that I was passionate about cooking and about living as a vegetarian so I put the two together. I want to make a difference in the world of meat-free cooking; showing people that it doesn’t have to be flavorless.
Me: Would you say that because you are a chef, vegetarian eating is easier for you? Or do you think it can be easy for anyone?
Cindi: I think it can be easy for anyone, but first people need to educate themselves. I’m almost embarrassed to say that I used to eat white rice with ketchup before I became more educated on what to eat! After going to culinary school I learned more about what vitamins and minerals I needed in my diet, and things became much easier. Everyone can do it, and you don’t have to be a chef. It’s as easy as picking up a good vegetarian cook book, or nowadays with Google all you have to do is type in a few key words. It may require a little bit of time at first, but that’s all.
Me: Do you have any tips on how to make eating vegetarian easier for our consumers?
Cindi: Keep dishes simple in the beginning. Preparing a meal doesn’t have to be difficult. Literally only four different ingredients can be extremely flavorful. Start with a protein such as beans or a Lightlife product, and work around that. Don’t over complicate things; it’s just not necessary. Keeping it simple also keeps cost down! Just be sure you’re maintaining a balance, the more color you have on your plate the better.
Me: What do you tell people that have a negative response to you being a vegetarian?
Cindi: Usually when a meat-eater makes a comment to me they are referring to how they can’t imagine what I actually eat. I tell them that I’m getting all my vitamins and minerals, I have tons of energy, and I’ve never had any weight issues. Often I think that people have had a bad meal experience eating a meal specifically for dieting that just happens to be vegetarian as well. What I try and tell them is that vegetarian dishes are usually full of flavor. Low calorie or diet foods can be flavorless regardless of meat.
Me: Name one staple food in your household that you and your family could not do without.
Cindi: Avocados! They do have a lot of fat, but it’s a healthy fat and I try not to over indulge. I would also say beans of all sorts. They are a starter for many of my meals, and a great source of iron.
Me: I’ve made just about every recipe you’ve created for Lightlife so far and I love them all. I’m curious- what do you think of for inspiration when creating them?
Cindi: I typically think about dishes that I knew and loved when I ate meat and how I can convert them. From there it just comes organically for me. I think something up and put it together and so far I’ve had a pretty good success rate! I think it would be the same for people who aren’t chefs too. Whatever it is that you love, you can make vegetarian. Your inspiration should come from your own experience!
Me: Why Lightlife? What about the company stands out for you?
Cindi: What I like about Lightlife is that they have a large variety of products. Everyone always asks me, “Oh how do you only eat tofu?” With Lightlife, I can make almost any meal and Lightlife has a product to make it with. The possibilities are endless; it’s so easy to incorporate.
Me: What is your favorite Lightlife product & why?
Cindi: Smart Dogs are my favorite. They are so simple and easy; they literally only take a minute to prepare. I love franks and beans or just in a bun, there is a lot of stuff to do with it. My daughter is just a baby, and Smart Dogs are going to be one of the first things I give to her. They are the perfect thing to ease people into being a vegetarian too. I had a party not too long ago and served pigs in a blanket as an appetizer; half with Smart Dogs and the other half with turkey hotdogs. No joke, I served them side by side and people didn’t even know the difference.
Me: If you had one wish regarding the future of vegetarianism & veganism in the U.S. what would it be?
Cindi: I hope that everyone starts to incorporate eating less meat into their lives. If they do, I think it would have an impact on factory farming and therefore change the way meat is processed in this country. We will see it in our lifetime, it seems like people are starting to catch on. Incorporating more veggies and Lightlife products into our diets will make a change forever in the way we eat as a country.
Until next time… 🙂
Lightlife Team Member