Q and A with Vance Lehmkuhl

“The American Vegan Society appreciates Vance Lehmkuhl’s distinctive voice in Philadelphia and the valuable work that he does keeping vegan views in front of readers throughout the region.”
There you have it, the seal of approval from the American Vegan Society for Vance Lehmkuhl’s work. This past year, Sullivan Street Press had the privilege of publishing two of his books: V for Veg: The Best of Philly’s Vegan Food Column and Eating Vegan in Philly.
I asked Vance to take some time from his busy schedule to answer some questions and here are his answers.
1. If you had 30 seconds to convince me to read your book, not buy it, but read it, what would you say?
If you care about animals, or about vegan eating, or have questions about them or about Philly’s food scene, or if you just like to read fun food writing, this book will satisfy and you will not finish it wishing you could have that couple hours of your life back. I absolutely guarantee it, but not in any legally binding way. It has a lot of good information and a certain amount of attitude, always pushing forward in an animal-free direction.
2. Tell us about how you became a vegan food columnist. (How long, what prepared you for it and why?)
I started out as a vegetarian cartoonist as of about 1992, working my pro-animal opinions into my political cartoon for Philadelphia City Paper, “How-To Harry,” which I drew weekly for 12 years, and also in the “Edgy Veggies” cartoon I did for VegNews Magazine for its first 8 years. In 2000 as I turned vegan I started working as the online editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, and I pitched a vegan story, then another, etc. and for a time I wrote vegan op-eds for the Opinion section. In 2010 I started campaigning for a column and finally got the green light in 2011, and “V for Veg” started that summer with a trip to a hot dog joint that’s no longer there, and a deli that was serving vegan banh mi sandwiches, and which still is. I started the philly.com companion blog V for Veg in 2013.
3. Your writing is both witty and informed–do you think that reflects the vegan community in Philadelphia? Is it sophisticated and fun loving?
Well… I’d shy away from a blanket statement about the vegan community in Philadelphia. Partially because there are a good many vegans here of whom I only know maybe 30-40. Of course there are certainly a good many who are sophisticated and fun loving, but from the big-picture perspective the community, historically somewhat disjoint, is just now growing into a mutually supportive community commensurate with the world-class vegan dining town Philadelphia is becoming, and I think our vegan dining boom that has coincided with, ahem, the run of my column, may be part of that equation.
4. Do you see yourself as a vegan activist or are you reflecting the level of engagement in Philadelphia?
“Activist” is a loaded term both for my fellow journalists and for street activists who don’t want the term tarnished by slacktivism, so I’ll just say I consider myself an advocacy journalist. I’m writing with a clear and transparent mission to advocate for something, but at the same time I have to be held to journalistic standards of factual accuracy. So certainly at the same time I am reflecting the level of animal-free engagement in Philly, which is growing.
5. You have seen a long line of vegan fads, restaurants, activities come and go in Philadelphia. Your book mentions many of them. What are your favorites and why did you choose them?
Kale chips was a fun one because it was like my fourth column and I felt like I recognized this just as it was hitting and before it was considered a trend, so I made a big deal out it with the Drudge-style “Must Credit V for Veg!” On the other end of the timeline, Aquafaba, bean water that can be used in baking, was an exciting thing to find out about and research and try out, and I think there’s still a lot to come from that. I still get a kick out of the Silk almond-milk “Milkman” ad and it was fun to talk to the guy that came up with that. Also, the movie, “Noah” was pretty good and my blog post calling it “vegan propaganda” spent some time as the highest-traffic item of any kind on our site, Philly.com. Lots of fun things I wouldn’t necessarily have encountered if I weren’t watching for column topics, and I am glad to have had a chance to do some of the things, and eat some of the food, that my columnist position has called for.
To find out more about Vance’s two books, you can follow the Facebook pages
@vvegphillysveganfood
@eatingveganin
And order the books through the website: http://sullivanstpress.com/

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