02.23.13

So You Wanna Be Vegan? Start Here.

This trend isn’t going away, so you might as well jump on board. And you’ll get healthier.

Hold the Tofurkey jokes and put away the Birkenstocks—veganism is downright hot, and it’s not going anywhere soon.

Kris Carr
Author Kris Carr presents recipes and advice for "delicious vegan-based cuisine" in a new book, Crazy Sexy Kitchen. (Bill Miles)

Rooney Mara celebrated her new film, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, with a vegan dinner at the Sundance Film Festival. Other vegan A-listers such as Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain will be offered a vegan option at the upcoming Academy Awards. Vegan chefs have infiltrated reality TV with Cloe Coscarelli and Josh Rosen taking home top honors on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars and Sweet Genius, respectively. Even fashion is getting game: the first all-vegan solo show debuted at New York’s fall Fashion Week this year.

But you don’t have to go all the way to be a vegan star, says Kris Carr, author of the new book Crazy Sexy Kitchen: 150 Plant-Empowered Recipes to Ignite a Mouthwatering Revolution.

“You don’t have to become a vegan. You can become a plant-passionate, plant-inspired bean lover!” Carr says with a laugh. “You don’t have to label yourself at all. Just eat more plants. Eat less animals, less saturated fat, less growth hormones, less GMO, less chemicals and you’ll be fine.”

Great, where to begin? For Carr, it was an emotional but empowering journey. Ten years ago this past Valentine’s Day, while her peers were no doubt getting roses and chocolates, the bubbly, fun-loving 31-year-old model and actress got a shocking diagnosis: a rare form of cancer—Stage IV.

Despite being told that her disease was incurable, Carr refused to accept that there was nothing she could do about it. She documented it all with raw candor in the film Crazy Sexy Cancer, which aired on TLC in 2007. The “crazy sexy” tag came from “mass emails I would send to family and friends letting them know I still had my sense of humor, that I refused to be defined by anything, and that I was in a positive space even though I was diagnosed with a Stage IV incurable disease.” Her cheeky, best-girlfriend tone and can-do attitude captured people’s attention, including Oprah’s, and led to several bestselling Crazy Sexy advice and wellness books.

The disease is now stable (though not eradicated), and Carr is not only surviving but thriving. For the book, she has taken to the kitchen with a posse of all-star vegan chefs … and one “bitchin’ dietitian.”

“You don’t have to label yourself. Just eat more plants.”

Co-authored with Whole Foods Market chef Chad Sarno and featuring cameos from Pure Food & Wine’s Sarma Melngailis, Tal Ronnen, and other guest chefs, the book’s recipes are for novices and experts alike. The book also serves as a primer for the merely veg-curious (nut milk bag, anyone?), with additional sections on philosophy, prep, and know-how. “I didn’t want it to be about depravation. It’s not about cleansing. It’s a book about delicious vegan plant-based cuisine,” says Carr.

You don’t need star power to go vegan, though. Maybe just a little willpower. “It’s great that we have high-profile celebrities on board but we have more people that are not celebrities who are making a huge difference every day. I think it’s a way of living that makes so much sense.”

And she’s not talking about just taking the cheeseburger out of your Happy Meal. It’s a focus on unprocessed, plant-based foods (vegans, unlike vegetarians, eschew any animal food products, including eggs, dairy, and honey, and ethical vegans don’t use any animal products, such as fur or leather, at all), one that’s also been popularized by the bestselling Engine 2 diet series and in the eye-opening Forks Over Knives documentary.

Medical studies are starting to catch up to this wisdom. A recent one by Oxford University found that a vegetarian diet cuts risk of heart disease by a whopping third. One even said that eating more fruits and veggies will make you happier. There’s even more evidence pointing to the fact that our sedentary lifestyle and processed foods are hugely detrimental to overall health. JAMA last week decreed that the baby-boomer generation is less healthy that their parents’ generation, and with the rapid rise of childhood diabetes and obesity, it looks like this generation is on track to best that record. Says Carr, “We’re so conditioned to believe that ‘milk does a body good’ and that we need enormous amounts of protein or we’ll wither away. Look around, we’re not withering—we’re fat. We’re all hard-wired, soldered to the standard American diet, so we have to slowly create new habits.”

OK, it all makes sense but what if you don’t have Wolfgang Puck preparing vegan pizza for you or a personal assistant to scour the health-food-store shelves for agave nectar while you try on your cruelty-free (for animals, anyway) Stella McCartney stilettos? “I understand that,” says Carr, reacting to how expensive a bevy of organic fruits and vegetables can be, but points out “a sack of rice and a sack of beans is not that expensive and certainly if you can’t afford to buy all organic you can use the Dirty Dozen or the Clean Fifteen [produce with the most and least amount of pesticide residue] through Environmental Working Group.”  She also suggests reallocating the funds you have, maybe cutting down on the fancy coffee-shop lattes and instead trying a “green tea or a smoothie with a little cacao in it to give it a kick ... these subtle changes can really go a long way.”

However much she strives for the Crazy Sexy approach to be a judgment-free zone, Carr is serious about not only a vegan but an entirely holistic, approach to living: “Honestly, self-care is not fluffy—it’s something we should take seriously. The more we take it seriously the more we get in return. It’s amazing what happens when you start to feel better physically, you start to feel better emotionally, and the decisions you make from that place and the people you attract in your life, they improve—sounds hokey—but life gets a lot better.”