Today is World Vegan Day – an annual celebration that commemorates the benefits of veganism for humans, animals and the natural environment. While we can certainly applaud the ethics, low environmental impact, and health benefits of a vegan diet, vegan food has not always been something to celebrate. In the grocery store and on vegan menus, the only dairy alternative products one could find were paper boxes of room-temperature rice milk, staggeringly-high-sodium veggie burgers, and a variety of other mock meats with pages-long ingredient lists, which made the whole concept of vegan food a little unappetizing, even unapproachable, as it attempted to masquerade as “real food.”
The association people have, really the whole concept, of what it means to be vegan has changed. A recent Gallup poll found that 3% of Americans identify as vegan, up from 0.5% in 2014 – that’s about 8 million people. Celebrities, athletes and politicians have adopted vegan diets, countering the image of veganism as an “extreme” animal-activist diet. Some identify as “part-time vegans,” the idea being “you do what you can.” Even meat-lovers have gotten past the stigma, appreciating how tasty and reachable the vegan lifestyle can be (good food can soften the hardest heart!).
It’s the vegan food entrepreneurs who have paved the way to a more appealing, accessible, and delicious, cruelty-free lifestyle. Thanks to their creativity, dedication, and passion for honest food, there has been a blossoming of plant-based products on grocery store shelves and more (yummy) dairy-alternative products on the market than ever before. It’s entrepreneurs like Miyoko Schinner, founder of Miyoko’s: Tomorrow’s Creamery, that have upped the game on new vegan products.
Miyoko Schinner is a pioneering vegan businesswoman in every sense of the phrase: not only is Miyoko an award-winning celebrity chef, author, advocate, and animal sanctuary co-founder, she makes incredible (we mean incredible) vegan cheese. Conflicted by her love of gourmet cheeses and her compassion for animals, she boldly set out to create plant-based cheese as artistic and decadent as the fine French cheeses she grew up eating in Tokyo.
Today, we’re celebrating WORLD VEGAN DAY with Miyoko, talking about her passion for dairy-free products, the trials and tribulations of running a vegan business, and what’s next for the vegan industry.
Tell me about Miyoko’s creamery! How did you get started?
I’ve been on a long journey exploring food for 30 years, trying to create foods and entice people to a way of eating that is healthier for the planet, ourselves, and saves the lives of countless animals. Cheese was the last frontier, one that I wanted to conquer myself, sometime before I got too old and kicked the can. I wrote a book called Artisan Vegan Cheese in 2012, which became a cult classic. Starting a business a couple of years later was a natural step to take.
What are the benefits of eating vegan dairy products?
The benefits go far beyond one’s own health. Sure, there’s no cholesterol, hormones, pesticides, or pus in vegan cheese — all things that are in animal cheese — but more importantly, vegan cheese uses far fewer resources than dairy cheese to produce. Our cheese uses cashews that are grown without any irrigation — only rainwater — which means that we can make a pound of cheese for only 3 to 4 gallons of water, compared to 700 to 1000 gallons for a pound of dairy cheese. Cashews also grow on trees, which take carbon out of the atmosphere, rather than emitting methane and CO2 (by cows), and put nitrogen back into the soil. And then we can’t forget that we are saving the lives of animals and their offspring (who are removed from their mothers at birth so we can take their milk). It’s a win-win all around.
What sets you apart from other vegan dairy products? Is this a question you asked yourself when you were starting Miyoko’s?
Our products are certified organic and use a unique combination of traditional cheesemaking techniques combined with modern technology and proprietary science to transform plants into cheese, butter, and other creamery products. From the beginning, it was important for me to make “real food,” not just a lab-concocted assembly of oils and starches with flavors, and so I developed a method that relied on natural fermentation to drive flavors and umami.
For other entrepreneurs out there: what were some unexpected challenges you came across when you started Miyoko’s, and how did you resolve them? What are some accomplishments you’re proud of?
The number 1 biggest challenge has been how to scale and industrialize recipes and processes that I developed in my kitchen. Initially, we didn’t encounter as many issues because we were still small batch. When we really went to scale, we learned that the processes we used to ferment various plant ingredients reacted in strange ways. We really had to dive deeply into microbiology and chemistry to uncover what was happening and figure out what equipment and processes we needed to succeed.
How did you find yourself in the vegan food space? Was this a natural step for you and your background?
I have been in the vegan food space for over 30 years since I went vegan in the mid-eighties. From bakeries to a restaurant to another natural food company in the 1990’s to writing 5 cookbooks and co-hosting a vegan cooking show that aired on PBS stations, my life’s mission has been to bring delicious vegan food to the world.
What are your goals for impacting the packaging vegan food industry?
To provide convenient, delicious, and affordable solutions for people who want to explore or transition to a plant-based diet. To do so, we want to become mainstream as soon as possible.
What products are you most excited about right now?
We have some new products we are working on that are based on legumes instead of nuts. They will have protein, fiber, and still taste like their dairy counterpart.
What are your future plans and hopes for Miyoko’s?
We want to do our part to positively impact future food systems to increase sustainability, accessibility, and more compassionate. And to do it deliciously! We hope to go mainstream with new products that will be at lower price points, and expand into food service in order to reach a broader audience.
Do you have any advice specifically for women entrepreneurs who are interested in breaking into the food/beverage space?
This is your opportunity to help change the world by helping change how people eat. Most people don’t realize the power of food in affecting the future of the planet, since animal agriculture accounts for more greenhouse gases than all global transportation. The truth is that if we can change how people eat, we might have a chance at reversing climate disruption, more than if we just got rid of cars. The power of your plate is unbelievable — we need industry to lead the charge in creating a new food system that will ensure that we have a planet to live on. Women can be great leaders in this realm. The world is ready for you!
Found out more at: www.miyokos.com