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Q&A with vegan chef Jamila Crawford

On healthy eating and making vegan food 'fly'

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Plant-based diets are more popular than ever these days, with tons of folks indulging in vegetarian, vegan, and raw food lifestyles. A 2012 survey conducted by the Vegetarian Research Group, the Vegetarian Times, and Harris Interactive Service Bureau found that 7.3 million Americans are vegetarians, while another 22.8 million follow a "vegetarian inclined" diet.

Still, living the veggie life can be challenging, especially in a city like Atlanta where there are fewer vegetable-centric restaurants and many people just don't know how to prepare this type of food at home.

With those challenges in mind, meet Jamila Crawford. She's the chef and owner of Earthcandy Gourmet Vegan Cuisine, a catering and personal chef company that's served up Latin-, Asian-, Caribbean-, Indian-, and African-inspired vittles to celebs like Erykah Badu, Dave Chappelle, Andre 3000, and more. Crawford — who also works as a fashion stylist, singer, blogger, and host of the Web TV series "Earthcandy* Food.Fashion.Flyness" — is one of a growing group of local culinary artists who make it their business to deliver healthy and tasty vegan meals to diners in the comfort of their own homes.

Creative Loafing recently caught up with Crawford to chat about her culinary endeavors, transforming eating habits, and more.

What's the food philosophy behind Earthcandy?

My philosophy is that a healthy diet and good eating habits should be a part of an overall personal style. What you put in your body is as important — if not more — than what you put on your body. [Eating] vegan and/or living (raw) foods does not mean sacrificing taste. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It's more than "rabbit food." There's a world of tastes, flavors, and culinary experiences out there. If you're eating a balanced meal, at least 75 percent of your plate is already vegan — why not go all the way?

How did you come to cook for folks like Erykah Badu? What kind of dishes do you make for them?

Erykah and I were pals before she became a client. However, it started many years ago when she and I were talking about her (and Andre Benjamin of OutKast) son's upcoming party for his then 7th birthday. We were going down the list of things she could have/do, and I said: "So, who's gonna make the vegan fun foods for him?" She looked at me and said, "You are." Since then, I've been preparing foods for her as well. She always asks that I make her raw/living foods, especially when she's touring.

How practical is it for folks who aren't celebs to adopt a raw or vegan lifestyle?

Most people have quite a limited knowledge or have had an unpleasant experience with vegan/vegetarian food. A part of what I do is education. Vegan food is not all salads and Boca burgers. I offer a variety of services to clients. As a matter of fact, a majority of my clients are everyday people who are simply looking to transition into a healthier lifestyle. For example, my "Earthcandy Classroom Service" is an in-home consultation where I work with individuals who are interested in making better choices about food, but don't quite know where to start. I consult with clients about their particular goals, needs and restrictions, and teach them how to shop as well as teach them two or three simple vegan recipes.

If you could make over the way most people eat, what would you change?

My first effort would be to change the perception most people have about food. The way we eat is symptomatic of our corporatized need to consume. We operate on a "more is more" system: the more we have, the more we want. But eating, like any type of style, should be about quality over quantity. Prior to corporate food conglomerates, fast-food chains, and genetically modified foods, people ate what they needed, and mostly based on what they grew on their own. I would encourage a return to small garden plots where families grow their own vegetables, balanced meals, and an insistence on quality food regardless of what you eat.

What is the biggest misconception people have about veganism?

I think the biggest misconception is that you have to have meat and that somehow without it food is no fun. But I assure you, prepared properly, vegan food can be just as tasty and without the negative side effects linked to meat-heavy diets like diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and more. One of my claims to fame is that I can pretty much veganize any meat lover's dish and you'd love it.

What does the future hold for Jamila Crawford?

More foods, more fashion, and more flyness! Stay tuned for upcoming episodes of my Web series, including a series of cooking episodes designed around preparing traditional holiday dishes — vegan style. ... Additionally, I have been working diligently on a cookbook featuring a variety of vegan-friendly dishes from around the world.

For more info on Earthcandy, visit earthcandyarts.wordpress.com.

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