In November of 2009, my friend and vegan cookbook author Sharon Valencik was invited to appear on a television show, but the invitation was revoked when one of the advertisers – the dairy industry – objected. Below is an exclusive interview with Sharon about her experience.
Sharon is the author of a vegan dessert cookbook, Sweet Utopia, which can be purchased online, and she’s already at work on her next vegan cookbook, World Utopia. Sharon lives in New Jersey with her rescued rabbit, shelter dog, two vegan sons, and husband, Milan Valencik, who took the stunning photographs that appear in the book.
How were you invited to appear on the television show, and what kind of television show was it?
A TV show producer contacted my publisher, then called me, telling me what a great opportunity it was, for all the millions and millions of viewers they had for this specific holiday show. He heard about my book and thought it would be perfect. He was excited about it.
How did you learn that you were no longer scheduled to appear, and what reason was given?
The next day he contacted my publisher and told them it didn't pass the advertisers' criteria, that there was dairy industry involved and vegan wouldn't do. He was disappointed because he loved the book.
Before the producer withdrew the invitation to appear on the show, were you aware that the dairy industry was one of their advertisers?
No, he didn't say who the advertisers were before.
How do you feel about the dairy industry doing this to you and, ultimately, to the animals?
I think that it is not only the dairy industry that did this to me, but the media. The media needs to make it clear that they will not be swayed by advertisers, and will show any issues they want without consequence. However, I can't say I was surprised to learn of what happened. The dairy industry is still so big and intimidating. We need to help shrink their influence by making them obsolete, and it is happening, little by little, as people turn more to nondairy alternatives. I am going to keep doing what I am doing, which is to let people know that they don't need dairy for anything.
Does your book mention animal rights, or give reasons for going vegan?
It's mainly an introduction to the issues. The publisher was clear that it would be a cookbook, and any detailed information about those issues would be cut. They are a very vegan friendly publisher but were clear that they didn't want information to turn people off in a dessert book. I included what I was able to.
How did you become vegan, and how did Sweet Utopia come about?
I became a vegetarian when I was 12, on my own. I gradually became vegan many years ago.
Dessert was always the biggest problem for me, because I couldn't find a good dessert. I made up my own techniques and recipes based on my favorites and family recipes that were handed down over generations. I soon started a collection and wanted to publish it so my sons would have it too, and to help people who also wanted good and easy vegan dessert recipes. I really wanted to let nonvegans know that desserts don't need to contain eggs and dairy to be delicious and taste like the "real thing." You really can't tell that my desserts are vegan. They're just good! And I wanted the recipes to be simple and use straightforward ingredients so people, including myself, would actually make them. I'm using vegan dessert making as one way to make animal products obsolete.
Free Sample Recipe:Sharon generously offers this free sample recipe, which does not appear in the book.
This cake is simple and wonderful in May, when the tartly delicious stalk is in season. I'd never tasted a cake made with rhubarb before creating this recipe, but I always loved rhubarb in pie and cobbler, so I gave it a shot. It's delicious, especially with a big scoop of vanilla soy ice cream next to it!
2 1/2 cups washed, peeled and sliced rhubarb (into about 1-inch pieces)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup vegan butter substitute, at room temperature
1/3 cup soy yogurt
1/2 cup soymilk
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons white or cider vinegar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Powdered sugar for garnish (optional)
Combine the rhubarb with the 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and oil and flour a 9-inch spring form pan.
Combine the flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a bowl. In a separate large bowl, combine the sugar and vegan butter substitute and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. Beat in the yogurt, soymilk, maple syrup, vinegar, lemon peel, vanilla extract, and cinnamon. Stir in the flour mixture until evenly combined. Gently fold in the rhubarb. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour.
Serve the cake with powdered sugar on top or with vanilla soy ice cream. Store leftovers in a sealed container in the refrigerator.