Amber Shea Crawley is a linguist, chef, and author specializing in healthful vegan and raw food. Known for her flexible recipes and friendly voice, she blogs at AlmostVeganChef.com and can be found on Facebook and Twitter. Her first cookbook, Practically Raw: Flexible Raw Recipes Anyone Can Make was released in March and is 100% vegan. I’m super excited that Amber’s publisher, Vegan Heritage Press, is allowing us to give away a copy of Practically Raw this week to one lucky winner! Enjoy Amber’s unique insights and read to the bottom for giveaway details!
Allison Rivers Samson: You’re almost vegan and practically raw… what exceptions do you make in your diet and why?
Amber Shea Crawley: Many people keep the idea of veganism at arm’s length because they think it means they can’t ever make an exception or experience a slip-up for the rest of their lives, so they choose the polar opposite instead: not to worry about the ethics and/or health effects of their diet at all. When it comes to veganism, I always say that I’d rather 50% of the world be 50% vegan than the way it is now, with 1 to 2% of Americans identifying as totally vegan. Imagine how many more animals would be saved if people were allowed to view veganism in a flexible light, and be vegan “most of the time” instead of all-or-nothing! I know this rubs many ethical vegans the wrong way – I’m frequently admonished that “either you are vegan, or you’re not” – but time and time again I’ve heard from blog readers who thank me for showing them that they can ease into such a lifestyle change without suffering feelings of guilt or failure.
I personally am a “beegan” (I eat local raw honey). My philosophy of flexibility exerts itself even further in my views on raw food: I enjoy a high-raw diet when it’s available and desirable to me. I don’t fuss over making sure every single ingredient I buy is 100% raw, nor do I stop myself from cooking or baking my food when I feel like it. Thus my book’s title, Practically Raw!
ARS: You studied with chef Matthew Kenney, who is considered one of the greatest raw chefs. Was there one lesson from him above all others that stood out for you?
ASC: I’ve always read that “You eat with your eyes first,” but nowhere is that more apparent than with fresh, raw, living cuisine, and Matthew Kenney’s food in particular embodies that message. It’s quite something to be so awed by a dish at first sight that you take a moment just to stare at it and absorb its beauty. It helps you to appreciate the nuances of flavor and texture so much more once you gratefully and delicately bite into it.
ARS: What raw foods would you say are a must in a healthy diet?
ASC: To me, there’s nothing better than juicy, fresh raw fruit. Now that it’s warm outside, I’m eating watermelon and Champagne mangoes like they’re going out of style. I swear I could live off them for days at a time if I let myself!
That said, I always emphasize the benefits of healthy dietary fats. It saddens and worries me that low-fat/fat-free diets have made such a comeback, particularly in the vegan community, because I fear people are short-changing themselves of essential fatty acids (in seeds like flax, chia, and hemp; important for everything from brain health to inflammation), plant-based saturated fats (like coconut oil and cacao butter, which keep our cell membranes strong and our endocrine system humming along nicely), and monounsaturated fats (like avocado and nuts, which are satiating and great for our vascular system). Even if people choose to eschew oils, I urge them to replace some of the excess starch in their diet with delicious and satisfying raw fat sources.
ARS: People often think a raw food diet is labor intensive and too much work. Are there any tips you recommend for keeping it simple while getting all the nutrients you need?
ASC: Absolutely! Always have ripe fruit, cut-up veggies, and raw nuts at the ready for snacking throughout the day. When you make raw food recipes, I recommend doubling or tripling them and refrigerating or freezing some portions for later if the recipe allows it – for example, raw breads, crackers, granola, energy bars, and desserts all keep very well for days or even weeks. Perhaps most importantly, prepare the food in a way that’ll let you best enjoy it – serve the raw tomato sauce from my Spaghetti à la Marinara over cooked pasta if you like, for instance, or throw some beans or corn chips into my Fiesta Taco Roll-Ups. That’s the essence of being “practically raw”!
ARS: Congratulations on your recent book release for Practically Raw! What was the biggest challenge in writing it?
ASC: Thank you! Probably the most labor-intensive part was the fact that I needed to test many recipes in the book twice – since I provide a cooking or baking option anytime a dehydrator is used, I wanted to try it both ways to make sure it worked just as well in a non-raw kitchen. Making the recipes beginner-friendly was very important to me, as was including nutritional info with every recipe. In addition, I probably spent as much time writing the first chapter as I did the rest of the book combined – it’s a long, thorough, and detailed section packed to the brim with useful information, including the benefits of raw food, shopping tips, ingredient and equipment guides, a nutrition primer, pantry lists, and more.
ARS: Do you have a favorite recipe in the book? Why?
ASC: Ohh, yes – my Famous Five-Minute Blondies. They are everything you could ever want in a dessert: raw, vegan, gluten-free, grain-free, refined-sugar-free, no-bake, and ready in five minutes or less. On top of being ridiculously easy and healthy, their salted-vanilla-butterscotch flavor is simply to die for. Everyone NEEDS to try them at least once – I promise you’ll fall in love!
ARS: Do you have the recipe for those or any other practically raw recipes available on your website?
ASC: Yes, quite a few actually. For recipes from the book: go to this page and scroll down to the list of “Recipe Previews” (in the Links section). There are 14 recipes from the book (on various sites) linked up there right now! The Famous Five-Minute Blondies are second to last on the list and include a demo video! The Pizza Kale Chips are another top fave of mine. For other raw and non-raw recipes from my Almost Vegan blog, go here.
ARS: If you had an Allison’s Gourmet wish list, what would be on it?
ASC: My fiance Matt pokes fun at me for loving “cream/tan/beige-colored” flavors. I go crazy over anything with vanilla, caramel, nuts, butterscotch, toffee, coffee, brown sugar, marshmallow, white chocolate… the list goes on! My Allison’s Gourmet wish list would include Butterscotch Pecan Fudge, Classic Almond Toffee, and Salted Vanilla Caramels.
Thanks Amber, I love your guilt-free approach to healthful eating that encourages everyone to move towards vegan and raw food without pressure to be strict or “perfect.” And now, to enter Amber’s giveaway, comment here with your answer to this question: If you could have a raw vegan version of any food in the world, what would it be? On Thursday, we’ll pick the lucky winner who will receive his or her own copy of Practically Raw! You must be a resident of the US or Canada to win.
*This Giveaway is now Closed.