Book Barn: Jenny Engel and Heather Bell of Spork Foods on ‘Vegan 101’

New vegan cookbook by Spork Foods sisters

Sisters Jenny Engel and Heather Bell, owners of the L.A.-based gourmet vegan food company Spork Foods, are out with an amazing new cookbook, Vegan 101!

I’m super-excited about your new book Vegan 101: A Vegan Cookbook: Learn to Cook Plant-Based Meals that Satisfy Everyone. What inspired you to write it?
We’re so happy you’re excited about it! Our constant source of inspiration comes from our student base. We teach about 10,000 people a year how to make vegan dishes, so we have a lot of conversations with people who are longtime vegans, and many others who aren’t vegan at all, but are coming to class to try it out. Almost everyone requested quick and simple vegan dishes that taste great, so that’s what we focused on for this cookbook. We really want these dishes to be accessible to anyone.

Will this book please vegans and non-vegans alike?
Oh yes! Since most of our student base isn’t vegan, it’s imperative that we create dishes that everyone will love. We take the challenge very seriously!

Vegan 101

Acorn Squash Fritters with Korean Spicy Sauce from Vegan 101!

Are there recipes that will make people forget that they are eating vegan?
Absolutely! What comes to mind is our Acorn Squash Fritters with Korean Spicy Sauce. Essentially, this fritter is crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle. There’s a sweetness about the squash, and paired with the spice from the sauce it comes together really well. The soups are also very pure and simple, like our Velvety Kale Soup with Cashew Cream. It’s decadent but nutrient-packed, leaving people satisfied and proud of themselves for making such a healthy choice.

You both have a great sense of humor. What keeps you always smiling? Is is the food?
That’s a really sweet question! What keeps us smiling is being able to spend each day together. It had always been a dream of ours to have a sister business, and now that we get to run it together, what’s not to smile about? The food is absolutely part of it, but what’s more is that we get to support a vegan lifestyle each and every day for a living.

Vegan 101

Velvety Kale Soup with Cashew Cream by the Spork Foods sisters!

What’s your funniest story of something going wrong in the kitchen?
We once had an assistant put their hand through a full cheesecake in a spring form pan while taking it out of the oven in a cooking class! Luckily we had made one in advance so all was well! It wasn’t funny at the time but now it’s hilarious!

Who would you love to have a meal with, living or dead?
We’d love to have a meal with Bob Marley. His positive message is so widespread and special; you can feel it in every song you hear. His music makes people feel good, and so we’d want to make him feel good with a belly full of organic vegan food.

Where did you learn how to cook?
Oh this is a good one, with a three-part answer! Our Mom cooked constantly while we were young and made huge pots of food, encouraging neighbors, friends, and family to just drop by. We loved how welcoming she always made our home, so we asked to take cooking classes as kids. Mom and Dad sent us to a kids’ cooking school when we were about five and seven, and although it wasn’t vegan, we learned the basics and fell in love with the process of cooking. Later on, we sent Jenny to the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC to further her education.

Who are you most influenced by?
We’re most influenced by animals. At the core of what we do is actually activism. There are so many ways to be an activist. Some people hold up posters outside of places who are abusing animals. Others give money to great causes. We have chosen to use our love of cooking to prevent cruelty to animals. We believe that animals are not for us to use in any way. The cooking skills we developed we share with our students so that they can also make meals that change people’s minds about food and ultimately save lives.

Adopt a Turkey certificates

Adopt a Turkey Project adoption certificates on the refrigerator at Spork Foods headquarters (via the sisters’ Instagram account, @sporkfoods).

You’re being interviewed by Farm Sanctuary. Why do you think people should support Farm Sanctuary?
Farm Sanctuary is near and dear to our hearts for many reasons. One of our favorite programs is the Adopt a Turkey Project. Each year for the past 10 years since we started our business, we adopt a turkey in honor of Thanksgiving. We have their photos on our refrigerator for all of our students to see, and they absolutely love it. We’ve even gotten to go to Farm Sanctuary and sit with turkeys and just be with them. Many people don’t know how sweet and cuddly they are. And how much they love eating kale and cranberries. Farm Sanctuary rescues animals in danger, advocates for them and educates people about the importance of kindness to all creatures. How could you not get behind Farm Sanctuary!? We will continue to participate in the Walk for Farm Animals and donate to galas for as long as we’re in business.

What’s next for the two of you? A little birdie told me someone is going to be a mommy very soon.
2017 will be a really fun year for us! Heather will be a first-time Mommy to a little girl, while Jenny’s boy, Evander Bluejay, who will be one, shows her the ways of the world. While those two vegan babies get trained to take over Spork Foods one day, we will be actually launching a secret food product that’s been in the works for years. We’re so excited about it and can’t wait to give you more details when the time is right!

James and sheepThis is the the second installment in the “Book Barn” series with Farm Sanctuary Board Member James Costa. An ardent animal activist and a regular contributor to Litbreaker Media, James is the director of the documentary Lunch Hour, which looks critically at childhood obesity and school lunch programs. Currently, James is working on a new documentary about Native Americans and diet.

Read the previous Book Barn installment, a Q&A with Kathy Freston on her latest, The Book of Veganish, here.

Book Barn: Kathy Freston Talks ‘Veganish’

By James Costa

Kathy Freston is a New York Times bestselling author four times over; her works include The Lean, Veganist, and Quantum Wellness.

Kathy Freston is a New York Times bestselling author four times over; her works include The Lean, Veganist, and Quantum Wellness.


Hi, Kathy, I’m super excited about your new book The Book of Veganish! Tell me what inspired you to write it.
I wrote this book with Rachel [Cohn] because we were having coffee one day, and realized that there’s so much more to going plant-based than just deciding not to eat animals.  How do you date (or marry) someone who is not on the same page as you; what do you say when someone makes fun of you, or taunts you for not being 100% perfect and pure; how do you make food that’s fast and friendly and hearty; what are the perfect swaps for eggs or protein?

So many questions a beginner struggles with… and we wanted to put it all in one place so that the guidebook is simple to use – like having a companion on the journey who is showing the way.  Plus, we wanted to offer super-easy, delicious recipes that had beautiful, color photos to go along with them so the reader could see what plant-based food looks like. It’s a less intimidating shift that way!

Who is this book for?
It’s for socially conscious young adults (and the young at heart!) who know they want to move away from eating animals, but just need some help on figuring out nutrition, social situations, and how to make seriously easy, fulfilling food.  A stunning 48% of young adults want to eat a diet without meat, so the book is a tool for advocacy.  It’s a gift for those already on board to give to their friends or family who are curious but have no idea how to start.

There are tons of vegan books out there. What makes this one different? 
The Book of Veganish speaks directly to young adults – those aged 18 to 25. That’s a hugely important sector of the population that could use some support. A few things about Generation Z that sets them apart: They don’t tend to like labels (i.e “vegan”); they’re more fluid with how they identify themselves; they aren’t tied to the 3-meals per day program; they snack and eat at odd hours, not needing an official “lunch” or “dinner”;  they are mistrustful of government and corporations, so they go with their instincts and personal experiences more; and they want more than anything to lead meaningful lives that will make a difference.  I respect these people enormously; they are smart and aware, and they are the ones who are just about to go out into the world and start businesses and families, so it’s really important to empower them with what they’ll need in order to be successful with a plant-based lifestyle.  Our future – the future of the animals – is in their hands.

Is being veganish easy or is something that only certain people should try?  Veganish allows the curious to find his or her way comfortably and in their own time. I’m really glad that I eased into this way of eating gradually, because it stuck. If I had to get it right all at once, I would have quit and gone back to the foods I grew up with.  If we want people to succeed and thrive, we have to give them the space to find their footing.

What should someone do if they slip and fall off the vegan wagon? I know a lot of people feel bad and give up.
I hear all the time, “I like the idea of being vegan, but I could never give up cheese fries.”  Or Greek yogurt.  Or sushi.  So I say, “Enjoy the fries; have the yogurt; go for sushi; and just stay awake and aware.”  Show yourself some love and you’ll figure it out.  Eventually you realize that you don’t miss much of anything, and you feel so good that those old foods become a non-issue.

Is it easier for younger people to go veganish or can you teach an old dog new tricks? 
Well, very motivated old dogs certainly can learn. But after a pattern is well worn into the grooves of our psyche for decades, those daily habits are harder to break. Veganish makes the shift less jarring, more do-able. [Young adults], on the other hand, are just figuring out who they are so it’s a lot easier for them to set some good habits.

Do you feel hopeful that things will change and people will finally understand that what we do to animals is just wrong? 
I am not only hopeful, I’m excited.  Read the testimonials and tips from the kids and people we feature in the book; you’ll see that the future is already unfolding in an unbelievably good direction.

What are some of your favorite parts of the book and you feel are the things that can easily get people on the road to Veganish?
I love the quickie tips for snacks and foods that [young adults] have come up with that are protein-packed and can travel easily.  I also love the easy-to-navigate charts on what to eat and how to swap things out for better choices.

Author Kathy Freston was recognized at Farm Sanctuary's 25th Anniversary Galafor her efforts to promote cruelty free cooking. (Photo by Lesley Marino)

Photo by Lesley Marino

What should people know about Farm Sanctuary?
Farm Sanctuary is the only organization of its size where you get to experience – really experience – what animal advocacy is all about. We’re reminded of why we care, and why we need to care more. You can look into their eyes and connect with these animals, feel who they are as individuals. You see up close their quirky sweet personalities, so your commitment comes alive. The flame in your heart is fanned by their proximity, their absolute vulnerability. There is no better advocacy then knowing whom you’re advocating for.

What’s next for you? Any exciting new projects you can talk about?
Well, I love fashion.  And I love helping businesses that are devoted to replacing animal products.  So you’ll likely see me associated with any of those things in some form or another….


This is the first column of “Book Barn” with Farm Sanctuary Board Member James Costa. An ardent animal activist and a regular contributor to Litbreaker Media, James is the director of the documentary Lunch Hour, which looks critically at childhood obesity and school lunch programs. Currently, James is working on a new documentary about Native Americans and diet.