Dishing vegan family fun with Mayim Bialik

Posted: March 07, 2014

AMY Farrah Fowler is a doctorate-holding neurobiologist on CBS's "The Big Bang Theory." Contrary to the saying "I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV," actress Mayim Bialik, who plays Fowler, also has a doctorate in neuroscience.

Unlike Fowler, Bialik is also a mom, and a vegan one at that, two areas she's combined in a new cookbook, Mayim's Vegan Table (Da Capo). Written in a warm, easygoing, earth-mother style, the book addresses readers curious about vegan eating - for themselves but, also, maybe, for their kids.

In a culture where stationing toddlers in front of a TV and buying them cheeseburgers at McDonald's is considered mainstream parenting, Bialik is already out of step. On top of her advocacy of natural childbirth, public breast-feeding and homeopathy, raising her two boys as vegans may seem outright kooky.

Mayim's Vegan Table patiently but firmly straightens that out, building the case for a crunchy-granola lifestyle that has crunchy granola but a lot more - peanut-butter smoothies, Brussels sprouts chips, vegan Reubens, oven-baked parsnip fries and chocolate-chip pumpkin cookies.

There's a lot of creative fun in the collection, as well as no-nonsense staples like potato salad, tomato soup, tacos and falafel.

'Just a mom'

For any readers still worried about the nutritional adequacy of plant-based eating at any age (attested to a decade ago by the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics), Bialik was joined by pediatric nutritionist Dr. Jay Gordon to do what she called, in an email interview, the "heavy nutrition" for the book while she concentrated on more practical aspects.

"I'm just a mom," Bialik said, when I asked if her science degree helped with vitamin tracking. "I know a bit about biochemistry from my studies, and about brain development," but mainly, "I do my best as a mom who likes to be well-informed."

The book's recipes and advice are mostly drawn from firsthand parenting experiences and Bialik's quest to keep selections as healthy as possible while allowing for fun and, occasionally, junky foods.

"My sons are finicky. They like ketchup on everything," she said. "They do enjoy a variety of foods that many kids aren't exposed to. I try and get them to finish one bite of food before shoving another spoonful in, but I'm afraid I may be guilty of that sometimes, too!"

She said she's careful to avoid ultimatums centered on food. Parents may hang onto "a lot of fascinating ideas about what our kids 'should' eat," but sometimes "we need to recalibrate so our kids don't associate food with fighting and struggle."

Does she avoid conflicts with the "Mrs. Seinfeld" approach of hiding the healthy stuff? "I don't sneak vegetables into things," she said. "I try and make foods that have vegetables prepared in enticing ways."

This may apply to such entries as Maple Mustard Greens and dilled chickpea burgers, which balance tasty fun with a nutritious punch. The book as a whole also strikes a balance: Bialik's "Mac N Cheez" is next to Sprout and Potato Croquettes with Dipping Sauce.

Also included are favorites from Jewish celebrations - hamantaschen, matzo-ball soup, sufganiyot, rugelach and more. The point here was more to offer good-tasting, veganized versions rather than healthy them up.

A food philosophy blossoms

In her teens, from 1990-95, Bialik starred as the titular character on the TV show "Blossom." That's when she went vegetarian, "out of my love for animals."

Once in college, she cut her dairy intake way down "after having a lifetime of allergies. They virtually disappeared and I have not been on antibiotics or had a sinus infection since!"

She eliminated dairy and trace egg by the birth of her second son, after seeing her diet's effect on breast-feeding her children. She credits Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals for inspiring the final kick.

Given her authorship of a book on the controversial practice of attachment parenting (2012's Beyond the Sling), Bialik might seem an easy target for skeptics of nonmainstream practices. When challenged, does she go into Amy Fowler mode, busting out the science and logic of veganism, or does she try to keep things intuitive and approachable, as she does in Vegan Table?

"I have no problem being very matter of fact about ethics and using a sense of humor to shake people up in a gentle way," she replied. "If pressed or challenged, I can pull out emotional arguments for sure, but I try to rely on logic, economics and the environment, with a touch of ethics, rather than going for the emotional guttural, as it were."

Whether working with kids or grown-ups, Bialik has both science and compassion on her side, and her cookbook demonstrates that she's prepared, whatever the occasion, to lay it all on the table.


Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist,

writer, musician and 12-year vegan.

"V for Veg" chronicles plant-based

eating in and around Philadelphia.

VforVeg@phillynews.com or

@V4Veg on Twitter.

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