Sustainability Spotlight: Julie Saha
This spotlight showcases the cooking talents of Food Bebo. This Instagram account is managed by Julie, a vegan and resident of Philly. She believes that a vegan diet can be accessible to anyone, regardless of socioeconomic status. If you shop smart, you can make healthy choices; without breaking the bank.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I’m Julie, it’s my fourth year at Temple University and I am a Psychology major with a Sociology minor. Sociology has really opened my mind to America’s persistent social climate, such as our public health crises. I love learning about how to regulate health behaviors. It’s interesting to discover the things out of my control that are influencing my daily habits. I am taking a Psychology Through Food class which I LOVE and is so inspiring to me.
Have you always been a vegan?
No. So, some backstory about me. My parents are immigrants from India, and that has influenced me a lot. My eating culture and habits growing up revolved around my family making home-cooked meals. I didn't grow up with an allowance so I was raised to always be aware of the cost of things. I was very aware of money and the value that it had. We grew up not eating out frequently--only for really special occasions. This has impacted me now, because it shows how food is indicative of something special and how meaningful it is. I grew up eating traditional Bengali home-cooked meals. As soon as I left for college I didn’t want to buy a meal plan because I wanted to lose weight, be healthy, and cook for myself. As soon as I came to school I realized I was scared of cooking raw meat--I never knew whether it was cooked or not. Then, I dove into Netflix--things like Cowspiracy, Forks Over Knives, and many other documentaries. So Bengali people eat fish and meat. It’s really personal because they are super traditional, so skipping out on these meals has definitely been hard at times for me. There is a big difference between eating a cultural food, and experiencing it with gratitude, than buying meat for cheap food alternatives.
People aren't informed, which is no one’s fault. It’s not public news, which is the first issue. Then, the minute you connect the animal to the whole process, it's a terrible process. It’s essentially slaughtering--you can even call it murder. It says so much about being part of a system that you can’t control. I feel saddened that this is a cycle that maintains itself. With cows, the minute you stop feeding them what they are able to digest it’s not even a cow anymore. Once you start feeding them corn, you need to then add antibiotics on top of it to make sure they don't get sick. It’s not even the same healthy animal anymore. It’s so sad. We need to be bigger than the cycle and break it together.
I don't know if you have heard of Michael Pollan but he is an author that critiques modern agriculture, the food system as a whole, our eating habits, and essentially everything that encompasses food culture. His short motto is “eat food, not too much, and mostly plants.” It's essentially all about having a plant-based mindset. I think you guys need to do a book club for Sustainable Millennial, it would be so cool!
[Love this idea- definitely something for us to think about.]
This book just like shattered me. He talked about things and even broke down what it means for something to be “organic” and where those labels and definitions are coming from. It’s so important for us to remember that food is political and eating is political. People think organic means, “good for me” and “healthy.” People also think that “healthy” means it’s “ethical.” It's crazy because it could be one, or none of the above-- it’s insane. I think that what’s happening here is that it is all connected. Whether it is food and the waste it produces, or even how much actual fresh food is wasted by restaurants or supermarkets. There are so many regulations that state that even if produce isn't rotten, people can’t take it home from the grocery stores because it is their policy. At what point does food become more of a commodity than just a means for survival? I feel like I push it with produce. Ugly food gets a bad rep. If our grocery store was stocked with all of this beautiful food, why would you take the ugly one?
[If you are interested in food waste and supporting “ugly” fruit, check out Misfits! They essentially ship you produce that is conventionally unattractive, but still good, for a lower cost! Rob Greenfield survived off of dumpster diving which is really interesting to learn more about. He took all of the produce that was being thrown away and managed to re-use it. I (Allie) am setting a goal where every time I let food rot in my fridge, I donate a dollar to a jar. Then, all of the money I raise will go to an environmentally-focused charity or my local food bank. I’ve implemented this so that I can be more aware of my own habits and try to change my own personal shopping behaviors. I’ll let you know how it goes for sure!]
So what inspired you to become vegan? What expectations did you have when you started?
I started in November of 2015. I was vegetarian first. I also didn't cook eggs for myself, ever. Even now I am not 100% vegan--there are moments where i eat things that are questionable and I am not sure if they are 100% vegan or not. I try my best. That misses the point that I take from what I want to get out of veganism. I started by being a vegetarian and gradually changed to vegan. Not that there's anything wrong with being vegetarian, but i just couldn't personally make sense of it in my head. If I didn’t want to eat meat, the eggs and the milk didn’t seem so far from the process.
Also, I got into the health aspects of it. I have always had body issues. It’s always hard to deal with your body fluctuating and trying to eat the right things so that you have normal bowel movements, and so that your skin is clear. So there were all of these things that I didn't know how to address, and never thought, “oh let me change my diet.” But becoming vegan changed these things for me. I used to get sick from eating dairy. Like so many people do but don’t make the change.
In terms of concerns with becoming vegan, honestly, it was a really smooth transition. I have felt very motivated for the past couple of years. I think the motivation will last forever, this love will last forever! One big thing for me was how I was going to tell my parents about it. It’s not that they could stop me from it, because I wasn’t living at home anymore, and I was making food choices on my own for a while. It can be offensive to people to say, “I’m not going to eat your food anymore.” They were scared and basically thought I was going to die. They said the common things, “you need protein and calcium,” “you are drying out,” “you are getting so skinny and unhealthy,” etc. They thought I was basically going to turn into a vegetable because I was eating them.
So Food Bebo (pronounced: food babe-oh), Where did the name come from?
So the name is actually for no reason, it doesn’t mean anything! It’s also like cute. Food Bebo. It’s just so cute, I love it.
You said your cultural cooking is what got you started. Where else do your creations get inspired from? What is your vibe of cooking?
Food Bebo started in high school while I was trying to hold myself accountable for a diet. I was out here posting my turkey sandwiches, smoothies in the morning, and granola bars. I did that for a while and I think Instagram is a fun platform for that. I had like five followers for moral support for my diet. When I became vegetarian and was cooking a lot more, I would put in so much effort into my cooking. I couldn’t just sit down and eat it; I needed to take a photo of it to share with my friends. For now, I’m just taking iPhone pictures, because ya girl’s gotta eat.
In terms of style I am not afraid of spices, and although I like to cook with Indian spices and cooking Indian-inspired foods, I don't do that all the time. So when I first started watching and binging YouTube vegan videos, I feel like I learned a repertoire of not recipes, but pairings. For example, how to make a sauce that is Asian-inspired and so on. So as of right now I have gotten good at thinking, “hey, this is a type of cuisine, and this is how to fit that flavor pallet with these ingredients.” My recommendation is to always go hard on the spices, it adds flavor boosts, get creative with it, and learn about pairings.
Wow, I definitely want to learn more about those pairings. It definitely is great to get a good balance of flavors in meals. What’s your favorite vegan spot in Philly?
As of now my favorite vegan food to buy is Pho, it can be vegan so easily. It’s essentially just rice noodles, veggie broth, and some veggies. It's so chill. Pho 20 in Chinatown is amazing. I live in South Philly, so there is a big Vietnamese market where there is crazy fruit. (So fun, so cute.) On Snyder and Broad there’s a place called Pho Cyclo Cafe. It’s so good.
Other than that, I am a South Philly Qween. The Tasty, it’s an all vegan diner. It will ruin your life in the best way. It is soooo good. You bus your own table, super chill, on the weekend they have specials.
Any other spots you have been interested in?
I haven't been to V Street, but I have been eyeing the menu! Dizengoff is incredible, I am obsessed with Michael Solomonov. Once you dip your toes, you can't undo it. I love Zahav. It ruined my life in the best possible way. Middle Eastern food is really easy to make vegan. At the Goldie they now make Tehina Milkshakes. They are tahini-based so it’s totally vegan and delicious.
What are some of the daily challenges that you face with this lifestyle?
When I first started trying to eat vegan, I was cooking most of it. That's still the case now. For me, cooking is very therapeutic and is an art form for me. It is my therapist--the kitchen is my therapist. In terms of eating out, I didn’t realize how many places have a vegan option already waiting for me.
Philly in the summer is an awesome place to be vegan. I moved to South, where there is the Italian Market--so boom. I can get a lot of produce there for a reasonable price. Also, the Vietnamese Markets in Philly always have staple items for really cheap prices. I mean no, it’s not organic. I am balling on a budget, so it’s hard to buy organic all the time. After reading about what it means for foods to actually be labeled “organic”, in Michael Pollan’s segment, I am feeling okay about it. The best thing is trying to eat seasonal. Buy frozen produce when its not in season too.
Do you have any favorite vegan food blogs, chefs, or inspirations?
There is this one YouTube blog that I really resonate with its called Hot For Food. The woman behind it Lauren Toyota does vegan comfort foods, which isn't necessarily my style all the time, but it is reallllllly good. She is really good at balancing. By that I mean when you watch her cook, she does a balance of what is going to be acidic and what will cut through those flavorings. I don't follow recipes, but what I have learned from her is to balance out the different tastes that are going. I make it up as I go and I am constantly learning from past experiences. That's what she does too. The comfort food that she makes is amazing. The first time I tried making her recipe for buffalo cauliflower, it was incredible. She also makes like vegan eggs benny and stir fry and stuff. I love making vegan pasta now because it’s really fun to try to make a creamy sauce that won't make me sick to my stomach. These kinds of sauces and things can seem intimidating to make, but I believe we should all make our own sauces. It feels better to make sauces and dressings because then you really know what is going into the stuff. Don’t be nervous about it--you got this!!
Did you know that Sustainable Millennial made a vegan chili article? I make this chili almost every week and transform the leftovers into different meals during the week, from adding quinoa, pasta, rice, and tacos. It makes my life easier. Has being a vegan inspired you in any other ways to become more in-touch with the environment? In what ways?
It is all interconnected. Being vegan made me more conscious of the waste I am producing. It all started with my food waste while cooking. I plan out my meals so that I don’t waste my fresh produce. I try not to buy something that is wrapped in plastic if I don’t need to. It’s thinking more, bringing bags, bringing jars, and seeing the value and the use of things that we are accustomed to throwing out. I am not perfect, and I still produce a lot of waste. I am really working on it though. One thing I need to get desperately is a reusable cutlery set. It has been in my Amazon cart for too long! But yeah, I have been paying way more attention to how I am impacting the world. Whether it is how much energy I am consuming or how much energy is put into creating the food that I am making.
Check out Sustainable Millennial’s article about the role water plays in the meat and dairy industry. It’s insane how much energy goes into food production when you stop and think about it.
Cooking is important and food is important because it empowers you. It connects your body to the environment and being sustainable with both of them. For me, environmental and ethical reasons are huge-- but it also feels like I am much more intentional with how I care about myself. It opens the floodgates for the small things you want to do and how you want to do them to take care of yourself. It's just constantly reminding myself that eating is political just as much as it is ethical and agricultural. You can have such an impact on everything by the food choices you make. You are directly affecting the economy. It doesn't matter if you break the streak once or twice, or however many times. It’s the general sentiment of what you are doing and why you are doing it--it’s all about your intention. I was intimidated by it at first because there are die-hard activists (which is great), but I was really intimidated by the community. There is such a stigma to being vegan, I don't know why, but there is. Even though this is something you are doing yourself and not really involving others. If it’s working, keep going!
Anything else you want to talk about?
I think with the whole stigma behind veganism, it felt to me originally like it was a white and unattainable lifestyle for me. It has a vibe that only affluent, skinny, pretty, wealthy people can be vegan. I was watching so many cooking videos and most were these skinny Australian vegan YouTubers. In a time where the health of black and brown people are being compromised by the way that government policy is, and how food stamps and all of that works, this is important. There aren’t a lot of people necessarily uplifting these communities to make sure they are not in a food desert or making sure they have the right grocery stores to get food from. Moving forward, I really want to tailor my cooking, and my entire message around veganism being an attainable and accessible lifestyle for everyone. It doesn't mean you have to shop somewhere really expensive. People can be vegan without being like, “here is my expensive food.” I want this to be an acceptable thing for P.O.C. There is a stigma making people think that vegans are only skinny yogis who only eat lettuce. I want to really address this. I don't know how, but I want to do this. Veganism can be for everyone--it’s not a privilege thing, it can be cheaper even. You can shop at the farmer’s market and spend less than you would at Acme buying burgers. It’s not general knowledge and accessible information that you can actually cook things like this. You guys are inspiring and informing people and i love it! There is an expensive way to eat vegan, and there is the bare bones of it that can be so delicious. We got big ideas out here!!!
You go girl! If you are interested in learning more about Julie’s vegan food journey, check out her Food Bebo Instagram page. Keep up with her to see what she is cookin’ up next, because we can guarantee it will be delicious. The animals thank her too. If you are thinking about perhaps testing out a vegetarian lifestyle first, check out Connor's vegetarian journey. We hope that these stories empower you to take action.
Think you know of a Sustainable Millennial that would be great in the spotlight? Reach out to us! We love to hear from you.