With all the skepticism over fad diets these days, it’s no wonder Christina Pirello named her latest cookbook This Crazy Vegan Life. Veganism doesn’t come any more hardcore than this, but Philadelphia’s healthiest chef-about-town and cooking show host never shoves her views down your throat. Instead, she takes the “baby steps” approach—start slowly, go fresh, get the kids involved, cook more, and care about the impact beyond the plate. And just so you never think Pirello isn’t any fun, her other business is travel. To see the world, and enjoy healthy eating and cooking, go to christinacooks.com.
MLT: When did you become a vegetarian?
CP: I started as a vegetarian when I was 14. My father was a butcher. At 14, all I wanted was to make my father crazy—and it worked. I went vegan at 26.
MLT: What’s the most common misconception about veganism?
CP: That we’re angry and going to spraypaint you. That we don’t eat food, or at least enjoy it. Most of us want to make a lighter footprint and show compassion toward animals. Our diets are very satisfying and nutritionally strong.
MLT: Should children and teens avoid eating meat?
CP: As long as kids are getting enough calories for normal growth and to keep up with their activities—which is possible from a well-balanced vegan diet—not eating meat won’t compromise their health.
MLT: How long does it take to notice the health benefits of a vegan diet?
CP: Within 10 days, you won’t wake up with those aches you thought were part of aging. Within 30 days, you’ll be sleeping better and managing stress better; you’ll see some weight loss, and feel lighter and much more alert.
MLT: What else can people do to improve their health through diet?
CP: Exercise five to six times a week—moderately vigorous, not walking around the block with your friends chatting. Skip junk food at any level.
MLT: What characterizes truly healthy cooking?
CP: Food in the least processed state that’s in-season and has no refined sugars. Meals built with whole grains and vegetables are optimum. Most of the antioxidants we need come from fresh vegetables.
MLT: What does a typical day of healthy eating taste like for Christina Pirello?
CP: In the morning, I usually opt for some type of porridge and steamed green vegetables. I’m not a big snacker, but if I need something before lunch, I’ll have peanut butter and an apple or a piece of good-quality dark chocolate—sometimes all three. Lunch is always leftovers. And for dinner, it’s usually a bean soup, a whole grain or pasta dish, veggies. I always finish the day with a raw salad.
MLT: What’s the best cooking advice you’ve received?
CP: To develop my knife skills so I’m fast and efficient in the prep. My advice is to invest in really good cookware and knives—and learn how to use them.
MLT: How did you get started in the “healthy vacation” business?
CP: My husband and I were lying on a beach in St. John and I was starving, but there was nothing healthy to eat. So, off the cuff, he said, “Maybe we should start a travel business that focuses on healthy eating.” I sort of laughed at him—but here we are. Our first trip was in 1990. It’s been great. People love it. And they love learning to cook healthy food with a global twist.