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Tejal Rao, the New York Times California restaurant critic, hired a refrigerator full of ’70s veggie muppets this month to announce her new vegetarian newsletter on Twitter – and her followers couldn’t get enough of the sauerkraut, corn, carrots and coconuts on the shelves.
That’s the welcoming spirit that Ms. Rao wants to bring to her newsletter, The Veggie, which debuted last week and comes out every Thursday. It’s part of the Times’ effort to help readers who want to eat more vegetables.
In a conversation, Ms. Rao spoke about her ambitions for the newsletter, revealed some rejected titles, and revealed the one vegetable she can’t stand.
You are an omnivore – when did you start to eat vegetarian?
I have been vegetarian my whole life. My parents both cooked a lot at home and it was probably vegetarian at least a couple of times a week – a Gujarati-style dal with rice and a vegetable or two, or something French or Italian based on dried lentils and starch and seasonal vegetables. Meat and seafood were part of the week, but they weren’t necessary at every meal and weren’t always the focus of the meal.
How has your diet changed during the pandemic?
When the supply chain collapsed, I bought a lot less meat and fish. I signed up for a Farmbox delivery every other week and mostly cooked vegetables and that really realigned me as a cook.
Views of vegetarian recipes on NYT Cooking have increased nearly 50 percent in the past year. Did the idea for this newsletter exist before the pandemic or did it arise from the increasing interest in vegetarian content?
My editors have been talking about putting out more and more vegetarian recipes for years, and I’ve long wanted to do The Times’ newsletter, but this data is still useful because it suggests an instant appetite for work.
Is the newsletter aimed at long-time vegetarians or at people who may not be vegetarians but would like to incorporate more vegetables into their diet?
It’s for anyone with an interest. But I have to admit, I especially love the idea of convincing people who think they are not interested in vegetarian food at all that it is them, that it is tasty, that it is accessible, that it is great for them is.
Was it always called The Veggie?
One of the rejected names was Totally Herbaceous which didn’t get very far because it’s too long and very silly and nobody liked it. We all liked The Veggie right away – it just felt warm, friendly and welcoming. And that idea came from Owen Dodd, an engineer who worked on The Veggie in his early days. A lot of the rejected names didn’t feel right because they connoted diet culture in some small, insidious way, and I absolutely didn’t mean to do that – The Veggie isn’t about abstinence, it’s about feasting.
Is there still a social stigma about being a vegetarian?
I think it depends on where you are, who you hang out with and what you have access to, but to me it feels so misguided and so boring.
It seems like the Times is adding more vegetarian recipes to its coverage these days. If this is the case?
We are publishing fewer meat recipes than before and the number of vegetarian recipes will continue to grow.
You live on the west coast. How does California’s vegetarian scene compare to New York City?
There is a really lively vegetarian and vegan scene here, from baking to cheese making to fast food. I covered a bit about it – I wrote an article about vegan taquerias last year. But the really exciting thing is that it doesn’t just happen here.
Confession time: are there any vegetables that you really dislike?
Raw peppers, something about the aroma and wateriness is a little repulsive to me. I love them cooked however! Just not raw.
Oh no! They are my favorite vegetables!
They explode with crispy, juicy goodness. The oranges and yellows are the best.
Hm no. [Laughs]
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