Yet all of these things come together in Joshua Ploeg, a touring vegan chef, caterer, author, and noisy punk rock singer who finds himself ending up in various places in the US on any given day. From Sacramento to Milwaukee to Minneapolis, Joshua cooks, sings, and writes, blending his passions into ten quirky cookbooks available from Microcosm Publishing.
One thing is clear, Joshua likes to play (his book titles include Comfort Eating with Nick Cave: Vegan Recipes to Get Deep Inside You) and he’s definitely not alone in his adventures. Writer and musician Automne Zingg illustrates his recipes and commentary, describing all the pages as “jokes.”
It’s not all about the cooking though. There is also a book for lovers of raw food, So Raw It’s Downright Filthy. Visit his website, and you can pick up a smattering of recipes along with photos of his vegan feasts and events. It all seems so scrumptious and fun that you may just find yourself wanting to hang out with him. Joshua, it seems, can definitely be found where the party is.
We had a word with Joshua in between the sautéing and the singing, and here’s what unfolded:
EE: A common stereotype of vegans as calm yogis sitting lotus-style while softly chanting a mantra is thrown on its ear when you add the idea of the mad thrashings of a punk ranting discontent. What kind of reactions do you get from people about the pairing of veganism and punk rock?
JP: Ah, you’re getting somewhere with that question. My books are between categories in a lot of ways, a little weird by both standards, and hard to drop into handy categories…Thus both vegans and punk rockers largely ignore them much like the rest of society. It’s okay though. I am used to being a part of a cult within a cult. A book with a toilet on the cover and pictures of garbage doesn’t really appeal to most vegans. And meanwhile recipes with 20 ingredients and a sophisticated concept don’t really appeal to punks.
EE: Punk music challenges the establishment. So does veganism. Are there other similarities that you appreciate that might not be obvious at a quick glance?
JP: Absolutely. Having to deal with the circumstances at hand and making things work. Vegans will eat what is vegan and that often will be only one thing or nothing. Gotta make your food out of whatever random crap is around, much like punk rockers trying to have a show with a lousy PA.
EE: What brought you down the road of a vegan diet?
JP: I really don’t want to kill an animal personally, so I figure why would I have other people do it for me? I also assume veganism is the diet of the future, so I see people mostly eating that way in space, and I want to be like them. Also I grew up on a dairy farm so my point of view about that is a big sigh and, “guess I should probably go vegan.”
EE: Your meals have been described as meals that “sparkle in your mouth.” What made you want to be such a good cook, how did you do it, and when did you start?
JP: I threw shows and people from Europe told me that over there they would feed bands, give them great places to stay and provide backline. Of those three I was like, “Hey maybe I can cook these bands some food!” I also wanted to be a good host, especially if the show was shitty. At first the food I made was pretty terrible. I wanted to make it better… then I started having dinner parties so that different friends could meet one another and I could experiment.
This turned into a secret cafe, and then cookbooks and touring based on a cross between punk bands and a medieval journeyman. The whole time I wanted to learn more and get better, to combine magic and illusion, punk attitude, weird texture, anger, joy and other emotions and just whatever was on my mind into the food…
Still working on that! I still taste things, do research, ask questions and let other people cook for me whenever possible. I pay rapt attention and eventually I learn.
EE: Okay I’m curious about your hot fudge and cheese curd sundaes. Are they a hit?
Can you tell me about some other unconventional pairings that go over well with the crowd? If you’re brave and honest enough to answer this, have there been any bombs that have left you thinking, “Yeah, that seemed like a good idea, but…yuck?” I ask you this because I assume you are experimenting all the time.
JP: Haha- we haven’t made these yet…though I do weird combos. Some work, some don’t. Chocolate and garlic: the coated, roasted cloves are great, but a torte I made was terrible. Also once I made a ‘Tea Tree Oil Stew,’ which really only had about one drop of tea tree oil. It was so gnarly that the one person who ate it still brings it up years later, and I hardly ever see them! The idea with that kind of thing is to build a bridge between two extreme flavors, thinking of things to put in it that will help them make sense together.
EE: Your cookbook titled So Raw It’s Downright Filthy is about, unsurprisingly, raw
food. You say “The raw diet can be a party!” Convince me.
JP: That book, oddly, is my best seller, even with the garbage photos and the toilet on the cover and the intro that says “Eating raw is a terrible idea.” Essentially raw food is like any other cuisine or style. If you do it right, it’s gonna be good. If you do it really, really wrong it might be entertaining.
EE: Along the same idea, I used to have a roommate who was vegan and she assured me she could make a vegan version of Shepherd’s Pie that was as good as a meat version. It was terrible and bland (sorry Ginny, if you’re reading this). Tell me what you’re doing differently. Promise me people don’t have to dumb down their taste buds to enjoy vegan cuisine.
JP: They don’t. For that you’d want to make sure there is enough flavor, spice, salt… all of that. Nothing needs to be too overwhelming (for example, there were times when I would add too much cumin, or 25 spices to something). Subtlety is a lost art… at the same time bland is not “subtle” and that is an important thing to understand. I guess you could say it’s all in the balance.
EE: How do you see the vegan lifestyle tying in with responsible food sustainability?
JP: As mentioned above, it is food of the future. There will be no cows in space.
Sustainability is about resource management and distribution. Get these two down and everything should go smoothly.
I plan on slowly learning more about making plants and fungi and things that grow in hostile environments, and also making low water crops more nutritious…I want to use fewer resources to make more.
EE: You have very interesting titles to your cookbooks: Comfort Eating with Nick Cave: Vegan Recipes to Get Deep Inside, and Defensive Eating with Morrissey, to name just a couple. In Defensive Eating with Morrissey, you have over a hundred recipes that are each accompanied by an illustrated portrait of Morrissey eating. Have you ever heard from Morrissey about this, and how come Morrissey gets the description of defensive, and Nick Cave gets paired with comfort food?
JP: We can thank Automne Zinng, the artist, for those two lovely titles. I am responsible for So Raw It’s Downright Filthy, Something Delicious This Way Comes, DUTCH MUCH!!??, and others. Morrissey’s people have been in touch but I don’t think they plan to give a ringing endorsement. Might be too cavalier and amazing, don’t get burned by the fiyahhhhhh!
EE: Can I give this book to my grandmother? Or say, some uncool neighbor who is into harp music instead of punk?
JP: Certainly, they are fun for anyone! Maybe slightly risqué but nothing too extreme. Like taking a walk through the Vatican, there are some things that could be a little gasp-inducing, but the general opulence overwhelms the senses into an acquiescent blur. Additionally, I will soon be taking up lily harp to add to my mandolin, tin whistle and bodhran. Should be grand enough for grandma.