Recently veganism and vegan diet has arrived on TV and it seems it came to stay. After years of vegan blogs and cookbooks taking over the world the time that vegan food would appear on the most popular screen has arrived. Watching vegan chefs you admire cooking some of their best recipes is a way more exciting that just seeing pictures of recipes. Cook shows are popular – I am a fan, have to admit – and it is great that vegan cook shows can follow the same path and it is pretty amazing that some people decided to make production of this type os shows their job. I am talking here about Betsy Carson, creator and producer of television show Vegan Mashup, aired last year.
Carson isn’t just a very talented producer but also the woman behind Delicious TV, which was founded in 2003 and has been producing television shows to spread the word about plant-based diet. Today she is busy getting everything ready to produce Vegan Mashup Season 2 and this includes the hard work of fundraising. Everyone can help, contributing through Vegan Mashup website. If you live in the U.S it’s tax-deductable. They are also looking for business and non-profits to be a public television sponsor.
If you haven’t watched Vegan Mashup Season 1 yet, it is now online and in October (for Vegetarian Awareness Month), they will be donating 50% of all viewing proceeds to Friends of Animals, one of the show’s major sponsors.
Carson took her precious time to talk to AAVF about Delicious TV, all shows she has produced (so far) and her personal life:
You have a solid career as a producer and filmmaker. In 2003 you founded Delicious TV, “a progressive media company committed to promoting a plant-based diet to the American public”. How and why did you decide to create your own company and with this focus?
After the first series of Delicious TV’s Totally Vegetarian was made, because I knew I wanted to do more of this type of programming. So I made Delicious TV an entity.
Let’s talk a little bit about your first shows. Was Totally Vegetarian your first plant-based show? How was to work with Toni Fiore?
Yes, Totally Vegetarian was the first cooking show I’d ever produced. I met Toni Fiore in 2002 through my partner and the three of us were chatting about the complete lack of vegetarian cooking shows on TV. So pretty much right away, it became, “Why don’t we make one?” Toni immediately raised her hand to be the on camera host and we aired that original show on Portland, Maine Public Access TV. Two years later we had created over 13 episodes, so in 2005 I found a public television distributor for it, and it began airing on public television stations across the country. We went on to make 4 seasons, 52 episodes in total that had over 53,000 airings to date. It also aired in Canada, Romania, and Bulgaria.
Toni is a lot of fun and we’re both very committed to helping animals, plus she loves to cook and is a natural performer. Her recipes are easy and delicious. And when the chips are down, she is always the one to say “Don’t worry, it’s going to work out.”
How was the public feedback on the show?
I think the feedback was very good. We’ve gotten supportive letters from so many people over the years. When we were in NYC last spring for the NYC Food Festival, we were about to hail a cab and a young women called out, “Toni! Is that you? I love your show!” So we chatted with her for a few minutes about the show. Because we’re so low budget and we don’t do many live events, we rarely get to see how people receive the show, so that was a really nice moment.
In 2010 Vegan Hotspot was created. In the show photographer and host Linda Long talked to friends and celebrities. Usually, talk shows like this are very popular between audiences, how was the reception to Vegan Hotspot?
I think we were still in the pioneering stages as a web show. We had no budget to speak of and no real marketing plan. So it hasn’t gone as far as it could. Today I think it would be way more popular. People are watching everything online these days. But funding these projects and making them sustainable are tricky.
VegEz s a vegan recipe podcast available on iTunes. They are short videos, showing how to prepare meals. Is it harder to produce and film shorter videos?
Much easier to produce short videos, yes, because it’s far less expensive than producing a half hour TV show. I basically started it in 2007 when we were in a hiatus of making the TV show, using segments of the TV show just to keep putting the idea of vegan living into the universe. Then we started putting together stand-alone pieces, once I figured out a formula to put them together quickly. It also helps that Toni lives only about 20 minutes from me. But even though producing web video content is a fairly easy process at this point, it’s more of a labor of love and still quite a struggle to provide free content.
Your latest creation is Vegan Mashup, which got a lot of media attention whit its Season 1 and now Season 2 is funded and about to begin. How the idea of having three chefs preparing vegan meals on TV came to you?
Well…Season 2 isn’t fully funded. Yet! But we are moving forward with production as we look for additional funding. I came up with the idea because I wanted to show the world there are people creating amazing plant-based cuisine––really spectacular to look at and taste! I also wanted to help the Vegan Mashup chefs to sell more cookbooks so the information and methods they’re sharing can get out there to more people. Once we got started, I started to meet a lot more vegan chefs and have become aware of so many more. So this show could go on for years…if I can figure out how to
pay for it.
You have worked with Toni Fiore before, but why Miyoko Schinner and Terry Hope Romero to complete the team of chefs on Vegan Mashup?
As I was starting to look around at possible candidates, Miyoko approached me and I became an instant fan. She is a very talented woman and on a mission, plus she has a lot of on-camera experience, so I wanted her to be part of it. Terry is a celebrity in the vegan world and beyond, also a woman with a lot of culinary and TV experience, so I sought her out and she said yes. And because I see Vegan Mashup as a spinoff of the original show, Toni was naturally part of the picture. I needed people comfortable with a camera in their face and that’s not necessarily part of a chef’s training. I also wanted to prove how culturally diverse the vegan world is and the food these chefs create offers flavors that intersect in a variety of cross-cultural ways. I also thought if I could throw in a guest chef, it would be icing on the cake.
How is to work with three chefs with unique cooking features and coming from different cities?
I love the different style they each have and I appreciate the differences in their individual on-camera personalities. I’d love to have them cooking together in the same kitchen and we’re really hoping to find the further funding to make that happen. Maybe they all have to cook together for an event. Like Ellen’s wedding. Or Bill Clinton’s birthday party. Hmm…
How the script of each episode is decided? How do you chose the recipes?
We usually set up an online meeting and I throw out episode ideas and they each talk about what recipes they want to do for each episode. If they don’t like an idea for an episode, it gets canned. I remember the hardest recipes to come to agreement on were those for the Cheap Eats episode from Season 1. I wanted to call it the Food Stamps Budget episode because there are so many people who struggle to afford to eat healthy food. I wanted to set the budget at $5 to feed a family of four, but after a lot of discussion, we decided on $10. Frankly, I think it’d be nice if we raised the food stamp allowance, but that’s a whole other discussion.
What are the most complex phases of production a TV show like Vegan Mashup? And which is the most expensive phase?
Scheduling, definitely! Everyone is busy and logistics are always a challenge. Fundraising is the most painful because I hate asking for money. And post production is typically the most expensive. I usually do the editing, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when you consider all the other post-production that’s required, like color correction, putting the episodes to tape, and having them close-captioned. Then, we have to pay for a satellite feed to send it out to stations to air the show. Some day I hope to hire out most of the tasks instead of doing so much of it myself.
What can we expect from Vegan Mashup Season 2?
The format will be similar to Season 1. We’ll see. With fundraising still happening, anything could happen and we haven’t rolled cameras yet so some things might change. But the focus will always be on showing people how to cook vegan food that’s delicious, satisfying, and good for you and the planet.
What makes a TV show successful in your professional opinion?
An audience, for sure! And an audience engaged by the on-camera talent and what they’re doing. But I have a confession: I don’t own a TV. And I don’t watch cooking shows.
At AAVF we love to know more about the people behind the scenes in every vegan project, initiative or business. Could you tell us more about Betsy Carson in one paragraph?
By way of New York and San Francisco, I’ve been in Maine for 22 years. I’m currently located in Willard Beach where, among other projects, my life and filmmaking partner Kate Kaminski and I created a fictional comedy web series with the same name (http://willardbeach.tv). We have a little dog named Truman and my office is in our house. We tore up most of our driveway last year and sold our second car. We recycle, compost, feed the birds, squirrels, butterflies, and bees in our garden and on occasion see foxes and wild turkeys in the neighborhood. I stress and struggle with funding projects, but ultimately I’m grateful that I can even indirectly help animals via the programming that we create.
(Photos courtesy of Delicious TV)