When I think marshmallows my mind takes me back to… Movies! What? Yes, you read it right. As a Brazilian these sweet treats weren’t part of my childhood – or adulthood to be honest – but I always had curiosity about them (and we have something similar in Brazil too). And considering that I just started traveling internationally after becoming vegan the first time I ate marshmallows they were vegan ones and they were Dandies Vegan Marshmallows from Chicago Vegan Foods. I feel in love and then felt sad that I can’t find them easily in Europe. Yummy platonic love story.
Because of them and also because of this website I started following closely Chicago Vegan Foods and everything they launch sounds delicious to me so I decided to get in contact for a interview with founders, also because I’m always amazed to see men involved with veganism and vegan projects and products (I’ve read last week that 70% of vegans are women so one more reason to give all thumbs up to vegan men and entrepreneurs out there!).
If you’re not familiar with Chicago Vegan Food, their star products are Dandies Vegan Marshmallows, Teese Vegan Cheese and Temptation Vegan Ice Cream. Company “was started over a decade ago by teenage friends Ryan Howard and Dan Ziegler with the goal of merging their love for animals and activism into a business that could help bring awareness to veganism.”
Ryan Howard, President and co-founder of Chicago Vegan Foods, took time to answer my questions, including a personal hardcore related one:
I’ve read that inspired you both to become vegan, two decades ago, was John Robbins. Can you still recall what exactly made you think “I can’t do it anymore”?
My grandmother taught me about ethics and about being a good person… about doing “what’s right”. Veganism was so black and white to me that I felt I had no choice.
I’ve become vegan around two decades ago too, but in Brazil, and it’s crazy to think how much things have changed for vegans since that time. What are the biggest changes you can notice in America or at least in Chicago regarding veganism?
The word “vegan” has become more accepted. The obvious thing would be that the food is more readily available… but to me, it’s just that people don’t look at you like a freak anymore. They are open to a discussion about the lifestyle.
How did you guys met? And how the idea of starting Chicago Vegan Foods came up?
I’ve known Dan since 1995 or so through the Animal Rights scene back in Indianapolis.
Chicago Vegan Foods began as Chicago Soydairy. I thought the idea up when traveling in northern Indiana, wondering why the natural food companies were on the coasts when the raw materials (soybeans) were being grown in the midwest. The original idea was to have local ‘soydairies’ that would make non-dairy milk in gallon milk jugs… which people were very familiar with. There was a fun part about getting on Oprah and appealing to all the “Oprah Moms” out there that never really materialized.
When I had the idea, Dan was the first person that popped into my head. He had a solid head on his shoulders and was not lazy, like a lot of the kids I knew. He was willing to work extremely hard to make his company happen. I absolutely couldn’t have done it without him.
At All About Vegan Food we love to know more about the people behind vegan business, so I always ask this question: could you say a bit more about yourself and your daily life in one paragraph?
I’m Ryan Howard and dedicated to putting animal industries out of business. I have a wife, a ten year old son, and a few hairy animals that make owning a Roomba vacuum a necessity. They (all) give me the strength to do a good job every day and work through the night when needed. I really enjoy everything about running a manufacturing plant: equipment, employees, research and development. Every day is a new challenge and I love seeing projects come together.
As someone who became vegan in the hardcore scene I want to ask you this too: I’ve read that Earth Crisis are still one of your favorite bands. Are you guys still into hardcore?
Is the question: “Are you getting old?” or is it simply “are you still into hardcore?” I’m definitely getting a bit older with my musical tastes now. I only liked a little bit of harcore (EC especially). Unfortunately, I also feel hardcore ruined the vegan straight edge scene for many people as it prioritized the music over the message of veganism. Whoops. Earth Crisis is an amazing band though and I can’t imagine what I’d have done without them. (Thanks, EC!)
Tricky question: Favorite one: vegan marshmallows, cheese or ice cream?
Easy: Ice cream with marshmallows inside, topped with cheese sauce. Seriously though, those marshmallows are pretty special.
Do you find time to cook at home? If yes, what’s the most popular dish there?
My beautiful wife totally became a better cook than me! So much better that I’m generally embarrassed to cook anymore. The other night, I made a ‘hamburger helper’ -style meal at her request… of course, she followed it up the next night with an African Nut Soup over rice which is one of the best dishes ever. She showed me up.
What’s the best aspect of running a vegan business?
First, it’s knowing that your day to day operations are cutting away at sales from animal based foods. That’s what they care about and that’s how we hurt them.
Second, there’s an added level of comfort that goes with running a vegan business. My employees can really get behind it and be proud because it is in line with their beliefs.
After topping every vegan dream ( marshmallows, cheese and ice cream) with Chicago Vegan Foods can we still expect any big news coming from you guys?
New products ARE on the horizon! After being quiet for a bit, we are planning on some new and exciting products. Innovate or die! Stay tuned…