When we think about “eating for life,” we seldom think about what that really means as humans. In veganism, to truly “eat for life,” is to eat in a way that both enhances and sustains life – all life. In other words, “eating for life” should NOT ONLY enhance ones own life, but should be supportive of ALL life forms. Herein is our biggest misunderstanding as humans: “what constitutes life?” Well, no one understands this concept better than Sharon Gannon, co-founder of the Jivamukti Yoga School based in New York City.
Sitting down with Sharon Gannon is an opportunity to be in front of one of the world’s greatest yoga teachers whose primary mission is to spread the love of compassionate eating and compassionate living.
When asked about her philosophy towards achieving personal happiness, Sharon explains, “It is important to live simply and work hard to uplift the lives of others and in doing so, we ourselves, uplift our own lives.” Sharon applies this beautiful philosophy to her cooking and shares her secrets towards happiness and compassionate living with us in this exclusive interview with Yogi Times.
Donnalynn: You've been involved in many special vegan endeavors over the years, but what made you decide to develop your own cookbook?
Sharon Gannon: When I moved to Woodstock, NY in 1999 I found myself for the first time with a house, which enabled me to entertain friends and family - so I started to cook for them. When it was decided that dinner was a success, I wrote down the recipe. Over the years those recipes accumulated and in 2006, we opened the Jivamuktea Café in New York City and I continued to develop more recipes to be served on its menu.
My job as Founding Director of a yoga school demands that I write lots of procedure/how-to manuals, so I was used to doing this kind of thing. A cookbook is definitely a procedure manual. I spend most of my time writing these days and currently have many books in the works. A couple of years ago I contacted a literary agent to help me publish the cookbook. He took it around and we received so many rejections that he advised me to publish it myself. Then one day last summer I received a phone call from a wonderful person at Penguin who said that she had heard I had a cookbook and they might be interested in publishing it, could I come in for a meeting? And so it went. It is all because Megan Newman, Vice President and editorial director of Avery/Penguin who took a chance with me that the book is a reality. It is because of Megan Newman that my first vegan cookbook, Simple Recipes For Joy was born.
Donnalynn: Can you tell us a bit about your food philosophy and how it relates to one's overall happiness?
Sharon Gannon: Live simply; make compassionate choices when it comes to food. The best way to uplift your own life is to do all you can to uplift the lives of others. If we ourselves want to be free and happy then it is crucial that we understand that by enslaving and harming animals we will never be able to achieve our goal. What we do to others will always come back to us. You can’t expect to be happy by causing unhappiness to others. When there is a choice, it is always best to choose kindness. Veganism is simply the kinder choice.
What you eat should not just be “good for you” but it should contribute to your happiness—it should make you a happier person. Everything we do should contribute to happiness. The SAD diet—(the Standard American Diet) can only make you sad. Eating meat and dairy products is the SAD diet. It causes heart disease, cancer, diabetes and makes you fat. Raising animals for food destroys the environment. And those animals are not happy-- they are enslaved and live humiliating, fearful lives of abuse and tremendous suffering. Billons are murdered every year. That’s a lot of suffering—all for no good reason. Veganism turns sadness into joy—Simple Recipes for Joy!
Yoga has the power to make you a kinder person and a happier person. The secret to happiness is to make others happy. The most important thing that any of us can do at this time is to dare to care about the happiness and well-being of others, including other animals and the Earth. Simply put, by being a vegan (eating a plant-based diet) you can contribute to more joy and happiness in the world. Yoga may not be for everyone—but veganism can be—at least for every human being. Not everyone can stand on his or her head but everyone eats. To make kind choices when it comes to food is something simple and easy that we all can do to reduce the overall violence and suffering in the world today.
Donnalynn: Please share about your personal journey to veganism and how it empowered you to do the work you do today?
Sharon Gannon: Throughout my early adult years I was an on again off again vegetarianism. I actually was trying not to eat any food and live on air. In 1982 I saw a British documentary movie, The Animals’ Film. The film probed into the relationship between human beings and other animals. It exposed in graphic detail the cruel, exploitive, and inhumane way that we treat animals using them for entertainment, food, clothing and military as well as scientific research. I was shocked. The movie changed my life in a way that no experience before had—I was turned upside down—and questioned everything I was doing with my life. The education that the film provided made me ask the question, “If I wasn’t contributing to stopping the insanity I saw depicted in the film, what was the value in anything I was doing?”
I took a vow to spend the rest of my life finding a cure for the disease of speicieism—the horrible prejudice against animals that had infected myself as well as most of humanity. Veganism was the obvious first step. Yoga came shortly after. Yoga gave me a voice and validation, because within the yogic teachings is a logical platform for veganism and animal rights/environmental activism.
Donnalynn: What advice would you give to new yogi's in terms of adopting a clean, vegan diet for the first time?
Sharon Gannon: Get a vegan cookbook and start experimenting. Have fun with it. Can’t get motivated? Then watch an animal rights film like “The Animals Film” or “Earthlings” or “Cowspiracy” or “Glass Walls”. Or read chapter five of “Yoga and Vegetarianism”. In other words—get smart—educate yourself.
Donnalynn: Where can readers sample some of the recipes from your book?
Sharon Gannon: The organic vegan Jivamuktea Cafe in New York City! You can also check out simplerecipesforjoy.com for some of the recipes, which are available on the site for free downloading.
Donnalynn: What would you say needs to be the key "ingredient" in vegan cooking?
Sharon Gannon: Joy and simplicity. I think a meal should be able to be prepared in less than an hour and it should be prepared happily. If you are upset—it is best not to enter the kitchen. The emotions of the cook are transferred into the food. While cooking you should keep your mind on God. Before eating, offer your food to God and ask for God to bless the food as prasad. Eat only prasad (food that you have offered to God first) as it contains not only physical nourishment but spiritual nourishment as well. Without spiritual health, no true physical health can be possible. Eating prasad will cure you of selfishness, anger, greed and all those nasty annoying things.
Donnalynn: Any plans to expand your cookbook to a cooking program or interactive youtube video series?
Sharon Gannon: I have made a few Youtube cooking videos for our followers to enjoy.
Donnalynn: what will you do next - yoga or food related?
Sharon Gannon: I’m working on a performance piece with David Life and violinist Tim Fain, and will go on tour with the book. Then we will continue to teach our annual Master Classes in NYC, our month long teacher training course in India, and four teacher training courses next year. In between I will be working on completing a couple of new books—stay tuned!
Also read more on Shanon Garron here: the yogi's guide to peaceful eating