Obsession/Profession: Interview with Zinester/Traveling Vegan Chef Joshua Ploeg

Microcosm’s Joe Biel recently interviewed In Search of the Lost Taste vegan cookbook author/zinester Joshua Ploeg for an upcoming book. Here’s an excerpt from the interview. See the rest of the interview in Biel’s Beyond Resistance and Community, a look at, as Biel says, “People who grew up punk and took it to other places than music,” out in 2010 on Garrett County Press.

Q: Can you talk about your background in punk and how that came about in your life? What was your childhood like that made punk attractive?

A: Sure! I was pretty open-minded about music as a kid, and punk was a part of the whole tapestry. My sister was a punk first, I always liked her music. The whole attitude and politics of it was great and pretty appealing. I seemed quiet and a bit odd but once you got me going I was hard to shut up. Thus, I liked all of the yammering that punk tends to do. And as with most young people, the aggressive music helped get the yayas out (and I had a lot of yayas). Reagan sucked. Idaho sucked. People picked on me a bit (I didn’t care) but the punks were always cool to me. Also later on there was some solid support for being queer in the punk/DIY scene, especially in Olympia, which needless to say I loved. 

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Yes, make ME GAY the center of attention, please! At first I was more of a metal/goth type and punk was appealing as a more left-wing but equally offensive variation. It was in the ’80s that I started digging the music and going to shows, which, hey! punk shows were a couple of bucks and metal ones were $15-20. Punk shows had a small room where you knew everyone, and a pit. Metal shows were at the coliseum with 20,000 assholes, security and a huge barricade. No contest. Punk had good attitude—like me, elitist and egalitarian, at the same time. Once I moved to Olympia and went to college, it was so easy to participate. I dove into going to shows, putting on shows, zines, and playing music; a fast progression ‘cuz of the way things
were in the ’90s: more emo and guilt! Love it! It made it easy to just do whatever I wanted.

Q: How did you get involved in travel chefery/cooking and authoring cookbooks? How do you feel you have evolved and developed that interest into adulthood?

A: The cooking started the first time I became vegan. I was hosting bands all the time and also loved having people over. I loved to eat and loved taste. Thus, it was incumbent
upon me to try to make the vegan food taste better. After much failure I finally began to succeed. Then one day Jeff
Bettger said, “I’d pay for food like this,” and I started a secret cafe in my house pretty much immediately. For this I would constantly research and experiment with different dishes and styles until I developed quite a repertoire and a lot of my own recipes. My friend Andy Gilligan convinced me to have a book group. I would work on my cookbook and he on a children’s book. He insisted I put the recipes together. Eventually I finished it and when this was done the only model to pedal it I had was touring, so I did that. But I didn’t have a car so I just took the Greyhound and Amtrak everywhere. The often dire circumstances of cooking with whatever was available in so many different kitchens and towns honed my skills and brought out whatever latent talents that I had to the point that it turned into
an obsession/profession. It developed into a passion from experience.

Q: It seems what’s most impressive about your work is that you transitioned very directly from touring
with your bands to touring alone with your knives. Was this choice conscious? In what ways were the skills you were employing a direct result of your experience with punk?

A: Yeah, it was the only way I knew how. I didn’t realize how novel it was until the touring was well underway. Promoters were like, “Oh, you’re coming down. What’s your new band? What do you mean ‘dinner party’?!” It was great ‘cuz it could happen anywhere, anytime, any night of the week! Easy to book.

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My punk touring experience was the whole thing of it. We would play at noon or at midnight—any time. In a club, barn, gazebo, hall, basement, vacant lot, church, garage, record store; anywhere! For punks, middle-aged types, kids, heshers, hippies; anyone! And with Lois Maffeo through Man Is the Bastard; any style! Van breaks down, skinheads show up, stay in collectives, squats, dirty-ass places, cars—great PA or no PA, power going out, getting electrocuted; Whatever the circumstances were, do it for the experience. Always some kind of thrill, good or bad. Even boredom is kind of exciting. All of that translated to the cooking in crazy kitchens, hauling huge bags of groceries for a mile or two, abundance or lack of gear or customers, shopping for groceries wherever possible until the ingredients are all there; if you can find them all! Hanging out waiting for stuff to happen; I was ready for that; it carried over in spades!

Q: What are you most excited about in your own future? What can we expect from you?

A: I’m excited about upcoming tours and doing some new things with food and recipe books. Combining all of the mediums we’ve discussed into the realm of recipes and live food events. The latest experiments this year in combining food and design were pretty cool. More of that to come. I’m stoked to go to more countries and really live up to these monikers like “The Traveling Chef” and “The Touring Chef.”