From Hard Facts to Fun Fiction: “Skinny Bitch” Author Kim Barnouin Pens Breezy Summer Read – By Nell Alk
Chances are, if you’re of the plant-based persuasion, you’ve become acquainted with Skinny Bitch. Heck, perhaps the bestselling book was the reason you went vegan in the first place.
A vegetarian since 18 and at 23 toying with ditching dairy and eggs (and fur—never part of my repertoire—leather, wool, down and silk), co-authors Kim Barnouin and Rory Freedman encouraged me, with their refreshingly forthright tome, to transition to the kinder side. Thanks to them, I took the compassionate plunge and haven’t looked back.
Over the years since its release in 2005 (though it came to my attention in 2007), I’ve kept up with the brilliant babes behind Bitch. From Skinny Bitch in the Kitch to Skinny Bitch Book of Vegan Swaps, and everything in between, the franchise never failed to relay something new in a way that was both entertaining and educational.
Imagine my excitement when I discovered Barnouin was dropping a novel! After all their lovely lessons in health, wellness and cooking, I was eager to sink my teeth into something a little lighthearted. No ingredients needed, save for sunglasses, a towel and a tall glass of H2O. Indeed, the 44-year-old blonde bombshell had branched out and broken onto the beach read scene.
Skinny Bitch in Love, which hit shelves last month, is nothing if not a blast, a romp of a story set in Santa Monica and following leading lady and skillful sous-chef turned entrepreneur Clementine Cooper. The plant-powered protagonist not only falls in love, as the title implies, but also hits several snags along the way, both personally and professionally. And who can’t relate to that?
Now, I’m not one to fawn over chick lit, but when the heroine eschews animal products, I can’t help but sit up and take note. It’s rare to find a narrative to which I can so readily relate. It’s a guilt-free treat that I highly recommend to veggie and omni ladies alike. Next up from the ever-active author, wife and mother? Skinny Bitch Gets Hitched. (Literally can’t wait to get my hands on it, though it won’t be out until at least next summer.)
In the meantime, Barnouin took a few minutes last week to talk with me about her foray into fiction—what inspired this literary shift, what the writing process was like and why just such a story needed to be told. She also offers advice to the vegan-curious, shares why and how she went veg and hints at what’s up next (besides Hitched) for the Bitch brand.
First of all, congratulations on Skinny Bitch in Love. Had you always been thinking about getting into fiction writing?
I hadn’t. I was really happy doing health [and] nutrition [books and] cookbooks. Two years ago, with my son and my mom on vacation, I’m looking around at all these people on the beach reading summer novels. The light bulb went off. I thought, Wow, I think I want to be part of this. I called my literary agent that minute.
Have you always had the propensity to write fiction, or was this your first stab at it?
This was my very first stab at it. When I was young, I was writing like a maniac. I would write these crazy fiction stories from, like, 10 years old to maybe 13 or 14. I stopped doing it, getting into [my] teenage years, [and] I never tried again after that.
Was it a painful process at all?
Sometimes it can be. Most of the time, no. I can get in the zone and get into the characters and the story. But, other times, when I try to force myself to sit down and do it, it’s like birds chirping in my brain. Most of the time it was an absolute joy. But, there were times when nothing was coming. It does get difficult.
But, overall, it was a positive experience.
It was a great experience. It was such an exciting thing, putting characters together, putting lives together. I’m so glad I did it. I just tried to mix the Skinny Bitch brand and food and being vegan, so it wasn’t coming out of left field.
For sure. It’s seamless. So, for whom would you say the book is intended?
I think it’s for a younger generation. People in their twenties and thirties. It’s nice because those are the people who are influential. They’re the people who are coming up, who are going to be making a difference, hopefully in animal rights or nutrition or food. That would be a wonderful thing.
Agreed. And now you’re editing the follow-up, Skinny Bitch Gets Hitched. Clever title.
It’s cute, you know? They’re fun books to read. I spend so much time doing heavy research on food and nutrition. I like reading books that take me away, get me out of my head for a while. That’s what I like about these books.
Absolutely. There are endless chick lit titles on library and bookstore shelves, but none, I’d venture to guess, are coming from the vegan perspective. Which completely shifts the vibe for the better. I really appreciated that. It was very refreshing. And long overdue.
Thank you. That’s been the whole goal, ever since the idea for these books started back in 2003. It was always to make veganism become more mainstream and more “normal.” We’ve come a long way. It’s getting much more attention. I thought it’d just be fun [to] keep it going, [to] have a character like this. This is our future. This is the way people are eating now. It may be the minority, but that minority is building. It’s all about trying to spread [the message] in a nonthreatening way so people think about it.
Would you say that’s why this book needed to be written?
Definitely. There’s a need for it. It’s nice to get people talking. One of the characters—the best friend and roommate, Sara—[is] not so perfect in the vegan world. I think people can relate to her struggles. Some of the characters are aces at it. For others, it doesn’t come as easily. But, they’re passionate and they work hard, so I definitely want to spread that message.
Did you become vegan for health reasons?
I did. I was sick all the time. I didn’t have health insurance and I didn’t have a lot of money to really delve into what was wrong. I was in the bookstore going through books about food, and food allergies would come up. I thought, Maybe food can be pretty powerful. I was so naïve about food, because I ate like crap. I changed my diet, [gave] up all my bad vices. I tried vegetarian for a while and started feeling great. Then I took it a step further: vegan. The whole process took me a year. It was a gradual change. All the sickness was gone. I couldn’t believe that changing my diet could be that powerful. Everyone was like, You look so great! Your skin, your eyes, your hair. And you’re feeling so much better. What’s your secret?
Thus, Skinny Bitch was born. So, what’s your own diet like?
There are times where I think, Have I had a salad this week? [Laughs] But, I go through periods where I eat really well, and really clean, because I want to be able to have my treats. I’m not the person who sits down and has, like, four cupcakes or ten cookies at a time. I don’t go nuts. Moderation helps. I feel like my diet is balanced.
And how has this vegan ethos spread to other aspects of your life?
The first few books were co-written with Rory Freedman and she was really into animal rights. She opened my eyes to so much going on that I never knew about. That got me to look at other areas. That inspired me. That made me realize that there’s more to it than just saying, I’m not going to eat animals. It’s a matter of [living] the lifestyle.
So you put out Skinny Bitch: Home, Beauty and Style. Any favorite cruelty-free companies?
Jane Iredale has got some really good makeup. Josie Maran has beautiful stuff as well. I got some argon oil from her line and it’s just spectacular. Mrs. Meyer’s I use for home cleaning. There’s this shampoo I found in a drug store, Shea Moisture. I was amazed by it. It is so good. It’s got absolutely pure ingredients. All things you can pronounce and understand. My main thing is looking at the ingredients. Reading the ingredients of things you’re going to put on your body means so much, because your skin’s going to absorb it all. I’m trying to get people to take charge of what they’re using and know what this stuff is.
Makes sense. Any advice for people considering going vegan?
Be easy on yourself. Don’t think you have to do this overnight. Take your time, do your homework. Eventually, this is how I want to eat. So, how do I get there? It’s just a matter of slowly giving things up.
Or, if they want to cut the crap cold turkey, more power to them! They can start with Skinny Bitch Book of Vegan Swaps! [Laughs] So what’s next on deck, apart from Hitched?
A baking book. Eighty recipes of ridiculously good desserts. Easy to make, no crazy, hard to find ingredients.
Skinny Bitch Bakes [a fictional company from Skinny Bitch in Love] come to life!
I like to cook, but I love to bake. I don’t like buying treats. There [are] so many preservatives and additives. Whatever I want I can make myself. I’ve had tons of failures, but trying it again and again you figure out what works. For me, it’s my meditation. Being in the kitchen and baking is so much fun for me. I really enjoy it.
Lucky son and husband! Lastly, what can Bitch fans expect further down the road?
I want to get back into the kitchen. I might do an all-encompassing cookbook. I did the Ultimate Everyday Cookbook a couple years ago. Fiction and cookbooks are on my favorites list, so I may be going back and forth [between] the two of those.
Whether you reside in New York (like I do), frequent it every chance you can, or still haven’t visited, few folks aren’t hip to the fact that the Big Apple is big on gastronomic satisfaction. Beyond being everyone’s favorite way to ward off doctors (get it?), the City That Never Sleeps is packed with foodstuffs to satisfy any and all culinary inclinations. From Momofuku to The Modern*, Del Posto to Dell’Anima*, this place is chock full of ways to tease your tongue and widen your waist. However, less recognized than, say, NYC’s fame-claimers like pizza** and bagels are the no less satiating vegan eateries.
Plant-based places abound and can be found in any neighborhood. From Candle 79 on the Upper East to Blossom in the West Village; from Peacefood Café on the Upper West to The Butcher’s Daughter on the Lower East, there’s exclusively cruelty-free fare to be sampled at virtually every subway stop. Despite seemingly limitless options, my latest favorite train destination takes me straight to TriBeCa. The southbound blue line transports me from my Chelsea apartment to Suite ThreeOhSix, the newest kind dining find on the island. And it’s nuanced, too!
Begun by 24-year-old Chef Daphne Cheng, this recently launched supperclub and academy is tucked away on Franklin Street, hidden in the middle of the block and bearing little indication that it’s there. (Perhaps that’s in part why Underground Eats took such a shining.)
This private loft—which for Saturday dinners seats 16—offers an alternative to your typical compassionate cuisine. Not to knock the meatless meals I’ve elsewhere had the pleasure of consuming, but S3O6 changes the game. And here’s why.
In addition to its under-the-radar space, Suite ThreeOhSix offers a surprising menu every time. Guests won’t know until they arrive what they’re poised to enjoy. They know in advance for how many courses they’re signed up (and the accompanying cost), but what comprises said courses remains a mystery. Ticketholders take a risk, but can rest assured they won’t discover any animal products. What’s more, they’re equally unlikely to uncover tofu and mock meats in Cheng’s dishes. She prefers instead to work with whole rather than processed foods to create her healthy-meets-haute masterpieces.
And masterpieces they are. Accuse me of hyperbole, but no one’s stopping you from seeing—and tasting—for yourself! Cheng’s inventive imagination makes for an impressive spread, unique ideas visualized in real life. And, with this willingness to push the edible envelope, she makes comrades out of otherwise seemingly disparate ingredients, inviting the uninitiated to try foreign combinations of flavors that I’ve never known to disappoint. (And I crash her weekly dinners fairly regularly.)
So, let’s see. So far we’ve got…spankin’ new spot (which, by the way, is très chic). Check. 100% vegan vittles. Check. Intimate atmosphere, lending S3O6 an exclusive (yet still very inviting) air. Check. A focus on fresh, seasonal, organic (and local when possible) ingredients and few if any denatured ingredients. Check. And a visionary chef—with solid credentials, given she not only graduated from the Natural Gourmet Institute, but also started her own catering company at 21—in the kitchen. Check.
So, what else? Well, Cheng never serves the same menu more than once, so it’s always a transient experience not to be repeated. This also means that, if you’ve got the, ahem, means you can reserve a seat Saturday after Saturday and never get bored. And, of course, akin to the food constantly changing, so too do your tablemates. Though this communal scenario may not be to everyone’s taste (believe me, I am ordinarily reluctant to share a meal with 15 perfect strangers), it’s perpetually proven a pleasant experience. Who knows, the guy or gal next to you could be your future spouse…or boss…or plant-based bingeing buddy.
Speaking of forming relationships, the elegant setting—defined by high ceilings, classic columns and full view of a bustling kitchen—is an ideal date location. Unlike every other restaurant in NYC, S3O6 is nearly guaranteed to be a first for that special someone.
So, why wait? Secure a reservation today. Bonus? Once Cheng opens her own restaurant—an endeavor currently in the works***—you can brag to your foodie friends that you knew her and her food when…
* Both of these restaurants have catered to my vegan needs and the latter even boasts a vegan bartender. Heck, maybe the two of you can toast to non-vegan spots granting plant-based wishes.
** For vegan pizza in NYC, run-don’t-walk to Palà or Eat Drink Wild. Two Boots also makes magic happen when you’re craving crust without the pus. J Heading to Long Island? Stop by 3 Brothers Pizza Café in Farmingdale, which boasts an extensive vegan menu—thanks to Jay Astafa—including, no doubt, slices and pies.
*** Interested in learning more about backing this vegan venture? Email email@example.com and tell ’em Nell sent you.
Photographs compliments of the chef.
“The most important place you could be on the planet tonight is right here,” spoke broadcast journalist Jane Velez-Mitchell, passionately addressing an audience in Amagansett, New York two Saturdays ago on June 22. Over 100 guests gathered at the Hamptons home of John Bradham, a Manhattan-based attorney who opened his doors to nonprofit animal rights organization Mercy For Animals. The occasion? MFA’s Free To Be event honoring Velez-Mitchell for her vocal role in not only promoting a plant-based diet, but also exposing the realities of factory farming, among other commonplace atrocities perpetrated against our fellow earthlings.
For those who don’t know, Velez-Mitchell hosts a show on HLN, formerly CNN Headline News, evenings at 7 PM EST. While she can’t tackle vegan eating and animal injustices on a nightly basis, she does discuss said or similar topics every Friday. For four minutes each week, this brave anchor delivers what she dubs “an animal segment,” sharing with viewers across the nation what is all too often overlooked by mainstream media outlets.
“I’m very blessed to have a platform to do these stories,” Velez-Mitchell told me during our interview. She lamented, “I really wish more journalists would do them.”
While fellow animal advocates share this sentiment, the purpose of the sunset soirée was to fête a special woman committed to raising awareness, not to waste time worrying about the people—particularly the powers-that-be—turning a blind eye. And so we celebrated Velez-Mitchell, who as an outspoken ARA features on her program myriad individuals operating within this space. From representatives at MFA, PETA, HSUS and Farm Sanctuary to TV personality Steve-O and green athletes Rich Roll and Brendan Brazier, Velez-Mitchell welcomes all kinds of movers and shakers to share their respective perspectives. Of them she says, “Everybody brings another piece to the puzzle.” From breaking investigations to the latest in healthful living, Velez-Mitchell stops at nothing when it comes to communicating conscious consumerism to those tuning in.
After receiving the Compassionate Leadership Award—presented to her by former NBA champion John “Spider” Salley—Velez-Mitchell wasted no time in highlighting the real heroes: MFA and, specifically, undercover investigators.
“Make no mistake about it,” she started. “They put their lives on the line. Risk their lives to go undercover with a hidden camera…to videotape….They have to have the self control to do it not only once, but day in and day out, months on end, to establish a track record…conquering that fear and conquering the depression of recording something they wish they could stop but they can’t, so they can show the world what is really going on.”
While Carlson and I didn’t have an opportunity to talk, Salley—there with his teenage daughter and making everyone he encountered laugh hysterically—was chatty. Earlier, on Bradham’s idyllic back deck, the part owner of The Vegan Vine wine revealed his reasons for eschewing all animal products. “I had to get my sexy back. I was losing my sexy,” he said in all seriousness, pointing to a weight gain, a cholesterol spike and high blood pressure problems as motivations. “I just decided that I needed to start taking better care of myself.”
Though the basketball legend adopted a vegan diet six years ago for what he termed “selfish reasons,” Salley revealed to me more than meets the eye: “When I became aware that every vegan saves 7,500 land animals, I was eating healthy, getting my sexy back and saving lives.” With conviction he encouraged, “There’s no other way to go.”
Velez-Mitchell said something similar when we sat down together, too. Of becoming vegan—which she’d done nearly twenty years before, after meeting rancher-turned-activist and author Howard Lyman—she enthused, “There’s no downside!”
The passed hors d’oeuvres and decadent desserts only served to reinforce this fact. Wait staff—sporting tees that cleverly read “carni-bored”—carried trays of savory apps like vegan versions of sliders, crab cakes and chicken satay skewers (thanks to Gardein) as well as crostini topped with nut cheese (thanks to Treeline). Following the speeches and moving video clips highlighting the work of both Velez-Mitchell and MFA (and an appeal to emotion fundraising portion that, between this and a sister event in LA on June 8 honoring writer/director/producer Sam Simon, helped garner over $450,000 for MFA), attendees tended to their sweet teeth, so-to-speak. Across from a table showcasing donated silent auction items, Vegan Treats impressed with a spread that looked like a Willy Wonka dream realized in edible 3D. Donuts, cakes, cookies, cannolis, pies and tarts won over the crowd up until the intimate gala wound down, around 10.
Among those who made the trek from NYC to the beach benefit were Joshua Katcher of The Discerning Brute, Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart of Vaute Couture, David Benzaquen of Plant Based Solutions, deejay Stretch Armstrong, artist Erhan Mues, chef Daphne Cheng of Suite ThreeOhSix, Compassion Couture’s Spiritus sisters and plus-size model Emily Nolan.
And it’s no wonder so many selfless folks showed up to support the org; as MFA founder and executive director Nathan Runkle reminded everyone, “Our task is nothing less than changing the world. The moral compass of our time—the moral judgment—is how we treat animals.” Cruelty-free food and loot aside, it truly is all about our furry, four-legged, fishy and feathered friends.
As for the movement on the whole, Velez-Mitchell is confident the present trend is poised to snowball until we reach a tipping point; “It’s gonna happen,” she assured me. “It’s just a matter of when.”
Photos provided by Derek Goodwin Photography