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.