Sisters Heather Bell and Jenny Engel come up with a lot of ideas while driving the 101 back home to Los Angeles. In fact, some of the best ideas of their careers have been conjured up sitting side by side, waiting out LA’s notorious traffic—and their ideas have been pretty spectacular so far.
Both Heather and Jenny went to college for environmental science, and, through their studies, realized just how much a vegan lifestyle can benefit not only the body but also the planet. The choice was easy—they would go vegan together and spend as much time as they could to educate others about the benefits of being vegan.
The culmination of this undertaking is Spork Foods, a company the sisters founded in 2007 to promote their mission and highlight the ease with which people can shift to vegan cooking. “We’ve always had an interest in cooking,” says Jenny. “When we went vegan about twenty years ago, we had to start making everything from scratch. We didn’t want to feel like we were sacrificing, so we had to get creative and invent recipes. It became a passion of ours, and we loved educating people.” It was a combination of this passion for cooking and education that led the pair to hold their first vegan cooking class, which four people attended.
Spork Foods has never had an advertising budget, and, yet, in just a matter of years, through word of mouth alone, classes had grown from just a few people to 10,000 participants interested in learning Heather and Jenny’s “secret sauce”—their uncomplicated yet delicious vegan dishes. One of the most difficult obstacles they had to overcome in the beginning was convincing people that vegan cuisine can be not only nutritious but also flavorful and accessible when presented in the right way.
Spork Foods fights back against the stereotypes of vegan food: that it’s bland, boring, and reserved for “hippies.” Their classes, cookbooks, and other programs prove that vegan cooking can be fun and experimental for everyone—not just those who have been linked to veganism in the past. In recent years, the types of people attracted to their classes and products have expanded dramatically. “Twenty years ago, we were the weirdos,” says Heather. “We were outcasts because we chose to live this life. Starting about five years ago, people who had typically made fun of us started coming to us quietly, and, of course, we can help.”
There are a number of reasons why people decide to go vegan—to reduce cholesterol levels, to help the planet, and to support better treatment of animals, to name a few—but according to Heather and Jenny, no reason is any better than another. Spork Foods works to foster a welcoming and unthreatening environment for people to learn the benefits of veganism. They don’t rely on shaming or scare tactics to convince people, but they make sure everything, from their classes to catering, is a fun, open-minded experience.
Aside from in-house classes, Spork Foods also works with large corporations, universities, and others to coach chefs on how to implement vegan cuisine in the right way—a way that makes it enticing to vegans and nonvegans alike. Because vegan food products have become more accessible in recent years, with big-box retailers like Walmart and fast food chains like Carl’s Jr. expanding to offer vegan items, there has been an increase in awareness and appreciation for vegan eating, although the sisters say there is still some ways to go. For example, on a recent training at a university in rural Tennessee, the kitchen staff had expected Heather and Jenny’s recipes to be very bland. However, they were pleasantly surprised to see that, with a combination of spices and key ingredients, it’s relatively easy to mimic the texture and even the flavor of meat.
When developing recipes, they say it’s this traditional mind-set of needing a protein, a carbohydrate, and a vegetable on the plate that has to go out the window. “If you’re using all these things that naturally have a lot of protein, your meals are so different,” says Jenny. “You’re not looking to divide the plate in a traditional way, which opens you up to creativity. You can take a lot of inspiration from cultures around the world, too, that have epitomized the vegan diet for centuries.” In their book, Vegan 101, Heather and Jenny outline how easy it is to take traditional staples of the vegan diet such as seitan, tempeh, and tofu, combine them with vegetables, herbs, and spices, and create something familiar. The Spork Foods website has a variety of rotating recipes, like sesame ginger miso soup and a buffalo chickpea hoagie, that present classic flavors in totally inventive ways, sans meat.
Recently, Heather and Jenny have helped develop recipes in partnership with other companies that share a similar mission to Spork Foods’. In early 2019, they launched a vegan, gluten-free pancake batter called Rocket Cakes with the brand Follow Your Heart—a cooperative effort that has been years in the making and a dream come true for the sisters. They also serve as chef ambassadors for Follow Your Heart. “We only wanted to partner with companies that have the integrity we strive for,” says Jenny. “They practice what they preach—diverting 97 percent of their waste away from landfills.”
As a vegan company led by two women who eat and purchase vegan products exclusively, Spork Foods is among other leaders in sustainability and ecofriendly practices. They have seen a significant response from the Los Angeles community, as well as from people across the country, who are captivated by their uncomplicated approach to veganism. “Some of it is still a mystery to us,” says Heather. “We pride ourselves on creating the best possible product that we can. It’s our goal in this life to save the planet—and have a good time while doing it.”
For more info, visit sporkfoods.com