She may look familiar from her appearances on various television shows including the Food Network’s “Chopped,” TLC’s “Dinner Takes All,” or “The Real Housewives of NYC.” Or perhaps from her segments on major news networks, like Fox and CBS. It could also be the fact that she’s worked as an anchor for NY-1, a newschannel in New York City. Needless to say, Cindi Avila is one busy vegetarian.
Having made the choice to go vegetarian at a young age, Cindi has spent most of her life embracing a meatless lifestyle. She eventually chose to pursue her love of food and graduated from the Chef’s Training Program at the Natural Gourmet Institute. These days, Cindi continues to keep a full work schedule as a spokesperson for Lightlife Foods in addition to being a new(ish) mother. Fortunately, she found some time to answer a few questions exclusively for the San Diego Vegetarian Examiner!
You became vegetarian as a teenager. Looking back, was it more of an ethical decision to go meatless, or one based on health concerns?
I had to go on a mailing list for a charity as part of a class project. I decided to get on PETA’s mailing list. After they sent me pictures of the way cows, pigs and other farm animals are mistreated I instantly gave up meat. I love animals and don’t think they should be abused just so that we can eat. We live in a country with so many food options. There is still plenty to eat out there when you cut meat out!
Did your family have any impact on your decision to go vegetarian? How did they react?
My family didn’t really have much of an impact on my decision to go vegetarian, other than the fact that we are all animal lovers. When I first gave up meat I think they were a little confused, but totally accepting. No one has ever pressured me to give meat another chance. Plus they love my cooking so it works out well.
In your opinion, what is the biggest benefit of a meat-free lifestyle?
The biggest benefit of a meat-free lifestyle is definitely helping the animals. You may think you are just one person, but if you give up meat you still have a huge impact. One person giving up meat for a year can actually save dozens of animals. When you think about it that way it is easy to make sense of it. Secondary the health benefits that come along with being a vegetarian or vegan are great. You normally don’t have to worry about high cholesterol, clogged arteries and lots of medical evidence shows meat reduction also helps reduce the chance of getting certain diseases.
You’ve appeared in a number of television shows, including the Food Network’s “Chopped,” TLC’s “Dinner Takes All,” and “The Real Housewives of NYC.” As a vegetarian, how do you feel your experiences on these shows may have differed from non-vegetarians?
My experience on all those shows was different because as a vegetarian you do feel that you have to prove yourself. People have a stereotype of what meat-free food tastes like and it’s way off base. With that in mind though you want to blow them away with great flavor. On TLC’s “Dinner Takes All” I competed against 4 meat-eaters who thought my food was going to be boring. When they tasted it they were thrilled and that’s one of the reasons I believe I won that competition. The Food Network’s “Chopped” was a different story. I was fresh out of culinary school and really wanted to prove myself. I didn’t want to do something boring so I was overly ambitious. I tried to make beans three different ways in 20 minutes. Can you say recipe for disaster? I regret a lot about those 20 minutes, but I don’t regret getting the vegetarian message out there!
How do you think vegetarianism has changed over the past decade?
Vegetarianism has changed so much over the past decade for the better. 10 years ago people still thought it was odd to be a vegetarian. Now it’s the norm for millions of people in the U.S. When I say I don’t eat or cook meat I don’t get strange looks anymore. Because more people are coming on board as full-time or part-time vegetarians there are also so many more vegetarian products on the market. People used to dread giving up something like bacon, but now thanks to products like Smart Bacon they can still enjoy pasta carbonara. Another thing that has changed is awareness. When you have people like Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart talking about how poorly certain farm animals are treated, you know you’ve gone mainstream.
Stay tuned for the second installment of questions with Cindi Avila coming soon! In the meantime, check out her website NoMeatNoProblem.com, become a fan on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter!
Look for Lightlife Foods products at local San Diego grocery stores – Albertson’s holds a great selection!
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