Elina Innanen is a gardener and florist by profession. In the summer of 2015 she decided to change her path and start to run a vegan grocery store chain Vegekauppa and a webstore that she ran until this spring. Elina is running one of the most popular Finnish vegan food blog Chocochili. She is a known author of three cookbooks (Vegaanin keittiössä: Parempaa arkiruokaa kasviksista (2014) had almost 10 000 books sold, reprint is coming up). Also, she is a photographer who has captured most of the photos for her books.
Elina invites us to meditate upon the ways we can make a positive impact in the world.
Elina, how do you define yourself?
I’m an entrepreneur and also definitely an activist, although I don’t do things in the most traditional way. My way of influencing people has always been very subtle and I try to make an impact in a positive way. For me the best kind of activism is to get people into cooking delicious food that also happen to be vegan.
You became a vegan in 2001, after being a vegetarian for two years. What does being a vegan mean to you?
For me veganism is all about valuing life. I think animals have the right to live here as much as we humans do. I just don’t think it’s necessary for us to kill animals for food. Also, avoiding meat and dairy is the single biggest way to reduce your impact on Earth.
Photo: Elina Innanen
What has inspired you the most?
I got inspired by the animal rights movement as a teenager. I read Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, where I guess it all started. I was still figuring out who I was and defining my values and found the answer in veganism. As I’ve gotten older, veganism has become less and less about my own identity and more just a way to make a positive impact in the world.
What has supported you the most?
I grew up in the countryside and I really was the only vegan in the village. Luckily I found like-minded people online and after starting the blog, I’ve made many good friends who share the same values with me. And my readers, of course, mean the world to me! I’ve received many emails, comments and messages over the years and without them it would make no sense to continue writing.
How has veganism changed your life?
Veganism has basically turned my life around! Without it I wouldn’t be where I am professionally and I probably wouldn’t have met all these amazing people around me. I think I’m naturally a kind and thoughtful person, so it only makes sense to act so. Of course I care a lot about human rights and especially environmental issues as well, but I’ve chosen to concentrate on veganism that I find being closest to my heart.
How did you start vegan food blog?
I started writing the blog because I got so many recipe requests after I started posting food photos to Flickr over ten years ago. At that time it was really difficult to find vegan recipes in Finnish and I wanted to help people making good vegan food. The blog started growing big really fast and I discovered I can actually make a difference with that!
Things have improved so much in the past few years. Ten years ago people were truly amazed that vegan food can actually look delicious and taste just as good or even better than any other food. Things have changed since then but there is still a lot of work to do to break all the stereotypes what comes to vegan food. Vegan food is not just a boring side dish anymore, and it’s more and more common for omnivores to choose vegan options because they taste good!
In one interview you said that when you started with the blogging, you did not expect to become so popular (60-70 000 unique monthly readers). What has made your blog so popular?
My cooking (and photographing) skills have developed a lot over the years, but I’m still just a home cook without any professional training, so my recipes are always easy for anyone to use. I never preach about animal rights or tell anyone what they should or should not do. I want my blog and my recipes to be an easy access to anyone, omnivores and vegans alike.
Photo: Elina Innanen
When and how did you get into cooking?
My parents almost never bought ready-made foods, so I was familiar with cooking already in my childhood home. But when I became vegan, there were no vegan food, goodies or anything available in stores or restaurants, so if you wanted to eat something good, you had to make it yourself. That’s how I got into it –partly because I had to!
How does a new recipe come alive?
I often search for inspiration online, food magazines and cookbooks, but usually I get inspired by an ingredient. I love to cook with seasonal produce and usually I just pick up an ingredient I’d like to cook with and develop something around it.
I love peanut butter. That’s definitely my thing! It works with pretty much anything: on sweet toasts and sandwiches, baking and Asian-inspired dishes. Also, I always put a spoonful of peanut butter to my morning oatmeal.
Photo: Elina Innanen
What are the main ways vegan food bloggers can contribute to the vegan culture?
Bloggers are influencers. We are able to recommend products, promote a certain kind of lifestyle and ethical choices to our readers. We can start new trends and get people into cooking more vegan foods. That’s pretty amazing!
What kind of a vegan market is Turku?
I really love the restaurant scene in Turku! Some of my favourite restaurants in all Finland are located in Turku, such as a vegetarian restaurant Kuori, Japanese Karu Izakaya and Kaskis that was just nominated the best restaurant in Finland. All these make excellent vegan food as well! Then we have vegan street food festival Vegånia. Turku is a great city for a vegan!
Sustainable may not be ethical, vegan or similar. How would you comment on that?
You often find meat marketed as “sustainable”, which really isn’t always the case. And it certainly isn’t ethical to kill an animal for food, if you ask me. Even though many products are falsely marketed, it just tells me that people are interested in what they buy and eat and what kind of impact their consumer habits make. I find that a good thing and eventually it’ll make vegan food more popular.
What kinds of challenges, obstacles and victories have you had on your path as a vegan blogger and author of cookbooks?
The most challenging thing for a blogger has been to make time for it. Soon I can start writing the blog full time and I’m really excited about that! But for the past 10 years I’ve been working with other projects the whole time and it hasn’t always been easy to make time for developing new recipes. My biggest victory is definitely the success of my blog in general. I’ve been working hard for it, but I’ve been really lucky too that I happened to be in the right place at the right time with Chocochili. And my second cookbook Vegaanin keittiössä was a huge hit. I’m so grateful for my readers for that too!
There is an understanding that vegan food, ethical design, etc is mainly for a privileged audience as they can afford to pay for that type of products. How can you get people who have never had any interest in vegan food and/or vegan products to buy vegan products?
The biggest problem in Finland are the agricultural subsidies that goes mainly for animal agriculture. Because of these many animal products are ridiculously cheap. Hopefully in the future we’ll see tax reliefs for more environmentally friendly products. But in general eating vegan isn’t expensive if you plan ahead a little! Seasonal produce, legumes and whole grains are very cost-effective!
What vegans, activists, bloggers, creative professionals, etc. would you say have influenced you the most?
In Finland my dear friend Suvi Auvinen is someone I really look up to. She is incredibly smart and does so much good work for veganism and social rights. Suvi is also organizing Vegemessut, which is the first big vegan food fair in Finland. I also really appreciate Tobias Leenaert’s work. And my biggest inspiration over the years has been Isa Chandra Moskowitz, she’s the pioneer for delicious vegan cooking!
Vegan Oreo Mint Chocolate Ice Cream
1 dl aquafaba
1 tsp lemon juice
1 dl sugar
1 1/2 dl soy whip (Alpro Airy & Creamy)
1 tsp vanilla sugar
80 g vegan dark chocolate (55%)
1-2 tsp peppermint extract
120 g mint Oreos
First whip the aquafaba for 1-2 minutes or until fluffy. Add lemon juice and sugar and whip full speed to hard foam (about 5 minutes).
In another bowl whisk the soy whip. Season with vanilla sugar. Melt the chocolate and pour it in the whipped cream. Whisk for a few seconds.
Mix the aquafaba and soy whip together. Season with peppermint extract. Crush the biscuits and fold them into the aquafaba mixture. Save some cookies to decorate the ice cream.
Apply the mixture, for example, to a small oven pan or other large container. Decorate with cookies and freeze for at least 6 hours, or preferably overnight.
Elina, thank you for such an awesome recipe!