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Tejal Rao, reviewer of the New York Times restaurant in California, recorded a fridge filled with Muppets with ’70s era vegetables this month to help announce her new vegetarian newsletter on Twitter — and her followers were fed up with cabbage, corn, carrot, and coconut on the shelves.
That’s the catchy spirit Ms. Rao hopes to bring to her newspaper, Veggie, which debuted last week and comes out every Thursday. It is part of The Times effort to serve readers who want to eat more vegetables.
In a conversation, Ms. Rao discussed her ambitions for the newspaper, revealed some rejected headlines, and revealed that vegetable she could not stand.
You are a carnivore – when did you start eating vegetarian food?
I have eaten vegetarian food all my life. Both of my parents cooked a lot at home and were probably vegetarian at least a few times a week — a gujarat-style dumpling with rice and one or two vegetables, or something more French or Italian-style, built around dried lentils and starch, and seasonal vegetables. Meat and seafood were part of the week, but were not needed at every meal and were not always at the center of the meal.
How did your diet change during the pandemic?
When the supply chain broke down, I bought far less meat and fish. I signed up to get a farm box every other week and cooked mostly vegetables, and that really reoriented me as a chef.
Views of vegetarian recipes at NYT Cooking rose nearly 50 percent over the past year. Was the idea for this newspaper before the pandemic, or did it grow out of an increase in interest in vegetarian content?
My editors have been talking about publishing more and more vegetarian recipes for years, and the newspaper is something I have wanted The Times to do for a long time, but that data is still useful because it shows an appetite for immediate for work.
Is the newspaper aimed at older vegetarians, or at people who may not be vegetarians but who want to include more vegetables in their diets?
Forshtë for anyone who has an interest. But I have to admit, I especially like the idea of convincing people who think they are not at all interested in vegetarian food that they are, that they are delicious, that they are accessible, that they are too much for them.
Was it always called Veggie?
One of the rejected names was Totally Herbaceous, who did not achieve much because he is too tall and too stupid and nobody liked him. We all immediately liked Veggie – she just felt warm, friendly and attractive. And that idea came from Owen Dodd, an engineer who worked at The Veggie in his early days. Many of the rejected names did not feel good because they implied diet culture in a small, insidious way, and I absolutely did not want to do that – Veggie is not about abstinence, it is about feasting.
Is there still a social stigma about being a vegetarian?
I think it depends on where you are, with whom you spend time and what you have access to, but to me it feels so wrong and so boring.
It seems like The Times is including more vegetarian recipes in its coverage these days. Is that so?
We are publishing fewer meat recipes than ever before, and the number of vegetarian recipes will only continue to grow.
You are based in the West Coast. How does the vegetarian scene in California compare to that in New York City?
There is a really lively vegetarian and vegan scene here, from baking to cheese making to fast food. I reported a bit about it – I wrote a piece about vegan taquerias last year. But what is really exciting is that it is not just happening here.
Confession time: Is there a vegetable you do not really like?
Raw peppers, something about the aroma and water is a bit disgusting to me. Anyway, I love them cooked! Just not raw.
Oh no! They are my favorite vegetables!
They explode with crumbly and juicy goodness. The orange and yellow ones are the best.
Hmm, no [Laughs]
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