If you haven’t yet heard of Jaime Karpovich, then listen up, because you wouldn’t want to embarrass yourself. This woman is on a mission to change the world for animals, and she’s using the blog and cooking show Save the Kales! as her vessel. Jaime’s show, her panache, and her animal advocacy have gained some very mainstream attention recently – from a holy-rescued-cow write-up in the Philadelphia Inquirer, to being named Lehigh Valley’s top blogger by The Morning Call, to being invited to cook dinner for Joan Jett and her crew when she recently gave a concert in Jaime’s hometown of Bethlehem, Pa. – a culinary feat, which, of course, was covered by the media. There’s also the success of the Save the Kales! cooking show, which is about to begin airing in Seattle and Vancouver to a cable audience of 3.9 million subscribers, and that list is only growing. Jaime’s dedication to the cause is refreshing, as is her can-do spirit, and her unique attitude – which, as you’ll see, is entirely genuine, slightly brassy, and ultimately as über-kind as it gets.
Jaime agreed to chat with us about Save the Kales!, the uprising of cooking shows in mainstream media, and the importance of DIY media
And for those of you who are members of the OHH flock, you get a bonus! Don’t miss the extended interview with Jaime, in which she spills the beans about her upcoming book project, what drives her veganism, why she’s never seen Earthlings, and the one thing she can’t live without. And thanks to Jaime’s generosity, OHH flock members also can enter to win a Save the Kales! T-shirt, and a DVD with three of her favorite episodes from Season 1!
(If you’re not yet a member of the flock, what’s stopping you? When you join, you will receive, as our thank-you gift, a copy of the award-winning film Vegucated, as well as a copy of Defiant Daughters: 21 Women on Art, Activism, Animals, and the Sexual Politics of Meat.)
And now, prepare to be inspired by Jaime Karpovich of Save the Kales!
OHH: First of all, congratulations on all of the incredible successes you’ve been having lately with Save the Kales! For anyone who has been hibernating beneath a kale leaf for the past year, what is Save the Kales!?
Jaime Karpovich: Save the Kales! began as a blog, and has become a lifestyle and cooking TV show (the show is just over a year old). Each episode has three segments: on location, cooking, and meeting a guest. The show’s perspective is to find vegan or vegan-friendly businesses and community members who are happy and thriving, proving you can be a happy and community-involved vegan even if you don’t live in a big city. Plus, you get two recipes that can be anything from a raw main course to savory, veganized comfort foods like vegan beer cheese soup.
OHH: You recently told me that Save the Kales! has gone through puberty. Did you have to go through a weird body odor phase?
JK: I’m constantly learning what Save the Kales! actually is, and so much of that has been figuring out what it isn’t. For example, once I realized that it’s not inherently a food blog, it took off this tremendous pressure I felt to constantly post recipes, get an expensive camera, learn photography, spend a lot of money on ingredients. I think there’s an expectation of vegan blogs to have a huge focus on food, and while I love cooking (obviously), it’s not my whole life. It was a relief to let go of that expectation
As for the TV show, it has evolved from the first episode to where we are now (currently taping the 14th episode). A lot of other shows tape all the episodes over a series of a few weeks, then air them over a period of a few weeks or months. We tape our shows every month, weeks before they air, and that experience really lets us learn so much because we really get time to absorb and examine how we do things. We started with two cameras and three people and now we have sometimes up to five cameras, assistants, and interns.
OHH: It seems like Save the Kales! has really found its footing. Would you agree?
JK: I think I’m just cracking through the ice on the potential of where Save the Kales! can go in the future, and more importantly, really believing in its voice and value.
Lately I’m more comfortable, since over time we’ve put out a more concise and professional product, but it’s still very sincere, you know? It’s polished, but it’s not stuffy. You’ll see me use very technical cooking terms like, “Use your hands to mix the seitan until you’ll feel it turn into a smushy blob.” Look, I’m not a trained chef; I don’t pretend to be. I feel like being relatable will draw more people to try cooking something they’ve never cooked before. I approach each show with the idea that the audience is not vegan, and most are not. I want people to try this stuff. That’s where the activism kicks in.
JK: Between health concerns, food allergies, and the “cool factor” of eating vegan food, networks are finally (slowly but surely) getting it. It seemed for a while like they didn’t realize that someone doesn’t need to be vegan to watch a vegan cooking show. Of course, there is the issue of finding sponsors to fund the shows that don’t contradict the show’s mission (you don’t want a hot dog commercial in the middle of a vegan cooking show).
Everyone, no matter their diet, would be better off eating more vegetables, so a show that is plant-based is just smart. It may not appeal to every single person with a television, but it doesn’t have to. It will appeal to a lot. And we need a lot of shows to represent the many different vegans!
OHH: What kinds of unexpected challenges did you run into with your show?
JK: The first few months of our show, I was struggling to figure out what it was. If it isn’t all organic food, people are mad. If it is all organic food, then it’s too expensive and not realistic. If it’s savory foods, then the health people are mad. If it’s low-oil, low-fat foods, then it portrays vegans as only eating salads. Gluten is bad. Gluten is awesome. On and on. Finally I thought, if you don’t like what I’m doing on this show, go and make your own. Seriously. No one is stopping you, least of all me.
I cannot possibly be everything to everyone. So now the content of the show is based on what I feel like doing that month, and that’s pretty much the only criteria for content. I’m not offended or hurt if someone doesn’t relate. There are a ton of talented people out there doing shows, YouTube videos, blogs, etc. You’re bound to find someone you really like, and if you can’t, then become that person yourself. You can spend time criticizing, or you can spend time making what you want to see.
OHH: We first met (and fell in lurve) when Mariann and I spoke a couple of years ago at the Bethlehem VegFest, for which you were one of the organizers. I was impressed by the fact that the whole town seemed to be behind this massive event. The rest of Bethlehem was a virtual ghost town while the Fest was happening. Tell us a little about how the Bethlehem VegFest has evolved since then, and what you have planned for this year’s festivities.
JK: The city was so excited – so excited! – for VegFest. We love our festivals in Bethlehem, but the Bethlehem VegFest was new, and everyone was so enthusiastic from the beginning. Our first year had an estimated 10,000 attendees, and our second year saw about 7,000 in the first three hours before we shut down early due to a hurricane.
This year, the festival is focusing in on quality over quantity. The festival will be an all-vegan event with an eco-friendly spin. With our proven great attendance, we’re hoping that it will attract speakers, authors, and cooks from outside the area to participate, and that the local businesses get even more exposure. We want the movers and shakers side by side with the people who give Bethlehem its own vibe and personality.
I was just talking to a friend about this a week ago. She was saying how she wanted to talk to other vegan, female, small business owners for some advice, because she was alone in her business concerns. But she quickly found herself rattling off this huge list of names, women from right here in our area. That was profound. There are probably more people in your town, no matter where you live, who share your values and passions. Connecting to each other is what makes communities thrive.
JK: I tell this story sometimes when I speak, about a professor on a discussion panel I attended about creativity and community. A student in the audience asked what classes he should be taking to work toward becoming a film director, and the professor was so outraged at this idea of having to take a class to direct films! He was like, “Go buy a camera, rent a camera, or borrow a camera. Then just make a film. If you work, do it before or after work. If you’re in school, do it on the weekends. You don’t need to take classes to be a director, just go and be one.”
That’s amazing. DIY media means we don’t have to ask for anyone’s permission. I wanted to make a TV show and I found the right people and we made one. We just went for it. No studio called and “gave” it to us.
Everything being hands-on means you learn so much more than if you just showed up, talked at a camera, and left. I’ve learned a lot about lighting and editing. Me and the crew have developed this great rapport. We can shoot things out of sequence and “get it,” and know that it will be cohesive.
Not asking for permission, not waiting for someone to give you the green light, and being in complete control of your content … That is incredible. We are lucky to live in a time when a cell phone can film, edit, and upload a movie for the world to see in just a few minutes. Possibilities are infinite.
JK: Being able to connect with people I really look up to has been such a beautiful mind-fuck, because you idolize and hugely respect these people and then you meet them and they are regular people, and they’ve spilled coffee on themselves, and they send text messages, and they forget what they were talking about mid-sentence. And suddenly their lives and their work become things that you can do, because you’re a regular person too. It’s not that your idols stop being superheroes – it’s that you can start to see yourself there among them. That is powerful. Go to book signings and conferences and events, then start daydreaming about your own.
OHH: Thank you so much, Jaime! It’s amazing to watch as your activism continues to blossom. You’re such an incredible success story, but the most exciting part is that at the front and center of your efforts are the animals. We look forward to staying on top of all of the ways you continue to Save the Kales, and – hell, why not? – the world.