Sharon Gannon is a yoga and vegan world rock star. (Just ask Sting, he wrote the forward to one of her books.)
The yoga pioneer and animal rights activist created Jivamukti Yoga—a renowned method based in New York City with 13 locations from Charleston, South Carolina, to Berlin—with husband David Life in 1984, at a time when the practice was not exactly mainstream. This year, its turning 30, and Jivamukti now counts celebrities like Russell Simmons, Madonna, and Maggie Gyllenhaal among the friends its made over the past three decades.
To celebrate, Gannon is releasing her first cookbook, called Simple Recipes for Joy, on September 16. (She’s also the author of Jivamukti Yoga: Practices for Liberating Body and Soul, Yoga and Vegetarianism, and more).
The book, with more than 200 vegan recipes, comes with a very clear takeaway: If we want to be happy and free, Gannon says, “the food that we eat must contribute to that happiness and freedom for all.”
Here’s more from our chat with the pioneering yogi about her ethos and her new book. And check out her recipe for Spirulina Millet, here.
Okay, so I have to know. What was the inspiration for the book cover? I love the story of Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll is very gifted at zany dialogue, although he is still able to get a political statement in. It’s a very political book, but Carroll showcased it in a whimsical, fun way. In that way I do feel akin to him. I have a very serious message of veganism and how it impacts on our environment and the condition of the world. I know the power of showcasing a very important and serious message, that is fun and doable for people.
And what is the statement you’re making with this book? The “simple” part is that if you want to bring more joy into your life, veganism is the most direct way to do that. You can’t be happy by causing unhappiness to others. The animals that are tortured and slaughtered and ultimately eaten are not happy. If we want more happiness and joy in our own lives, we have to stop eating these animals.
What does that have to do with yoga? One of the essential or primary practices of yoga is non-violence. A vegan diet is the most non-violent diet. It’s really that direct. The best way to practice non-violence is veganism. There’s so much violence in the world, it’s out of our control. What you eat, you can do something about. By choosing to eat vegan, you’re contributing to a decrease in violence. As a a yogi, one of my biggest beliefs is karma. Whatever we do to others will come back to us. If we want to be happy and free, to cause unhappiness and to take away animals’ freedom would not contribute to that project.
How do you respond to people who eat meat for health reasons? You know, everyone is going to do what they’re going to do. The facts are that a meat- and dairy-based diet does not promote human health. There are warehouses filled with medical evidence to this. Humans are not biologically designed to eat meat. It’s the cause of all of the major diseases: cancer, heart disease, diabetes. But you have to remember that the meat and dairy industries form the basis of our cultural economy, and veganism is a threat to that. Those kinds of diets, like Paleo, are defensive.
You also advise readers to pray before eating and to share their food with animals, things that might seem a little out there to some. What’s your reasoning behind this? In the yogic tradition, you wouldn’t eat anything unless you first offered it to god, whomever that is for you. By doing that, the food becomes a blessing—and we need all the blessings we can get. When you say a prayer, it takes focus. You have to focus and concentrate. That infuses the food with your attention. When you share that, others receive some of that positive intention. It’s about sharing a blessing. —Jamie McKillop