Sometimes life is awesome and gives you a tax refund, then an opportunity to go to a gigantic music festival for a week.
Oh yeah, South By South West baby.
^because all the coolest still have bloody flip phones.
I took my tax refund and hopped in a van with two friends of a friend, and the three of us peaced out of Phoenix for Austin, Texas the Sunday before last. The whole thing was one random hilarity after another, with little nuggets of soul-searching beauty and small revelations. For instance, you know what I would rather be than funny? Authentic. I realized on this trip that while I used to take pride in the shit I could talk, lately I’m more into truth than sarcasm. I’d rather be an instrument of love and peace, as cheesy as that sounds, than someone known for their sense of humor.
…speaking of cheesy, at SXSW I actually met the creators of the World’s first Vegan Queso. You know me; I love decadent vegan food, and I love people who make a living doing something they believe in, so I totally ditched a concert to hear their story.
Meet Crystal and Chris Tate, the most adorable little vegan couple to ever take the country’s Mexican food-lovers by storm.
I seriously just wanted to be their friend, they were that cool. I talked with Crystal the most (over nachos, of course) about how this Austin-based queso found its way all over the country’s stores, as well as numerous restaurants.
A little background; When Crystal and Chris met, he was already vegan and she was already Hispanic, so their friendship formed over a love of tamales, burritos and the like. Then it became more than friendship and she became vegan, and voila, the two were hanging out in Texas trying to live on a budget and eat delicious food reminiscent of Crystal’s background.
“We were so poor,” Crystal laughs. “We used to walk to Taco Bell and split a bean burrito; that was our ‘going out’”.
Crystal, since feeling so much better on a plant-based diet, started a food blog where she shared tips and recipes. One recipe in particular (this is where it gets good!) started getting an absurd number of hits a day.
Chris got all entrepreneur-esque and suggested they take the recipe offline and start selling it. Eventually the owner of Bouldin Creek Café, in Austin, had a taste and went absolutely nuts for it. The three worked out a plan, and Bouldin started selling Crystal and Chris’s queso. Within the first year they café sold over 300 gallons of the off-menu queso, just from mentioning it to customers. Word spread, and in December of 2010 Whole Foods realized they needed to capitalize on this as well. They called up our favorite couple and the rest is history.
Today? You can find this stuff anywhere. Its sold all over the country, in tiny health-conscious restaurants (like Green!) and in huge health food superstores like Sprouts and Whole Foods. Crystal and Chris come off like two kids who just won a prize at the state fair; they’re all wide-eyed about their success, totally humble and overflowing with gratitude for the supportive “love letters” their fans keep sending.
“Ten years ago we had, like, soy milk, and that was it for vegans,” Chris said. “It’s just so cool to see this movement toward a more conscious way of eating, and people are realizing it doesn’t have to be plain and boring.”
And its queso that is a soy-free, twenty calories per serving (two tablespoons) and is naturally cholesterol-free. AND your purchase supports individuals, not just some huge corporation.
The only sad thing about it is the gluten-free version hasn’t hit the shelves yet, but it will this summer. You’re going to hear a shout for joy across so many GFV tables.
I asked the Tates what they would say to the general public about this whole thing, and both were in agreement; if their story is any testimony to the rest of us, its that you certainly can be the change you want to see in the world, and be successful doing so.
She says the most rewarding part of this entire whirlwind experience has been when they’re giving samples away in grocery stores.
“People will hand us their regular queso and buy ours instead. They think it tastes better and they’d rather eat something healthier than not.”
That’s pretty awesome. The more people find out about the food choices we have, the more they’re likely to chose a more sustainable and cruelty-free option. Its all about exposing people to what’s out there. This was honestly one of the highlights of South By; I certainly don’t want to punch numbers all day for the rest of my life; I want to work at something independent, geographically un-tethered, and consistent with my beliefs. If these two can do it, why can’t any of us?
“Its not just huge companies that can do things like this,” Crystal insists. “We were just making this out of our kitchen, and now look at it. It’s in restaurants I didn’t even know existed.”
Find these loves on Facebook and go check out their website, http://foodforlovers.com/. And let’s support people who are doing things.
^cheesy as peace and love on the way home