Los Angeles vegan bloggers Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway became Internet sensations in 2013 when Gwyneth Paltrow endorsed their f-bomb-filled blog. Their their first book, Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook, followed in 2014, along with controversy as critics accused them of appropriating gangster speak. This month, they release their second no-bullsh-t cookbook, Thug Kitchen Party Grub: For Social Motherf-ckers (Collins, $30). Here, they talk to us about vegan snobbery, Internet haters and trashy poutine.
What was the thinking behind the blog when you first started it three years ago?
Michelle: It was really because we were so sad and depressed at our jobs [Michelle worked at Whole Foods and Matt was a personal assistant], and we were trying to do something that would entertain each other, something to look forward to because our days were so busy and so terrible and so long.
Matt: I was vegetarian when I met Michelle and she’s been vegan twelve years now?
Michelle: Twelve years. Hardcore!
Matt: When I met Michelle, I tried vegan food and I was photographing it and Michelle showed me a bunch of other blogs and cookbook authors and I was like “What the f-ck is wrong with these people and the way that they write? These people sound like they’ve never been on like public transportation before.”
Michelle: And, having been in the health food space and the vegan space for so long, I never felt fully included. I remember there was a recipe for a raw-vegan cheesecake that I’d been waiting four years to make ’cause I could never afford to buy all the cashews that I needed. Or there would be some f-cking meet-up and it would be like $150 a ticket. We wanted to create a blog that had healthy food and vegan recipes for regular people who have to work on a budget and who have a sense of humour.
Matt: And we didn’t want to coddle the audience and be like [in a soft, gentle voice] “Hey, go to the farmer’s market and find the perfect mushroom.”
Michelle: We were like, “No, shake the sh-t out and eat a f-cking salad, dude!”
So how do you make eating healthy cheaper and more inclusive?
Matt: Before I went vegan I was always like “Isn’t that super-expensive?” But Michelle was like “Dude, it’s the cheapest f-cking diet” ’cause it’s rice and beans. We tell people, “Hey if you can get fresh ingredients, great! But if you have to get it canned, who cares?”
Michelle: A good way to make plant-based diets affordable is to eat seasonally. There’s a papaya salad in the book that’s really delicious, but if you’re making that in the middle of winter, that papaya’s gonna cost you a f-cking sh-t-ton of money, so make it when it’s in season. And there’s nothing wrong with frozen spinach or broccoli. Any vegetable, regardless of how you’re eating it, is usually better than no f-cking vegetable, so cut yourself a break. It’s still better than giving up and just getting a sh-tty cheeseburger.
Can you describe the new book?
Michelle: People were telling me that they could eat a plant-based at home, but they were having trouble going out into the world and eating with other people. So we wanted to create a bunch of recipes that you could bring to a party and not stand out like a weirdo, so you’re not the person bringing raw celery with the creamy tofu dip, and everyone’s going to make fun of you.
Matt: You don’t have to be the motherf-cker who shows up with hummus and baby carrots.
What advice would you give someone who is thinking about going vegan or vegetarian, in terms of dealing with judgment from other people? I’m not vegan but I take flack from my friends for the amount of salad that I eat.
Matt: F-ck them. Honestly, being a dude trying to eat healthy around other dudes who bust my balls, I’m like “F-ck you.” Eat whatever you want. People shouldn’t have to feel bad for taking care of themselves. It’s OK to give a f-ck about what you eat.
I am curious about the cultural appropriation controversy your first book sparked. Critics accused you guys—two white people—of adopting what they thought was a black gangster voice and, online, people were so upset you got death threats. But at the same time, your book was doing really well. What was that moment like for you?
Michelle: It was surreal to be getting some not-so-favorable press at the same time the book was a number-one bestseller—it was on the list for 48 weeks. But we still get called “the controversial authors of Thug Kitchen” instead of anyone noting all the people who appreciate the book and the blog.
Matt: When you’re in the public, your life suddenly becomes public property and people can say whatever they want about you. People were saying that we were this rich married couple that lives in Hollywood. We’re not married. We don’t even live together. When you’re barely paying rent, and you’re just trying to scrape by, and you get called rich, it’s a kick in the teeth. You can upload a cat video to the Internet and people are going to sh-t on it.
Michelle: It doesn’t make it any easier, but it’s good to understand that this is part of our culture right now. Everybody needs to get their licks in.
Years ago, I wrote a piece about raw food and, in the comments, one raw foodist threatened to kill me. My mom called and was like, “Oh my god, Have you seen what people are saying?”
Matt: Why is it that when somebody disagrees with something—or they just don’t like it at all—that a death threat is the go-to? What is that? Have we slipped so far as a society that we’re not allowed to engage with constructive conversation?
Michelle: It’s the f-cking worst. It terrifies me, and people don’t think you’re a real person. They didn’t think my parents saw those comments or my high school friends, old teachers or his grandmother saw it. But that’s par for the course. We don’t put ourselves out there very much, so we left a lot of space for people to fill in the blanks with their assumptions.
What advice would you give to people who want to start their own food blog or publish a cookbook?
Michelle and Matt: Don’t!
Matt: Write it for yourself. Don’t write it like you’re gonna pitch it to someone, don’t write it like you’re gonna sell it. Write it from the most natural place possible.
Can I ask you a few rapid-fire Qs?
Matt: Do it.
Favourite recipe in the book?
Michelle: The banh mi that’s on the cover.
Matt: Damn, that was my pick. The apple-onion focaccia is really good.
If you’re hosting a party, what’s the first thing you serve for a drink?
Michelle: Am I allowed to put bourbon in it?
Matt: One cocktail with bourbon and one with gin because if people don’t like one, they like the other.
Michelle: Just make a big old pitcher of each and let people serve themselves.
Biggest cooking fail?
Matt: I’ve f-cked up stuff that she’s cooked, does that count?
Michelle: I spent all night before Thanksgiving making a pie…
Matt: Long story short, I dropped it. Just POW, right on the carpet.
The ingredient you can’t cook without?
Michelle: Lemon juice.
Matt: Canned tomatoes. I use the sh-t out of some canned tomatoes.
The tool you can’t cook without?
Michelle and Matt: Sharp knife.
One thing you’d never, ever put in your mouth?
Matt: Sharp knife.
The trashiest thing you eat?
Michelle: I really love jarred spaghetti sauce, just sh-tty grocery store spaghetti sauce on white pasta. I’m human!
Matt: Cookie dough. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, I’ll stand in the kitchen over the sink, eating spoonfuls of cookie dough, like I don’t give a sh-t.
Death row meal?
Michelle: A California burrito with a sh-t-ton of hot sauce.
What’s a California burrito?
Michelle: It’ll have rice, beans, guacamole, pico de gallo and then French fries in it.
Matt: I’d have nachos with our butternut squash queso.
Have you tried poutine during your visit to Canada?
Michelle: Oh, of course we have. We had the poutine at Fresh [the Toronto vegan restaurant].
Fresh poutine is fancy. Doesn’t really count.
Michelle: Give us time, we’ll go get the garbage poutine.