Born and raised in Texas, Katherine Mendenhall lives in the heart of Dallas and is the founder and owner of Kat Mendenhall, Purveyor of Handmade Vegan Goods which specializes in custom designed handcrafted vegan cowboy boots and accessories. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity for dialogue with Kat on her company and work, the vegan movement in Texas, being a Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator, motherhood and good food!
I love vegan fashion and cooking and enjoy taking both of those passions to educate and teach others via cooking demonstrations and classes, public speaking, blog posting, or through social media.
Annika: When did you become vegan & why?
Kat: In 2009, post 40, I was feeling sluggish and experiencing some digestive issues despite being on, at the time, what I believed to be a “healthy” diet. I caught Alicia Silverstone on a talk show promoting her new book, The Kind Diet. It sounded intriguing so I purchased it and read it start to finish in about one sitting. I immediately cut out all meat and dairy and noticed positive results within a couple of weeks. It took a few months but I eventually cut out eggs, fish and all animal byproducts. I traveled the journey solo for the first few years since none of my family or friends were vegan or even vegetarian. I depended on books, the internet, and bloggers for guidance.
Annika: Would you consider the area where you live to be very vegan friendly?
Kat: It was’t seven years ago when I first became vegan but more and more restaurants and grocery stores are providing vegan options and products. Popular national chains offering vegan options such as Loving Hut, True Food, Modern Market, Lyfe Kitchen, Cinnaholic, and Yard House have all planted themselves throughout the metroplex. So today, I’d say that it is a vegan friendly city despite what people might think. We have a large active vegan community too with monthly meet ups, pop-up markets, and restaurants hosting “vegan” dinners.
Annika: I would love to hear your thoughts, as a native Texan, on the development of the vegan movement in Texas specifically over the past several years.
Kat: Veganism in Texas has spread like wildfire in the last few years and I contribute that to many factors. Sure nationally veganism has become more mainstream but here in beef central our growing economy and affordable living has brought in a flux of young professionals who I believe are the driving force of living a vegan lifestyle. Their influence coupled in with the grassroots efforts such as the Texas Veggie Fair (grown to over 10k in attendance in 5 years), The Humane League (local offices and strong leaflet program), along with nationally highly publicized stories such as Healthfest in Marshall (bringing in highly sought out doctors and speakers) and Rowdy Girl Sanctuary (cattle ranch turned sanctuary in Houston) and you can’t hide it under a pillow. I may be partial but Dallas, considered an arts and business centric city, has a lot of vegan entrepreneurs who are making a positive and recognized impact outside the vegan community. It is exciting.
Annika: What inspired you to begin a vegan Texas style cowboy boots company?
Kat: I grew up around cattle ranching and farming and have always had a passion for the country despite being a city girl. I also had a passion and unhealthy collection of uniquely designed cowboy boots that I considered an expression of my personality. A few years into my vegan journey, I had an ah-ha moment that what I put on my body was as equally important as what I put in it. After learning that leather was NOT a by-product of the cattle industry and how extremely toxic the tanning process is, I consciously could no longer support the leather industry. This presented quite the dilemma for this boot maven, especially after a google search came up empty handed for a vegan version. At the encouragement of a dear friend, I decided I’d figure out how I could change that. In the beginning it was a purely selfish motive but I soon realized that I wasn’t alone in my boot passion.
Annika: In an area where leather is so commonplace in fashion- particularly with cowboy boot-what has the range of response been to your product?
Kat: The first reaction is always how unbelievable the material looks and feels to animal leather. I’ve stopped leather makers and decade old boot makers in their tracks with the material and it’s ability to be pliable, durable, breathable, and water-resistant. My customers love the way they wear and that they fit perfectly from the get-go, no “breaking-in” time needed. The fact that we can offer so many different colors and grains of material proves, that animals no longer have to suffer for fashion.
Annika: As a Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator what types of services do you offer?
Kat: As both a Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator and Culinary Nutritionalist I assist individuals, groups and corporations in transitioning or adopting a vegan lifestyle, which includes services such as meal planning, food prepping and storing, cooking lessons, and how to extend their compassion beyond the plate such as eating out, traveling, and shopping.
Annika: You have an impressive round up of vegan and plant based lifestyle specific certifications! What were your experiences like getting those certificates?
Kat: Each certification I’ve taken has brought a new skill set to my knowledge base. My first certification as a VLCE from Main Street Vegan Academy brought a newfound comprehensive understanding of what it actually meant to be vegan. The thoroughness of the program gave me the ability to apply that understanding towards a business and in helping others. The Academy of Culinary Nutrition was challenging yet rewarding in that it taught me how to combine my love for cooking with sound nutrition. The Academy not only gave me the skills to be successful in preparing healthy flavorful meals at home but to also teach other how to do the same. It also gave me savvy business skills that helped me in starting my business and that skill I continue to apply to help it grow. My Plant-Based Certification from T. Colin Campbell Foundation and my Food For Life Instructors Certification from the Physician Committee for Responsible Medicine provided the medical research and study findings of why a vegan diet is the best choice in preventing, treating, and in many cases reversing many chronic health related diseases and cancer. These certifications gave me the medical knowledge to speak intellectually in helping others understand how food can be healing.
Annika: Were you a mom during any of those certificate process?
Kat: I was a mom through all the certifications. It was at times a bit stressful to juggle the course (sometimes more than one at a time) and making time and caring for my family but they have been very supportive. Witnessing my drive to follow my passion has been an inspiration to them to go out and achieve what they believe in and the good fortune of spreading goodness to others.
Annika: Did motherhood have any influence on your vegan outlook?
Kat: I initially went vegan for my health, which trickled over to being more concerned for the health of my family too. Once I started learning about the food to health relation, as a mother I certainly want to convey that message to them to promote their own wellness. Additionally, I want them to see the compassion exampled in my decisions in hopes that they too will choose to be more compassionate towards all beings. I’m motivated being a vegan mom to help bring more vegan awareness to others so that the future of our world, the animals and generations can live in health, respect and kindness towards each other.
Annika: Is your children’s school very vegan friendly? How does the school accommodate them as vegans?
Kat: My boys school is not vegan friendly per se, although the kids have healthy choices they can choose from. Since my boys were not raised vegan, this is an area that I choose not to fret over. Our agreement is we are 100% vegan at home and they can choose to eat what they want outside the home. My hope is in time and with our home influence they will learn to make the healthiest and most compassionate decision on their own.
Annika: What are some of their favorite foods?
Kat: Their favorite vegan foods are pasta, fried rice, mac-n-cheese, tacos, baked potatoes, pancakes, smoothies, chili, and of course any sweets that I make like pumpkin bread, banana muffins, chocolate chip cookies and maple bundt cake.
Annika: How do you navigate situations like your children attending peer’s birthday parties where there may be predominantly non vegan food?
Kat: We allow them to make their own food choices outside our home.
Annika: What are some of your favorite foods?
Kat: Oh gosh, it might be easier to ask what I don’t like. Mostly I prefer simple, straightforward whole plant-based foods. I love a big hearty salad and a tofu caesar is my favorite. I make a lot of soups filled with plenty of veggies and a plant protein, usually beans. I also really love pasta and though I like being creative, my go-to is a simple pesto or chili oil sauce with veggies. I’m crazy about tofu scrambles and could probably eat some version everyday. Also, avocados are a must on everything!
Annika: What are some of your favorite ingredients to cook with?
Kat: I love to cook with a variety of vegetables and I always try to include potatoes. My go-to protein is tofu or beans. I always have fresh herbs on for flavor and prefer them over spices but red chili flakes, turmeric, garlic powder and black pepper are the spices I use the most. Of course all vegan cooks know that your kitchen is not complete without nutritional yeast.
Annika: Favorite meals to make for your family?
Kat: Biscuits and gravy, Veggie stir-fry, Pulled Jackfruit sandwiches, Miso soup and Spring Rolls, Chili and Cornbread, Risotto, Beefless Stew, Pasta Bake, and vegan version of all their favorite junk foods,
Annika: Favorite restaurants?
Kat: Locally Dallas owned Asian Mint, Company Cafe, HG & Supply, Spiral Diner, Clark Food & Wine, Wayward Sons, Wabi House, Be Raw, Zen Sushi, Mudhen, Pizza Lounge
Annika: Favorite day or weekend trip within Texas?
Kat: My favorite weekend trip is to Austin for all the vegan food trucks such as Arlo’s and The Vegan Nom and no visit to Austin is complete without stopping at Capital City Bakery! The music isn’t bad either.
Annika: What are some of your favorite US destinations & vegan or vegan friendly spots?
Kat: Favorite travels outside of Texas include the following:
Fayetteville, AR – I have a second home here, we are huge Razorbacks fans. My favorite vegan friendly restaurants are Greenhouse Grill, Arsagas, and Hugo’s.
Portland, OR – Kimpton Hotels are my choice when traveling. The central downtown Portland location makes it easy to walk arouind downtown and easily access vegan spots such as Portobello Vegan Trattoria, Blossoming Lotus, Harvest at the Bindery, Vita Cafe, Harlow, and a.n.d. cafe.
San Francisco, CA- Kimpton again is my go-to hotel and many to choose from. Favorite eats are at Gracias Maderes, Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar & Izakaya, Millennium, Herbivore and Souley Vegan.
Los Angeles, CA – Kimpton, there are several to choose from depending on what area you wish to stay. Favorite eats are Sage, Crossroads Kitchen, Real Food Daily, Native Foods, Cafe Gratitude. Chicago, IL- I love staying downtown and there are a few Kimptons to choose from. Join their rewards program, recently I received a free stay anywhere! Favorite eats are Chicago Diner, Upton’s Breakroom, and the Handlebar.
Nashville, TN- I recommend the Hutton Hotel or the Hermitage, both small boutique hotels. Favorite eats are Graze, The Wild Cow, and Sunflower Cafe.
New York, NY- No guess, Kimpton is the choice for hotel and there are several scattered throughout the city. The queen of vegan eats, here are a FEW of my favorites: dirtcandy, Hangawi, Caravan of Dreams, Candle 79, Blossom, Beyond Sushi, by Chloe, Candle Cafe West, Champs Diner, Terri, Peacefood Cafe, Dunwell Donuts, Seasoned Vegan, Franchia, VSPOT, Superiority Burger.
Thank You Kat!
Visit Katherine online:
This interview is part of an ongoing interview series by Annika Lundkvist with vegan mothers and fathers around the globe. For more interviews and information please visit this page: Interview Series: Vegan Pregnancy, Parenting & Kids.