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Member of the Buffalo creative class talks edible books and the vegan lifestyle

Khrista Tabak says it's fun to make an edible book and she's had to answer some interesting questions about her vegan diet. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

Khrista Tabak has one of the more interesting jobs – and responsibilities – of the folks I’ve met since starting my Refresh job about this time last year.

Tabak, 26, subject of today’s “What are you Eating?” feature in WNY Refresh, has a bachelor’s in art education and a master’s in creative studies, both from SUNY Buffalo State. She grabbed her master’s last year, while she was planning her wedding. She and her husband, Jeremy, both are vegan.

She also is program director for the WNY Book Arts Collaborative, and coordinates the Edible Book Festival – part of an international effort – which takes place locally from 4 to 8 p.m. March 30 at the collaborative, 468 Washington St.

We sat down in the chilly collaborative earlier this week and talked about her job, the festival and her eating habits.

Here’s some of what she had to say:

What is the discipline of creative studies?

It’s the science of creativity. It’s about eliciting creativity in yourself and others. ... It’s almost like a master’s degree in leadership. I wanted something to be more broad because my undergraduate degree was so pinpoint.

How did you end up here at the collaborative?

I did a year job with Americorps and drove by it one day and stopped in, and they hired me.

Talk about the collaborative.

I’ve been here for 2½ years. It’s a nonprofit; we get some donations but mostly we sustain off an earned income model.

We mostly function like a business. We produce all the cards in our boutique in our studio, and we sell them on Etsy, eBay, Amazon and in the brick-and-motor shop here. (They also teach others printing and printmaking.)

This is the sixth annual Edible Book Festival and we’ve been doing it since the beginning (of the collaborative).

What's the collaborative’s mission?

To promote the art of bookmaking, anything from letter press printing, paper making and book binding. We’re here to promote and preserve all these great analog technologies that are quickly disappearing ... and trying to incorporate new technology with the older technology that we use.

What’s the edible book festival like?

It’s a really great festival. Hundreds of people come to it. It’s a celebration of food, literary art and visual art. Some people are into the decorative aspects of it and some people are more into the interpretation, physically creating a book out of food. 

The ground floor really transforms. We get tons of tables out. The doors open at 4 and all the books are displayed for the first couple of hours. There’s no eating until the celebrity judges have ranked each book and decided which one’s most creative, which one’s best tasting and which one is the best book, which means it looks and functions like a book.

There’s three categories: Youth (up to 12), amateur and professional.

Amateur is pretty much anybody else and professional would be a cake decorator or really skilled at making books. Every year, we have a few of those.

We usually have 25 to 30 entries and we’re hoping to get more. It can be intimidating but it shouldn’t be. It’s really fun and we encourage everybody to enter. (Cost is $3 to $5 to enter the competition; admission to the festival is a $5 donation.) For more info, click here.

The people who enter the professional category usually get pretty elaborate. Last year, we had an entry called the ‘Edible Card Catalog.’ These librarians from the Central Library enter every year. It was a card catalog made from ginger bread or a hard cookie. They had words printed on them with edible ink. It was beautiful, really elaborate.

We’ve had bakeries use air brushing and fondant to get really sculptural.

On the other end of the spectrum there are really, really simple and elegant entries that are striking and interesting ways to respond to the challenge of creating an edible book.

What are some of the most creative titles that you’ve seen?

‘Super Fudge,’ the book. They spelled the word ‘super’ out with fudge. And the ‘Count of Monte Cristo’ was Monte Cristo sandwiches and they were all numbered. Another was the ‘Count of Monte Cristo’ and it’s The Count (from Sesame Street). One was ‘On the Essays of Frances Bacon,’ and it was made with bacon.

What do the winners get?

We get prizes donated from local businesses; sometimes nice kitchenware, sometimes tickets to local arts institutions, like the Albright-Knox. Local restaurants will donate gift certificates. Food and art-related toys get donated.

What are these books made out of?

Anything edible. In years past, we’ve had everything from really delicious cakes and things made out of candy and cookies to things like rice paper – it’s technically edible but you wouldn’t really want to eat it.

Last year, an entry was called ‘The Old Man and the Seaweed,’ and it was made from nori and seaweed. It was pretty stinky and gross, but it was edible and it was beautiful. Our founder, Richard Kegler, was the one who entered it. I think there were squid on it, too.

What would you say have been among the healthiest of entries?

Two years ago, there was an entry called the ‘World According to Gorp,’ instead of Garp, and it was a plate of trail mix. There have been some that incorporated fruits and vegetables.

We always do a kids craft at the festival, with food, and last year we did ‘Cat in the Hat’ skewers; it was bananas and strawberries stacked to look like a ‘Cat in the Hat’ hat.

Are you planning to make a book?

Yes. I don’t have any real plans for it yet. It can be last minute because you can’t really start to make it until the day before. ... I’d like to make something healthy. Most people enter a cake.

Let’s talk more about your diet. What are the staples of your diet?

Beans, lentils. We’ve been eating a lot of kale lately. Lots of fruits and vegetables. There’s always faux meat but we try not to eat that too much. We’ve been getting into roasted butternut squash lately; I’ve been doing that several times a week. I really like roasted vegetables.

My grandmother was Italian and would always make stuffed artichokes so I’ve been trying to perfect that recipe.

I have a 20-year-old daughter who’s a vegetarian and I always worry about whether she’s getting enough protein. How do you get enough protein into your diet?

I pay attention to the perfect protein of brown rice and black beans. I try to eat that a few times a week. A lot of the faux meat has protein in it; it’s mostly soy protein. There’s also seitan – it’s pressed wheat gluten. It has this meaty texture and it has lots of protein in it. We try to eat that a couple times a week, too.

We also drink soy and almond milk. That has calcium in it and a little bit of protein.

Are there foods you can’t resist, even though they may not be great for you?

Every time I go to Amy’s Place, I'm tempted. They started carrying these cookie bars that are really good. I’m more of a sweets person. I have the same problem when I go to the (Lexington) food co-op and I pass the table with all those treats. They have peanut butter Rice Krispie treats at the co-op. They’re really good.

Is there a healthy treat that you enjoy?

When Trader Joe’s first opened, they were selling this pumpkin butter. I was putting it on toast with bananas and strawberries. I like putting fruit spreads on whole wheat toast. We also have this, it’s almost like an ice cream maker. It’s called Yonana. You put some bananas into it and it’s like ice cream consistency but you’re really only eating bananas. You can put other fruit into it as well.

What would you like to say about the vegan lifestyle you think most people don’t understand?

It’s not as limiting as you might think. It forces you to be more creative with your diet. Once you start doing it, it becomes second nature. There are plenty of things that are vegan that people might not even know are vegan. If you go to a restaurant like Amy’s Place or Merge and you order something off the vegan menu, it’s just as good – maybe even better – than the non-vegan dish.

What are some questions people ask you?

Do you eat fish? They don’t seem to understand the distinction between meat or poultry or seafood (vegans don’t eat any of this, or dairy and other products made from animals). I try not to talk about it too much because I think people get really uptight about it. The question about protein, getting enough nutrients, getting enough calcium. B-12 is a big one. But I think those questions could be asked of anyone. In order to remain healthy you have to be mindful of what you’re eating. You have to eat a variety of things, no matter what you’re eating, and pay attention to the ingredients and what’s good for you. Just because you’re a meat eater doesn’t mean you’re eating a well-balanced diet.


Twitter: @BNrefresh

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About The Refresh Buffalo Blog

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon is an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered various topics in his quarter-century as a journalist in South Florida, Syracuse and Buffalo. He is aiming to pass along what he is learning these days about health, fitness, nutrition and family life.

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