New Day New Chef: Jane Velez-Mitchell’s new cooking show explores plant-based eating

By Tom Reardon, April 2020 issue.

Fair warning, dear friends … You may read something in this interview that you didn’t want to know. You may also learn some things that will change the way you look at the world.

Jane Velez-Mitchell wants the world to change. Not tomorrow, not next week or next month or next year, either. Velez-Mitchell wants the world to change now because if we don’t, there may not be any humans left to celebrate with her when she turns 100 in 2056. Even the Rolling Stones legendary totem to imperviousness, Keith Richards, could be long gone by then if we don’t change our ways according to the media personality and host of the new Amazon Prime TV show, New Day New Chef, but her message is anything but doom and gloom.

Velez-Mitchell is all about embracing a healthy, plant-based lifestyle, and healing our planet. The 63-year-old Los Angeles resident is about as positive as you can get.

Truth be told, Velez-Mitchell has had an amazing life. Born in New York City, Velez-Mitchell grew up living across the street from Carnegie Hall. Her mother, Anita, was born in Puerto Rico and carved out a niche for herself as a dancer and writer while her father, Pearse, was an advertising executive who, as Velez-Mitchell tells it, had a career that mirrored the cast of AMC’s Mad Men. For Velez-Mitchell, her youth in the Big Apple was exciting and offered life experience that nowhere else could offer, including getting to go to the famed Studio 54 in its heyday.

After graduating from New York University, Velez-Mitchell became a broadcast journalist and spent time in Fort Myers, Florida, Minneapolis (where she first arrived in winter without a coat and wearing open-toed shoes), and Philadelphia before landing a job in her hometown at WCBS. From there, Velez-Mitchell’s career began to really take off. In 1990, she landed an anchor spot in Los Angeles and, as she puts it, she thought she had “Died and gone to heaven.” After 12 years in L.A., brighter lights came calling again and she headed back to New York for a gig with CNN that lead to eventually hosting her own eponymously named show on the HLN (Headline News or CNN2) network for six years.

You may also recognize Velez-Mitchell’s name from one of her four books, as well, including Exposed: The Secret Life of Jodi Arias, which was a New York Times best seller and allowed her to spend more than her fair share of quality time in the Valley of the Sun. Velez-Mitchell worked extensively in the true crime world (does the show Celebrity Justice ring a bell?) and, in addition to the Arias case, she also spent considerable time working on the Michael Jackson molestation trial while the controversial King of Pop was still alive.

All these accomplishments would be more than enough for the average Jane, but Velez-Mitchell is just getting started. She’s got her own website, janeunchained.com, that focuses on animal rights, vegan living, and the work of Velez-Mitchell and her team of collaborators and volunteers (It’s also part of a 501c3.) The website is well worth a bookmark if you like keeping up to date on these issues and Velez-Mitchell also has a daily cooking show on her Facebook page (facebook.com/JaneVelezMitchell/) that is also well worth checking out.

In short, Velez-Mitchell is kicking ass, taking names, and doing her part to save the planet. We talked over the phone a few weeks ago and here is what she had to say:

Echo: Did you always want to be a journalist?

Velez-Mitchell: When I was younger, I did some protests and I was actually interviewed so that’s when I decided to check out broadcast journalism. I had wanted to be a syndicated columnist, but after being interviewed, I went to NYU and after I graduated, I started my career.

You have had a remarkable career. How did you end up covering the true crime stories?

Well, after I left KCAL (in Los Angeles in 2002), I ended up going to a show called Celebrity Justice. That was a real breakthrough for me. I ended up covering the Michael Jackson trial and I was on Larry King Live and filling in for Nancy Grace. Through that I ended up getting my own show on CNN headline news in 2008. I kept my place here (in Los Angeles) because I thought it would be short-lived.

I thought I was just going to go there for a couple of months but the show ended up running for six years. So that was really wonderful. I was in New York during those six years from 2008 to 2014 and then I spent one more year because my mother was still living at the same place across from Carnegie Hall and she was quite old. She lived until she was 99 and a half on a primarily vegan diet.

Was your mom always vegan?

No. She started me on the journey, though. She grew up in Puerto Rico on Vieques Island. She had a pet pig growing up, but it was actually a food animal and she came home one day, and her pig had been slaughtered. She literally fainted. When she woke up, she was very disillusioned by the adults around her and she shunned meat from then on.

Oh wow. I can see how that would have an impact on someone. 

It wasn’t as religious as calling yourself a vegan, but we didn’t have meat in the house, and we didn’t eat it. We thought we were vegetarian, but we weren’t. We ate fish, we ate eggs, we ate cheese and milk. After I graduated from college and went off on my own, it was around 1980, just around the time that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) was getting started that I started as a journalist.

I was sent some videos of animal cruelty and it really opened my eyes. I do feel seeing the videos of what they actually do to these animals, as compared to the lies that they promulgate in their advertising, you know, happy cows roaming in grass, most of these animals are raised in concentrated animal feeding operations where they never see the sky, they never touch grass. The only time they see the sky is on a terrified and thirsty ride to the slaughterhouse.

Was that enough to encourage you to go from being a vegetarian to living a plant-based lifestyle?

When I was in Los Angeles, a fourth-generation cattle rancher named Howard Lyman came in to do an interview. He had written a book called Mad Cowboy (1998) and he was famously on Oprah. After the interview, he and his publicist came up to my cubicle and they said, “We hear you’re a vegetarian.” I said, “Yes” and they said, “Do you eat dairy?”

I kind of hung my head because he had just told me all about the horrors of the dairy industry. (Such as) babies separated from their mothers, boy calves thrown on dead piles or shot or put in veal crates. It’s just a horror from beginning to end. It’s torture. It’s institutionalized torture. So I said, “Yes” to answer his question (about) dairy and he and his publicist pointed their finger at me and they said, right at my nose, they said, “Liquid meat” (in reference to dairy) and that was the moment I went (vegan). That was about 22 or 23 years ago.

So, no meat products since then?

Or meat byproducts.

Liquid meat. That will definitely cross my mind the next time I think about getting some ice cream.

Well, you know, now there’s all this incredible vegan ice cream. Haagen Daaz has a vegan ice cream. Ben and Jerry’s has it. Those ice creams are just fine. They taste great and they have the added benefit of being zero cholesterol. So, they are healthier for you than dairy. Dairy is one of the most undiagnosed allergies. People are not meant to drink the breast milk of another species. When you think about it that way, it starts to seem as gross as it really is.

There are so many new products out there. I’ve heard some people say that they can barely tell the difference any more between the Impossible burgers and a beef burger.

Now it’s gotten so sophisticated. You can’t tell the difference.

That’s why we did the show (New Day New Chef). We want to make it fun. We want to invite people into this joyous lifestyle that has been unfairly painted as some sort of sacrifice. The truth is, it’s a sacrifice to eat animals. Only six different species of animals are consumed primarily. Cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, goats, and lamb. But when it comes to vegetables, there’s tens of thousands of vegetables. There are tens of thousands of different kinds of fruits. There are hundreds of different kinds of grains, so you can have a lot more variety in vegetarian and vegan cooking than you would in a meat-based cooking. You could do more in the kitchen with it.

(L to R): Jane Elizabeth, SeykaMejeur, Brian Mejeur, Jane Velez-Mitchell, Simone Reyes, Sean Hill, and Audrey Dunham. Photo courtesy of New Day New Chef.

So, New Day New Chef has a huge canvas to work with and it’s better for everyone, correct?

The whole world has to change because we are headed for an ecological apocalypse based on animal agriculture, but there’s a resistance because, look at the TV commercials, meat, dairy and pharmaceuticals. Nope. If you go to a plant-based diet you don’t need that erectile dysfunction drug, most likely. You don’t need that heart disease drug or the cholesterol lowering drugs. A lot of that is going to go away. Heart disease kills one in four Americans.

The truth is there is a commonality between gay rights and animal rights. They are not mutually exclusive. When people are marching for women’s rights, human rights, gay rights, they should also march for animal rights. They complement each other. We could eliminate world hunger if we switch to a plant-based diet. We are raising and killing 70 billion land animals per year, more if you include fish, into the trillions, and farm animals are the most inefficient food source because they eat 40 times what they produce in food. We could all live in a world of natural abundance if we switched to a plant-based diet. Everyone would have enough to eat.

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