From Vegetarian Times; June 2008

This CNN anchor stays on top of her vegan diet as well as the news by TRACEY PEPPER

Visitors to CNN.com may know Nicole Lapin as the engaging anchor of the weekly interview series “Young People Who Rock,” which profiles people under 30 making a difference, as well as the website’s “Now in the News” hourly updates. But what they may not know about Lapin, 24, is that the Los Angeles native has been a vegetarian for 12 years and a vegan for the last six. Having logged her share of 15-hour days, Lapin (who has covered the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, the death of former U.S. President Gerald Ford, and the Virginia Tech shooting since joining CNN in 2006) has learned to be creative when it comes to sticking to her vegan diet on the set, in the field, or even at a fancy expense-account meal with producers. “I can even find something to eat in a steakhouse,” she says.

As a journalist and news anchor, you must be on-the-go a lot. How do you stay vegan with such a busy job?
I improvise a lot. When I was out in the field reporting, I learned how to make a lovely meal out of fast food. At Starbucks, you can get the Trail Mix, cut-up fruit, and a soy drink. At a gas station, you can do the Planter’s Nuts or Crazins and an energy drink. I’ve just discovered a fast-food burrito joint called Moe’s in the food court at CNN and I can get a tofu burrito there.

Do you cook at home for yourself?
No, I can’t even cook toast. It’s so bad, I just don’t have time. I’d rather have things that are already prepared and be really flexible when I eat out. I don’t make a huge fuss when I’m in a big group. I assess the surroundings and act like a chameleon.

What about on the set at CNN? Do you bring your own food?
During the Super Tuesday coverage, Catering served chicken breast, potatoes, and salad, so I just had the salad, potatoes, and steamed vegetables. I like to at least participate because you don’t want to feel weird or special, but I’ll always bring a power bar. That way I can engage in the social aspect but have something handy if I need to nosh.

You’ve traveled around the country for your job. Any favorite restaurants you can recommend?
In Atlanta, we have a great vegetarian restaurant called Café Sunflower. In Palm Springs I’d recommend Native Foods. In Los Angeles, Vegan Glory is fantastic. It’s all Thai food and they have this fabulous vegan “chicken” chopped salad. In New York, my favorite is Gobo, which is high-end vegan.

What inspired you to go from vegetarian to vegan?
I went to Paris to study and, because I was a vegetarian, all I ate was bread and cheese. At some point I developed an intense aversion to dairy. When I got home I could not look at a piece of cheese. I was in France for six months and that was enough time to make me vegan.

How old were you when you stopped eating meat?
I was probably 11. It started because I love animals, but as I grew up I realized meat was unnecessary in my diet. My family is Israeli and I was raised in a kosher household, so we didn’t eat a ton of meat. We ate a lot of Mediterranean foods like hummus and baba ganoush, or cucumber, tomato, and onion salad. When my grandpa would come from Israel, we’d take him to [Mexican restaurant chain] Baja Fresh and he’d go to the salsa bar and think that was the salad.

Eleven is young to make such a strong lifestyle choice. How did your parents react?
When I stopped eating meat, my mom was inspired to do it too. She’s not completely vegan — she says she can’t give up her feta cheese, but she is primarily vegetarian, so she’s really supportive.

Did you find it difficult to cut out dairy? A vegan diet is more restrictive.
It is, and every now and then I’m like, ‘I wish there were such a thing as fake brie,’ but it’s really important for me not to waver. People compromise too readily on their beliefs and I just don’t think it’s necessary to eat meat and dairy to stay healthy and active and to have energy.

Do you ever miss foods that you gave up when you went vegan?
No, no not really. I have a big sweet tooth but I’ve discovered so many lovely vegan cakes. I even found this woman in Georgia who makes vegan cupcakes. I brought them to a meeting for “Young People Who Rock” and all these big producer guys were like, “These are great, I love these.” I didn’t say anything until afterward when I told them, “By the way, they’re vegan,” and they were like, “They’re what?”

Do people ever ask why you you’ve made such an extreme choice in terms of your eating?
I don’t really feel that it’s extreme. I think there’s a misconception that vegans are high-maintenance, when in actuality we’re pretty low-maintenance. I don’t have to cook. I don’t have to defrost things. Give me an avocado, a cucumber, and a piece of tofu and I’m good!