‘Honestly, is anything more of a turn on than freshly baked bread you can tear into together?’ My conversation with the brilliant mind behind World of Vegan
There’s a subtle familiarity to the tone of Michelle Cehn’s voice, an innate warmth about her that announces its presence before she even speaks a word. A magnetism that disarms and puts the mind at ease, all the while inspiring to accomplish all the things, save all the animals.
Indeed, the founder and CEO of World of Vegan is every bit authentic as she appears on your Instagram feed, espousing the benefits of a vegan lifestyle for a gentler, more compassionate society in which people care about the well-being of the planet and all who inhabit it.
“World of Vegan was born out of my desire to create a kinder world,” Cehn said. “My journey toward a vegan lifestyle began when I was quite young. I became vegetarian at the age of 8 and vegan in college. I was horrified by the way animals were treated in the meat, dairy, and egg industries and I didn’t want to contribute to their suffering.”
World of Vegan is a unicorn in that the brand’s approach to educating others is rooted in compassion. As opposed to the ineffective “angry vegan” shaming strategies employed by some animal welfare organizations preoccupied with fame-seeking, Cehn’s innate, sincere benevolence has helped the brand amass more than a million followers on social media channels.
“I believe that our current food system is out of alignment with most people’s existing values, and if they knew what was happening behind the closed doors of factory farms, they would be equally horrified,” Cehn explained. “I launched World of Vegan to create a space where people could learn about the benefits of a vegan lifestyle and get practical tips for making the transition (without the finger wagging or judgment that I noticed in many other circles).”
The woman behind the camera
It’s a sunny Sunday in Sacramento when Michelle Cehn prepares to film a sustainability video for the week ahead, an educational reel explaining strategies to preserve the freshness of the fruits and veggies that far-too-often rot in our fridge before their intended use.
Whereas videos of this nature on other popular social media accounts appear too perfect, too unrealistic, too made-for-social-media, I believe there’s an instinctive, untaught sincerity to Cehn’s videos, a spontaneity to be both silly and deeply connected to her values, a quintessential authenticity that simply resonates with the account’s followers.
“If you were to shift the camera just a little to the left or right…you’d see piles of unwashed dishes and food splashes scattered across my kitchen,” she concedes, “and if you did a full 180-degree turn, you’d see me, polished from the waist up for filming, with pajamas on the bottom.”
Influencers: some of them are just like us!
We, the social media followers, have come to value the kind eyes and tranquilizing smile from the woman behind World of Vegan’s library of videos, offering us a moment of zen amid a timeline and feed of near-endless hatred and bad news. As the immense success and life wisdom belies her age, I once more attempt to discover: who is Michelle Cehn?
“I’m still trying to figure this out,” she acknowledges. “I love the simple things: being in nature, camping, hiking, floating down the river, reading, visiting animal sanctuaries with my little one, getting creative in the kitchen, and being a massive introvert. And I’m an entrepreneur at heart—I love brainstorming ideas and bringing them to life.”
As a self-described introvert making her mark on a platform that necessitates social interaction to be among the most successful in the field, it’s the genuine nature of the conversations with World of Vegan’s followers that energizes Cehn and continues to fuel her spirit to educate and make the world a safer, kinder space for all.
“As someone who spends most of their days working alone, it’s easy to feel disconnected. It’s tremendously touching to meet people who have connected with my work and share a moment of actual human contact that’s missing from social media,” she said. “Whether it’s at the grocery store, an event, or the airport, every person who has approached me has left an imprint on me that I remember vividly. These moments of connection remind me why I do what I do, and they give me the fire to keep going when I start to question if I’m making a difference. So, if you ever see me out and about, please do come say hi! I would love nothing more than to connect with you in person.”
A decade ago, I caught on to the simple joy of watching cooking videos, the gentle music in the background as an ambrosial, fully-cooked meal wills itself to creation in a matter of minutes. Though, I recognized the inherent facade of it all, a team of producers and lighting professionals making everything look perfectly-so, and the myriad of team members that polishes the final product. It begs the question: how do food bloggers and recipe creators on social media achieve comparable results, let alone sustain the success year-over-year?
“Content creation is a lot of work and creates far more chaos than just cooking the recipe,” Cehn explained. “In addition to preparing the food, you need props, camera equipment, and garnishes to make the food look as visually appealing as possible. Everything has to move quickly so that you can capture the food while it’s still steamy and glossy, with perky fresh garnishes. After all, the camera eats first, and its focus is aesthetics. (And when you think about it, most food doesn’t actually look that attractive unless you take the time to dress it up.)”
In an age of deceptive, insincere AI-generated recipes with wildly unpredictable outcomes, there’s a reliability and consistency to World of Vegan’s cooking videos, the byproduct of meticulous behind-the-scenes testing and preparations, all in the name of ensuring the content Cehn produces is accessible to followers.
“As a content creator, I’m on a million to inspire people to eat more plants,” she said, “and to do that, I need to make it fun, make it easy, make it attractive, and of course, make it delicious.”
The proud Jewish vegan
The Torah portion of Cehn’s Bat Mitzvah, Noah (additional resources here), is another testament to her passion for animal rights, also the topic of her speech. To think about the advocacy opportunities she embraced soon after, let alone the development of a brand respected, admired, and followed by more than a million people globally and counting, surely her family and those closest to her are kvelling.
Compassion for animals is a value inherent to the Jewish faith, and Cehn exemplifies this ethos in her work while honoring her Jewish heritage. One of only a very precious few in the industry to offer veganized recipes of traditional Jewish dishes, Cehn’s content is a celebration of these values.
“Noodle kugel is a dish that holds a special place in my heart as it has always been enjoyed surrounded by my loved ones,” she said. “It’s a particularly vegan un-friendly dish since it typically contains eggs, milk, cottage cheese, sour cream, and butter. But after much experimentation, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that silken tofu was the perfect substitute for these ingredients, creating a vegan version of noodle kugel that is just as delicious as the original. Not only does the tofu blend seamlessly with the other ingredients to create the perfect texture, but it also adds a healthy protein boost to this decadent and comforting dish.”
Equipped with a growing arsenal of recipes at the nexus of Jewish traditions and vegan values, I have to ask: what is her favorite Jewish holiday or observance to cook for family and friends?
“In the past, I would have undoubtedly chosen Hanukkah as my favorite Jewish holiday. It’s the perfect occasion to indulge in all the celebratory Jewish recipes that I love,” she said. “However, my love for Passover foods has grown in recent years.”
Discovering the versatility of silken tofu as a secret powerhouse in traditional Jewish dishes has proven to be the solution to matching the material consistency of traditional recipes.
“I eagerly anticipate vegan matzo ball soup every year, especially now that I have perfected the recipe,” Cehn said. “It’s a difficult dish to master, and after countless failed attempts (we’re talking total matzo ball disintegration), I’ve finally learned the secret to perfect plant-powered matzo balls that hold their shape beautifully in broth. Once again, it involves silken tofu!
“I also enjoy making chocolate-covered matzah and chocolate-toffee matzah, and I plan to veganize my childhood favorite, Matzo Brei, soon. This year, my family and I had fun experimenting with various ways to make Matzah Pizza, and we even came up with some creative twists that everyone enjoyed.”
As years of recipe testing and content generation fill the memories of her active, vibrant mind, I excitedly challenge her with a rapid succession of questions.
What are your favorite vegan choices for:
- Date night? Challah! Honestly, is anything more of a turn on than freshly baked bread you can tear into together? I have a fantastic vegan challah recipe in my cookbook, The Friendly Vegan Cookbook.
The most exhausting day ever and you need to make a quick dinner? Pasta! There are infinite plant-based pasta recipes to choose from. Or keep it really simple and just add a jar of pasta sauce (or olive oil, salt, garlic powder, and nutritional yeast).
- A healthy meal to fuel a long day ahead? Soups and stews loaded with veggies, lentils, grains, herbs, and flavorful broth, are a staple in my home. Two of my favorites are this Instant Pot lentil barley soup and this sweet pea and sweet potato stew. You can meal prep these in advance and portion them out into microwave-safe glass containers to keep in the fridge or even freeze for a later date.
- Pre- and post-workout? Pre workout: a vegan protein bar, or nothing. Post workout: a green smoothie like this mango spinach smoothie followed by a massive carb-filled meal like a burrito, yellow curry tofu on a bed of rice, or a meal from a vegan restaurant near me if I’m too tired to cook.
- The perfect weekend brunch? Tofu scramble and bagels with vegan schmear, capers, microgreens, and carrot lox.
- A family member or friend who has never before had a fully vegan meal, and they’re skeptics? Tofu ricotta stuffed shells served with sheet pan roasted asparagus with burst tomatoes and a garlic tahini drizzle, my carrot-inspired spin on moscow mules, and lemon olive oil cake for dessert.
After peppering the chef-slash-social-media-star-slash-animal-welfare-dynamo extraordinaire with who are you really? questions, one final reflective inquiry remains: are you satisfied?
“Through our articles, videos, and social media channels, we’ve been able to reach millions of people around the world and help them make the switch to a kinder, healthier, and more sustainable way of living,” Cehn said. “I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished with World of Vegan, and excited to continue growing in new directions and spreading the message of compassion and plant-based living to even more people in the years to come.”