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At the recent Taste of Madison food festival over Labor Day weekend, chef James Bloodsaw sold out of Chicago dogs — complete with sport peppers and pickled relish — before the event was over for the day. "It started at 2 p.m. and we had a line at 1:30," Bloodsaw says.
Not too surprising, considering hot dogs are a popular food item for fair-like events. But what might be surprising is that the hot dogs were vegan.
As the owner of Just Veggiez, a vegan catering service, Bloodsaw likes to riff on popular meat items and make them plant-based.
At the 2018 Madison Mini Maker Faire, his first event after starting Just Veggiez, Bloodsaw handed out samples of vegan Italian beef sandwiches. "One person was like, ‘this is meat!' Bloodsaw says. "And I said, 'no it's not, it's wheat and spices!'"
Originally from Chicago, Bloodsaw moved to Madison in 1991. He has worked in kitchens since his first job in Chicago at the age of 13 when he helped to prepare food for a summer lunch program. Bloodsaw continued working in the food industry when he moved to Madison; he is currently with Upstairs Downstairs catering.
Despite growing up in a household that ate a lot of meat, Bloodsaw has been a vegan for the past four years. As a black male, Bloodsaw says people are often surprised to find out that he is a vegan. "At first people find it unbelievable," Bloodsaw says. "Then they ask me all the vegan questions like how I became a vegan. And I tell them, 'if I can do it, so can you.'"
While people become vegans for many different reasons, including concern for the environment and animals, Bloodsaw's main motivation was health. "In 2010 my father was on his death bed, and he said, ‘whatever you do, don't end up like this,'" Bloodsaw says. "My father had diabetes, heart issues, high blood pressure ... so I started coaching myself because I wanted to give up the hardest thing for me, which was fried chicken. So I thought, I'm just going to have to be a vegetarian. After about three months I became a vegetarian and it kicked in. I started exercising and being healthy after that. I was always lactose intolerant so then I became a vegan and I just feel much better now."
After becoming a vegan, Bloodsaw started experimenting in the kitchen with making plant-based dishes. While his favorite foods are vegetables — "I put kale, broccoli and spinach in everything," Bloodsaw says — he had fun making vegan "meats" like corned beef. "I would bring things in for lunch and my co-workers would tell me, ‘you ought to be selling this!'" Bloodsaw says.
Bloodsaw started Just Veggiez a year and a half ago and he now caters events in Madison and participates in vegan festivals across the Midwest (check Just Veggiez's facebook page for updates on events).
Bloodsaw also hopes to soon open his own vegan restaurant, "a small place with take-out," he says. "I think being vegan is becoming more popular because people want to be healthy," he says. And Bloodsaw cherishes his role in helping people discover that vegan food can be delicious. "I love spreading the vegan food," Bloodsaw says with a big smile. "I was recently in Chicago visiting family and when they ate some of my cooking they said, ‘wow, I might become a vegan now!' I was like, just try it out. Just try one day a week. See how your body responds. See how you feel."
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