All you need is passion. If you have a passion for something, you’ll create the talent — Yanni
Do you know the story of Yanni? He’s the famous self-taught musician/composer who wrote music for orchestras without actually knowing how to write music. That is to say, he didn’t know the techniques for how to read music. It seems an impossible task to write music for scores of different instruments that all come together so beautifully…without knowing how to read music yourself.
But he did. And it’s his story and his passion that I’m thinking of on this day when I’m writing to you about another talented artist, Kathy Patalsky.
Kathy is the mastermind behind the popular brand and platform, Lunchbox Bunch. She started with a dream – to find creative ways to help kids enjoy healthy and tasty vegan foods. From there she has built not one but two sites that provide resources for thousands of people (young and old alike) about the delights of being vegan. Her self-taught photography skills have grown to the point that you can now find her pictures on iPhone apps for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).
Kathy also fell upon this vision of inspiring healthy and tasty food with no formal cooking training. As a result, her life has become one, big self-taught lesson in success! She’s pursued her passion with tenacity and a fun-spirited style that has contributed to the unique feel of her popular sites, Lunch Box Bunch and Finding Vegan.
But today, we’re taking a brief look at another side of Kathy, her name. Throw together one of Kathy’s famous smoothies or a slice of her delicious vegan pumpkin pie and enjoy this fun conversation with Kathy Patalsky about her life, her work, and her name.
A Chat with Kathy Patalsky
What did your parents name you when you were born?
I was named Kathleen with a “k.” I was named after my father’s mother. And my mom always said she never met a Kathy she didn’t like.
What did you think about your name as a child?
I liked it. I was never really called Kathleen. Always on the first day of school the teacher would call roll and say Kathleen and I would immediately say, “No, it’s Kathy!” So when I got older I tried to do the Kathleen thing but it just never fit me very well. I guess I always thought Kathy was a very friendly name. And I always liked that it was spelled with a K. Not to offend any of those Cathy’s with a “C”!
Is Kathy the only nickname you’ve gone by?
A couple of my friends have called me Kat, but not much.
I love that name!
Me too! I always wanted to have something a little more interesting and creative because sometimes I felt like Kathy was a little too standard and wholesome. You know? Not very artistic. It’s sort of “Brady Bunch” I guess.
Well, maybe it helps you be creative under the guise of a more traditional name?
Maybe! Both my mom and my sister are “c” names so I always felt a little unique being the “k” name.
You didn’t feel left out?
No, I actually liked having a K name.
Let’s talk about your last name. Have you ever changed it?
When I got married I changed my last name. My birth last name was Fena. And that’s from my dad’s parents coming over from Italy. It’s always been a very unique last name because I don’t really meet Fenas unless they’re part of my extended family. It was really hard to let go of that last name because I loved it so much. My sister actually kept it after she got married. I loved that last name too, but it’s gone now!
What went into your thought process in deciding to change it?
I don’t know. I just always knew I wanted to change my last name when I got married. My husband’s last name, Patalsky, is kind of reminiscent of my mother’s maiden name. Both names are Polish, so I kind of felt like I was going back to my roots in a way.
Do you know why it ends in a “y” instead of an “i”?
I noticed that too but I haven’t asked him about that.
I ask that because my last name is McMillen and my dad used to the tell the story about how someone in his family got a little frustratd with someone else in the family – this is 100 years ago or so – and so he moved to another state and changed the spelling from McMillin to McMillen. You could do that back then! Nobody really cared.
That’s the thing, my dad’s parent’s actual last name was not Fena, but when they came over on the boat, they had to think of a name that was easy to spell and for people to understand. So they thought they liked the word Fine and that resulted in Fena. They made it up! People usually would pronounce it “feh-na” instead of “fee-na” and so I always had to correct them.
So now you have a new name you get to tell people how to pronounce!
I saw you have a cat named Nelly. I love to talk to people about their pet’s names. How did you pick this name?
When I adopted her, the thing I loved about her is that she was black and white, and I was in college back then and my favorite line of makeup was Chanel. So I decided I would name her after Channel because it also had a black and white aesthetic to it. So I named her Channel and nicknamed her Nelly.
What a cute name!
Yeah, it really fits her well.
You started a site called Lunch Box Bunch and I read on your site that your goal was to inspire kids of all ages to become curious about their food. When did the inspiration for this site hit you?
Well, I was in college and I was working with kids as an education specialists for the national zoo and so I was constantly surrounded by children and I was teaching them about things that involved animals and the environment and all that I’m also passionate about. But I really wanted to do something that was my own project that involved food. So I kind of went back to my own artistic roots and I started doodling and creating random little certain veggie characters and I just thought it was a really fun way to kind of start a conversation about food. It got kids interested in acting questions and saying what their favorite foods are and it evolved into creating a bunch of characters. I go to classes and I like whole foods and get kids excited about stuff that they’re kind of already excited about but in a fun way. I think cooking is such a fun activity and I think some parents turn it into a chore, eating cooked vegetables. IT can really be fun.
When did you first start blogging?
I started about 3 years ago when I moved to NYC with my husband. I had just quit my full-time job, left graduate school early, and we had just gotten married. I kind of wanted to follow my husband’s lead because he’s an entrepreneur. It was very shaky at first. It was difficult because I wasn’t surrounded by co-workers and the community of people. But then I realized that the online community is very satisfying and I was doing what I loved.
How has it changed your life?
I’m so lucky because I’m doing two things I love – I’m working with food and I’m doing photography. My artistic skills are growing. And the brand that I’m building will definitely continue to grow and hopefully someday I’ll have my own book. I have goals. It’s not like this is a hobby. It’s a career for me.
As a teenager you were a big fan of Marilu Henner and her book Total Health Makeover.
She’s actually the reason I got interested in veganism. And definitely I went dairy free because of her because she’s a huge dairy free advocate. I read her book in high school and it just changed my life because I didn’t know any of that before I read it. Then four years later I got to meet her at a book signing. Then last year I got to talk to her on the phone when she did the veggie girl power series.
You came up with the idea for the Veggie Girl Power Interview series. What inspired you to create that?
As I learned more about other vegan bloggers out there, I began to foster huge amounts of respect for these other women who are doing the same things. Some of them have huge best-selling books and successful restaurants. I really wanted to connect with these women on the same level as our common caring vegan ground and see how they got where they are. There are a lot of young girls out there who go vegan or say they want to be vegetarian and don’t necessarily get the response or support they deserve. I wanted to create some kind of supportive community where other girls know there are strong vegan women out there. That they’re not alone.
I love your Finding Vegan site. Another great idea!
Thanks. I had been thinking about it for quite awhile when I got so addicted to TasteSpotting and FoodGawker. I remember wishing that all those recipes were vegan and that’s when I thought maybe I should start a vegan photo sharing site.
Was it a lot of work?
It was! But my husband is a computer architect and he’s been a huge help. He did all the back-end stuff and I did all the visual. It’s a lot of work to maintain because submissions are constantly coming in. It’s hard having to reject people’s submissions because I know how personal food and photography is. But I’m really proud of the site and it’s continuing to grow.
I noticed you have a lot of side projects as well. For example you photographed recipes for PCRM’s iPhone app?
They contacted me one day and said they wanted 10 recipes cooked and photographed in a week. I knew it was a great opportunity but it was a lot of work. They gave me the recipes and I bought all the ingredients, cook the recipes, and photograph them all including process photos. I normally do 4 to 5 recipes a week, so doing 10 was a lot of work. But the photos came out beautiful and the recipes were awesome. And it’s always fun to try other people’s recipes because sometimes I get in my own little box of being an intuitive baker and just cooking what I know works for me so it was nice trying other people’s recipes all week.
What you do has to be more than a full-time job – between your blog, Finding Vegan, and these other projects?
It’s not a traditional kind of job but I’m literally thinking about my work 24/7, even on weekends I’ll do little things for a post, a recipe or photograph or something. If I’m out I’m talking on Twitter. It’s a 24/7 thing! Some people would say that’s not healthy, but I find it so satisfying and fun because I really love it!
Back to the topic of names, if you could have any name you wanted for just one day, what would you pick?
In college I wanted to be Tiffany. When I was little I wanted to be Stacy. And recently I’ve liked Rosalie. I think about this a lot. I also like the name Lucy. I think it’s very sweet. I don’t know. I used to want to change my name because I just thought mine wasn’t interesting enough. I like the name Liza too. By the way, my husband hates his name too. It seems like every time we watch television, the crazy annoying weird guy is named Gary. It’s so true. He’ll look over at me and say, “I want to change my name!”
Tell him I’ve met plenty of people who’ve done just that! I think there are a lot of people who would like to change their name but they’re nervous about how that would come across to other people.
I experimented with it. When I started college I decided I would be Kathleen because I thought that would be fresh and new, but it just didn’t fit me. I don’t know what it was about such a formal name. Every time someone started to use it I would say, “Oh, just call me Kathy.”
Is there anyone now who calls you Kathleen?
Not really. I can’t think of anyone who does.
There’s a certain formality to the name Kathleen.
Yeah, I was almost Kathryn, but they didn’t go with that. The French version is Katrine. That was my name in French class. Actually, I really like that name! When I need to be really serious or getting into some business that I’m nervous about, sometimes I’ll say that my alter ego is Katia. The thing is I’m naturally more of a shy, sweet person and not aggressive. So in those situations I’ll just turn on my Katia. I always thought that would be a fun name.
It is a beautiful name.
Ever since I was young I would do acting in plays. I was always the kind of person who was very shy and quiet in class but if you put me on stage, I could turn into a whole different, loud person and really express myself. I feel like I’ve been like that my whole life.
It was Shakespeare who said, “All the world’s a stage…” and it appears Kathy Patalsky has found the stage where she’s most at home – using her blog, photography, recipe development skills, and writing to tell the world about the fun world of cooking healthy food.
And of course, it doesn’t hurt that she’s got that alter ego, Katia. According to Julia Cameron, we could all use an inner guide or two to help us through some tricky moments. I like Kathy’s approach, however, of giving that inner guide a powerful name!
If you’ve enjoyed getting to know a little more about Kathy, venture over to her site, Lunch Box Bunch where you can try out some of her tasty and creative vegan recipes. It’s in seeing her site that you really get a feel for the creative talent behind this wonderful person named Kathy. Just watch out for Katia though, she’s not someone to be messed with!