Photo credit: Caitlin Abrams, MplsStPaul Magazine

Keeping up with Coco and Lala from the Beginning

Coco Laud, along with her long-time friend and now co-host YoLanda “Lala” Lolar-Johnson, created “Keeping Up with Coco and Lala,” a cooking show devoted to testing vegan and vegetarian recipes. They broadcast their show weekly on Facebook Live, not only showing audiences how to make the recipes but also adding their own personal (and very honest) opinions on how the various vegan and vegetarian foods taste. They started in July of 2017 and as of January 2020, have over 10,000 followers on Facebook alone.

After only a few minutes of talking with Coco in person, it comes as little surprise they were able to gain traction so quickly. Her genuine candor and sense of humor combine with a clear passion of purpose in promoting a plant based lifestyle. However, Coco and Lala’s message and style do not come across as dogmatic or preachy at all. In fact, quite the contrary which is refreshing and clearly effective given their fast flow of followers and fans.

Not long after her and Lala’s improvised cherry chat that started it all, Coco watched the Netflix documentary, “What the Health,” which investigates the negative health consequences associated with processed foods, especially meat and the large corporate influence peddling unhealthy choices to the American public. After viewing the documentary, they both went in search for plant- based foods. Lala went to the Dollar Store and bought processed foods, whereas Coco went to Fresh Thyme to get fruits and vegetables.

Coco recalls, with a hint of playfully animated disgust, “I looked at her food and I said, ‘There’s no way, I’m not eating that processed food, I never have and I’m not starting now!’ And with my fruits and vegetables I wanted something heated, something warm. We were trying to figure out what we were going to eat. Could we still eat our favorite foods and have it be vegetarian? I decided to go vegetarian, not vegan, my co-host (Lala) has always been vegetarian and decided to go vegan. That’s really how we got started, all from a documentary.”

Their show, Keeping Up with Coco and Lala, broadcasts on Facebook Live Thursdays at 1:30 pm central time, usually filmed from Coco’s kitchen in Medina. After only two or three videos, they were already getting calls for interviews.

“We were asked where we saw ourselves going, we didn’t know! We just went live and started cooking! We were trying to figure out what we were going to eat, we figured if we had that question, other people had that question. It was just our family and friends, and then they started sharing it, and then more people started getting involved.”

The Radio Show

As Coco tells the story of being approached by a radio station, she communicates in a way that puts you, the listener, right in the story, as if you were there live when it happened and she is role playing it out in tone and style. “A year after doing the Facebook cooking show, a radio station called and asked if we’d ever thought of doing a radio show. No! I didn’t go to broadcasting school and never worked at a radio station, but we’re going to do it! So we produced our own radio show too.”

She describes one of their greatest challenges on the radio show versus the live Facebook show. “On the Facebook cooking show we test recipes, try new products and do restaurant reviews.”

“There, we’re trying to dispel the myths that eating plant based costs a lot, it’s flavorless, there are only salads and you can’t have your warm comfort food. But how do you eat in the room on radio? How do we educate with the same laughter as on the camera? The cool thing is we talk about the latest news and bring on a lot of celebrities. We had John Salley, the former NBA player and four time champion, as our first guest. We started the radio station in July, he came on in August and we didn’t know how to work the board, so when he first called we hung up on him. ‘Oh no! We just hung up on John Salley!’ Since then, the executive producer and a doctor from What the Health has been on the show. To hear them say, ‘Coco and Lala, we love what you’re doing!’ and we’re saying ‘You love what we’re doing?! We love what you’re doing!’ It’s just been an amazing journey!”

The duo have also been on Twin Cities Live, WCCO, Fox 9, the Buzz, The Jason Show as well as written up in MplsStPaul Magazine and City Pages. In November the two were flown out to Los Angeles to film a buzz feed video for the Goodful channel where they taste tested jackfruit, the trendy (and legit) substitute for chicken.You can check out that video here:

Meatless for the Mainstream

“Today’s vegan and vegetarian food is not the same vegetarian and vegan food of our parents. People believe we only eat salads. We went to the Wilder Foundation for an event with the youth and we served our cauliflower spaghetti with cauliflower bolognese sauce. People loved it because it looks like meat and tastes like meat. One lady was saying, ‘Oh my goodness this is bomb!’ and she goes, ‘What’s in it?’ And she’s shoveling it in and I said, ‘Cauliflower,’ and she said, ‘I hate cauliflower!’” Coco laughs as she describes the interaction. (See page 21 for Coco and Lala’s recipe.)

“When we’re trying a recipe, you can literally watch our show, go to the store, come back and make it with us again. Just because you go meatless, that doesn’t mean you have to buy all organic. Nowadays it doesn’t have to be super expensive to go meatless. The bolognese I serve my family is $7.00. The sauce is always on sale, the cauliflower is $2, the noodles $2. I’ll put that with a side salad, I like to make sure you have plenty of vegetables on your plate. Now we have raw and cooked vegetables.

“In America one day we’ll eat Italian, another day Mexican, another day Asian, you can throw in a vegan and vegetarian day without the pressure of, ‘I said it publicly and now I’m stuck.’ That’s why on our show we say, I don’t care if you eat meat six days a week, do YOU. At least try this.”

Family in Favor

In regards to the whether the rest of her family decided to go meatless, Coco says, “It was my choice, I don’t pressure my family to do anything. I didn’t show them the documentary, but my kids watched it on their own. One of my daughters decided she wanted to go vegan. I let my older kids do whatever they want.” To fill time as Coco and Lala are adding ingredients or cooking, they will often talk about current events or different topics. Coco’s husband, Matt, is a big supporter of Coco’s work and assists in his own way. Coco jests, “He literally sends me articles three to five times a day, seven days a week and he’d be getting mad at me, like, ‘Did you see this?!’”

Home Growing and the Organic “Rule”

“We also talk about growing your own food (on Keeping Up with Coco and Lala). Last summer I grew strawberries. I have a salsa garden with cilantro, tomatoes, basil, jalapenos, bell peppers and everything. Grow what you can and buy what you can’t. I went out to my basil plant and picked 30 leaves. Five days later there were 60 leaves there! Oh my goodness, I thought, what am I going to do with this? I cut them off, put them on a sheet pan in my oven at 200 degrees for an hour, dried it out, crumbled it up and put it in my spice jar. Now I have my own home grown parsley, basil and cilantro to use through the winter from what I had grown in the summer. You may as well save yourself a few dollars, I already paid for the plant, but use it through the winter and you can feel better about it because you grew it yourself.”

Coco says, “The rule of thumb is if you’re going to eat the skin, you should probably buy organic. That may not be reasonable for many people, so you just do the best you can. This is not some high maintenance movement. It can be reasonably done. Like when we’re demo’ing the cauliflower spaghetti sauce, some people say, ‘I don’t have a food processor,’ to rice the cauliflower and I say, ‘Use a cheese grater. Or buy riced cauliflower in the frozen section.’ There are meat substitutes for the ground meat if you really want it. My health care background says use a vegetable!”

Healthcare Costs Relation to the American Diet

Given Coco’s background in healthcare and as a rising star in the meatless movement, I wanted her take on how healthcare costs are related to the American diet.

“Just living in America and eating the standard American diet, you do need to add more fruits and vegetables. The reason I don’t believe in pushing this on people is how you feel, the health benefits, speak for itself. Do it once a week! If you do meatless Monday, you feel better, you sleep better, your skin clears up and you have better energy. I don’t get the ‘itis’ after meals anymore.” (“itis” meaning that drowsy, lethargic feeling you get after eating large meals.) I have more energy; I am a mom of five, I should be drained at the end of the day. I do feel adding more fruits & vegetables and the amount of FRESH vegetables has helped on a daily basis.

“Healthin’ It Up”

“About two months after the show started, we were making vegan dirt cups with Oreos and pudding and Cool Whip and a little gummy worm on top. It’s vegan because Oreos have no butter. We used Coco Whip and replaced the milk with almond milk. At the time there were no vegan gummy worms. I’m a visual eater, I like things to be picture perfect, so I put blueberries on top. We were live and my co-host is like, ‘Did you just put fruit on top of a dirt cup?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah!’ but I’m thinking, ‘Shut up! We’re live! Why are you asking me this?’ ‘Why would you put fruit on top of a dirt cup?’ and I said, ‘BeCUZ…I’m healthin’ it up!’ That was a good answer, right? I was relishing it!

“And then she (Lala) goes, ‘Healthin? Healthin is not a word!’ and before I could say, ‘duh’ people who were watching the show were spelling out how we should spell healthin. That’s why I love doing the show live! I said, ‘According to all these people, healthin is a word, so MMM!’ I was running out of comebacks, but I didn’t need to with the audience.

“It’s literally about taking baby steps to get healthy, whatever that means to you. And that’s not limited to food, it’s healthin’ up your mind, healthin’ up your community. It’s just a daily reminder that no, I’m not expecting you to be perfect, just do the best that you can. If you eat bacon five times a week, but cut back to three, you’re healthin it up!” Coco and Lala have since trademarked the phrase, “Healthin’ it up.”

Tune in and Veg Out

After interviewing Coco, it was evident from her genuine passion, subject knowledge and positive energy that she and Lala are going places and for all the right reasons. Their meatless message is extremely relevant with today’s growing trend of plant based diets. Especially when you consider companies like Beyond Meat going public on the Nasdaq and Impossible Foods partnering with chains as big as Burger King with their Impossible Whopper, as well as selling to local restaurants. You can actually get a mean Impossible burger from both Robert’s Restaurant and OAK Eatery right here in Medina, MN.

Coco and Lala’s trendy subject matter paired with their laid back, playful and low pressure approach will likely go far in helping convince the meaty mainstream to consider vegging out.

Keeping up with Coco and Lala,” Facebook Live show on Thursdays, 1:30 pm CST; “Healthin’ It Up with Coco and Lala,” 89.9 KMOJ, The Ice on Wednesdays, 4:00 pm CST.