Interview With Sarah Preston of X’s to O’s Vegan Bakery in Troy, NY

How did X’s to O’s first come into being?

X’s to O’s somewhat started out when I was in college in Oswego, NY.  I started baking for myself and friends since going vegan because I love sweets.  I eventually moved to Albany, NY and started baking on request for others.  It started with friends and then I decided to try selling the canoes (vegan twinkies) online through myspace (before it became lame). It went very well and I was soon baking lots of orders.  I was contacted by the online store Pangea and started wholesaling canoes to them.  I then approached a local store, It’s Only Natural in Stuyvesant Plaza, and they were very interested.  I became a licensed food processor with the state and eventually my little business became so crazy that it filled my entire apartment with baked goods.  I realized that I needed a dedicated bakery space so I started researching what I would need to make it happen.  I had to get two business loans and then I found the perfect spot.  After that it all seemed to fall into place!  We have been open for two years in October!

When and why did you personally go vegan?

I became vegan about 10 years ago.  I have always had a close relationship with non-human animals ever since I was a kid and was always interested in them and cared about their well-being.  I would write companies who tested on animals and deeply cared for the environment.  I didn’t make the connection of how much they suffered until I was in college.  I started to really question humans’ relationship with non-human animals and began researching.  I was shocked by the horrid conditions in which they live and even more shocked that it was humans that put them there.  I first became vegetarian…I had only met one vegetarian in my life (and never heard of the term vegan!) and was for a couple of years until I finally met my first vegan when I moved to Oswego, NY.  I asked him so many questions and he lent me Sarah Kramer’s How It All Vegan cookbook.  I fell in love with it!  I began researching the dairy and egg “industries”.  I was completely disgusted.  I admit I was scared to become vegan at first because it was the complete opposite of everything I knew.  My family was a total meat and potatoes type.  I started to have health problems and soon discovered that I was lactose intolerant.  I took that as my body’s way of telling me to just go vegan, so I did  and I don’t ever regret the decision.  I am a vegan for ethical reasons and the health benefits are a nice added bonus.  I think everyone owes it to themselves to research these so-called industries because it’s not the pretty picture we have been taught.  It’s filled with greedy corporations who are putting profit over the lives of billions of animals…non-human and human.

What kind of a response have you had from non-vegans?

Pretty great for the most part! We have a lot of vegans in the area and it’s always great to meet a new face when they come visit us.  Many of our customers aren’t vegan, but they are super open-minded or have food allergies and most of all love baked goods.  I think it’s important to have people taste how amazing vegan baking can be because they become more open to veganism as a whole.  People are honestly very surprised that baked goods, especially brownies, can be made without animal products and taste fantastic.  I have given a freebie to a skeptic a few times and they always end up buying something.  My favorite is when they take their first bite and their face goes through a wonderful series of emotions….scared, confused, delighted, ecstatic, surprised.  It’s amazing and makes me glad to share my passion for veganism and the animals with them.

We also get many people who ask a lot of questions when they come in.  There  are so many people that want to know how we bake without animal products and there are people who are interested in why we do what we do.  I love this part because it’s why I spend 80 hours a week in the bakery.  Quite simply, we believe that animals are their own entities and should be in control of their own lives…free from all forms of exploitation.

Tell us a little about being vegan and gluten free.

I became gluten free about 1 ½ years ago.  I started having intense stomach problems so I did an elimination diet and discovered that gluten was indeed making me sick.  It was difficult at first, but honestly there are some great gluten free products out there.  Unfortunately a lot of gluten free items contain eggs…so I have set out to prove that you can make something deliciously gluten free and vegan.  I eat way less bread type items, which honestly makes me feel more energetic.  I eat a ton of fresh salads, steamed greens (hello kale!), tofu, tempeh, gluten free noodles, quinoa, rice, beans, etc.  There are a ton of options out there but it is a bit daunting at first trying to learn what has gluten.  It honestly becomes easy breezy after that.  We made a delicious gluten free lasagna last night with tofu ricotta, mushrooms, peppers, spinach, onions, and broccoli.  My favorite meal is “the bowl”.  You basically mix up a grain, we usually use quinoa or brown rice, a bunch of steamed or raw veggies, kale, beans or tofu or tempeh, and some salad dressing.  It’s delicious and super healthy.

What’s it like being the vegan bakery in the tri-city area?

It’s pretty rad.  I love trying to make new stuff for people to try and take dessert suggestions very seriously.  Our customers are fantastic and really make the bakery what it is.

Where do you wholesale your baked goods to?

Locally we wholesale to:  Honest Weight Food Co-op, Troy Pioneer Community Co-op, both Bomber’s Burrito Bars, It’s Only Natural, Lil Buddha Tea, The Loving Cafe
Non-local:  Greenstar Cooperative Market in Ithaca, NY;  Perelandra Natural Foods in Brooklyn, NY;  and Pangea Vegan Store in Rockville, MD

What’s your favorite thing to bake for X’s to O’s?

I love brownies!  I love baking them, looking at them and eating them.  YUMMY!