We had the good fortune of connecting with Marisa Miller Wolfson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Marisa, how do you think about risk?
Risk is essential. Without leaving your comfort zone, you don’t grow as a person, a creative, or an entrepreneur. I made a documentary film with zero experience and not having taken one film class. I co-wrote a cookbook with a friend who had also never written a cookbook or even written a food blog. Those two projects started with me thinking…”someone should really make a…” and my answer to both was, “well, I could do that!”
I have no qualms entering a new space and learning the ropes. In fact, I thrive on it. I love the challenge of it and the excitement when you discover that maybe you really can do it. I think having done improv comedy helped me get over the fear of not knowing and the fear of failing. When you do improv, you put yourself on stage with other people, not knowing what’s going to happen next, and you feel the pressure of the audience to make them laugh. Sometimes you fail massively, and it’s so painfully awkward for both you and your audience. But sometimes it’s magic, and you and the audience are making discoveries at the same time. It’s the getting up and doing it over and over again that makes you better. I love the cardinal rule of improv: you “yes, and…” your fellow performers. You take what they’ve given you, and you build on it, even if it means taking it in a different direction. I refuse to surround myself now with “no, but…” people anymore. Not only are they a massive buzzkill, but they stifle creativity and innovation.
In business or in a creative space, there is always a risk that something will fail, but if you’ve done your homework and surround yourself with “yes, and…” people who know what they’re doing and who support your vision, you have a massive leg up. If something does fail, you take the lesson from it that you need to take, dust yourself off, and get back on stage.
What sets you apart from others in your industry?
I think what sets me apart from other vegan creatives is my ability to be honest and candid about some of the challenges of being vegan, to be able to relate to others, and laugh at myself and our community. I chose three really funny, relatable people to be my documentary film subjects, and in my cookbook, I share how different the reality of parenting is compared to what I thought it would be like. In all my work, I try to operate with humility, and I don’t exaggerate or twist facts to push my agenda. The real reasons for going vegan are compelling enough.
I got to where I am today by the support of activist mentor Mary Max and of my husband as well as the help of so many people who were generous with their advice. Because I love to jump into new industries I know nothing about, surrounding myself with others who actually know what they’re doing or are equally passionate about learning has been key. FilmShop filmmaker’s collective members peer reviewed my work, Frank Mataska and Demetrius Bagley, my film co-producers, all the editors, were amazing. And Laura Delhauer, my cookbook co-author, and I were obsessed with this book for years. We tested each recipe so so many times and hired 67 volunteer recipe tester parents to confirm that the recipes worked for their families. In short, I tried stuff out, got critiqued, fine-tuned and tweaked, and tried it again until I knew it was good. Our film and book editors were terrific partners in this process.
It hasn’t been easy. I easily over identify with my work–especially my film. I cried on the way home after the FilmShop meetings where I showed my work and got critiques from filmmaker peers. I would agonize after each bad Amazon review at first. But I soon realized that you just can’t please everyone, and that’s not the goal. It’s to connect to people who appreciate your vision and are inspired to make positive changes in their lives.
And then all the plans for my cookbook release, which happened mid-pandemic while I had no childcare, were dashed. I felt really down about not having a book tour, veg festivals or in-person conferences or the fact that it didn’t end up a NY Times bestseller. But I’m retooling it and am thinking more long-term about the release, as I plan virtual events for vegan families to find them, connect with them, and help them find each other to create a strong community.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
We would head straight to Slutty Vegan. Pinky Cole’s story is so inspiring, and her food is so good that people line up for blocks. Even Shake Shack tracked her down and is bringing some of her food to NYC.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I have to credit the late Mary Max, my mentor and the person who saw my potential as a vegan activist and filmmaker. She was the one who suggested we start a non-profit together, and she was the one who funded me for a lot of the time I was working on my film. I absolutely wouldn’t have made the film if it weren’t for her. I also have to credit my husband, who fully supported me financially and emotionally in my journey as a documentary filmmaker and cookbook author. These are not big money-making industries, so I’ve been incredibly privileged to have had the support of others so I could do this work and inspire others in their journey into plant-based living.
Anthony Two Moons Jessica Mahady