Annie Wang, a baker from Oakland, recently had the opportunity of making custom almond cookies for the premiere of Everything Everywhere All At Once.
Made from only the freshest, high-quality ingredients and created with sustainability in mind, Annie’s vegan, gluten-free, and upcycled Taiwanese Pineapple Cakes are perfect for anyone who cares for the environment and their taste buds.
In this interview, Annie shares her experience of growing up in rural towns in America, where she witnessed firsthand the harsh realities of food production, her journey of developing her recipes, her passion for reducing the use of animal products, and her experience of baking for the premiere of Everything Everywhere All At Once.
SEEING THE HARSH REALITIES OF HOW FOOD WERE BEING PRODUCED WHILE GROWING UP
I was born in New York City, but growing up, my family and I moved every three years. The towns we moved to in the later years were smaller and more rural than the others. During the time I lived in these states, I saw the harsh realities of how we produce and handle food in America.
In one town in Illinois, my classmates and I had to plug our noses to guard against the toxic smell wafting towards us from a nearby pig farm. When we lived in Arkansas, we lived 15 minutes away from a Tyson chicken factory where runoff from the factory sat in huge silos. Ironically, these rural towns where I got to school by walking through crop fields were the towns where neighbors often struggled the most with unstable access to nutritious and responsibly grown food.
These towns were also where I first learned about the enormous harm inflicted on people and animals by our current agricultural system and decided to adopt a plant-based diet. That decision meant a lot of the staples I grew up eating with my family were no longer an option.
After working at environmental nonprofits and food tech companies, I decided to start Annie’s T Cakes to help myself and others once again partake in culturally important foods while also helping to improve the food system.
MY DREAM AS A KID WAS TO OPEN A BAKERY
The first thing I ever cooked was a scrambled egg in fifth grade. I forgot to oil the pan so you could say the first go was a fail. I didn’t really bake growing up unless it was a box of brownie mix or Pillsbury cookies. Most of my time in the kitchen was spent working the stovetop via stir-frying, steaming, and boiling.
I’d watch my mom cook traditional dishes like tomato and scrambled eggs with noodles or filled buns. As I got older, I started taking on more responsibilities in the kitchen and would cook tea eggs, and steamed bread on my own. I loved getting experimental. I always made my bread and dumplings in unique shapes.
Last year, my dad told me that my dream as a kid was to open a bakery. It was news to me since the one fleeting dream I can remember was about being a vet. But hey, here we are! Definitely much further than my first failed scrambled egg.
The base of the Taiwanese pineapple cake recipe only took me three tries to make (the fastest I’ve yet to develop a recipe). I started by making milk bread and buns but I remembered how much I used to love Taiwanese pineapple cakes growing up and took a crack at it. A friend of mine in Oakland runs a business upcycling tofu fiber into flour (Renewal Mill). Since the pineapple cakes didn’t need to rise as the bread did, I thought it would be a perfect way to create a gluten-free option for customers and support her business as well.
VEGAN-IZING ASIAN SNACKS AND FOODS
I started to dig deep into climate change, including the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, when I was in college. At the time, I got involved in our school’s student-led fossil fuel divestment campaign (our school divested in 2020!).
I was taking classes and reading about all the intersections between society, the food system, policies, etc. with our environment. I also learned so much from the other passionate student activists I worked with. To this day, I still draw from the incredible strength and compassion I felt from the student leaders I worked with in those days as I think about how to build a team and partnerships.
A couple of years after I graduated college, I started working in food tech. I was interested in the field for its vast potential to positively impact the climate by shifting our food systems. I wanted to start a business ‘vegan-izing’ the Asian snacks and foods I grew up eating for years.
When the pandemic hit and I was laid off along with half of my team, I took the plunge. Building the business now, I think really deeply about sourcing ingredients and how to make things sustainable. In addition to building a vegan brand, I also use compostable packaging and try to reuse shipping materials to reduce waste.
We see more food products on the market these days that do not use animal products. Heavily reducing the use of animal products as a society would be huge for reducing our negative impact on the environment and taking care of all living things on our planet.
THE ‘EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE’ EXPERIENCE
My experience baking for the premiere of Everything Everywhere All At Once was a whirlwind!
The week before the premiere, I was put in touch with A24. In each of the markets the studio had launched the movie in, they’d worked with local bakers to create the smiley face cookie that appeared in the movie, and they still needed someone for the San Francisco premiere.
When they reached out to me, I actually didn’t have my almond cookie recipe finalized yet. I had been working on the recipe for a year at that point and felt like I just had a couple of days to nail it. So, I told the studio I would get back to them, and I cranked out test batch after test batch over the weekend.
After a couple of days, I finally had it done! And just like that, the next week, I took the recipe I had just finalized, made and packed 800+ cookies for the premier. Two nights before the premiere, I had started baking at around 7 am and continued into the night packing half of them. I thought it wasn’t that late but when I looked at the time it was 4 am! Thankfully the next day my boyfriend and two of our close friends came and helped me pack the other half of the cookies and it only took us only a few hours.
To see a cookie I made in the hands of hundreds of people, including the cast and directors of a movie that has touched so many lives was a once-in-a-lifetime event, to say the least. At the premiere, one of the directors expressed his happiness to me. He told me I had been the only baker that had made an actual almond cookie. Remembering that moment, and countless others throughout the week, I am so grateful that I got to be a part of such a special event with incredible changemakers.
ADVICE TO BUSINESS OWNERS TOWARD SUSTAINABILITY
As small business owners, most of the time we’re just running around trying to get products out the door. Compromise happens daily because bandwidth is limited and nothing ever happens in an ideal way.
For those that are trying to find ways to be more sustainable, take small steps toward a long-term plan of sustainability. Take note of things like the ingredients you use, where you source everything from, the amount of packaging you use, etc. and make changes where and when you can to reduce your footprint. Start small and intentionally design your business in a way where you are putting yourself on the road toward your ultimate, climate-friendly operation.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM ANNIE’S T CAKES
My vision for Annie’s T Cakes is to bring these nostalgic vegan treats to people across the globe, starting first in California. I also aim to support local agricultural efforts by donating profits to organizations focused on sustainable agriculture in their communities.
In the near term, I’ll be in my kitchen, continuing to bring delicious and culturally relevant foods to our community!