I once dared you to go vegan, but I’m now knees to floor, hands at your feet, begging you to do so.
Or perhaps I can convince you standing.
Here’s the thing. After a Christmas of brandy butter, cheddar cheese and confit duck à Paris, I, overnight, stamped the big V on my life. And for six months that’s been it: no meat, no fish, no dairy, no eggs, just plants plants plants. And I have never felt so liberated. It seems counterintuitive right? You cut out the majority of foods you’ve been eating all your life and suddenly you feel free? Well, grab your bowl of sweet potato fries, it’s story time…
I’ve been obsessed with food for a long while. By eleven I must have watched every cooking program the TV dished up, I was attempting (and failing) to cook like a Michelin star chef, and was beyond excited to receive a kitchen knife for my birthday. Food and I started as best mates: if I wasn’t working out how to deconstruct an apple crumble, I was competing with my brother on who could eat the most spaghetti. And then one summer, something flipped: food was no longer something merely to love, but to control.
Food could make you fat, and it had been pretending to be my friend all this time. Even by the age of twelve, when travelling across America, gone were the chocolate milkshakes, replaced by ‘caeser salad with the dressing on the side’. And once you start to have negative thoughts about food and body, such thinking grows like mould. By the summer of my GCSEs I was full swing counting calories, restricting, skipping meals, allowing myself to eat now if I didn’t eat then, exercising when Ugly Betty was much more appealing, monitoring, assessing, measuring, checking – with all this unhealthy behaviour hidden behind a cleverly constructed ‘healthy’ front. Because I have, genuinely, always liked vegetables.
Then in lower sixth I moved back home after three years of boarding school (I just missed my own bed), but things didn’t much improve. I was eating with the same rules and restrictions that had become so ingrained in my behaviour and, as you can imagine, studying is all that much harder with a brain preoccupied with judging every bite you take. However, my conflicted relationship with food then began taking on new dimensions as I became properly interested in its health benefits. Queue: cutting out sugar, fearing gluten and limiting carbs. I had become the ultimate controller. Yet, food was still trying to be my friend. I did enjoy creating lunch boxes, I did enjoy learning about health (Ayurveda, nutrition, Chinese Medicine). I just didn’t understand why things had to be so complicated.
Then my body started to buckle: long story short I had a parasite which was causing me to bloat like a pregnant woman and meant I couldn’t eat anything without lying down afterward for the cramps. I was recommended Fodmap by the doctors after a diagnosis of IBS, the most horrid diet (no peas! peas!) which did nothing and I was in meltdown; for whilst I was doing all I could to control my food, my body was out of control.
Things got better when I found out what was actually the matter with me after seeing a nutritionist (my angel) and taking a stool test to discover, ‘Princeton the Parasite’, as we called him. A round of antibiotics and long courses of herbal meds and things were on the up physically, but mentally I was at breaking point – A’ Level stress compounding it all. Come Christmas I had a bit of a fuck-it attitude, eating a whole pot of M&S chocolate mini bites (which was a little unheard of). But even with trying to cut myself some slack, my body and mind still weren’t content. And then one day my friend, whilst sitting in Waterloo’s Pret eating tomato soup and a bread roll, said it was stupid to be scared of carbs and that I ought to go check out the high-carb-vegan-Youtubers.
Do you know how amazing potato is? Sweet ones, baby ones, purple ones; baked, boiled, mashed. Rice, black rice porridge. And did you know, you can pile your plate high as you please with that carby deliciousness, top it with avocado, sweetcorn, mango, peanut butter, burritos, dark chocolate, curry, watermelon, broccoli, pizza, ramen, strawberries, peas, peas, quinoa, coconut yogurt or Booja Booja ice-cream (if you have not tried, stop reading right now and go and buy some). You can eat with the freedom of David Cameron ditching No 10: totally guilt free.
And so the realisation came: food isn’t just your friend, it’s your perfect boyfriend-girlfriend-spouse-jet you off to private islands-lover. If you eat it correctly IT WILL NOT MAKE YOU FAT. Food, when it constitutes plant based eating, is our saving grace.
Or so it feels after six months vegan, particularly as the steps I took to discover this ended up orientating around three key topics: health, environment and compassion.
However, what you eat and how you eat depends, believe it or not, on you. So I would simply like to point you to the sources that changed my mindset…
Now I’m not one to speak with any authority, being no doctor, nutritionist or scientist, so I shall direct you to those who can. Although, I warn you, once you start watching food programmes they’re a wee bit addictive.
What The Health: this is the documentary that converted my dad (!The biggest meat eater I know!), and one of the best for bringing together health, environment and compassion. If you do nothing else, for you and your foodie future, I ask you to watch it.
Food Matters: is a Netflix gem which explores the relationship between food and our modern medicine. Asking where we’ve gone so wrong, and showcasing the simple edible solutions. It may get you re-thinking popping statins.
These are themes discussed in Dr Hedge’s Ted Talk on Ayurveda
Food Choices: another Netlfix treat!
Supersize Me: in case you’re still craving that MaccyDs (on YouTube)
Cooked: not strictly vegan, this is a beautiful Netflix series where Micheal Pollan explores food in terms of fire, earth, water and air.
And this is a fascinating programme where Graham MacGregor discusses the power of the food industry’s lobbyists and the fatal implications to our health,
chiefly in regards to salt.
I must admit that I obsessively watch, read and listen to things about food, but I think this has now had a very positive impact on my mindset. When you understand the UNBELIEVABLE health benefits of food you reach a point where sweets, margarine, or fizzy dinks no longer seem like energy givers. Perhaps treats to occasionally enjoy, but not food. Take an apple. High pectin levels in nature’s little spheres regulate our blood sugar, reduce cholesterol and protect our bones. Gifts you won’t get from a packet of crisps. The more you know, the better you want to eat – and it won’t even feel like a chore. I don’t munch on kale because I think I must, but because I know the wonders it will do me. And with this shift in outlook, the way you view your body changes: you respect it. You want your health to honour you, and all your human amazingness, not push you into an early grave.
Matcha over medicine! (Unless you have had a serious car crash – in which case, hospital away!)
As with our health we have serious power to change things for the better through our basic knife and fork activities. But don’t take my word for it…
Cowspiracy: yes, I know everyone’s told you to go watch it. So go watch it! (Netflix)
Sustainable: another Netflix find about agriculture and the production of our food. As I was watching this one my mum exclaimed that I really was an obsessive.
Before the Flood: now I haven’t yet watched this, but it’s Leonardo DiCaprio travelling the world speaking to world leaders about the dramatic effects of climate change, and when there’s a scene of Barack Obama and him in discussion I think we know it will be good. (YouTube)
(Can I just marry them both?)
Food isn’t just about our taste buds: it’s about where it comes from and the effects of its origin. I’m not naive in thinking that being vegan solves all environmental problems associated with food production, but it’s a drastic improvement we can easily make. Encouraging a cruelty-free, chemical-free, seasonal journey from soil to folk. Plant based eating instils not only respect for yourself but the earth – it really is quite amazing in that way.
Calves torn away from mothers, chickens starved to produce eggs, baby chicks crushed to death. It’s impossible to claim factory farms are okay. But I hear what you’re muttering, well we can eat ‘free range’ ‘organic’ ‘grass fed’, and for a while I was with this argument. Killing, I reasoned, is natural. A lion kills a gazelle, it’s just how nature intended. But have you ever considered how a lion kills? There’s a stalk, a pounce, perhaps defeat, another wait, a chase, perhaps defeat, a stalk, a chase, a kill. The gazelle has a chance. It’s not born to be veal, or genetically modified to produce a larger Sunday roast. Nature is fair. But our farming methods are near inhumane (not to mention detrimental to our health). And which animal gets to be considered food and another a pet is all a matter of perception. Would you BBQ your dog with satay dip? So for a visual aid of the calamity that is animal agriculture:
Carnage: this pho-documentary by Simon Amstell will still get you thinking, but also laughing this time
Animal products carry with them energy of fear. Most live lives of terror and die toxic deaths. Removing them from your diet is a step to ending this cycle. Moreover, you are no longer consuming such energy: it’s just good vibes in, good vibes out.
And if you want to know what this harmony looks like, Jeony Kwan’s Chef’s Table documentary on Netflix is breathtaking.
For me, the joy of eating comes in creating a dish that is doing my body, the environment, and other beings the best that it can – whilst not forgetting it’s darn tasty!
So now my ‘diet’ consists of new rules. Gone is the counting and the monitoring, replaced with:
- Eat plants (Although I just want to say here, for some people the jump to vegan seems too extreme. ‘No cheese!’ they proclaim. So why not try being vegan 90% of the time, don’t worry about labels or being perfect but start being conscious and changing things as it feels right)
- Eat eat, for God’s sake eat. Eat breakfast, eat lunch, eat dinner. Eat when you’re hungry. Eat to be satisfied. Eat.
- If you don’t want to go to the gym, don’t bloody go. Trying on dresses from your wardrobe definitely counts as exercise, and a simple walk should never be underestimated
- Do count your calories: but only to make sure you are eating 2,000 absolute minimum
- Hunt out all the different types of potatoes the world has to offer
- Don’t judge your body. Respect it and treat it with the care you would a baby (Caitlin Moran)
- Own your responsibility to this planet and other beings
- View health as a long term commitment, get excited about food and remain open, curious
- Listen to your body, really listen
- Be positive. I mean it. If you’re eating chocolate cake then enjoy it, you’ll have eaten enough kale to deserve it!
- Stop dieting, it’s bad for the soul
- Stop making rules, it’s bad for the constitution
Food is incredibly powerful. It has the potential to put us in, or keep us out of hospital. To feel uncomfortable within ourselves, or feel f*@#king fantastic. To reverse or propel the devastation of our planet. To wrack our minds with torment, or have us jump for glee. To kill, or nurture.
Having come from a foggy and negative place with food it is now bright and wondrous. And I promise that, with determination, an open mind and positivity, food will be your best friend too.
So. I’m hoping at this point I’m not on my knees, that you’ve let me stay standing, and that perhaps you’ll take seriously a future of plant based eating. Give it a try, there’s everything to gain.
And nothing is ever lost if you can still eat chocolate…
(The Wild Food Cafe, Neals Yard, London)
Check our my new vegan lunchboxes on Instagram: @mini.munch for some vegspiratoin!