I’m delighted to be featured in Co-op’s Christmas magazine this year! Pick up a copy in-store to read my feature on how to have a vegan Christmas without scrimping on flavour or taste – or have a read of the feature online here.
I’m so excited to be featured in the March edition of Simply Vegan Magazine. It it, I offer up some advice to new vegans, chat about my favourite cruelty-free beauty brands and how I try to live more sustainably, and of course, talk about my new book YES VE-GAN! Check out the feature below – and pick up your copy of YES VE-GAN! here.
A few weeks ago I was a guest on BBC World Service’s The Conversation. Along with Nigerian campaigner Itua Iyoha, I talked about the global rise of veganism, the challenges female vegan activists face getting their message across, and the anger we sometimes encounter. You can listen to our chat by following this link, or listening to the download below. Thank you for having me, BBC!
This past weekend I was on featured on the cover of The Telegraph Magazine, along with food critic William Sitwell. After reading my new book, YES VE-GAN!, William decided to try vegan living for the week, using my book as his guide. Find out how he got on by reading the full article, but see my top featured tips for making the change, as well as more photos, below.
For full details on how to go vegan – as well as why – check out my book, available to buy from all good bookshops and from Amazon, Waterstones and Blackwell’s.
How to go vegan and stick at it
Do your homework
Decide why you want to go vegan, then do your research – making the switch is easier if you have knowledge and conviction. If you’re an animal lover, educate yourself on animal agriculture. If you’re passionate about the environment, watch documentaries like Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret (available on Netflix). If health is your main motivation, learn about the physical benefits.
Buy store-cupboard basics
Stock up on vegan home-cooking essentials, like dairy-free spread (Flora is fully vegan now), veggie mince (great in spaghetti bolognese and chilli), oat milk (Oatly Barista Edition is a game-changer) and vegan mayonnaise (Hellmann’s does a good one, but I prefer Follow Your Heart)
Read the labels The basic vegan dietary rules are obvious. No meat, seafood, eggs or dairy… But no honey either, if you’re going to be strict. Remember that eggs and milk are often ‘hidden’ ingredients, so always check food labels. And if you’re eating out, some restaurant chains, such as Pizza Express, Wagamama, Zizzi and Pho, have dedicated vegan menus.
Think about your drink Educate yourself on which booze is allowed. When it comes to wine, most of it – bar French – is vegan nowadays, even if the label doesn’t have the ‘approved’ stamp. Though if in doubt, stick to New World wines. Spirits and champagne are also vegan.
Reassess your bathroom Assume that most toiletries, shampoos and deodorants are tested on animals. Many cleaning products are, too. So look for vegan/cruelty-free labels. Peta.org has a helpful list of cruelty-free products on its website, including those by brands Ecover and Method. Lush and The Body Shop are also cruelty-free.
Shop smarter Rather than throwing away your non-vegan clothes/shoes and immediately replacing them with vegan alternatives, gradually phase them out. And when things do need replacing, avoid leather, wool, fur or silk, if possible.
And remember… If you mess up and buy or eat something non-vegan, don’t beat yourself up! Veganism isn’t a pursuit for perfect. It’s about trying to minimise harm as best you can.
“The irresistible worldwide rise of veganism has attracted much criticism and abuse, which can be difficult and uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of. Packed with facts, figures, argument and ethics, Yes Ve-gan! is an invaluable primer for all vegans wanting to effectively counter aggressive argument and ill-informed claims.”
The rise of veganism is impossible to ignore, and whether you’re already vegan and want to convince your friends and family to make the change, are doing Veganuary or giving plant-based eating a go, or just want to experiment with a more planet-friendly lifestyle, this book will be your guide. In YES VE-GAN! I break down the burning questions surrounding veganism from choice, ethics, ecology to fitness, health & beauty, as well as providing informed opinions on just how to rebuff the haters.
Available online and from all good bookstores NOW. Thank you all for your support. Peace + Plants!
Last week I spoke at Kruger Cowne’s monthly Breakfast Club, alongside restaurateur and TV personality Oliver Peyton. The topic was social media and food activism, and I took the chance to speak about the power and positivity of vegan activism, and how, despite being seen as restrictive, moving to a plant-based way of living has been the most empowering and liberating decision I’ve ever made. You can check out my full speech below:
Want to veg out? Here are the best places to feel at home, meat‑free.
The spiritual home of the battered sausage is now a veritable vegan utopia, with Shawlands the suburban hotspot. Ranjit’s Kitchen and MalaCarne (smoky chickpeas on sourdough, £6.95) are popular veggie restaurants. Get your vegan haggis fix at Hooked or check out Brooklyn Cafe for a variety of plant-based delights. Vegan Connections and the Scotland Vegan Festival mean locals won’t get bored.
The veggie fine-dining restaurant Acorn recently went vegan (try the whole cauliflower “cooked in various ways”), but plant-eating residents were already sitting pretty. Other “vg”-friendly eateries serving up an array of treats include Beyond the Kale, Cascara, Nourish, Sky Blue Cafe and Roots & Shoots. The launch of the citywide Herbitour means no one will go hungry, Ecojam champions all things green, and Bath Vegetarians and Vegans organise regular events.
Bristol: Stokes Croft
Bristol has long been a hotbed of veganism — it’s the home of the animal-rights group Viva!, there’s a website dedicated to plant-based businesses, and three of its four MPs are vegetarian or vegan. Boho Stokes Croft is our pick: Koocha Mezze, Flow and Suncraft are recommended, and the vegan non-profit cafe and community space Cafe Kino is the place to talk tofu.
The vegan life is not just an urban philosophy. This Peak District market town has a fully plant-based pub (the Globe, where a bowl of vegan chilli costs £3.40), two veggie cafes (Pepino Deli and Shepley’s) and a vegan shop to (non-leather) boot. The cheery community spirit and extensive range at Glossop Wholefoods draws visitors from far afield.
Another university town makes the vegan cut. While the centre has the best options for eating out (Bundobust, Cantina), Headingley is the place to live. The Natural Food Store, a co-operative with more than 200 members, helps to unite the plant-based community, and Mardin, a vegan-friendly Turkish joint, has been joined by the fully vegan Vital Cafe. Ecco Pizzeria does a delicious slice.
The capital is teeming with veggie offerings, with vegan markets in Clapham, Soho, Notting Hill and Walthamstow, and active groups from Wood Green to Worcester Park. Best place of all is Brixton, which has a market, countless restaurants, a specialist cupcake shop and La Fauxmagerie, Britain’s first vegan cheesemonger, which has been selling dairy-free feta and cheddar-style “Farmhouse” since February.
Sheffield: Abbeydale Road
Vegan menus are booming in the steel city, with the Incredible Nutshell, the Heartcure Collective social centre and a vegan festival that’s in its fourth year. Abbeydale Road has Red Haus cafe, a veggie deli, That There, Ajanta’s Vegetarian and the fully vegan World Peace Cafe.
The rise of veganism is impossible to ignore. This year’s ‘Veganuary’ – a campaign that encourages people to go plant-based for a month – had more participants than the previous four years combined, with over 250,000 sign-ups and millions more taking part unofficially. Highlights of Veganuary 2019 included new plant-based ranges being unrolled by Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Aldi, and – lest we forget – Piers Morgan having a meltdown over a vegan sausage roll.
So what’s behind the rise of veganism – and what does its escalating popularity mean for our planet and our politics?
The rise of veganism, a fringe movement
Let’s start at the beginning. The word “veganism” first entered the lexicon in 1944, when teacher Donald Watson founded The Vegan Society in Leicester. 75 years later, the definition of veganism remains the same: it’s a “philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”
While veganism remained a fringe movement for decades, in the past few years it’s soared into the public consciousness. There are three powerful, yet wholly separate, reasons for its rapid rise in popularity: health, the environment, and animal rights.
Eating less meat is better for the planet – that’s no longer disputed – yet the urgency of the situation perhaps isn’t so known. Last year the UN warned that we have just 12 years to limit climate change before our world is lost forever. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of environmental destruction, species extinction, ocean dead zones and water pollution, yet we do little to counter it. While campaigns to ban plastic straws have been widely embraced, in truth stunts like these are futile: plastic straws amount for 0.3% of the 8 million metric tons of plastic that annually enters our oceans.
It wasn’t too long ago that vegans were seen as thin and malnourished, but the health benefits of a plant-based diet have never been clearer. Tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams, F1’s Lewis Hamilton, boxer David Haye and many other elite athletes have all cited their vegan diet as reasons for their success, claiming they feel stronger and faster and their recovery is quicker. The old protein-deficient vegan trope has (almost) been retired.
So, now, most of us agree that one can be healthy on a vegan diet. We can also agree that animal agriculture is harming the planet. What we can’t seem to agree on is how we should treat animals.
Undoubtedly, this is the most divisive aspect of veganism – and indeed, for vegans this is the crux of the debate. Vegans oppose the unnecessary slaughter of living beings – but if we know that humans don’t need animal products to stay healthy, can this ever really constitute as “necessary”?
My opinion is no, but then again, as a vegan I’m often told my beliefs are “extreme”; vegetarianism is acceptable, but veganism is going “too far”. The only reason people view one as tolerable and the other as excessive is because the cruelty – or the simple fact that an animal lost their life – is overt in meat. Conversely, the insidious nature of the dairy and egg industries means the general public is mostly unaware of standard procedures – and to explore this issue properly we need to lift the veil.
The animal issue
What we forget, when we pick up products from the supermarket shelves, is that the meat, dairy and egg industries are some of the most powerful in the world. Their marketing reflects this. People see labels like ‘humane milk’ and ‘humane meat’ and they believe them – yet these are myths, marketing ploys that exist only to make us feel better. The word humane means compassionate and kind – and because it means this, neither meat nor dairy can ever be considered it.
Dairy cows are forcibly impregnated to produce milk. Their calves are taken at birth: if he’s male, he’s often shot because he won’t produce milk, or he may be dumped, still alive, in ditches like garbage. Alternatively he’ll be locked in a pen, unable to move, touch grass, or even lie down – and when his muscles are soft enough, he’ll be killed and sold as veal. If the calf is female, she’ll lead the same life as her mother: repeatedly impregnated, her calves taken, and when she’s too spent to produce enough milk (around six years old) she’ll be sent to the slaughterhouse. Cows naturally live to 25 years old.
The fact that all dairy cows end up as cheap beef isn’t widely know. Neither is the abhorrent treatment of newborn calves. But public ignorance is what the industry wants, and so the truths are kept hidden and the myths perpetuated. There’s no disputing how well it’s worked; for example, very few people see problems with “happy eggs” from “free-range, happy hens”. Yet beneath its cheerful veneer the egg industry is just as dark.
“If I want to eat meat, that’s my choice.” I hear this a lot. Vegans are frequently accused of being militant, forcing their beliefs on people while refusing to respect others’ personal choices. But the minute someone else is harmed by your “personal choice”, it stops being “personal”. A living being has been victimised by your choice – in the case of meat, a living being has lost their life. It can never be a “personal choice” when there’s a victim involved.
Unfortunately, animals have been victimised to the point where they’re not even considered victims anymore. In the UK, we’re appalled by the Yulin dog meat festival, dismayed by the Faroe Island pilot whale hunt, but cows, pigs, chickens? They don’t count. The animals themselves disappear; they’re no longer living, breathing, feeling individuals – they’re commodities, walking hunks of flesh waiting to be killed. This isn’t even about meat anymore: it’s about the industrialisation of living creatures.
When I speak to people about the realities of farming, I’m often asked if animals are self-aware. But this question misses the point. The question we should be asking isn’t “Are they self-aware?” but “Do they suffer?”. Do these animals feel fear, as they’re lead into the slaughterhouse over ground coated in blood? Do they feel pain, as they’re hung upside down and a knife is thrust into their throat? We know, from the abattoir footage no-one wants to watch, that the answers to these questions is yes. So let’s consider another question.
If we could live in a world where we could not only survive but thrive without eating animal products… if there was an abundance of plant-based food at our disposal… if eating this way was infinitely less harmful to the environment… should we still choose to kill animals? If these three hypotheses are true, can there ever be a moral justification for doing what we do to animals?
Vegans are called “extremists”, but what really is more extreme? Gratuitously exploiting and killing living beings for their milk, eggs and meat – or trying to encourage people not to kill unnecessarily? The reality is that in 2019 there is no meaningful argument against veganism. And now, as the clock ticks and our awareness heightens, we have a choice: we can continue our mindless slaughter, our wilful destruction of our planet – or we can move forward compassionately. We can grow, as a species. We can evolve.
It began slowly. “Selene Nelson is a vile disgusting bitch,” the first tweet read, “she deserves a disease.” The next, a few minutes later, was worse: “I hope this self-righteous, vindictive bitch never appears on a byline again,” it went. “Lonely miserable (here there was a four-letter-word) with no substance in her life.” For a few days the abuse came in thick and fast, as did the media requests – Good Morning Britain, LBC, The Daily Mail and many foreign publications too, from New Zealand and Australia to the US.
In between scrolling through meat gifs people presumably thought would offend me and sighing at the tabloid media’s attempts to smear me, I was genuinely bemused at the level of vitriol being bandied around. Bemused, yet not surprised, because we all know what Twitter is like – and as a vegan, I’m well aware how angry my way of living can make people. After a while, the abuse simply became boring, so I turned my phone to aeroplane mode, switched off my social media notifications, declined all comment requests and tried to get on with my work.
The divisiveness of veganism
What was at the heart of this social media storm? I had revealed an email I was sent from William Sitwell, the then editor of Waitrose Food, after I pitched a series on plant-based cooking. Sitwell’s reply suggested a series on “killing vegans, one by one. Ways to trap them? How to interrogate them properly? Expose their hypocrisy? Force-feed them meat.” He has since said he meant the email to be “in some ways affectionate”, but that wasn’t how I read it.
Behind the facetious nature of the email I saw what I so often see when people hear the word “vegan” – hostility, defensiveness, even anger. As a vegan, I expect this from certain people, but not from an editor working for Waitrose, a company that had just rolled out its new vegan range amid much fanfare. The standard “uninterested” response from editors is to not reply at all, and I found it hard to understand why a highly respected, successful editor, in a position of power, would go out of his way to undermine a freelancer simply pitching for work.
The next day, after sleeping on it, I pitched an op-ed to BuzzFeed examining why just the mention of veganism can inspire such hostility from others. BuzzFeed wanted to run it as a news story about Sitwell’s email instead. It ran on Monday and by Wednesday, Sitwell had stepped down.
This weekend Sitwell spoke to The Mail on Sunday about the online abuse he’s received since the story broke. The graphic threats of violence directed at him, as well as his wife and baby son, are abhorrent. But the idea that “Nobody bays for blood like a raging vegan“, as The Mail’s frenzied headline proclaims, is comical, and ignores the fact that I received the same level of abuse as Sitwell, and threats too. Raging omnivores, it seems, are more than a match for raging vegans.
The rise of “Vegaphobia”
To learn more about the drama that engulfed us both, we need to look at the wider reaction. Good Morning Britain ran a segment called, “Is hating vegans the new norm?”. “Stand up to the vegan terrorists!“, The Daily Mail entreated its readers, while Vice wrote about “vegaphobia“. Aside from the “normal” reasons people claim to hate vegans (we’re supposedly annoying, pious and hypocritical), the Vice story suggested a deeper reason; people see veganism as a threat to “their sense of identity, values and beliefs,” the author wrote, partly because it challenges the deeply held belief of human superiority over non-humans.
There is a risk that coining a word like “vegaphobia” plays into the snowflake-vegan trope – this lingering belief that vegans are overly sensitive, militant, convinced we’re an oppressed minority. Vegans aren’t an oppressed minority, and to suggest we are is absurd. But the way we see it, we are speaking for an oppressed majority: the animals, millions of whom, right at this moment, are being hung upside down and slaughtered.
I believe there’s another underlying cause for hostility towards veganism: a refusal to recognise the suffering of animals. Mocking vegans is easier than listening to them, because it allows people to disregard animals’ pain: if you don’t confront it, does it even exist? Whatever the media likes to insist, vegans aren’t seeking to shame non-vegans – but we do want people to know the truth about animal agriculture. If someone is aware of the extent of animal suffering and is still happy to eat animal products, that’s an informed decision. But right now, for most people who consume meat, dairy and eggs on a daily basis, it isn’t.
It’s disappointing, but the main thing I’ve taken away from this experience is how many people don’t know what veganism actually is. They understand vegetarianism, but veganism is going “too far”. It’s “extreme”. Veganism isn’t a diet, or a fad, or a way to annoy the people around you; it’s a deeply held philosophical belief, a way of living that seeks – as far as is practical and possible – to avoid all forms of cruelty to, and exploitation of, other living creatures. There is nothing extreme about that.
This week I met William Sitwell for the first time. I was contacted by The One Show, who told me they’d spoken to William and were keen to bring us together to talk about our experiences. The idea made me feel somewhat apprehensive, but there were other feelings there too: curiosity, defiance, hopefulness. Surely it could only be a good thing to discuss our individual experiences, which were overwhelming and stressful for us both? And if along the way we could actually have a (polite) discussion about veganism, all the better.
As much as we are different people with very different opinions, William has been nothing but kind since we met. I was deeply appreciative of his warmth and goodwill, and how, in spite of the gusto with which he regaled me with his favourite meat dishes – “Pigs trotters stuffed with chicken!” – he was willing to listen, too. He’s since said that most vegans “pursue their lifestyle choices from a moral standpoint that I cannot argue with” – a comment that I respect and admire (and of course, agree with).
But as I have tried to explain, for me this wasn’t really about William Sitwell, or why he resigned, or why I emailed him in the first place. It was about why it’s accepted or considered funny to treat vegans with hostility and anger. I am sorry that William Sitwell lost his job, but I don’t regret exposing his email. It ignited a conversation about veganism and the way we perceive it, and that’s a conversation that needs to be had.
I’m thrilled William is happy to be a part of this discussion too. In The Times, he has said he hopes we can work together to “explain the world of food and describe it to people of our persuasions”. I hope so too, and I think it sends a powerful message: if two people with different opinions – particularly two people depicted as adversaries in the media – can come together, speak intelligently and explore this issue without hurling abuse, then we’ve actually got somewhere. We’ve made progress, as a species.
No mince pies, no creamy liqueurs, No cheeseboard. Admittedly, that does sound sad. Yet it is far from the reality of a vegan Christmas. This has been the year that veganism went mainstream. From dedicated vegan aisles in supermarkets to veggie burgers that look and taste eerily like the real thing, the plant-based movement has never been more prevalent — and as a vegan, I couldn’t be happier. Gone are the days when people thought we only ate lentils and salad; almost gone are the days where we’re continually asked: “But what about protein?”
What’s surprised me most about being vegan is just how angry it makes some people. I’m continually forced to defend my decision not to eat animal products, and I’m frequently faced with derision or anger if I explain it.
Last week, I pitched an article to my favourite food magazine. Inspired by Waitrose’s announcement that plant-based sales had soared 85 per cent, I emailed Waitrose Food‘s editor, William Sitwell, about a new series on vegan food: plant-based recipes, tips from vegan chefs, new ways of cooking with new ingredients. This series wouldn’t just appeal to vegans, I wrote, but anyone looking to eat more healthily and sustainably. The email was sent in a professional capacity, to the email address Sitwell publicises on his website – not, as claimed, a “private email”.
The response I received to my pitch shocked me. It claimed he should instead commission a series about “killing vegans”, to “expose their hypocrisy” and “force-feed them meat”. I responded to the email in a lighthearted way. I tried to engage Sitwell in conversation, to find out why he had such negative feelings about vegans and why he felt that was an appropriate response to an earnest pitch. I didn’t get any answers.
Today it’s been announced that Sitwell has stepped down from his role as Waitrose editor, after his response received backlash on social media. In the past few hours I’ve been asked repeatedly for my thoughts on the matter. I can’t comment on the precise circumstances of William Sitwell’s departure, but I do think his response – to a pitch from a journalist expecting a professional reply – was a shame, and speaks to a wider problem.
Today Good Morning Britain included a segment entitled “Is hating vegans the new norm?”. What a strange and sad headline. Veganism isn’t about trying to make people feel bad. It isn’t about shaming or pointing fingers. It’s a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to animals. Away from the ethics, a vegan diet has become increasingly popular with people exploring ways to improve their footprint and health. These are not things to mock.
Those who defend Sitwell say it was “just a joke.” That of course he was being facetious. But that’s not the point. This isn’t about Sitwell or why he resigned, it’s about why it’s accepted or considered funny to speak to vegans with hostility and anger.
The lentil-munching, tree-hugging vegan trope is outdated and unhelpful, and the idea that vegans are militant aggressors seeking only to shame and convert people to a hippy, hemp-based lifestyle is simply untrue. There are now more than 3.5 million vegans in the UK, and many are as far removed from the old stereotype as you can get: Lewis Hamilton, David Haye… Yes, some vegans are annoying. So are some meat-eaters. Some are preachy. Some are not. You cannot generalise about millions of people.
Vegans are often criticised for being dogmatic, militant, too extreme or unnecessarily antagonistic. But if this disappointing exchange exposes anything, it’s the belligerent attitude that, sadly, many vegans experience every day, simply for trying to make a positive lifestyle change. Vegans are not “snowflakes”. Perhaps the real “snowflakes”, if we insist upon using this term, are those who become defensive and abusive when anyone dares question the status quo.
From this experience I will take away only the positives: how encouraging the widespread support for veganism has been, how Waitrose and other major retailers are investing in plant-based food, and how – despite waves of irrational anger and aggression from some quarters – there is a mounting support for eating a more ethical and sustainable diet.
Even for the most ardent meat-eaters, the recent growth of the vegan movement has been hard to ignore. The US has seen a 600% rise in veganism since 2014, while in the UK it’s a little lower – a ‘humble’ 360% increase. But for many people, no matter how much they respect the principles of a plant-based diet, the idea of giving up a big, juicy burger remains inconceivable. Enter the Impossible Burger – a patty that looks, smells, tastes, feels and even ‘bleeds’ like a classic beef burger… with one major difference. It’s made entirely out of plants.
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