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!
Veganism is booming across the world, and things are no different in London. This year, the UK was shown to be new world leader for vegan food launches, and a recent poll claimed that veganism will rise by 327% by 2020. As the capital, London is the vegan hub, and plant-based travellers can eat their way around the city with ease. But which of its many vegan eateries are best? From plant-based pubs to low-key diners and chic restaurants, here are five of London’s hottest vegan spots all tourists should visit.
THE SPREAD EAGLE
Having a drink in a ‘proper’ pub is high up most tourist’s London to-do list, and luckily, being plant-based doesn’t mean you have to miss out on this rite of passage. In East London’s Homerton you’ll find The Spread Eagle, one of the city’s oldest pubs… and also the first vegan one. Everything is 100% vegan here – from the fixtures and fittings to the beers on tap. Cult vegan taco joint Club Mexicana do the food here: think Mexican-inspired treats that are as tasty as they are ethical. This isn’t the place to come if you want a green juice or chia pudding; the food here is unashamedly indulgent, and the same applies to the drinks too (the margaritas are seriously moreish!).
Start with the loaded nachos, which come piled high with vegan ’chorizo’, sweet potato, red pepper queso, pink onions, pickled chilli and sour cream, then choose from the five different tacos: Al Pastor ‘Pork’ with charred pineapple, pulled jackfruit carnitas, beer battered ‘tofish’, tempeh ‘bacon’, and ‘chorizo’ and sweet potato. Burger fans shouldn’t leave without trying the ‘MFC’ (a crispy,Mexican-fried chick’n burger) or the Club Mex Cheezeburger (a juicy plant-based beef patty), but save room for the tender wings drenched in hot sauce! If you can manage dessert, the ice cream sandwich, with smoked salt caramel and miso biscuit, is heavenly.
On the slightly more upscale end is Farmacy, a super cool restaurant in Notting Hill that’s built up a devoted following since its opening in 2016. On weekends you’ll have to wait for a table, but it’s absolutely worth it. The light, plant-filled restaurant is packed with trendy locals, and with a menu that’s entirely free from dairy, refined sugars, additives and chemicals, anyone with a passion for health and wellness will be happy here. All ingredients are either grown on the restaurant’s farm, in the neighbouring county of Kent, or sourced from local and sustainable suppliers.
Popular brunch dishes include chickpea pancakes with roasted squash, avocado, seasonal greens and smoked paprika sauce, and the ‘Farmacy breakfast’ – potato rosti with truffle cream, roasted cherry tomatoes, marinated portobello mushrooms and sprouted baked beans. In the evenings, choose from dishes like the ‘macro bowl’ (steamed quinoa, roasted sweet potato, kombu seaweed, kale, samphire, and avocado with ginger miso dressing), or corn tortillas filled with roasted mushrooms, frijoles, chipotle sour cream, charred corn and guacamole. Be sure to try one of the restaurant’s famous juices before leaving!
For vegans, the only thing better than filling your belly with delicious food is knowing that doing so is saving animals… so thank your lucky stars that London is home to Unity Diner, a 100% vegan and non-profit diner in Hoxton, East London. Co-founded by vegan activist and educator Ed Winters (better known online as Earthling Ed), all profits go directly towards funding animal rights organisation Surge, as well as the development of a new animal rescue sanctuary. This concept means you can enjoy delicious vegan comfort food while contributing to positive change – both for the animals and the environment. But how does the food measure up?
Luckily, it’s great – and the charitable aspect means you can order as many treats as you like while feeling good about it. To start, choose from tempura battered vegan shrimp and soy sauce, or fried ‘chikkin’ skewers served with creamy peanut satay sauce; then move on to indulgent mains like hot dogs, burgers and nachos – or, if you’re feeling healthier, salads and flavoursome bowls of seasonal veg and grains. The tofu cod with tartar sauce, paprika fries and mushy peas is a must if you want to sample a vegan version of that London classic, fish and chips. With divine cheesecakes and tarts for dessert, be sure to visit on an empty stomach.
TELL YOUR FRIENDS
In Fulham, South West London, is Tell Your Friends, a stylish but surprisingly low-key restaurant, considering the glamor of its founder, Lucy Watson. The former reality star rose to fame on UK TV show Made In Chelsea, but this restaurant’s popularity isn’t due to nepotism; after writing a series of vegan cookbooks and becoming a passionate animal activist, opening a vegan restaurant was the next step, and Tell Your Friends is a laid-back restaurant and bar that definitely delivers on the food front. The smoothies and juices are heavenly, too – in particular the cacao, peanut butter, maca, banana and almond milk smoothie, which is almost a meal in itself.
The menu changes regularly and is the perfect balance of nourishment and comfort. Popular dishes are the chewy ‘chicken’ bites, made from hemp and sunflower-crumbed jackfruit and served with a BBQ dip, and the Mac’n’Cheese, with velvety cashew cream and nutritional yeast. If you’re after something lighter, try the raw bowl: cauliflower rice with a rainbow array of vegetables, fruits and seeds, with a zingy tamari dressing. In the evenings, there’s healthy-yet-hearty fare: white bean and fennel ‘fish’ pie with cheesy mash potato and tenderstem broccoli, or a fragrant sweet potato, chickpea and spinach curry with garlic flatbread and coconut raita.
One of London’s newest vegan restaurants, Kalifornia Kitchen is definitely the most Instagrammable. Located in Central London’s Fitzrovia, near the West End, the hot pink exterior is impossible to miss, and inside is just as picturesque. Plants and flowers cascade from the walls, and neon signs flicker invitingly as you enter – but this isn’t a case of style over substance. The brainchild of vegan influencer Loui Blake, the ethos of Kalifornia Kitchen is that “healthy is sexy”, and their aim is to provide delicious, nutritious and sustainable food to energise and excite.
So what’s on the menu? With the surge in popularity of vegan junk food, there’s an obligatory burger – the Kalifornia Guac Burger, with a Moving Mountains B12 patty and vegan smoked gouda. But the healthier options are where this restaurant really excels: dither over BBQ pulled banana tacos on chicory with slaw and pickled cabbage, the blackened tempeh caesar salad, or the Mexican bowl, with brown rice, black beans, pickled cabbage and tangy pico de gallo. This summer, try specials like the banana and blue spirulina smoothie bowl with blueberry, chia, coconut yogurt and coconut chip; this is a dish that tastes as beautiful as it looks.
A small town in the Scottish Highlands isn’t where you’d expect to find the UK’s first vegan hotel – but then the recent rise of veganism has been full of surprises. Where once the plant-based movement was contained to cities and university towns, these days veganism is borderless. That’s why, last weekend, I found myself shuttling past the vast moorlands and steep forests of Perthshire to check out Saorsa 1875.
Billed as the country’s first fully vegan hotel, from food to fittings, Saorsa 1875 is at the head of the growing ethical travel movement, a concept many are still unfamiliar with – but one that’s becoming increasingly prevalent. While for many the idea of “vegan travel” may conjure up images of hemp-clad, dreadlocked hippies singing around campfires, the reality is quite different.
“This isn’t about abstinence or sacrifice,” said Sandra McLaren-Stewart, who, together with her husband John and son Jack, runs the hotel. “It’s an environment where guests can experience amazing food, drink and design that doesn’t come at the expense of animals.” The family has been vegan for more than four years, and pooled their knowledge to create the concept of Saorsa 1875.
As a vegan, I can attest to the lingering consensus that veganism is about self-flagellation, or denying yourself the finer things in life – but being a vegan shouldn’t mean compromising on luxury. At Saorsa 1875, the mission is to prove we can enjoy cruelty-free, sustainable indulgence without compromise. So how does it measure up?
As soon as I walked into the stately, gothic-style house in the picturesque town of Pitlochry, I could see that it’s that rare mix of both ethical and stylish, from the locally-sourced vegan snacks in the bedrooms to the gleaming wood floors. Large windows flood the spacious lounge with light: at one end there’s a well-stocked oak bar laden with spirits from around the world; at the other, coffee tables, cosy armchairs and antique sofas where guests flick idly through books and newspapers.
Upstairs, in the 11 boutique bedrooms, things are equally chic. With a green and gold parrot-adorned feature wall, my room – the Lynx Room – was as comfortable as I’d hoped, and, as I sank into the luxurious linens and plump pillows on my bed, it was a welcome (and rare) relief to know it wasn’t at the expense of any geese. Everything is vegan here, even the cleaning products, and in the bathroom, fluffy fair-trade cotton towels hang next to cruelty-free toiletries by Highland Soaps.
But I wasn’t going to linger in my room — there were cocktails to taste in the bar, Faodail, where co-founder (and expert bartender) Jack McLaren-Stewart hosts spirit tastings and cocktail masterclasses. I sipped a perfectly-made whisky sour as Jack explained the differences between Scottish and Irish whiskies. I began to enjoy it, despite never being the biggest whisky fan, though I switched to a quick Mezcal before dinner (with the range of global spirits on offer, it would’ve been a shame not to).
I joined other guests around a huge custom-built table, swapping stories and exclaiming excitedly over the menu. Head Chef Luca Sordi hails from Turin – although to vegans, he may as well have fallen from heaven. A chance encounter in an Edinburgh cafe led to Sordi’s hire. He’d already proved his vegan credentials at London’s prestigious Vanilla Black, so was given free reign to create the menu, using ingredients grown in the hotel’s vegetable patch, sourced from local suppliers, or foraged from the surrounding countryside. Before dinner kicks off, Sordi shyly described each dish, and the room positively buzzed with hungry anticipation.
On opening night, we enjoyed velvety whipped cauliflower with a pumpkin yolk and nutmeg dusting, followed by wood-fired sourdough bread and outrageously creamy almond butter with spruce tips and lemon thyme. Smoked carrot soup with whisky foam, burnt orange and rosemary biscuit followed, then a courgette, basil and buckwheat crepe with tender aubergine, marinated tomatoes and lemon pearls. Dessert was silky, hay-infused panna cotta with fragrant rhubarb and a chamomile meringue. It’s the type of dinner that instantly puts to bed the argument that vegan food can’t be decadent or inventive; the type of dinner I wish all those vocal vegan food critics could open their minds to try.
Though I’ve travelled to many vegan-friendly hotels, breakfast is almost always the weakest link; without meat, dairy or eggs, many hotels just serve fruit and toast. Not so at Saorsa, where the breakfast table groaned with plant-based yoghurts, cereals, breads, fruits and croissants – which, incidentally, were the best I’ve had since being vegan: light, buttery, flaky, soft… everything a croissant should be. Cooked breakfasts are on the menu too, and Sordi puts his magic touch to classics like beans on toast: no Heinz here, but smoky, Mexican-inspired black beans topped with fresh, zingy herbs.
There are no TVs in the hotel, and instead, music is the entertainment. During the day Motown, blues and folk songs drift through the building, and during quieter times, when guests are out exploring, you can occasionally hear the light, quick footsteps of family dogs Roxy and Lizzie (the hotel is, of course, dog-friendly). Local attractions include visiting whisky distilleries and the Pitlochry dam and fish ladder. However, plans to open a yoga studio in the garden and install several wood-fired hot tubs mean that guests may not want to leave the grounds at all.
As a family-run business, there’s a laid-back, welcoming atmosphere throughout, and guests stop and chat in the corridors. “So, are you vegan?” is an oft-heard question – although I should stress that non-vegans are welcomed with open arms. There’s no judgement, so omnivores needn’t worry about being questioned by “militant vegans” ( a tired, but sadly pervasive, trope).
You don’t have to be vegan to know we all need to eat less animal products; from a sustainability perspective alone, the issue couldn’t be more timely. Luckily, then, Saorsa 1875 offers guests that increasingly elusive concept: relaxing, epicurean indulgence, all guilt-free. I’ll raise a glass (of vegan wine) to that.
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.
For years a fringe movement, veganism has now hurtled into the mainstream, with recent research suggesting there are as many as 3.5m of us in the UK. While the merits and ethics of veganism remain divisive (and don’t I know it!), there’s no doubting that it has become big business. Plant-based restaurants, shops, festivals and organisations are popping up all over the world, catering as much to vegan travellers as to locals.
Having travelled extensively as a vegan, I can attest to the growing number of specialist itineraries — and to the growing acceptance.
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