Vegan folk

I’m going to try and interview any lovely and willing vegans I come across. It’s always interesting to hear other people’s stories and to meet the face and the person behind them.  It also helps remind us that we are not the only vegans in the world – however like that it may sometimes feel!

Here’s a list of some well-known vegans who I probably won’t get to interview (Brad or Joaquin if you’re reading and would like to be interviewed then I could probably find time…!).

Here’s Ed’s (husband) questionnaire:

 

  1. How long have you been vegan?

Since February 2013

  1. What inspired you to go vegan?

I was inspired to think more about what I consume by a number of things and people.   At the beginning of 2013 we were made aware that we had been unwittingly chomping our way through stable after stable of horse.  This sparked several interesting conversations at work and home about how it was socially acceptable to eat one animal but not another – seemingly rather arbitrary.

At the same time a great friend and her brother (who are both vegan) came for supper and we had a really interesting discussion about veganism.  It was one of those broad brush stroke alcohol infused free-for-all’s that meandered seamlessly from the meaning of life to how long to cook a pasta sauce for.  But one home truth rung loud and clear.  How much do you know about what you eat and why do you eat some things and not others. This set us off on our own research and the rest followed…

  1. How did you make the transition to veganism?

So it just so happened that 9 days after this meal it was lent.  Now I should add up front that I do not believe in or follow any religion but have adopted Alain de Botton’s concept of taking the best bits of each religion and using them as a moral compass through your life.  Giving up or abstaining from something I can relate to so after 9 days of frenetic “research” I, along with my wife, changed to a vegan diet for lent.

Then it hit me!  We weren’t giving things up but merely not eating things that, if you actually stop to think about, we probably shouldn’t have been eating in the first place.

  1. What resources (books, blogs, films, or other) helped you?

My wife being ever the practical one sent me a whole load of links to websites, blogs, videos and before I knew it I was spending every second in between clinics trying to read and understand more about farming, food preparation and transport, diet, metabolism and health risks.  Pandora’s Box had well and truly been opened.  I vividly remember sitting down at the kitchen table and turning to my wife and saying, “You do realise that this is fundamentally and intrinsically going to change who you are!”  We both paused and looked at each other and knew there and then that it was the right thing to do but society’s food dogma would not change so easily.

  1. How did your family and friends react?

Interesting!  I knew that to introduce such a concept to my wonderful parents would not be without its challenges.  Having previously gone home to be fed pink meat and red wine I realised change would need to be insidious.  In fact we had several meals with my parents and the early reticence to embrace the concept soon transitioned into a slight excitement that the new vegan cookbook actually had recipes that they wanted to eat!  Slowly over a year they have both enjoyed, I think, many animal free dishes and have significantly reduced their meat intake in the process.  Although they, like a lot of friends, are very quick to declare how little they eat meat in a slightly defensive manner almost searching for some higher reward.  I think the Martin’s had it just about right (that is old Chris and Gwyneth) when they spoke of their split as conscious uncoupling.  This seemingly pretentious phrase actually speaks volumes for how it felt to turn to a vegan diet.  The coupling was not a ten year relationship 30 years of misguided advice, clever marketing, false advertising and bad schooling that had created an incredible cerebral hard drive with the mantra, “eating animals is ok”.

  1. What are the biggest challenges of being vegan?

In fact eating a vegan diet is not hard.  It is not hard for one second.  What is hard is the conversations that people launch into when they discover that you don’t eat meat.  I must be fair as these discussions range widely and many friends ask great questions that lead to fascinating conversations.  However there is a group of people, say 20%, where your avoidance of meat is akin to a territorial invasion.  The shackles rise, the arms cross and smoke plumes from their ears.  The conversation from then on has no value or interest for that matter.  It serves only to question your friendships and to be disappointed that some people really can’t entertain concepts that are outside the perceived standard variation.  I must add I do not campaign or actively push the vegan agenda (for this I do feel guilty) as I am maybe too sensitive towards causing arguments that will leave a sour taste in the mouth.  These unsavoury discussions are a product not of my antagonism but the friend’s anger at my decision.

  1. When did you last break your veganism and why?

I had 6 eggs!!!  I am not a vegan.  Once you have eaten animal produce you can no longer be a vegan – the argument form one friend.  Really helpful!  The ability to trivialise a fundamental issue of global importance into that of categorisation dumbfounds me!  But I did have eggs – I cannot lie.  They were from my mother-in-laws garden where her 4 chickens get to roam 12 acres of British countryside with only the occasional rabbit or rambler to negotiate.  I was intrigued what they would taste like.  Would they taste the same as they used to?  So I weighed up the pros and cons (there was no other food in the house apart form a 2 year old Christmas pudding) and boiled the eggs for the family.

What I am beginning to realise is that food decisions are very personal and this is why it is a very emotional subject.   At each fork in the road we have a choice to make and in egg-gate I made the decision based on how well these chickens were looked after.

  1. What do you love most about being vegan?

I relish the prospect of thinking about what I eat every single day.  I had become so lazy about food and now I take time to think about where food comes from.  In fact I have started to try and understand more about how food is grown, at what times of year and under what circumstances.  I have become astonished by what you can produce without egg, dairy or meet.  Restaurants such as Terre a Terre in Brighton and Manna in Primrose Hill are revelations.  A lot of the food that we eat on the hoof is food that I no longer eat.  The other day I was walking past a newsagents in a station and my wife looked in and said that there was almost nothing in there that was animal free.  Rather than this being restrictive it actually was very powerful as new found beliefs about food consumption have the direct effect of stopping me eating unnecessary rubbish!

  1. Is there anything you really miss?

In all honesty I no longer miss anything.  I see not like craving something you have lost but more as no longer having things that I do not need.  Eggs were my raison d’etre once upon a time but no more.  A warm brie flowing off a plate like a lava flow would have me weak at the knees but no more.  I had some cheese by accident the other day and was amazed at how powerful and overbearing it was.  There was no hope for my palate as the cheese exploded like napalm.  I have found that my palate has changed and become more sensitive and appreciative of more subtle spice and flavour.

  1. Talk us through what you might eat on an average day please.

On an average day (no such thing).  For breakfast I normally have muesli/granola with almond milk with a couple of pieces of fruit.  Lunch will be leftovers form the night before, soup or more commonly a tortilla wrap with avocado, smoked tofu and almonds, salad or whatever the fridge has to offer.  When I get home I try to avoid eating the kid’s leftover tea but do I have the bad habit of making a guacamole or hummus and nibbling my way through till supper.  Supper can be really varied from Asian noodles, risotto, pasta, veggie burgers, and veggie sausages.

Actually that brings me on to another point.  When people say I just don’t understand why you eat food that looks like meat, like sausages and burgers.  Well the last time I looked at a cow I wasn’t aware that ‘the burger’ was a prized cut!  It’s like saying you can’t eat a potato rosti or croquette!

  1. 11.  What kind of restaurants cater best for vegans?
  2. We live in London so are very lucky that there are plenty of restaurants that cater for vegans.  Some of the best are SAF, Manna, The Bonnington Café and of course Mildred’s an utter gem in the heart of Soho.  Looking more towards the high street then Asian food is often very easy maybe minus the fish sauce.  The hardest place is the British Gastro Pub as the solitary vegetarian dish is normal drowning in vat of cheese.
  1. Do you spend more or less money on food now?

The grocery shopping is much cheaper even when you take into account buying nuts, seeds, olives etc that seem expensive but last for a long time.  Buying fruit and vegetables in season really isn’t expensive at all and overall the weekly shop is definitely cheaper.

  1. What toiletry brands do you recommend?

I normally let my wife buy those but Jason sun-cream for us and the kids is great.   I use the bulldog range to wash and shave with and a Neal’s yard natural aftershave.  Dr Organic toothpaste and mouthwash is expensive but does the job!

  1. What household cleaning products do you use?

ECover and Eco Leaf I think…

  1. What are your favourite vegan blogs?

aretherechickenshedsinheaven@blogspot.com enough said!!!

  1. What’s your advice to anyone thinking about going vegan?

I work with someone who became vegan for 22 days because Jay-Z did.  I think this was more of a body/health session rather than a persistent food belief but it did allow her to think about where meat came from and sparked interest from others.  I think that people often think that they can’t do it.  The fail before they even entertain the idea.  This is such a fascinating human trait that leaves me to wonder how we ever evolved at all if we are constantly racked by the fear of failure.  Is it an innate human emotion or is it a learned behavioural concept drip fed to us by our peers and educators in our formative years.  The greatest most inspirational figures in history are those who believe they can change.  After all if you can’t change your mind you won’t be able to change anything at all.

So to advise someone would be easy.  Familiarise yourself with what you want to do and why you want to do it.  This is the key.  If you are ever thinking of eating that cream cake rather than thinking about the cake as an object you said you wouldn’t eat think about the cows that were used to make it.  Think about their lives of perpetual insemination and milking followed swiftly with their calf’s disappearance at birth and their shortened lifespan.  Suddenly the cream cake takes on a new existence – an extension of human behavioural practice that doesn’t sit comfortably with a compassionate heart.  So you can eat it and don’t be upset if you do eat it and nothing will happen if you do.  But next time just remember why you made the choice in the first place and it all starts to make sense.

  1. Do you think you’ll stay vegan forever?

I intend to.  We might head off and live somewhere like Uganda in the next few years where these thought processes and concepts will be difficult to understand when the majority of the population survives on less than £1 a day so I’m aware that we might have to reassess when we get there but so much as I can avoid eating animal products without causing offence (and being healthy!) then I will.

There are challenges wherever you are in the world so there is no one rule that works for everyone everywhere but the hope would be that when I am lying on my death bed the whole concept of food production and animal misuse will have started to turn the corner as people realise that it is not a sustainable model to feed the world.

19.  Would you eat Prof Mark Post’s lab-grown beef?

No.  There are plenty of other sources of protein and clinging on to this association with eating meat is purely a romantic gimmick and serious solutions should be developed to aid world hunger.

20. Would you raise your children vegan?

It’s taken me 31 years to even begin to question what goes in my mouth.  I am all too aware of how impressionable young minds are so on one hand I am keen to teach my girls to question everything that they come across in life.  At home our children eat mainly a vegan diet as that is what is in the fridge.  However they go to friends’ houses and out for ice cream which I am not going to stop.  Humans react badly to being told not to do something so I would want it be their choice.  So right now they are not vegan (but about 90%).  Interestingly kids don’t make the association between animals and food.  When looking at cows in fields they clearly state that they don’t want to eat them.  Yet a burger and chips will be wolfed down in a second!  Society has distanced itself so far from food production that there is little tangible link anymore.  Soon it will be the futuristic meal in a cup with all our daily needs.  This must not happen as eating is both a pre-requisite for life but also one of life’s great pleasure……..even more so as a vegan!

My wonderful friend Helen’s interview – thanks for being my first!

Helen Morrissey

1. How long have you been vegan?

Six years (since I was 23)

2. What inspired you to go vegan?

Being brought much closer to the animals I was eating while I was traveling in East and Southern Africa.  Then accidentally reading Skinny Bitch and subsequently doing my own research.

3. How did you make the transition to veganism?

After doing the research it was just really obvious that I wasn’t going to enjoy food that made me feel bad.  So I just stopped eating animal products in general (non-food items took longer).  A family member then put me in touch with someone from his work who was vegan and she cooked for me and gave me a lot of resources, which was really helpful – at the time I thought I was giving up things like chocolate altogether, but she helped me realise that the sacrifice was not nearly so dramatic as I feared.

4. What resources (books, blogs, films, or other) helped you?

At the time I took a look through some of the stuff that she gave me.  I have only become obsessed with blogs etc. more recently.  To be honest the choice was so obvious as soon as I had read one or two books that I didn’t really need much more encouragement.  For a little while I was not very well read on the subject, but it felt like the right choice for me.

5. How did your family and friends react?

My mother rolled her eyes.  My father was concerned that I was just being ascetic.  My eldest brother introduced me to his friend.  My younger brother said, “Oh cool.”  A lot of my friends were kind of nonchalant to my face, but I found out from others that they were like, “ugh, Helen is going through some bizarre phase and being difficult.”  There did seem to be quite a strong idea that I was doing it for attention or something.  People were not very aggressive, but often laughed at me or indicated that it was temporary.  I think it has been something that people have been more interested in talking about since it has become clear that this is a long term decision.  But the reactions vary substantially.  Not too many people have been particularly aggressive, although some people still seem to think it is hilarious.  A lot of the jokes are not particularly original or impressive.

6. What are the biggest challenges of being vegan?

I have always been really interested in what people eat, and quite experimental with food, and I miss that.  I sometimes feel like I am a hassle for people, and when it goes wrong at, for example, a restaurant, and I am annoyed, I hate having to make a fuss in front of people who just think I am being picky, or fussy or whatever.  This has become less and less of a problem since the concept has become more mainstream.

7. When did you last break your veganism and why?

I have never given in to a desire to eat something. However, occasionally there has been an honest mistake, and in this case I usually just suck it up.  Most recently was while doing research in Ghana, when people would consistently give me food that they said was fish free, but would taste like fish, as Ghanaians put crushed, dried fish in almost everything.  Or put egg in my noodles, or whatever.  I was living in an Islamic area, so eating restrictions were well accepted, but people often made honest mistakes. 

8. What do you love most about being vegan?

I love how much more diverse my pantry has become.  Even though I’ve chosen to cut stuff out of my diet, I seem to have added more in than I have cut out.  While, of course, every consumption decision has some ethical cost, I still feel more comfortable in general with my food decisions.  It’s a really uncomplicated option, especially since I mostly eat whole foods, and not much in the way of processed foods. At the risk of being annoying, I feel much more at peace with my life, myself, and with food, since making this decision.

10.  Is there anything you really miss?

For a long time I thought I missed egg, but then someone gave me a boiled egg and aubergine pita instead of a falafel and tahina one, and when I took a bite the egg tasted disgusting.  I thought I preferred coffee with cow’s milk, but someone gave me the wrong one a year or two ago and it tasted horrible.  I thought I liked Japanese mayo on my sushi, but my order went wrong and there was mayonnaise in a fashion sandwich and it was too rich, etc.  So I suppose that my taste buds have changed in a big way and it is difficult to say I really miss anything.  So most of the time, while there is stuff I think I miss, when I have accidentally had it, it has been pretty gross.  However, the smell of eggs scrambled in butter, fresh croissant, or raw fish still make my mouth water.  But I don’t know how much I would enjoy them if I actually ate them now.  At the end of the day the knowledge of what I would actually be eating is really off-putting.  I have been really effective at creating mental triggers for myself I suppose.  I actually hate the smell of a lot of foods that I used to enjoy now, but that really took years.  As my diet is relatively clean, and animal products are quite rich, I struggle with any rich foods (e.g. truffles are too much for me).  As I said, my taste buds have changed dramatically.  I think I would probably still enjoy honey – I find it unfortunate that the substitutes are usually not local (e.g. agave or maple syrup).  Also, clothing items can be a mission – but I don’t buy much clothing, so it hasn’t been too big a deal.

11. Talk us through what you might eat on an average day please.

Well I go through phases, so I might be obsessed with a banana smoothie for three months, and then eat only toast for breakfast for a few months after that, or oats, or fruit, or whatever.  Lunchtime is often salad, especially in summer, although a few weeks ago I was addicted to mushrooms on toast.  It is difficult to say.  I have become pretty good at just using up what is in my fridge.  I have subscribed to an organic, local veggie box since I have been in Belgium, which is inexpensive and forces me to try weird vegetables that I might not usually eat – so it is impossible to give an “average day”.  Basically, when in doubt, roast or steam.  I guess the main difference between then and now is that I don’t have a homogeneous chunk of anything in the centre of my plate (unless it is a black mushroom or something like that).  I recently read a thing about the “Buddha Bowl” which I guess is pretty recognisable for vegetarians and vegans – basically a grain, a veg and some form of protein and seasoning/dressing.  I eat most of my meals with a fork out of a bowl now I guess.  But since I have not really answered the question, I will say what I ate today (but again this is based largely on what I got in my veg box…). Breakfast was soy yoghurt (which is not available in South Africa, so I go mad on it in Belgium) with kiwi fruit, chia seeds, hazelnuts and cinnamon.  This was a pretty light breakfast because I was going for a run an hour later.  Also, I don’t usually buy nuts because I am a poor student.  Lunch was quinoa with steamed cauliflower and carrots, with chopped raw tomato, fresh parsely and basil, alfalfa sprouts (which I sprout at home) and a tahina dressing (I eat a LOT of tahini).  This was green free because greens are out of season and horrendously expensive (I have never seen kale in Belgium, which is kind of disappointing, although I do buy spinach or brocolli when I am feeling sorry for myself, and I have eaten a lot of Brussel sprouts this winter).  Dinner I had the rest of the cauliflower, which I steamed and mashed, and I fried onion, tomato and chickpeas with some cumin and garlic and poured it over the top.  Tofu also would have worked.  I eat a lot of lentils.  I eat fruit throughout the day.  I eat a fair amount of chocolate.  Sometimes I eat biscuits.  Humus is also a big part of my life, and I usually make it myself, seldom buy it.  My diet is extremely varied.  I ate endive last night (veg box surprise).  I have even had to figure out what to do with salsify and black radish.  Effectively I eat EVERYTHING except animal products.  So there is a lot of choice. 

12.  What kind of restaurants cater best for vegans?

Italian is always easy.  Sushi, Greek (especially mezze) or Turkish, Indian (watch out for ghee), actually Asian in general.  I think the only ones that are really tricky are French restaurants.  I love Ethiopian.  I hear Spain and Portugal are difficult places.  As I said, I am a student, so I barely eat out.  If I am going somewhere fancy, I often phone ahead to avoid confusion and angry chefs.  It is sometimes a bit of a toss up.  So if you phone ahead they sometimes make you something unnecessarily complicated, or skrew it up, when there is something on the menu which can just be altered easily.  I usually check the menu online before if it is a planned thing.  In Cape Town I have had trouble with fish restaurants, which often have a lot of fish, steak, and then one veg option, which is often veg lasagne or something.  But these are speciality fish restaurants, so not the best choice – in these cases I usually order a number of side dishes – like veg and potatoes or chips or something.  Not amazing, but not awful either.  I hear that rural Germany is a mission, even for vegetarians.  I have been doing this for a long time, so I am pretty good at it now and seldom have trouble.  It is hard to remember the times when it was a struggle, but I am sure it once was.

13. Do you spend more or less money on food now?

I probably spend less now.  I used to eat mostly vegetarian because meat was expensive, and free-range anything is horribly marked up.  So, the price is not that different I suppose.  However, when I lived in Cape Town and had a job, I got into some more expensive stuff, like some of the raw foods and nut butters etc. but now that I am a student again, I live pretty simply.  Basically, no matter what your diet is, it is easy to spend a lot on food.  Cheap meat was never an option for me, so I never did that.  I don’t think how much you spend on food is necessarily linked to being vegan, etc.  However, it is extremely easy to be vegan on a budget.  Beans and rice are pretty cheap.  Seasonal veg is pretty cheap.

14.  What toiletry brands do you recommend?

I love Dr Organic (especially in England) and Lavera (which is cheap in Germany).  In Belgium I have bought Yes to Carrots.  In SA it is quite nice because there are a lot of small olive farms, etc. who end up making some product for fun, which is usually organic, animal free and inexpensive.  Animal testing seems to be less popular in Belgium/Europe, especially own brands.  So, multinational brands often test on animals because they sell to China, and China requires you to do it.  So stores that are local often don’t – I love Hema’s products.  If I am in a strange store and I haven’t done the research I often choose Nivea’s products because they are ubiquitous and anti animal testing.  Lip balms are the worst because they frequently contain either lanolin or cera alba (natural beeswax). 

15.  What household cleaning products do you use?

At the moment my dish soap is from Hema.  The other cleaning products in my studio at the moment are leftover from what my old housemate bought in bulk (she moved to Sweden), so I didn’t actually choose them myself.  I buy unbleached toilet paper (which is annoyingly expensive).  I am pretty ad hoc and not very brand loyal at the moment.  I was more so in S.A., but, as I said, I am currently still using leftovers.

16. What are your favourite vegan blogs?

Um, I don’t know.  I just come across them accidentally usually, then I bookmark them and never look at them again.  I like Post Punk Kitchen though.  I LOVE Bundle’s blog.  Obviously.  My kitchen facilities are pretty limited, so I don’t get to bake much (the shared oven in my house is revolting and the temperature is completely incorrect).  But yeah, no particular loyalties here either.

17. What’s your advice to anyone thinking about going vegan?

Do it.  I pretty much think that, if you are thinking about it, you won’t regret it.  I mean, it is not like you can’t switch back.  Also, although it wasn’t an option for me, I think that cutting things out slowly is totally valid.  My brother was vegetarian for ages before going vegan.  I also think there is this ridiculous idea that you have to follow a certain path: pescatarian-vegetarian-vegan.  There is no reason you shouldn’t cut dairy before you cut fish, or whatever.  I also think a useful first step is to just make a point of only eating things that you can trace (eggs, or chickens or whatever).  Also, get a passionate vegan to cook for you.  I made a newly vegetarian friend humus the other day.  I think it helps.  However, I don’t think you have to LOVE cooking to be vegan.  Although I know some people who took little interest in food UNTIL they became vegan or vegetarian, then they got really keen on food prep.  My other piece of advice is to avoid substitutes for a little while after you become vegan.  Because I didn’t eat meat sausage for a long time before I was vegan (because I was travelling in places where these things are not very available), when I ate a soy substitute, so far as I was concerned, it tasted like meat.  If you eat a pork sausage one day, and a soy sausage the next, I imagine the difference would be more apparent.  And for everyone who is convinced that they really LOVE cheese – I missed cheese a lot for about a month.  Then I stopped thinking about it. 

18. Do you think you’ll stay vegan forever?

I hope so.  That said, it is impossible to tell what the future holds – I know a woman who stopped being vegetarian during the Mozambiquan revolution when she was pregnant and food was rationed, so she ate what she could get.  So I am reluctant to say that I will or won’t do anything – but I don’t see any motivation at present to eat animal products again.  And the idea of animal testing is awful (although some medical research is obviously polemic).  Wool itches. Etc. etc. 

19.  Would you eat Prof Mark Post’s lab-grown beef?

I don’t know what this is, but to be honest, I don’t miss beef, so I probably wouldn’t buy an expensive synthetic steak.  Also, sometimes I feel that there are more worthwhile things to spend massive amounts of research money on than cultivating synthetic muscle tissue or eggs or whatever.  I mean, I guess it is interesting as a novelty, but it doesn’t excite me at all.  It is like the guy in New York who made breast milk cheese out of leftover breast milk his wife had expressed.  I mean, as I said, I just don’t miss cheese, and it’s kind of making breast milk into this weird commodity.  I am totally satisfied by what is available to me to eat.  I don’t feel limited, and there is a lot of veg stuff I have never tried – the veg in Ghana was completely different, so I am happy to keep experimenting with stuff that is available naturally for now.

20. Would you raise your children vegan?

This is a bit tricky.  I like what Bundle is doing, feeding her kids vegan stuff at home, but not making a fuss when they go to friends’ houses.  I think it is important that kids get to choose, and if your mom is eating vegan, I think that you eventually ask questions, and figure out what to do with the answers.  I know a lot of people say it is totally irresponsible to feed a growing child vegan only food, but really, breast milk is all they really NEED when they are super young, and I think that it is really feasible to do it healthily.  I guess that you have to put yourself in some hypothetical situations.  I mean a lot of these things are socially constructed.  They only have meaning because we give them meaning.  So, for example, nobody is going to harangue you for not feeding your kid elephant, because people just don’t really eat elephant.  And maybe your child would be upset with you at eleven years old if they ate elephant and none of their friends did.  I think morality is pretty tenuous in general, but this is going down a long, polemic road which is not really the point of this question.  I guess these things will become reality if or when I have children. So there is no answer now.  These things are discussed often about religion, etc.  But because veganism is often construed as an antisocial thing, it becomes something we even think about.  So there is no short answer to this.

Plant-Based Chef Mary Mattern Talks Touring with Ellie Goulding

Plant-based chef Mary Mattern played private chef to Ellie Goulding during her 2014 US tour, shares details from the experience and then some.

Photo credit: Christopher M. Perino

Mary Mattern, perhaps better known to her avid fans as Nom Yourself, is sweet as can be and refreshingly humble. The 28-year-old plant-based chef, who arrived at veganism by accident, has for the past two years been honing her self-taught kitchen skills and amassing some major champions of her food — not the least of which being Ellie Goulding, with whom Mattern toured the US for a month-and-a-half this past spring.

Actor Jeremy Piven has also taken an interest, inviting Mattern to his Malibu home to discuss the virtues of animal-free eating. With any luck it won’t be long before the “Entourage” veteran is eschewing meat, dairy and eggs, too. Here’s hoping!

Another boon for the blonde bombshell was when last week Mattern acted as sous chef — alongside Jay Astafa — to Ellen’s former private chef Roberto Martin. Meat-free food company Gardein hosted an intimate dinner for journalists in New York to experience the versatility of their ubiquitous products and, if memory serves, omni guests were smitten with the three-course meal and passed appetizers.

Originally from Suffern, a quaint town outside New York City, Mattern presently splits her time a number of ways, between several cities. Whether catching up with her very favorite folks (her family) or staying with the BF in Midtown Manhattan, traversing the country cooking for a vocal icon or hopping a plane to LA, this girl gets around. Her favorite place, however, would probably have to be Baltimore, where she previously ran a record label and first discovered her knack for and love of whipping up yummy meatless meals.

Despite having no formal training, the tattooed talent has also already released a cookbook, albeit self-published. The paperback contains a number of familiar dishes — think cauliflower buffalo bites with ranch dip, mac ‘n’ cheese, etc. — recipes that will satisfy even the pickiest (non-vegan) palates.

Given Mattern’s rigorous and often unpredictable schedule, we were grateful to secure an hour with her recently on our rooftop, where we proceeded to pick her brain about being vegan, private cheffing for a pop star and myriad other things she’s got going on. We’re just stoked we caught her before she hits the road again, as she’s preparing to tour with yet another artist, departing mid-August for a month or so, though we’re not sure who with. It’s top secret…

So, how did you first get into private cheffing?
I didn’t want to do this. All I wanted to do was write cookbooks and [have private cheffing] be a side thing. That’s how it started. Then, when I was in LA, I was hanging out with friends at Crossroads. Jeremy Piven and Ron Jeremy walk in, not together but separately. The next morning I tweeted, “That’s so funny. It was a Ron Jeremy Piven night at Crossroads.” Jeremy Piven sent me a message: “Hey, could you come talk about a plant-based diet? I have a few questions.” So, my manager and I drove to his house in Malibu and he asked if I was a personal chef. [I told him,] “I could totally do that.” So, he’s the reason I got into it in the first place. Ellie and I had talked about it. We were friends before I started working for her. She was like, “Come out and cook for me.” It’s so awesome how it snowballed into a job that I never even imagined doing.

So surreal. Jeremy isn’t vegan, though, right?
He isn’t, but he does eat a plant-based diet sometimes. A lot of people say they can’t eat plant-based because it’s inconvenient. People [like Piven] have such hectic schedules and they’re doing it. It’s really not that hard.

Have you cooked for Jeremy since your conversation?
A couple of times in New York and LA. He’s such a healthy eater, so it was a welcome challenge compared to the comfort food I’m accustom to making. He’s actually in London now filming Mr. Selfridge.

I watch that show!
What’s so cool is that he’s just so awesome. He’s such a great guy. He’s exactly how you’d think he would be, super charismatic. He’s not at all like he is on “Entourage.” He’s not like Ari Gold at all. He’s very chill.

I believe it. So, how did you first meet Ellie?
Through Twitter. Social media is the reason all of this happened. She added me on Twitter and I was freaking out. I was like, “Oh my gosh. Why?” I knew she was vegetarian, but at that point it still didn’t make sense. Twitter’s not my main source of social media.

Instagram?
Absolutely!

You have so many followers.
It’s insane. Social media is so strange. But, it’s a great networking tool. Ellie commented on one of my photos of a sweet potato roll. I was like, “We should grab food sometime.” It came from that. We started texting each other and became friends.

Love it. So, she’s not vegan either.
She is vegan. It’s official. You can say it now. She’s vegan and she’s loving it. She was vegan even before I started cooking for her. I guess that’s why she had me come on the road.

How did it go? Were you able to watch her perform or were you stuck at the stove?
Watched all 32 performances. I cooked before the shows and made her after-show green smoothies when the last song came on.

Every day she would be like, “I feel so good, I feel so great.” She’s [always been] really into working out, really toned. But now she eats clean, feels good, has more energy. Which is great. Cutting out dairy is great for her voice.

I didn’t know dairy impacted vocals.
Dairy creates mucus, which is not good if you’re singing. So, when she decided to become vegan, that was a big help for her. She was vegetarian for so long. She didn’t realize [the] impact [transitioning from vegetarian to vegan] would have on her.

When she invited you to tour, was it an instantaneous yes?
We had talked about it before. “Hey, I’ll totally come cook for you,” I’d said. And she’s like, “Let’s do this.” She’s such a down-to-earth person; calling her my boss is strange. How many people can say they’re doing their dream job and they’re having the most fun doing it? It was such a cool experience.

What were the logistics? Like, how did you do it, in practical terms? How’d you get the groceries?
I would take Uber cars from venues to Whole Foods usually. Or, if it was a Saturday or Sunday, I’d try to find a local farmers market. Super, super easy.

I imagine this partnership helped boost your Instagram numbers.
I gained at least 30,000 followers from that tour. A lot of them are meat eaters, and they’ll comment on my Instagram photos saying, “Hey, we became vegan because of you and Ellie!” It’s so cool to see people reach out based on my touring with her. People really respect Ellie, as they should. She’s an amazing human being, not just a really good singer. She wants to be the best person she [can] possibly be, and I think that’s the reason she became vegan. Spiritually, she just doesn’t want to put dead animals [and their secretions] in her body. She doesn’t want to be a part of any suffering. She’s on an awesome journey.

When and why did you become vegan?
I became vegan by accident, almost two years ago. I wanted a hobby, so I started cooking. At that time I was eating meat and cheese. So, I taught myself how to cook and, while I was doing it, I just wasn’t eating meat or dairy. I found that adding those things to the meals was making them really heavy, and I didn’t want that. I wanted to feel good. It was two months into teaching myself how to cook that I was like, “Oh my gosh. I’m eating a completely plant-based diet. I can be vegan!” Everyone was not vegan before they were vegan. Once you become vegan — for whatever reason — once you educate yourself about what’s going on, you expand your reasoning. We need the younger generation to learn about this.

So, I presume your plant-based diet extends to an all-around vegan lifestyle?
Absolutely. 100%. All of my beauty products, my shampoo, my conditioner. It was a couple months into me being vegan where I realized how many [products contain] animal [-derived ingredients]. There are so many ethical alternatives. You can find them everywhere.

Do you have any favorites?
I just use Physicians Formula. It’s super simple and you can pretty much get it anywhere. Clothing-wise, one thing that I do love is boots. Nicora Johns is amazing. I love everything about them. Boots are my one love when it comes to fashion. I definitely back [founder Stephanie Fryslie] and her company a lot.

Can we get some Nicora Johns on Ellie?
We need to! Stephanie actually just sent me a pair of the new boots, which are so amazing! I love them so much. Ellie’s a huge Doc Martens fan, but Nicora Johns are just perfect. They’re so comfortable. They’re just great.

How would you describe your cuisine?
It’s comfort food. The cookbook is based off of when I first became vegan. I was making a lot of comfort food. But, I’m growing as a person and as a cook, so I think, as that progresses, so will my recipe writing.

Do you make your own homemade cheeses or milks or anything?
I try to. But I also try to think of people who need an easy recipe. I think Daiya’s a really great base for you to make something for yourself really quickly, that isn’t cashew-based or something that takes a lot of time.

So, why did you call out actor Ty Burrell on Instagram and throw him props?
Ty Burrell owns a restaurant in Salt Lake City. It’s strictly sausages and beer. The first thing on the menu is a vegan sausage! It’s Field Roast. It was just really cool to see.

What chefs inspire you?
Chad Sarno is probably my favorite chef. Vegan or not, had I known about him before I was vegan I would have been so in awe. What he does with vegetables is insane. He makes dishes look amazing. They’re works of art. Tal Ronen I look up to. He’s just so cool. I had the pleasure of meeting him when I was out to dinner at Crossroads and he seems like such a relaxed guy. Kind of what I aspire to be. One day I want to open a restaurant. I’m going to cook good food for people and it’s not going to be uptight. Some vegan restaurants can be a little intimidating, but Crossroads isn’t. And everything I had there was amazing.

Couldn’t agree more. So, why Nom Yourself?
You are what you eat. I think that is something that people can connect to.

Lastly, are there any specific animal organizations you support?
Mercy For Animals. Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. It’s so close! I think supporting your local organizations is helpful. I’m all about supporting your community and doing what you can to make your community grow. Social media makes people want to save the world, which is great; but I think if everyone in their community tried to save their community, this world would be a very different place.

Camilla’s questionnaire:

  1. How long have you been vegan?  Since I was in my early 20’s. (But I became a pescetarian when I was about 14, then ovo-lacto vegetarian at around 17).

2. What inspired you to go vegan? My love for animals, and more directly, my rabbit, whose breath smelled so sweetly. 🙂

3. How did your family and friends react?  I suppose my grandparents were a bit surprised. My grandmother once asked me when I was going to go back to eating ‘normal’ food. I said ‘never’ and she left it at that. That’s something I’m really grateful for, since I’ve heard horror stories about family members and relatives treating new vegans and vegetarians horribly to try and get them to change their minds. My parents took it very well and eventually, my father became a pescetarian and my mum is now almost completely vegan herself. My sister went vegan at the same time I did.

4. What do you find are the biggest challenges of being vegan?  I’m not sure I’ve found being vegan challenging at all, really. On the other hand, becoming aware of all the cruelty in the world, is very hard. It breaks my heart to read about all the horrible things happening to innocent animals around the world.

5. When did you last break your veganism and why? I haven’t knowingly eaten anything from a dead animal, since I went vegan, but on a few occasions I’ve found out that I’ve accidentally ingested cream and butter.

6. Would you eat Prof Mark Post’s lab-grown beef?  No, but if I found out that it was completely safe, healthwise and no cruelty of any sort was involved in the making of it, I’d consider feeding it to my cats.

7. What do you love most about being vegan?  Having a clear conscience towards animals

8. Is there anything you really miss?  Nothing that needs to contain animal products, but I do miss things like Danish rolls, pastries, toffee, fudge and ice cream with more flavours. Of course, in a way, it’s a relief that it’s so difficult to find this type of vegan product, because of health and weight issues.

9. What kind of restaurants do you eat in?    I very rarely eat in restaurants. Only by necessity, when I’m out travelling and then preferably in vegan restaurants. For instance, there’s a very nice one in Malmo, in the south of Sweden, that serves Chinese vegan food.

10. What’s your advice to anyone thinking about going vegan?  It’s really not as difficult as you might think. Also, take your time, one step at a time. Most likely you can make the transition in a couple of months. It might be a good idea to look at some nutrition facts, if only so you can tell all the omnis who are going to criticize you, that you know what you’re doing.

Here’s an article written by Melinda Shaw about her experiences as a vegan:

Good interview with Melinda Shaw on her experiences as a vegan:

The word “vegan” carries an inordinate amount of caustic weight despites its simple theory and definition. The term sparks trigger quick, flippant responses and reactions based on – from what I have found through casual conversations – a misappropriations, distaste and individual perplexity.

Statements like, “Why would you do that?” “Isn’t is hard to not eat meat?” and “You’re missing out on so many good foods!” spring up regularly, creating inadvertent and glaring testimonies that being “vegan” really means being “different.”

And ultimately misunderstood.

After reading about “Veganuary,” my seminal curiosities led me to dig in a bit deeper in what it is to be truly “vegan.”

I understand the core concepts: no meat, no animal byproducts, and conscious and ethical living practices, but never did I realize that living as a vegetarian, how far off I am from living a vegan lifestyle, thanks in great part to the products I use that contain animal components – as opposed to the foods that I eat.

So “Veganuary,” the promotion of “veganism” last month, afforded me the opportunity to reach out to Melinda Shaw, the founder of WNY Vegans, who spoke about what it is to be vegan.

“A vegan is someone who chooses not to consume any animal products, including meat, fish, dairy, eggs and byproducts made from animals, including honey and gelatin. People generally choose to become vegan for either humane, environmental or health reasons, or a combination of those reasons. Most ethical vegans also generally abstain from using health and beauty products and cleaning products that contain animal ingredients or were tested on animals,” Shaw said.

Also, ethical vegans will desist from wearing fabrics derived from animals, including wool, leather, fur and silk. They also will refrain from attending events and activities where animals are being used for entertainment purposes, such as rodeos, zoos, marinas and circuses.

As a vegan for 23 years, Shaw began living in this manner for “ethical reasons.” Her primary concern was “for the animals.” With more than two decades experience, Shaw attests to the “health and environmental benefits of being vegan.”

“I know that the choices I make every day have a positive impact on the world and do the least harm possible to the animals, my health and the environment. The physical benefits of a vegan lifestyle are tremendous,” Shaw said.

“Today, more people are dying from lifestyle-related disease than infectious diseases! These lifestyle-related diseases are mostly due to high consumption of processed, animal-based foods and lack of physical exercise. We know that most of these diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and even cancer, are linked to the over-consumption of animal products and can be reversed through a whole-foods, plant-based diet.”

Thanks largely to innate commonsense and research, omnivorous and vegan diets are, nearly to entirely devoid of animal byproducts, thus traditionally lower in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol in comparison to non-vegetarian forms of nourishment. Numerous studies also support claims that vegetarians and/or vegans appear to have a lower risk for coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and various forms of cancer.

With all the health benefits associated with non-meat based diets, misconceptions about herbivorous diets are incredibly and shockingly pervasive in our society, especially one that has access to answers in as little time as it take for someone to think and type in a question on Google.

“The biggest misconception about being vegan is that it’s too hard and the foods are too restrictive,” Shaw said. “Many people who try or become vegan are pleasantly surprised to learn about the huge variety of foods that are vegan and actually enjoy cooking and eating more as a vegan as they experiment with new foods and flavor combinations.

“The other misconception is that vegan food is expensive, which is just the opposite. Beans and rice are very inexpensive. When you remove the costly meat, dairy and eggs from your diet, which is generally about 40 percent of an average grocery bill, that frees up a lot of room in your budget. You get more for your money on a vegan diet.”

As for vegan foods, the variety available is extensive. Per the recommendations from Shaw (and some of her favorites), there are “vegan” meat products like Gardein and Beyond Meat, which she uses when cooking for those who are non-vegan, and nutritional yeast, an accent spice of sorts; high in vitamin B12, it gives food a pleasant, nutty flavor.

“The biggest apprehension from people about being vegan is concern over what they will eat,” Shaw said. “I will often go grocery shopping with people to show them some of my favorite products. Most people are shocked to see all of their familiar food items in vegan form, such as butter, cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, ice cream, shredded cheese and meat-replacements. It’s a big relief when they realize that they can still eat very similar to what they are used to eating, just in a more humane and healthy way.”

Should you want to experiment with being vegan for a day or just a meal, there are numerous local restaurants that offer vegan dishes. They include Saigon Bangkok, Falafel Bar, and Pizza Plant, to name a fast few.

Also, as the old, clichéd, but ever true adage goes, “knowledge is power.” The more information you have on veganism, the better informed you will be about the relatively misconstrued subject matter. Check out these documentaries: Vegucated; Earthlings; Forks Over Knives; and Food Inc. Or try one of these books: “Diet for a New America,” by John Robbins; or “The China Study,” by T. Colin Campbell.

Now you can go seek out, find out and try out what works for you. Like anything in life, options are good, and this is just another one for your consideration.

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