Never Be Afraid To Be Different

Passion Flower from Flickr via Wylio
© 2012 Ernest McGray, Jr., Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

A big stumbling block to many people considering a vegan lifestyle is the fear that they will be perceived as ‘awkward,’ or ‘different.’

I guess I’m lucky. I’ve never given two sweet ones what anyone thought of me in relation to my life choices. There was a brief period in my early teens when I wanted to be like everyone else, to fit in, to wear the same clothes, to belong to a perceived ‘something,’ but it quickly passed, thank goodness.

If your motivation to go vegan is ethical, then just think back to the first abolitionists who spoke out against slavery, or the first people who fought for women’s rights. These folks would certainly have been considered ‘different’, being disruptive to the status quo as they were. Slaves had been kept for hundreds of years in the south, and women hadn’t voted since elections began. This prejudice was completely normalised. From where we are now, we can see clearly that these two discriminatory practices were wrong and hateful. Yet where would we be if abolitionists and suffragists had been afraid to be different?

Someone has to be the first to speak out. In the case of veganism – don’t even worry, you are nowhere near the first. The earliest vegan I’m aware of is Pythagoras; and Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Tolstoy followed later, among many, many other eminent names, so it’s not at all as risky as being the first abolitionist or suffragist. Most people you will encounter are used to hearing about vegetarianism at the very least, so by eliminating animal products from your diet, you will not be doing something that no-one has ever heard of.

Nothing bad happens to you if you stick your neck out and dare to be different. You don’t get struck by lightning; you don’t get excommunicated from life! Quite the opposite in fact, life becomes richer and fuller, and you begin to feel more authentically ‘you.’

What’s the absolute worst that can happen? Maybe a few people talk about you behind your back calling you ‘awkward,’ ‘weird,’  a ‘lettuce muncher’ and you will probably be thought of by some as ‘preachy’ and ‘militant’ (you’ll find, sadly, that even if you never speak about being vegan, it’s enough for some people to know that you’re vegan, to perceive you this way). You may not get invited for dinner as often as non-veg friends do. But guess what? This is all on them. This is nothing to do with you, and real friends WILL make an effort to cook for you, you’ll see!

People will not drop you as a friend because you eat differently to them. My partner is vegan, and I have one close friend that is. About half the rest of my close friends are at least sympathetic to veganism and are happy to eat at vegan restaurants with me. The other half I’m sure think I’m a lunatic, but it is honestly never an issue. They may or may not mock behind my back, but if, when we’re together, it’s all good and they treat me as they treat everyone else – who cares? What I don’t know won’t kill me.

And we are all different in so many other ways. You don’t have the same tastes in music or clothes as all your friends do you? Even if I wasn’t vegan, my friends and I still wouldn’t eat the same kinds of food – some have pretty conservative tastes while I eat food from a ton of different ethnicities. And none of my close friends share the same taste in music as me, so even if I weren’t plant-based they would probably still perceive me as different. There isn’t much I can do about that, but you should know – it really isn’t a big deal. When I think about most of my friends, what we share above all is our senses of humour – and that is more bonding than anything.

I do get that it’s sometimes scary to be different, but once you try it and live it, you’ll see that your life (and social life) really doesn’t change all that much. And the more you experience all the benefits of a vegan diet; the fact that you may be a little different to most people will matter less and less to you. Once you begin to feel good and radiate health, joy and purpose, there’s a good chance they’ll want some of what makes you different for themselves!

Going Vegan Step-By-Step? Here’s What To Change First…

Some of us are lucky enough to be able to make changes to our lifestyles overnight, for others of us, it’s easier to make them incrementally. If you are transitioning to a vegan diet in this way, then, depending on your reasons, it may be better to eliminate foods in a particular order.

There are three main reasons for making the decision to go vegan or plant-based (or move in that direction):

1) For health (I’m including losing weight in this)

2) For ethical reasons

3) For the environment

For some of us it’s completely about ethics – living a life free of cruelty to others, for some it’s to improve a health issue, and for others it’s all three reasons. With me, it was initially health, but now it’s most definitely all three. Before you yell at me with accusations of encouraging people to go vegan for any other reason than the animals, I know for a fact that a significant number of people go plant-based for health or the environment, then in time come to realise that the other reasons are just as important and are all, in fact, interconnected. It’s true that some don’t, and go back to eating animals because they haven’t evolved to that understanding, but a considerable number do. As I said, I was one of those.

Here’s what you may want to give up first according to each reason:

Health: Start with dairy. You will notice the biggest change in your health by eliminating dairy. The reason why oftentimes people initially feel good on the immensely unscientific ‘paleo’ diet is NOT because they are eating grass-fed, poetry read, tucked-in-bed beef, it’s because this diet eliminates dairy, and someone on a standard diet who eliminates dairy and processed foods WILL start to feel better quickly! If you need to eliminate dairy step by step, my advice is to start with cheese. Once you’ve cracked the cheese addiction, everything else will seem much easier. You should notice improvements in conditions like asthma, migraines, sinus congestion, allergies, heartburn, IBS and eczema quite quickly.

As for losing weight, dairy (especially cheese) is full of saturated fat , and even semi-skimmed and low-fat dairy does not aid weight loss. It may be lower in fat, but it still contains saturated fat and cholesterol, so I’d still give up dairy first even if your reason is weight loss.

Ethics: Assuming you are not a foie gras munching, lobster gobbling, veal snarfing type, then as for which animal product is produced in the cruellest manner, I have found arguments declaring each of the following the most cruel – eggs from battery hens, dairy, chicken and cows. In my view the argument is somewhat academic, but I lean towards Wellness Activist and author Kathy Freston‘s view on this:

Although many people tend to stop eating red meat before they give up chicken, turkey, or fish, from a humane standpoint, this is backwards. Birds are arguably the most abused animals on the planet, and birds and fish yield less flesh than cows or pigs, so farmers and fishers kill more of them to satisfy America’s meat habit. If you choose to give up meat in stages, stop eating chickens and turkeys first, then fish, and then pigs and cows.

Environment: You might be surprised at this one. According to the Environmental Working Group, lamb is the best animal product to give up first if you are concerned about carbon emissions. Why? They produce as much methane as cows, but it adds up to more emissions per pound as there is less edible meat on them in relation to live weight. Of course beef is a close second.

On top of the methane output, these two animals are the most resource intensive to farm, using more water, fertiliser, pesticides and fuel than any other livestock. They also generate more manure (which ends up polluting the air and rivers) pound for pound than any other livestock.

Cheese, pork, and farmed salmon would be next, as they are amongst the items that generate the most greenhouse gases in production.

Note: If you currently feel there is one animal product you just cannot live without (burgers? cheese?) then give up all the others except for that one thing. Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. The chances are very likely that after you’ve eliminated everything else, after a while, because your system is feeling so good with so few animal products, you’ll want to lose this one too as you’ll have less of a taste for it. If not? No matter, do what you can – it all counts!

How to Keep the New Years Resolutions Do-able.

In case you’ve thought about making some resolutions of the new year kind, and in case they are to do with going more plant-based (or if you are already vegan and want to go in a more healthful direction, i.e. eliminating sugar), then here are 5 pointers to aid your resolutin’ :


1. Only you know you. You probably have a pretty good idea by now whether you’re a ‘cold turkey’ or a ‘step by step’ kind of person. Don’t try and be a hero and change your lifestyle overnight if this has not traditionally been your way of doing things. If you make a change in the way that really suits your character, it is way more sustainable.

If you are going from meat-eater to plant-based overnight, this is great, only please be sure you have enough information on nutrition, and all the incredible foods available to you. If you make the change this quickly and end up only eating the same few things over and over, you will get very bored and possibly ill. You can learn ‘on the job’ as it were, but you’ll need some good varied meal ideas for at least the first few days.

If you’re a ‘step by stepper,’ don’t be afraid to go as slow as you feel you need to. Intention and consistency are key, so if you feel that eliminating meat/dairy/sugar for one meal, one day a week is as fast as you’d like to go for now, that’s great, as long as you are consistent with that. Set a future date when you’d like to increase that to two meals, then another for three, and so on. Maybe you could be meat/sugar free every other day, or on weekdays – of course there are endless permutations, just find one to suit.


2. Frame it right, in your mind. Whether you make a big change overnight, or you are making small changes over a longer period, DON’T be thinking of words like ‘eliminating’ and ‘forever.’ You are not so much eliminating as adding an abundance of new tasty food to your life, and crowding the old stuff out with delicious alternatives.

If you are changing your lifestyle in a way you know will be a personal challenge; thinking in terms of ‘forever’ will be intimidating and off-putting. Rather think ‘this is what I am doing today, I’m seeing how it goes, and will reassess tomorrow.’ Yes, I know this is an AA/NA strategy, but if it works – why the heck not apply it? And, as we know, sugar and casein (in cheese) are addictive, so it seems pretty appropriate to me. For those making big changes rapidly, take it hour by hour if you need to.


3. Slip up? Fall off the wagon? A chocolate bar/chicken nugget fall into your mouth? So what? Yes, you heard. So the hell what?

Listen, if you beat yourself up about it, or feel guilty, you are never gonna live up to your standards, and you’ll risk falling into the mind set of ‘weeell, I’m never gonna be able to do it, I’m not good enough, so why bother…?’ You CAN do it, and you may well slip up, but a slip-up does NOT a failure make. The important thing is to just quietly acknowledge and accept what happened and move on. As in the previous point, you can take it hour by hour, and what you did in the last hour is not relevant to what you are going to do in the next hour. Try and find out why you were tempted, and ensure you are not in that situation again, i.e. making sure you have plentiful snacks on you at times when you may be tempted, or not walking the aisle in the supermarket with the tempting thing that’s calling your name.

Confession: In my first year of being vegan, I lived in Paris, and one day I was walking past a deli that had chickens on a rotisserie outside on the wall. This particular day the smell of them was too tempting, and I caved and bought one. I ate too much of it, was grossed out, and was never tempted by meat again. I think that as slip-ups go, that was a pretty hefty one for a vegan!


4. Remind yourself why. At times when you feel despondent, or feel it’s too much effort, or that you don’t have the strength to do it, go back and remind yourself why you made this resolution in the first place. If it’s that you went vegan – well, read up on all the health, environmental and ethical reasons. If you are cutting down or eliminating sugar, take half an hour to read of the multitude of health benefits, and diseases that you are at less risk of contracting.


5. Reward yourself! No matter whether you’re 4, 34, 94, we all need to be rewarded for effort. Give yourself a time period, and a treat to enjoy at the end of it. For example, if you are initially going plant-based from an average diet, have a dark chocolate bar/vegan cupcake/small pack of beetroot crisps every day or every other day. If you are vegan and eliminating sugar, make sure you have a maple syrup or brown rice syrup based treat to enjoy, at certain times along the way.

Have a happy and healthy new year; see you on the other side!


Vegan and Still Want a Tra-dish Festive Meal? Here’s How (With Some Modern Ideas Thrown In!)

I guess a vegan Christmas never fazed me because I NEVER liked ‘Christmas food.’ Even in my pre- plant-based days; mince pies, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, turkey, pigs in blankets etc, left me cold. They were way too rich for my taste. I would have happily celebrated with a curry or a chilli!

Thankfully, we are all different, and I realise some of you might be wondering how to have a healthful, plant-based Christmas, while keeping all the traditional flavours and textures associated with the season.

My partner, too, loves the stodge and richness of Christmas nosh, so over the years we have reached a compromise.

I thought I’d share some of our Christmas meal plan – in case anyone else is in the same position.

I will normally volunteer to make a light starter (see what I did there? Picked the easiest thing – hee). We’ll both take care of the ‘Christmassy’ main dish, and he will make a seasonal (but not necessarily ‘Christmassy’) dessert.

I haven’t decided what to make for this years starter, but last years was so delicious I may just repeat that – Artichoke with lemon dipping sauce. Easy – boil the artichokes; throw all the sauce ingredients together, done!

For the last few years we have had Tofurkey as a main course. Tofurkey has been available in the US for years, and I know there are mixed opinions about it there. It hasn’t been available in the UK all that long. I think this is our 4th year of buying it (from Whole Foods) and we are still quite chuffed that this option even exists!

I never liked turkey, but I quite like this. It is obviously meant to replicate a stuffed turkey, but I think it tastes better. It is moist, and has a pleasant, chewy texture. The stuffing is delightfully herby and is made with wild rice and whole wheat breadcrumbs. The gravy that comes with it is hands-down delicious, and really makes the whole thing taste rich and decadent. The ingredients are as healthy as they could be, with wholegrains used wherever possible and absolutely minimal crap. Pretty impressive.

We roast lots of parsnips, sweet potatoes and white potatoes in with it, just as you would a turkey, and steam some greens.

Tofurkey is also available in Canada, Australia, Germany, Belgium and Singapore, see their website for details.

There are alternatives in the US, Field Roasts Celebration Roast for one, but I can’t speak for this as I’ve never tried it. Perhaps someone who has could review it in the comments?

My partner will make a pecan pie for dessert. There are lots of vegan recipes for pecan pie, but some are waaay complicated, with a billion ingredients, and others are too spartan, aimed at the ‘raw’ crowd. The one I’ve linked to is a good balance between the two.

We will no doubt be snarfing chocolate over the holidays – these chocolate buttons are from Montezuma, and are incredible. They are dark chocolate but not at all bitter – I’ve given them to kids and they love them too.

Something lovely to sip when you return from your brisk Christmas day walk? Try vanilla maple chai. You will need:

-1 cup Yogi Chai (or any brand available, except Oregon Chai – this is too sweet already)

-1 cup vanilla soy milk

-Maple syrup to taste.

Heat everything up in a saucepan, pour into mugs, sprinkle cinnamon on top! Lean back in a chair, sip chai and say aaaaah!

You will not want for taste, luxury and decadence having a plant-based Christmas!


Wishing you a joyous, restful and delicious Christmas!


5 Plant-Based Tips for Gorgeous Guts!



You may have heard that 70-80% of the immune system is in the gut.

Thus, we need to keep topping up the good bacteria in our guts to help fight the bad. When there is too much bad bacteria (candida) and not enough good, there are a bazillion horrid symptoms that can ensue.

It is particularly nasty because symptoms can appear one by one and gradually, so it can take a long time to realise the core of the problem. While it’s not a death sentence (though if left too long it can lead to chronic diseases – multiple sclerosis, cancer, ME, IBS, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and alcoholism have all been linked to candida overgrowth), it can take a while for the body to get rid of it.

How can we support a healthy gut in the best (and vegan) way?

Here are 5 solid, sure-fire ways:

1. Take a pro-biotic or two daily. (I take Quest acidophilus non-dairy capsules, but there are lots of brands out there that do a vegan probiotic)

2. Eat a serving of (non-pasteurised) sauerkraut or kimchi daily, or at least 4 times a week (next week, I’ll post how I make my own unbelievably simple kimchi!)

3. Garlic, garlic, garlic! You can take vegetarian garlic capsules, or try eating dishes where the garlic is still fairly raw, like in kimchi. Get your garlic any way you can, it really helps keep the gut in order. It’s a natural anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-biotic. Win-win-win.

4. Yoghurt – dairy-free of course! Soy yoghurts are widely available. Sojade is an amazing brand because their plain yoghurt is sugar free, and you can just pop in some maple syrup or some sugar free jam, stir, and you have a delish dessert. Coconut yoghurt is creamy and lush, and in the UK, Australia and New Zealand you can pick up the Coyo brand. In the US there are several brands of yummy coconut yoghurt, Whole Foods have a good selection – ideally buy one without sugar and add your own flavour.

5. Eliminate or cut WAAAAY back on sugar (and all things containing it!) and refined carbs – such as white bread, white pasta and white rice. Sugar and refined carbs FEED candida, so it’s best to reduce our intake of these as much as possible. Don’t worry, wholegrain pasta and brown rice are just as tasty (and you will soon find them even tastier than their inferior versions!).

Feel like you may have a candida overgrowth problem? While I’d normally ALWAYS say consult your healthcare practitioner, unfortunately many doctors either don’t acknowledge candida, or believe it only occurs in severely immunocompromised people, such as those with HIV, or simply just don’t know anything about it. So, if you are lucky enough to have an enlightened doctor, go see them. If not, it may be a good idea to see a reputable holistic doctor or naturopath.

Otherwise, use these 5 tips to help maintain gorgeous gut flora!

How To Eat Well In Restaurants As A Vegan


So you have a get-together with friends planned, and you are partly responsible for choosing the restaurant you’ll all eat at ?

If you’re a new vegan, you may think your choices are limited, or that you’ll have to leave it to someone else to choose the venue, and just put up with a plate of lettuce when you get wherever you’re going.

Not so.

Yet,  it was so. And really not so very long ago.

I remember a meal, around 12 years ago, in a smart(ish) restaurant in Clapham, London, where, despite the fact that the staff  thought they were cultured, cosmopolitan and sophisticated, all they could offer me was a bowl of lettuce. Um… yeah. Grim.

Thankfully, those days are gone.

Unless you live in a tiny village (though even if you do, I’m guessing there’ll be a Chinese or Indian restaurant at the very least, not too far away) your biggest problem is which restaurant to choose from the many options available to you.

If you are lucky enough to live somewhere where there is a good vegan restaurant, don’t be afraid to suggest this to your friends. You’d be surprised how many people (while maybe not ready to go fully vegan) are open to trying plant-based food. Even if there is one stick in the mud friend who says they would miss their meat (though does anyone actually say this?)  hopefully they will be swayed by the opinions of the majority.

If you suggest a vegan restaurant and it gets the green light from everyone, make sure it is a tried and tested, good place. You’ll want everyone to get the best impression possible of your diet. And once there, don’t hesitate to make recomendations – even great restaurants have some dishes that aren’t as good as others, so advise where possible.

Being vegan is your opportunity to get to know many delicious cuisines from around the world, several of which don’t habitually use dairy anyway, (so no awkward questioning of waiters, checking that there’s no milk, butter, cream etc in a dish – phew!).

In my coaching programmes, I give an extensive guide to restaurant dining options, with vegan meal choices available in each specific cuisine.  But here are 6 solid choices that should serve you well:


1. Good old Indian.

Lots of Indian restaurants are vegetarian, so half the battle is won already. There are many different Indian cuisines, but you should be able to find some of the following dishes at most of them:

Starters: Poppadoms with chutney (avoid the yoghurt-y dips),  onion bhajis, spinach pakodas, uttapam, sev puri, veg samosas.

Mains: Vegatable malabar, bhindi bhaji/curry, chana masala, tharka dahl aloo gobi, brinjal bhaji, sambar (Don’t worry if you don’t know what the dishes are, there should be a description of each dish on the menu, and you can read up online and even decide what you’ll have beforehand, if you really want to make it easy). At the very least, there should be a vegetable curry on offer.

2. Chinese.

This is probably the least interesting of all the cuisines I’m mentioning here, in terms of vegans being well catered for, but I appreciate that this might be the only option for some people in out of town areas.

Starters: At the bare minimum, vegetable spring rolls and fried seaweed should be served here. If you’re in a Chinatown somewhere, you may get some chili fried tofu,

Mains: The go-to choice if there’s nothing else is tofu and stir-fried mixed veg with steamed rice. In a city restaurant you may get a choice of specific veg dishes, like green beans or bok choy in garlic sauce for example.

3. Lebanese (Syrian, Iraqui, Israeli and Egyptian are similar in their dish offerings).

It is usually a good idea to get several hot and cold starters  – these are normally more interesting than the mains, and you can share and let everyone have a taste. Choose from houmous, baba ghanoush, moutabal, hot or cold ful madamas, makdus, falafal, stuffed vine leaves, tabboulleh, moussaka. If you do need a main, spinach or okra bamia is the way to go (maybe marked as vegetarian bamia).

4. Korean.

Starters: Soup (there is often miso soup available, or various veg in clear, soup with tofu), kimchi, pickles (there are several different sorts of kimchi and pickles to try – all delicious), salad (often involving seaweed and tasty dressings – check these are vegan, lots are).

Mains:There should be a veg option in the bibimbap (menu may call this ‘pot dish’) section, and in the noodle section of the menu. Try soba noodles. These are made from buckwheat – a whole grain. You should also find some variation on the following dishes: grilled aubergine in miso paste, stir-fried tofu and mixed veg in soybean paste stew, cold soba noodles in spicy chilli sauce.

Desserts: Try cinnamon punch (non-alcaholic) if they have it, and don’t forget to sup on the traditional Korean barley tea throughout.

5. Ethiopian.

I am not even going to try and be clever and name the veg stews available in Ethiopian restaurants. They have several, all clearly marked. You choose one to eat with your yummy ‘injera’ (Ethiopian bread resembling a pancake, but made of teff, a fabulous wholegrain). You don’t need to check if the stews are dairy-free, they are. Dairy is not used in Ethiopian cooking at all. Most times there will be an offer on the menu where you get a selection of the veg stews at a fixed price. Marvellous. What could be easier. Once you’ve tried Ethiopian food, you’ll be hooked. Point your peepers at this plate of heaven!


6. Vietnamese

If you think this is just a variation of Chinese food, think again.

Starters: Vietnamese spring rolls in peanut sauce (some restaurants call these summer rolls), salads.

Mains: Fried aubergine on garlic sauce, fried tofu in garlic sauce, fried mange-tout/bok choy with garlic sauce. Steamed rice or udon noodles as a base.

Desserts: Truth be told, the whole reason I included Vietnamese food here is cuz of this scrummy dessert called Che Thai. It’s a long drink made of coconut milk, with bits of fruit (usually jackfruit, lychee or longan) and chewy jelly chopped up and thrown in. It’s pretty sweet, which I’m guessing is due to a high sugar content – but you’re not gonna have one every day, right?

Final note:

Never be shy about checking for egg or dairy if you’re not sure, just smile and be lovely while you’re asking. Where possible (and only if in small groups!) let everyone try your dish – show them animal products are not the be all and end all of a dish. And, oh yeah… bon appetit!

I love hearing about great restaurant vegan food experiences. Please share yours with me in the comments.

You Can Re-train Your Taste Buds at Any Age. This Guy Says So…

How many times have you heard people bemoan the fact that they’d find it hard to give up this or that animal food (usually cheese!) and replace it with anything else, or that they don’t think they could start a new way of eating after eating meat, dairy and eggs for so long? Maybe you are the one thinking it.

Listen to this doctor.

Its around thirteen minutes long, but totally worth it if you have time – he’s a cutie. Not to mention a smartie. He went vegan at 50. But I’ve heard of people going plant-based at 80 and geatly benefitting from it

It’s never too late to change a habit. You’ve probably done it loads of times with lots of things already in your life and not even realised it.

Remember when you gave up putting sugar in your coffee/tea? Remember how it tasted weird at first, but pretty soon after, you couldn’t imagine drinking it any other way?

And remember how when you were a kid you ate a tonne of jelly (‘jello’ if you’re in the US), or (insert any kids sweet treat here), and now you no longer eat it cuz you’re not 7? Do you crave it? Of course not. Why? Because your taste buds got exposed to more sophisticated desserts. You moved on.

The good news is, it’s the same for everything. You may well have been putting cow’s milk on your cereal for 20/30/40 years, and soy/rice/almond milk may well taste weird when you first use it. But after a couple weeks of a new regime, if you put cow’s milk on your cereal, it will taste gross and you’ll wonder how you ever ate it.

Our senses are so amazingly versatile and impressionable, they’ll habituate to whatever we expose them to. Every food habit is just that, a habit. Any habit can be changed in just a short space of time (usually between 14-21 days).

Meat, dairy and eggs are not heroin, they’re not addictive. However, the casein in cheese, during the process of digestion, does release opiates called casomorphins, which can have an effect on humans. Casomorphins were designed by nature to keep the calf interested in it’s mothers milk. So there is somewhat of an excuse for finding it hard to give up cheese. But when all’s said and done, it’s hardly crack cocaine (and doesn’t it feel weird being affected by something that was meant for babies of another species?)

We can crowd out the cheese in our diets with lots of other tasty foods that would leave no room for it. If, in a transitional stage, you need the taste/texture of cheese, there are an abundance of tofu cream cheeses on the market. Nutritional yeast can replicate a cheesy flavour, or you could try one of the vegan cheeses available in your part of the world. In my opinion, Daiya and Follow your Heart are the best ever, but these are only available in the US and Canada. Violife is the better option in the UK (this is only my opinion – try them all and see which one suits you).

Bottom line – it’s always, ALWAYS, a good time to start a new, healthful, life-affirming, world-changing, planet-loving, animal-friendly habit.

What food habit would you find the hardest to break? Why? I’d love you to share this in the comments.