Recipes: Easy Vegan Wedding Food For 75 Guests

All the recipes I did for my wedding are below.  We got Lebanese, Caribbean and some store bought cakes.

vegan caterers wedding food picnic raw gluten free

As I said in my previous Wedding Wednesday post, we really struggled to find any single caterer in York who would cater to a vegan wedding.  I phoned some places, and I didn’t even get quotes because they just didn’t do vegan food.  I was suggested the supermarket sandwich platters, but not one single vegan option, let alone a whole platter.  They all did “the vegetarian option” which meant cheese sandwiches with that miserable commercial grated flavourless cheese.  Obviously this service cost close to £100.  I was convinced that I could find tastier, more nutritional and more satisfying food for less money.

I wasn’t really sure what to go with for food – as long as it was vegan and tasty – but as the day drew closer I decided I was definitely going to do everything myself.  I’d seen lots of doom and gloom posts warning about the potential for disaster here, especially because people labour under this bizarre idea that you either can cook or can’t cook, and that “being able to cook” is do do with being able to make very specific, Western-Centric dishes that are generally nutritionally void and full of dead animal, and if you’re putting people in those camps, then no, I can’t cook, but if you try to remember that the basic purpose of cooking is supposed to be to get nutrients, and then give me an Indian, Asian, Caribbean, South American or African recipe (you know, two thirds of the world) and I am in my element.  I was so confident that I could do better cheaper food than the sandwich platters, that I set myself a challenge: to cater my own wedding for under £50.  Then I started looking at what to feed people.

I chose a few Lebanese dishes and some Caribbean.  I spent a whole day in the kitchen cooking, the day before the wedding, and refridgerated everything.  For drinks, and a nice visible centrepiece, we did up a cheap big rocking horse (that we found on Ebay for £5) to make him look like Vash the Stampede (links to Youtube) and we added two bags for life to make saddlebags, which we filled with drinks. There was bottled water, and cans of lemonade, cream soda and mini juice boxes of fresh orange juice. We were a little worried about how an alcohol free and animal free banquet would go down, but in the end we decided we wouldn’t do it any other way.

Here is the full list of food I whipped up or bought for the wedding, including the details for all the recipes I made, grouping foods by location:

Caribbean:

Plantain Chips GF

Cassava Chips GF

Fruit Ginger Cake (store bought, not GF)

Cucumber Chow (Trinidad and Tobago): 2 peeled diced cucumbers; 3 cloves of chopped garlic; 6 coriander leaves (finely chopped); pinch salt. Put in bowl and mix. RAW VEGAN FRIENDLY, GF Add hot sauce for more authentic Caribbean taste – I chose not to as the day was already forecast to be roasting.

Lebanese:
Batata Kizbra: 4 lg potatoes (cubed); 1 bunch coriander (chopped finely); 5-8 crushed garlic cloves; 1 juiced lemon; 3 tbsps olive oil. Cook potatoes then fry the lot. GF
Malfouf: (cabbage rolls): 1 whole cabbage; 3/4 cup vegimince; 1 cup raw rice; 4 squeezed lemons; 1-2 tsp of Lebanese 7 spice; 3 tbsp olive oil. Cook the rice, prepare the mince, mix the two. Boil the cabbage leaves until they are supple and rolly. Roll the rice mix in the cabbage leaves. Put in pan. Pour lemon, spice, oil and garlic mix over. Simmer/marinade until tasty (or 40 mins if you’re unsure). Check your vegimince, the rest is GF.

Mujardara (rice lentils): 2 tins of green lentils, 1.25 cups of uncooked rice; 4 medium onions; olive oil. Cook rice and lentils together until the rice is done. Chop and fry onions in the oil, mix about half of the onions in with the rice and lentils and garnish top with rest. Serve with plain yoghurt as a side dish (I served with Alpro plain soya yoghurt). GF

Loubieh bi Zait (beans in olive oil): 3lbs green beans; 3 medium onions; 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil; 2 tsp of Lebanese 7 Spice; 1/2 tsp salt. Chop the beans and onions, saute onions until they start going pinkish. Add the beans, salt and 1/2 the spices. Mix well to ensure the beans are covered in stuff. Cover and simmer for 45-55 mins. Stir every 5 mins. Once beans have turned a dark olive colour, add rest of spice, mix well and serve. We served cold with pita, julienned bell peppers, and spring onions, but can also be served hot if you’re not feeding 75 in a public park miles from home. GF

Extra Nibbles:

I bought some tiffin (dairy free vegan), in chocolate and chocolate orange flavours, available from the Free From section of Sainsbury’s or many other supermarkets.  I went for 4 packets as there was a 4 for the price of 3 offer on at the time, and I cut each slice into 4 little slices (so we got 80 little slices from 4 packs of tiffin), and we had about half of the tiffin left over after the wedding).

There were also store bought apple and strawberry pastries (£2 for 18-20 from Brompton House bakery brand who make cheap pastries for ASDA and Home Bargains), a few packets of cassava chips (crisps made from Cassava, found in the Caribbean aisle of ASDA), a few packets of plantain chips (crisps made from plantain, found in the Caribbean aisle of ASDA), and a lot of packs of pitta bread to eat the Loubieh bi Zait.

bunny bowls wedding bowls easter

We got these cute bowls for 10p for a pack of 10 from ASDA and okay, they say Happy Easter on them, but they are bowls, you put food in them, and they have bunnies on them. If the words were in Chinese, nobody would even know what they said so I figured, meh, letters, people can get over it. Anyway, it’s never too late to wish people a Happy Easter. When I’m faced with a choice between something expensive with no bunnies on it, and something cheap which has bunnies on it, I am always going to choose the bunnies, it’s a complete no brainer. Since the wedding was filled with little touches of randomness, everyone thought we were being ironic and found it funny.

My main worry was whether this would feed enough people, since we had about 75 guests who actually turned up from 100 invited, but I needn’t have worried.  The actual problem was that there weren’t enough drinks for everyone.  On one of the hottest days of the year, we ran out of drinks which was very stressful.  I could’ve done without that.  It was fine though, because we moved the cake-cutting forward (apparently there’s a social cue that cutting the cake means the wedding party is over.  I accidentally cut the cake too soon, wanting to share it with my friends, and didn’t know why everyone left so suddenly) and we went home to where we had a stockpile of more drinks and a cupboard full of cups, and sat around with the last 20 guests playing video games.  The 3lbs of beans and the extensive amount of cucumber chow (I doubled the recipe) meant that everyone who wanted to eat something had something to eat.

I will do a separate post for my wedding cake, which was made inside the £50 wedding food budget.  Spoiler alert: It was made of cornflakes.

vegan wedding picnic food

Meat Free Monday: The King Of “Cheese” Sauces

Okay guys.  We’ve been building up to this for three weeks.  Today I share with you the ultimate vegan cheese sauce recipe, the one that you’ll want to make every time you do cheese sauce.  This is advanced sauce making.  It’s the one you can feed your parents and they’ll have no clue that there was no dairy in it.  The one you can use for vegan macaroni cheese, vegan cauliflower cheese or to do the top sauce for a vegan lasagna (leave out the “cheese” if you prefer a white sauce lasagna).

cheese sauce1

It requires the full arsenal of ingredients, but I make it a one-pan meal by cooking my broccoli or pasta in the pan, draining that then using the same pan to do the sauce.

You can measure the ingredients, but I don’t bother because it’s far more important to get a feel for how the ingredients interact with one another, and anyway, it utterly depends on how much sauce you want to make.  As long as there’s a good dollop of each ingredient in its packaging, you’ll be fine.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Equipment: Saucepan, butter or table knife, fine meshed sieve, fork, spoon (also: cheese grater if you’re not using cheese slices and wide meshed sieve as well if you need to get rid of lumps and don’t have a hand blender).

Ingredients:

1. Vegan butter.  I am currently preferring the Pure Soya spread.

2. Flour.  Recipe books always say to use plain flour for sauces, but I use self raising because I don’t “cook” (as in, make recipes that are nutritionally void and generally require some sort of flour) enough to have two types of flour in the house, and usually what I cook is cake, so self raising is just more useful to me and it’s never made a difference to my cheese sauces.  If it matters so much use plain flour.

3. Soy milk.  I haven’t tried it with other dairy free milk but I can’t see why it wouldn’t work, although rice milk is very watery.  I use unsweetened soy milk.

4. Either grated vegan cheese (e.g. Tesco soya medium, Cheezly, Scheeze block cheese or Violife block cheese) or slices of Violife, torn into small pieces (don’t kill yourself, it’s still gonna melt if it’s big pieces).

5. Something you want to cover in cheese sauce.  I go for pasta, cauliflower or broccoli, but it’s entirely up to you.

Method:

1. With a knife, get a dollop of butter and put it in the pan.  I use a small non-stick pan so there’s nowhere for lumps to hide later on.

2. Put the heat on a high medium (electric 4, or gas 20 past, with highest being half past if your cooker knob was a clock).

3. As the butter turns to a puddle but BEFORE it bubbles, grab a fine meshed sieve and pour a bit of flour in there.  You want a 1:1 ratio of flour to butter,

4. Stir continuously with a fork until you’ve got little balls of flour stuck together with butter, in a slightly orangey colour (not brown, that’s burnt, if it went brown, start again).

The flour and butter should look like this.
The flour and butter should look like this.

5. VERY gradually add the milk:  Add a dollop, mix it together until it’s starting to form a thick liquid then add more milk, never stop stirring and never add loads of milk all at once.  If your sauce goes lumpy, it’s because you added the milk too quickly or didn’t stir out all the lumps.  Squash any solid lumps with a fork as you’re doing this.

This is lumpy and watery.  Keep stirring out the lumps and don't add any more milk until this has started to thicken.
This is lumpy and watery. Keep stirring out the lumps and don’t add any more milk until this has started to thicken.

6. Stop adding milk once your sauce is a nice thick sauce-like consistency.  Remember you want it to cling to the pasta or broccoli, not slide off.

7. Add the cheese and stir it in until it’s all melted.

This has thickened and has had the cheese added and is ready to serve.  Or add more cheese if you prefer.
This has thickened and has had the cheese added and is ready to serve. Or add more cheese if you prefer.  Or get rid of any lumps (see below).

8. If your sauce is super lumpy, as mine was (usually when I used dairy free Vitalite to do this), you have two options. Either use a wider meshed sieve (if you have one, the sort that you couldn’t drain quinoa through, but you could drain rice through) or a hand blender.

Lump Removal Method 1: With the sieve, get the bowl ready, put the sieve over it (bowl must be wider than sieve, unless you tilt the sieve so all the sauce falls from one place, or you will have cheese sauce everywhere), pour the cheese sauce into the sieve, and wait for the sauce to drain out, then throw away the lumps that are left.

Lump Removal Method 2: With a hand blender, leave the sauce in the pan and just blend out the lumps.  It usually thickens when you do this (because the lumps are the flour and butter that is also the thickener that gives the sauce its consistency).  If it’s too thick, stir in more milk, a little at a time, until it reaches the right consistency.

9. Use the spoon to get all the sauce out of the pan and enjoy that sauce!  If you’ve made too much, put the rest in a separate bowl in the fridge and enjoy it again tomorrow.

A note on cleaning: Get that pan straight under water if you’re not washing up before you eat.  That stuff can set really quickly.

A note on nutrition: Add a handful of peanuts for protein, and boiled kale for 5 a day if you’re putting this with pasta.

A note on gluten: This DOES work with GF flour, although it tends to require the usual liquid adjustments – but this is another reason why I didn’t give measurements, so just add liquid until it reaches the right consistency.  The chemistry of this recipe is exactly the same.

So there you have it.  The ultimate cheese sauce recipe.  If you were into your cooking before you became vegan, you may notice this is the standard white sauce + cheese recipe, and I’ve fully explained it so you can avoid all the pitfalls I have made with this recipe over the ten years I’ve been making it.

What will you eat yours with?  Do you have any better cheese sauce recipes?  Let me know in the comments!

Meat Free Monday: More Vegan Cheese Sauce Recipes

Given how well my first two cheese sauce recipes went down last week, here’s two more.  They’re a bit more complicated but I’ve made pasta and cheese in all of these methods and can vouch for the fact that it will scratch an itch, even if it’s not remotely nutritious (more advice on making this meal more nutritious at the bottom).  Some of these are more realistic than others, as a general rule of thumb, the harder it is to make, the more realistic it comes out, so it’s up to you how much effort to expend in making vegan cheese sauce.  I oscillate – sometimes I don’t care enough to take any time and other times I’m spending half an hour on that perfect vegan cheese sauce recipe and smoothing out lumps with my hand blender (that’s a pro-tip, btw).  It all depends on how hungry or rushed I am vs how much I miss cheese sauce.

Cheese sauce 3. Using vegan cream cheese, method C:

Ingredients:

1.5 cups pasta per person (pasta of your choice)

About 2 tablespoons of cream cheese per person (you may need more)

About 1 tablespoon of soya milk per person (also works with rice milk, not sure about others).

About 1 tablespoon of cornflour.

1. Cook the pasta and drain.

2. In a small non-stick pan (ideally), on a medium heat, spoon your required amount of cream cheese into the pan and add about 1 tablespoon of soya milk per person to start with.

Stir it together while it’s heating until it’s all warm and sauce like.

3. Add the cornflour (sieving it into the pan with a fine mesh sieve is the best way to avoid lumps, but work with what you’ve got) and combine well with a fork.

4. Once the sauce has reached the right consistency, serve it all up – put the pasta in bowls and pour the sauce over the top.

Cheese sauce 4. Using vegan cheese slices, vegan cheese sauce method D:

Ingredients:

1.5 cups pasta per person (pasta of your choice)

About 3-4 dairy free cheese slices per person (Tofutti or Violife are the UK brand leaders),

Method:

1. Cook the pasta and drain.

2. Put the pasta back into the pan. Tear the cheese slices up and drop them into the pan.

3. On a medium heat, stir the cheese slices into the pasta. Need it cheesier? Add more cheese!

4. Serve it in the right number of bowls and eat it.

Nutrition: To make these more nutritious, use cauliflower or broccoli (or some of both) instead of pasta.  I like to also throw in a serving of frozen or fresh peas to ensure there’s some colour on my plate.  A handful of peanuts will help you achieve your day’s protein goals.  I strongly recommend you don’t use lentils – they don’t work well in this sauce.

You can make any of my recipes gluten-free by subbing the pasta for GF pasta.

Stay tuned for next Monday when I will put up the all-singing all-dancing Oven Baked Vegan Mac-N-Cheese Recipe that you will want to get your hands on.

Meat Free Monday: Mac and Cheese Recipes 1 and 2

Pasta and “Cheese” Sauce

Before I developed a milk allergy, my favourite food was mac and cheese, although I would make it with lots of different shapes and sizes of pasta (one of my favourites was pasta shells, because they suck up the sauce). Since I’ve been dairy free, I’ve tried a lot of different ways to make pasta or macaroni and cheese.

The one way I absolutely DO NOT recommend is the “vegan” “cheese sauce” that comes in a tub from the supermarket/health food store. It’s a crime against vegetables. It literally tastes like someone threw some herbs in a pan then threw up on it.

Over the next three weeks, I will present several alternative pasta and cheese ideas, leading up to the all-singing, all-dancing “proper” one with a roux and everything; today’s two recipes are the simplest, and both use vegan cream cheese:

1. Using vegan cream cheese, method A:

Ingredients:

1.5 cups pasta per person (pasta of your choice)

About 2 tablespoons of cream cheese per person (you may need more)

About 1 tablespoon of soya milk per person (also works with rice milk, not sure about others).

1. Cook the pasta and drain.  Gluten free pasta takes much less time than wheat pasta as it doesn’t have to soften the gluten protein.

2. In a small non-stick pan (ideally), on a medium heat, spoon your required amount of vegan cream cheese into the pan and add about 1 tablespoon of soya milk per person to start with.

Stir it together while it’s heating until it’s all warm and sauce like. If it’s too thin, add more cream cheese. If it’s too thick or the flavour’s too strong, add more soya milk.

3. Once the sauce is warm enough and reached a decent consistency, divide the pasta in bowls for each person eating and pour the sauce over it in a fair manner, then eat straight away.

2. Using vegan cream cheese, method B:

Ingredients:

1.5 cups pasta per person (pasta of your choice)

About 1/3 of a tub of vegan cream cheese per person.

1. Cook the pasta and drain.

2. Heat the cheese in the bottom of a small non-stick pan (ideally) and once it’s softening, mix the pasta in until it’s all coated in cream cheese.

3. Serve in bowls and eat at once.

4. This one dries hard, so wash your bowls straight after eating.

Note: 

You can make these gluten free by using gf pasta instead of regular, or replacing pasta with either broccoli or cauliflower (although I recommend using my pasta recipe #5 for cauliflower).

These provide none of your 5 a day (fruit and veg), no vitamins to speak of, and negligible amounts of protein. They’re mostly carbs and a smattering of fat. To make it more nutritious, serve with a salad, or replace the pasta with cauliflower or broccoli (or just serve them up on the side) and sprinkle with sunflower seeds or your favourite nuts for protein (dry roasted peanuts are my fave but you gotta eat them fast so they don’t go soggy in the sauce).  I love mac n cheese but rarely eat it these days because it’s a nutritional vacuum.

Meat Free Monday: Kale Spinach And Vegan ‘Cream Cheese’ Canneloni

Recipe

A brief note about measurement:  I believe that people go a bit mad sometimes with measuring things to the very gram, and that it’s more important to get a feel for the amount of each ingredient and how they interact with one another, which is why I work in cups (the American measurement; you can buy a cup set in most homeware stores if you’re not in the US or do conversions if you need to) wherever possible.  I like to use fresh ingredients to make nutritious and tasty food whose sole purpose is nourishment.

(OBT) means Optional But Tasty.

Gluten:
Except for the lasagne and canneloni recipes, you can substitute the pasta for broccoli or cauliflower in any of these, if you need to eat more veg, or if you’re totally off processed foods. With the exception of the actual pasta itself, none of my pasta recipes contain gluten, so if you’re gluten free, usually you can replace your pasta with gluten free pasta (or broccoli) and follow the rest of the recipe as normal. I’ve not seen gluten free canneloni but you can pre-cook gluten free lasagne sheets and roll them up if you would like to try out this canneloni recipe and you’re GF.

Kale, spinach and cream “cheese” canneloni

You will need (all food ingredients are per person, scale the dish to fit):

A glass oven proof dish: Choose the smallest dish that fits all the tubes in, otherwise you will end up with a LOT of sauce and not much canneloni.

Four canneloni tubes per person;

1/2 cup of spinach;

1/2 cup of kale;

2 tablespoons of vegan cream cheese per person;

1/2 carton of tomato passata;

Grated vegan hard cheese;

OBT: Basil and garlic (to taste);

1. Boil the spinach and kale until it’s very soft. Drain and set aside.

2. Heat the cream cheese in a small non-stick pan (ideally) and stir in the spinach and kale. Add more cream cheese if needed.

3. Stuff the uncooked canneloni tubes full of the spinach and kale mixture, and put them in the glass oven-proof dish.

4. Mix the garlic and basil into the passata and pour the passata over the canneloni tubes.

5. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top of the food to cover the passata and the tubes.

6. Put in the centre of the oven at 150 degrees C or gas mark 5 for 35-45 minutes.

7. Remove and serve; don’t cut the canneloni to serve them if you can help it or the filling might come out.

Meat Free Monday: Pasta Scossese

I am away in the Scottish Highlands until Friday evening. I will not be able to reply to or approve comments until I get back. My posts are all pre-set to go live Mon-Wed, I will not be posting Thursday/Friday this week.

As it’s fitting with where I am when you’ll be reading this, I’ve decided today’s food will be Pasta Scossese (that’s Italian for Scottish Pasta). It’s another easy vegan pasta dish. Make it gluten free by substituting GF Pasta or broccoli for regular pasta.

OBT means Optional But Tasty.

Pasta Scossese:
Ingredients:
1 cup per person: Your favourite pasta (depending on density), gluten free or otherwise,
1 cup per person: Curly kale (scotch kale in the US),
1/2 cup per person: Tinned carrots (or 1 chopped fresh carrot per person, but will need boiling for longer to soften),
2 medium sprigs (those little mini-trees) of broccoli per person.
An onion,
Half a cup of Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) mince, or other vegan mince of your choice,
1 carton of tomato passata,
1 tbsp of your cooking oil of choice (I prefer coconut oil),
OBT: A small sprig of rosemary and a larger sprig of thyme (or a little sprinkle of each dried herb), a sprinkle of basil, and a generous dash of garlic and oregano.

This meal is 2-3 of your 5 a day (depending on portion size), and serves 2.

Method:
1. Put the TVP/vegan mince into a bowl and add a little water and Vegemite (yeast extract), mix in and leave for 5-10 minutes to absorb the liquid.
2. Cook the pasta for 10-13 minutes and drain. Put it aside. While the pasta is cooking, boil the carrots, broccoli and kale until tender. The broccoli needs longest so could also be cooked with the pasta if you prefer.
3. Chop the onion in half, then chop it into thin strips, then cut each thin strip into 3 to make little rectangles.
4. Using the same pan or a fresh one, heat the oil and add the onion.
5. When the onion is sizzling, drain your broccoli (if it’s been cooked with the other vegetables), carrots and kale, and add them to the onion.
6. Pour the tomato passata over the vegetables in the pan and add the optional herbs if you wish. Stir it all together well, to ensure no onions are stuck to the bottom of the pan, then simmer on a low heat for 4-6 minutes.
7. Mix in the pasta (and broccoli, if it was cooked with the pasta), until everything is evenly distributed throughout the pan, then serve in a bowl.

Meat Free Monday: Pasta Italiano

So in the first of my new posting schedule, today’s recipe is Pasta Italiano.  It’s a dish inspired by my visits to Italy.  It’s a fairly simple one, but perhaps it’s a good place to start:

(OBT) means Optional But Tasty.

Notes:
You can substitute the pasta for broccoli or cauliflower in this, if you need to eat more veg, or if you’re totally off processed foods. With the exception of the actual pasta itself, none of my pasta recipes contain gluten, so if you’re gluten free, replace your pasta with gluten free pasta (or broccoli) and follow the rest of the recipe as normal.

Pasta Italiano:

Ingredients:

1 cup per person (dependent on density of pasta): Your favourite pasta, gluten-free or otherwise,

Half a tin (or about 10-12) olives per person,

1/2 cup of whole almonds,

An onion,

1 carton of tomato passata,

1 tbsp of your cooking oil of choice (I prefer coconut oil),

(OBT): A generous sprinkling of the following herbs: garlic, basil, oregano.

This meal is 2-3 of your 5 a day (depending on portion size), and serves 2.

Method:

Cook the pasta and drain. Put it aside.

Chop the onion in half, then chop it into thin strips, then cut each thin strip into 3 to make little rectangles.

Using the same pan or a fresh one, heat the oil and add the onion.

When the onion is sizzling along nicely, add the almonds, then once the onion starts to go transparent, add the tomato passata and the olives. I like to chop my olives in half but some people prefer to eat them whole. Stir in the herbs and simmer for about 3-5 minutes on a low heat.

Put the pasta in a bowl and pour the sauce over the top.

[wellness] The False Concept of Cooking

I’ve always been a big fan of eating whole, unharassed, clean vegetables. I really love the simplicity of it. I think it’s one of the things I love most about my rabbits – we can pretty much eat the same food. However, I didn’t always know how to eat. My biggest mistake when I first became vegan was that I tried looking for foods in the supermarket that were beyond the fruit and veg aisle. I found myself frustrated with the conventional foods and convenience foods in the parts of the supermarket that I’d always bought food from, the fact that dietary staples such as Packet Pasta (an example would be Kraft Macaroni), vegetarian frozen food, vegetarian chilled ready meals, curry sauces, snacks and even drinks were full of animal products. I had many a meltdown in the supermarket where I would just walk out of the shop and sit in my car and cry, because I didn’t know what to do, I was certain I wasn’t going to eat that crap, but I didn’t know what to eat.

Something my aunt told me recently, when I told her a vegan friend has found out she’s gluten intolerant, was “she’s going to have to learn to cook then.”

This is the big myth that keeps us all subjugated and enslaved to a world of shit food.

You don’t have to learn to cook. You don’t need to learn to cook.

You need to learn to eat.

A lot of “so you want to be vegan” type books (apologies if this book is real, I’m categorizing a type of book here) tell you that you need to eat more whole foods, that you can get “meaty” foods like tofu, Facon (fake bacon), scheeze (fake cheese) and so on, to replace the meat in your food.

Meat loss is not the problem.

All these eating books have built up the idea that you need to replace the meat with a solid, meat-textured object, that you only need to check the ingredients are animal free, and that if you do, POP! You’re vegan.

This type of eating is unsustainable, and really it undermines the fundamental principles of veganism. Instead of trying to find foods that you used to eat which happen to be vegan, and attempting to subsist off those (beans on toast anyone), or trying to “veganize” foods which are not vegan, or imitate foods, here’s a staggering thought:
How about try eating totally different foods, including lots of fruit and vegetables, and see where that takes you?

I’m only being slightly sarcastic here because it wasn’t until my mum died of cancer in December that I realised what I’d been doing wrong with my eating habits this entire time. We all do it. It’s so ingrained into us from birth that we must eat a particular way and when we question it we’re told it’s because of nutrition and when we get ill we’re told it’s because we’re not eating a particular way. On paper, I’ve always thought I understood this concept of “changing the way you eat” and thought it just meant, “stop eating animal products” and “move away from meat and two veg nonsense.” It’s so very much bigger than that.

What if the answer was to totally break free from all the things you think you know about cooking, all your kitchenware, all your dishes, steamers, microwave, etc etc? And then, once you’ve started listening to your body, identifying what it needs, and acting on it, you could maybe add some of those things back in?

After I got the news about my mum, I couldn’t eat anything other than raw vegetables for a week.

I didn’t understand why. My 22 year old sister, across the country, was spontaneously having the exact same problem. We both fundamentally knew, no matter what anyone told us was the cause of our mother’s death, that food was the key. In our house growing up, a meal would be chicken nuggets and chips, with maybe a tablespoon of tinned peas or sweetcorn. Snacks were crisps, biscuits and in summer, home-made ice lollies made from that stuff you dilute. We never had real fruit juice, fresh vegetables or fruit. Sometimes at Christmas there would be tangerines. When we went to clear her house, we found receipts for food shopping. Ready meals full of processed meat and other junk. I had changed the way I ate when I first left home at 18. Moving in with an Aunt while I finished school had been a culture shock. The idea of eating two freshly cooked vegetables with the evening meal literally astounded me. I felt so healthy. I didn’t even consider the possibility that this was only a moderately healthy meal. I still filled my face with chocolate and crisps, now adding biscuits and cakes to the list.

Sometimes, when I’m reading about nutrition and I come across some of the delicate balances of nutrients that we humans need, I wonder how it is that some people are still alive. I wonder how my sister and I didn’t grow up with some serious developmental disorders due to what we were eating.

I went to university. I became vegetarian. I felt like I’d never been healthier. I swapped sausages (which I’d always detested) for vegetarian sausages. Chicken nuggets became vegetarian nuggets. Chips (fries) were still chips. Pot noodles and spaghetti hoops were still the same too. Crisps (potato chips) were still a daily dietary staple. So was chocolate. I struggled with my weight, constantly fighting to get down to a 10 (US6). I exercised and didn’t understand why I was tired all the time. It literally didn’t occur to me that my poor diet was making me ill.

Fast forward two years. I became vegan. I took the “3 week vegan challenge” and, once the three weeks were up, I never really got round to eating eggs or dairy again. I felt healthier, stronger, happier, more outgoing, my grades soared and I was finally on track to get the degree classification I’d been obsessing over for the past two years. Never had I felt better. All my life, I’d been plagued by stomach pains, stomach cramps, trapped wind, bloating and a constant feeling of nausea. I had actually associated that nausea with feeling full. When I became vegan, after the first two weeks, all these problems went away. I realised that it wasn’t normal to feel like this, and that I had the power to avoid it. That was when I first started wondering if I was lactose intolerant. I had a few false starts in the first year; every time I slipped up, I felt the familiar nausea and pains in my stomach. It became a big decision-making factor in what I ate. And nothing vegan ever made me feel like that.

Two years later, I’d become quite ill. I’d been working at McDonalds and eating fries for lunch every day, or a hash brown if I was on the breakfast shift. Milkshakes started creeping their way in. And ice creams. Soon I was feeling sick all the time again, and I had forgotten why this happened. I thought it might be gluten, I was adamant that it couldn’t possibly be milk. After six months off gluten and feeling only slightly better (probably because my favourite food was pasta and cheese sauce), I had to concede that it was milk. I was being sick several times every day. I got very ill with a mobility problem and was in bed most days, with no money to buy good food. I finally cut out milk and, while some of my problems improved, others got worse.

I had cut out milk, but I hadn’t replaced it with anything. Yes, I was drinking soy milk instead of regular milk in my tea, but there was also the lasagna, mac and cheese, yoghurt; I had replaced them with totally different milk-free foods, but I hadn’t replaced the nutrients. Primarily, the protein.

I didn’t realise this until a fitness instructor was sat next to me at lunch one day and she looked at my food, tapped the plastic container and demanded “where is your protein?” in a particular tone that the written word cannot emulate. I looked at my food. I looked at her. Nettled at criticism of my food, I said, “I have protein with my evening meal.” She told me it wasn’t good enough. We never spoke much again, but in the back of my mind it got me thinking. Where was my protein?

I got wrapped up in other things such as teacher training, and my nutrient stores got even more depleted, until one day, early last year, I realised I couldn’t carry on. I was working 70 hours per week and not getting enough time to eat. I got diagnosed with anaemia and I knew it wasn’t the only problem. I looked at all my proteins in the cupboard and I could have cried. Quinoa, advertised as a complete protein, is one of the worst sources of protein of everything ever. White pasta has more protein. My Quorn, a vegetarian substitute for meat, which I was only eating for the protein because I hated the stuff, but it said on the label “good source of protein” was the second worst offender. In some cases, less than ten grams of protein per 100g. I believe, after years of false advertising, that they changed the labelling in the last 3 months because it’s a terrible source of protein. Nuts, textured vegetable protein and tofu all did a lot better. Nuts were the best. And lentils were really good as well. Mushrooms were another shocker, with hardly any protein in them. As a comparison, I looked at the meat that my boyfriend kept in a particular freezer drawer. The salmon, lamb, and chicken were all good sources of protein – but even the salmon was not as good as peanuts and pistachios.

I went around all the foods in my kitchen and I felt like my eyes had opened. I suddenly had a basis to found my dietary principles on. I was still eating a lot of processed and convenience foods, but I figured at the time that it was fine as long as I got my protein. However, I had noticed that I was struggling to get my five-a-day fruit and veg.

That was where I was at when my mum died.

Then my attitude to food was turned on its head even more.

Instead of eating for “taste” or “favourites” or “comfort” how about eating for nutrition? So, eat things that will enable you to get 45g of protein a day, eat enough things containing vitamins and minerals, get your 90g of carbs and 70g of fat. Ensure that the protein includes the right amounts of each amino acid, and that the fat contains essential fatty acids.

As long as you are doing that, it doesn’t matter how you eat. You can eat that as a meat eater, a vegetarian, a vegan, raw vegan, fruitarian or sproutarian (sorry, juicearians, if you even exist, it’s impossible to get all your nutrients from your specific diet).

When my mum died, and I was just eating vegetables, I began researching raw food diets because they have almost become fad diets. I did a series of articles on them, which explained what they all were and weighed up how easy it was to get each nutrient from each diet.

I then took that one step further and identified ten vegan sources for each nutrient, because I was sick of people saying that it was an unhealthy diet.

While I was researching all these different diets, I became very attracted to fruitarianism. I thought the ideals of the diet were beautiful, and reminded me of a renaissance garden of Eden type fantasy. Having researched it, though, I knew it wasn’t the healthiest diet to follow 100%. I know that some people do anyway, but on the other hand there are people who eat nothing but junk food – neither of these is optimal but it won’t kill you straight away, so people keep doing it. I felt myself changing inside. I felt that fruit was the answer. I had never really been interested in fruit before, so this was a revelation.

A typical fruitarian meal
A typical fruitarian meal that I ate.

So at the moment, I’m a 60% fruitarian, 40% vegan (cooked). For this reason, I eat breakfasts and lunches that are fruit and nuts. Some days, like proper fruitarians, I will graze throughout the day. Other days, I feel the need for a “conventional meal” so I prepare all my fruit and nuts and put it in a bowl to eat. It makes me feel like I’ve actually eaten, and is easier to keep track of what I’ve eaten.
Since I’ve started doing this, I’ve felt like I’m functioning at a much higher intellectual level than before – no, I don’t mean it’s made me smarter, I mean, I was struggling with processing power, my brain wasn’t processing things very quickly and was struggling to take in new information. Not only that, but I was feeling very tired through the day, pretty much four hours of tiredness, followed by four hours of wakefulness. Since I’ve been eating fruit for my daytime meals, these problems seem to have disappeared.

Another fruitarian meal
Another fruitarian meal that I’ve eaten

I’ve started eating fruits I never would have considered before – I always used to worry about buying fruit, because like many people, I would constantly buy it, eat a small amount, then it would go off, then I would throw it away. I got so mad at my wastefulness that I stopped buying fruit for years after a particularly bad incident with a bunch of bananas. Making a commitment to eat fruit during the day eliminates this problem because the fruit just gets eaten. I’ve gone from having no fruit in a week (just veg) to having four to six pieces in a “meal.” I enjoy food shopping a lot more and I finally feel like I’m getting enough of everything. I’ve also stopped skipping meals since I’ve been seeing fruit as a viable alternative to regular meals – before, I would often skip breakfast and lunch on the basis that I would look in the cupboard and feel like I just didn’t have the food I wanted to eat – but I didn’t know what food I was craving.

Another thing I really like, for why I skipped the raw vegan step entirely, is that you don’t need a bunch of fancy equipment or cooking skills to be a fruitarian. Raw Vegans cheat a bit and use all sorts of weird and wonderful food processing techniques to make their food look and taste like “real food” whereas fruitarians just accept their food in the shape and size and flavour that it comes in, and eat it whole and unaltered. I really feel like it makes me connect with what I’m eating and where it came from in a way that raw veganism could never do for me.  I’ve found myself drinking a lot more water since I’ve started eating fruit, too, which generally improves my wellbeing.

I don’t think I am never going to be a full-time long term fruitarian, because I feel that other foods also have value, but I do enjoy a good fruit fest and think that if you’re having the same problems that I was, the addition of fruit and nuts to your balanced diet could be your answer.