Raised on lard in Scotland and the Midlands, I started dabbling with vegetarian cooking in my late teens, becoming fully veggie in my mid-twenties. Although I loved animals such as dogs and cats I had an emotional disconnect with farmed animals - my original reasons for being veggie were to do with global food justice and the environment. However, I went vegan in 2001 after snorkelling with fishes and turtles - it was like upside-down swimming, the fishes were like birds in reverse as they weaved in and out of the water, colourful, beautiful, special and so at home in that element.
Then I got back on the boat for lunch only to see a huge dead fish on the table, surrounded by piles of equally dead crustaceans. I stared and stared and thought ‘I’ve been swimming with your friends’. My throat closed up – I just couldn’t eat any of it, finally grabbing a plate of salad while everyone around urged me to ‘try the fish, it’s great!’ I felt so, so sad.
A month or so later, 9/11 happened – the news broke on the tv in the staffroom at the school I worked at. I felt this utter wave of confusion – why were humans so destructive to each other, to other beings and the planet? Was there a connection? I started to read… and read… and read. I immersed myself in books, websites and by November I realised the connection – and that if I was serious about not being part of the madness, I had to go vegan.
It was a massive relief and one of the best things I’ve ever done. Forget about ‘giving up’ and ‘doing without’ – it felt like a liberation. No longer did I have to contribute to the emotional disassociation, or to the cruellest industry on earth, or to the monstrosity that is the meat and dairy industry. I could already cook pretty well so I just raided my local health food shops, checked out loads of vegan sites and loved it. What was all the fuss about it? It’s easy to be cruelty-free, I thought!
I joined Viva! because I loved their practical yet emotional take on it all, then became a volunteer when they relocated to Bristol – finally escaping teaching and running away to join the vegans when they offered me a job! I’ve been there ever since in one capacity or another. While others do the more gruelling work of undercover investigations into factory farms and other animal abuse, I help people to go and stay vegan once they’ve joined the dots – or at least to ‘get them on the vegan bus’, to make a start. It’s such a brilliant job and I love helping people. I also get to cook and eat a lot.
And earlier this year, we finally produced my baby, the Viva! Cookbook which Veganuary is kindly selling! I worked with colleagues to produce it – it’s crammed full of useful advice, ideas and of course delicious recipes, with great photos from my friends Helen Wilson and Chava Eichner – all doable however inexperienced you are in the kitchen. It’s a real cookbook for ordinary (and extraordinary!) people, however you define your diet.
As for Veganuary, I just love it. So go for it, try it out – it could change your life. In the best possible way.