Plant based diets have never been more popular, the supermarkets are stocking more vegetarian and vegan foods than they ever have and we're seeing big brands jump on this demand by bringing out vegan options of their products - there is a HUGE market for it now and it just keeps growing which is fantastic.
A man who is promoting a plant based diet in a very in a positive way is Mr DIY himself, DIY SOS' Mr Nick Knowles. Nick has recently brought out a cookery book titled 'Proper Healthy Food' containing hearty vegetarian and vegan recipes primarily aimed at meat lovers and people who may have never considered a plant based diet (although this book is for anyone who wants to cook!). I had the opportunity to chat to Nick and ask him some questions about his decision to go plant based, his experiences and what advice he would give anyone thinking about it.
I'm interested Nick, what made you start looking into veganism?
The health benefits predominantly - I'm not comfortable with factory farming either. I think it would be much better for everyone if people moved towards a plant based diet.
How long have you been cooking vegan style and was it a gradual process?
Almost a year now but I need to be clear - I'm mostly vegan. Vegans have told me you can't be mostly vegan - in the way you can't be mostly pregnant (that's a quote from someone to me on Twitter) but for me it's important to encourage people towards a plant based diet. If that starts with one day a week then great, I used to eat meat three times a day - I've now eaten meat five or six times last year and four of those were because friends who didn't know I'd changed my diet cooked me food and I didn't want to make them feel uncomfortable.
Any big lifestyle or diet change can be a struggle but we have to keep at it. What has been your biggest hurdle along the way so far?
Finding good food - hearty healthy meals. I'm a big lad and I work outside with long hours in the cold, my friend gave up because he couldn't get hearty enough food. That's why I did the book, to help people eat hearty enjoyable plant based meals. Restaurants are poor too in the choices on offer. Top class restaurants offering nothing other than a quiche or a risotto, restaurants need to take note -I've been on a predominantly plant based diet a year and I'm fed up with risotto already!
People choose the vegan diet for various reasons and that's absolutely fine. But everyone seems to feel a lot better for doing it, how has eating plant based made you feel? Ethically and health wise.
I had a great experience in Thailand first trying the vegan diet, that made me feel a lot healthier. This was backed up by medical tests too, I had better blood pressure, better cholesterol and I was fitter and lighter. So health wise - I felt and feel great!
I've been a patron and supporter of Born Free foundation for years and have worked with endangered species from Africa to Borneo so I really am an animal love. I've never been comfortable with factory farming - I don't think anyone can be but I also understand parents want to give their children a balanced diet often on a small budget. That can influence their choices. Encouraging people how to cook vegetables, make them interesting, where to get their protein and other food groups is a complicated journey for many people who don't even cook but rely on ready meals. You can't change the world in a day but I think encouraging people towards thick vegan stew with vegan dumplings helps (certainly helped me!).
Changing your diet like this can bring on some negative criticism, have you so far been unscathed by comments about your vegan diet choice?
I've been told that I'm a disgrace to vegans as I'm not declared 100%...
I've had a bit of ribbing from my meat eating family members but it's all good natured. I've actually had genuine interest and questions from my meat eating friends but it's the vegan community that have been less supportive - especially if I've had an egg on a breakfast when I've had a hangover. I'm a disgrace and not a proper vegan. I keep saying it, I'm not a proper vegan but I eat mostly vegan, I can envisage being fully vegan in the future and want others to go that way too.
That has to be good for everyone doesn't it?
There are quite a few people who are intrigued about the vegan diet but are unsure on how and where to start, what would you say to anyone considering a more plant based diet?
Absolutely give it a go. Don't make an absolute decision because you put yourself on a wagon and if you fall off you give up. So be kind to yourself - forgive yourself on occasional slip ups or weaknesses.
With bringing out a cook book I'm guessing you love food! What is your favourite vegan food to cook?
Vegan stew - I make it with chunky winter veg and chestnuts and rosemary vegan parmesan dumplings - it's fantastic but so is my sweet & sour rhubarb strawberry & cherry crumble with crushed hazelnut and rolled oat topping.
(that sounds delicious!)
What a great set of answers! Do you want to add any other words, tips or advice?
I'd just like to encourage everyone to be a little less absolutist - I understand it's an emotive subject but many people are frightened off giving a vegan lifestyle a try because of the quite judgmental comments that can come your way if you fail at all. People see on social media that I'm pushing the lifestyle and encouraging people to change for their health and in the end to the benefit of animals too. But they also see the stick I get from some in the vegan community and it's not encouraging. Let's applaud people for setting foot on the road, encourage them to take more steps and not be too tough on those that find the change difficult - I think that's the way forward.
Thank you again Nick for answering those questions for me, hopefully it encourages more people to look into a plant based diet!
It was really great to speak to Nick about his choices and experiences, I'm with pretty much everything he says. It's a real shame that most of the negative comments have come from the vegan community, I understand that people are very passionate about veganism and their choices but I don't think it's right for people to put other people down if they make a few mistakes but are still trying and making the effort. Surly that's just counterproductive? Things do take time and pushy behavior just gives out a negative outlook on veganism (and then people think ALL vegans have the same attitude) which doesn't encourage anything! People choose a plant based diet for different reasons too and we should be accepting of that (regardless if we feel the same), its better for your body, its better for the animals and its better for the planet - all of which are good reasons for people to head to a more plant based diet.
I for one am very happy Nick has brought out this cookery book to encourage more plant based eating and chatting with him after this interview, it seems the book is proving to be extremely popular - the demand for plant based eating is there!