Planting seeds of change
“THE amount of dairy I was packing away was shocking to be honest,” says Aine Carlin, gravely.
It was this realisation, and the fact that “every single meal had some form of dairy in it”, that sent the food writer, former actress and award-winning blogger (www.peasoupeats.com) into a tailspin over what she was putting into her body.
“I opened the fridge one day and had a hard look at what we were eating,” she remembers – and six years on, she has no regrets about going vegan.
Understandably so, considering her first book, Keep It Vegan, won the 2014 PETA Award for Best Vegan Cookbook and the 2015 Gourmand Award for Best UK Vegan Book.
Originally from Derry in Northern Ireland, Carlin had always been interested in food and cooking from scratch, but her vegan transformation took place during a stint living in Chicago.
“Chicago itself had a massive, massive effect on me,” says the 34-year-old. “They were so far ahead of us in regards to vegetarianism and veganism – I’d never seen vegetarian food like it. So when I’d seen the possibilities of what it could be like, it became exciting to me, whereas before, it seemed like you were depriving yourself and it was just a horrible, joyless existence, you know?”
Now based in Cornwall, England, Carlin sounds the opposite of joyless.
Not only has going vegan given her a whole new career avenue, it’s had a huge impact on her health and how she feels about herself.
“We weren’t feeling 100 per cent, I would say. We weren’t ill or anything like that, but we’d both put on a bit of weight, we were very lethargic, we were having terrible sleep, my skin and my hair and my nails were never looking worse,” she says, explaining how she and her now-husband were feeling in the run up to deciding to ditch meat and dairy.
“All of this was around the time of my wedding, so if you can imagine, I look back at those photos and I just think, I was looking and feeling my worst. I’m sure no one else noticed, but you know when you can feel it in yourself that you’re not the best that you could be.”
Dairy “was the first thing to go”, she says, but claims there isn’t anything she misses from her previous, cheese-tastic diet.
“The problem is people look for products that taste almost exactly the same as the dairy products that they miss,” she muses. “I think you just need to forget about that and just go: ‘It’s never going to taste like that, but I’m going to enjoy this for what it is’.”
The premise of her latest book, The New Vegan, is to make vegan eating accessible to everyone.
“I love communal eating; for me it’s all about sharing food, and veganism has a very solitary image. You do it yourself and for yourself, you eat alone and there’s something about that that’s very depressing for me,” she explains. “I wanted to open it out. It’s more about sharing your lifestyle and sharing your food, and everyone sitting around a big table and passing bowls of this, that and the other.
“When people think about veganism, they think it’s very dogmatic, that you’re being told what to eat, that you’re being criticised if you slip up, and I want to get away from that mindset, because it’s destructive and it doesn’t work in the long term,” she says passionately. “It’s about being supporting and accepting of everyone – and just enjoying food!”
If you’re tempted to switch to a vegan lifestyle, get started with these three recipes from Carlin’s new book...
Aine Carlin. Photos: PA Photo