Delicious and healthy
ELLA WALKER talks to food blogger Ella Mills about being misinterpreted, and encouraging people to eat their greens
VEGGIES and vegans can get a lot of flack for being self-righteous and judgy – and Ella Mills (formerly Woodward) has experienced a shed-load of that flack since founding her blog-turnedbrand, Deliciously Ella.
The 27-year-old started blogging in 2012 after being diagnosed with postural tachycardia syndrome – a condition where standing up can cause a huge rise in heart rate with dizziness and confusion among the symptoms. Her debut cookbook was a massive success. Now the Rugby-born entrepreneur and grand-daughter of Lord Sainsbury is back with The Plant-Based Cookbook, and it’s all about inclusivity. “It’s not designed] with the intention of anyone needing to become a vegan, but for people who do want to try cooking more vegetarian food, it’s a nice way to get involved,” she explains. In fact, she is at pains to point out that she eats plant-based for “very personal reasons. I was very unwell. Changing my diet allowed me to get my life back, and I do it every day to manage my illness.” Her mantra appears to be “you’ve got to make it work for you” – whether you’re just looking to hit your five (or 10) a day, or a vegan in a recipe rut. The cookbook features 100 recipes from Deliciously Ella’s delis and events but runs to almost 20,000 words – it’s part recipe collection, part diary, with mini-essays between chapters. “It allows us some space to tell our story,” explains Ella, “about who we are and what happens behind the scenes – the good and the bad.”
It’s a strange narrative to stumble upon if you’re just interested in whipping up a charred broccoli and kohlrabi salad, but Ella was determined to follow in the same vein as her debut cookbook, and her blog, allowing for “a human and personal element” in the gaps around the recipes.
You can see how she manages to work alongside her husband Matt, son of the late MP Tessa Jowell, day-in-day-out – they even have desks side-by-side.
Matt takes care of retail and products thanks to his finance background, while her focus is the creative side.
“We work together on the shared vision and strategy,” Ella adds, ever business-like. And at home? “I do all the cooking, Matt doesn’t cook, no – but I love that, he is a phenomenal washer-upper!”
That merging of her private life and her health concerns with the Deliciously Ella trajectory may be at the core of her business, but it’s also what caused Ella problems because of Deliciously Ella’s perceived alignment with the ethically and nutritionally dubious ‘clean eating’ movement.
“We’ve never been about restriction or taking the fun out of food – we’ve been about plant-based cooking. Never been about weight loss or anything around that space. It was a complete misinterpretation.”
While intent on distancing herself from ‘fad’ food, she accepts there is an “important” conversation to be had around food as aspirational and part of an Instagrammable lifestyle, rather than achievable at home.
She’s mindful that, when healthy food exploded, it became too connected to exotic ingredients, the superfood powders and things – that are not accessible.” But she’s also unshakeable that something needs to be done to tackle the increases in health issues resulting from lifestyle-related diseases and obesity.
And if posting pretty pictures of vegetables on the ‘gram encourages people to eat more greens, then where’s the harm? “When you’re at home, there’s no expectation that food needs to look that beautiful, but we know that people aren’t eating their vegetables, so how are we going to get them to do it? We’ve got to get them to seem more appealing,” says Ella. “And we do eat with our eyes.”
The Plant-Based Cookbook, she says, focuses on using ingredients people are already comfortable with, and are very much supermarket staples.
She’s firm, though, in doing her absolute best to not sound preachy: “I changed my diet for me because it allowed me to manage a chronic illness, and everyone’s got to do what works for them,” says Ella. There’s no right and wrong way of doing it, but there are nice ways to get more vegetables into your diet.
“I’m a big believer in the concept that, for anything to be sustainable, it has to be enjoyable.
“So you’ve got to make it interesting, you’ve got to make it colourful, you’ve got to make it abundant,” and, she adds, “you’ve got to make it delicious.”
Deliciously Ella The Plant-Based Cookbook by Ella Mills, photography by Nassima Rothacker, Hodder & Stoughton, priced £25
A chronic illness made Ella Mills turn to healthy eating – now her new book shares even more fantastic recipes.