Founder of The Plant Academy, Lauren Lovatt is a plant-based chef who has been on a personal journey with her diet and her wellbeing. Here, she tells us about the power of food for mental health.February 05, 2021 11:51 am May 18, 2020 8:54 am
Name: Lauren Lovatt
Based in: London, United Kingdom
Occupation: Plant-based chef and founder of Plant Academy
“I’ve always loved food. Growing up, I was so lucky to be encouraged to create in the kitchen. The act of making food has always made me happy. It was my way to connect with people, share delicious experiences and please myself.”
“It was only when life turned a corner that this passion turned into obsession, which was definitely not good for me or those around me.
Until this time, I hadn’t really known about mental health issues. Then, at uni my boyfriend was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and I learned the hard way how crippling this illness can be.
After a difficult time trying to support him, searching for answers, managing crazy moods and desperately trying to understand confusing traits of the mind we discovered there was nowhere to turn or any information to be found; the amazing campaigns out there now just weren’t as visible at that time and others suffering didn’t yet have a voice.
After a long trail of events, he took his life. This was devastating for everyone around and for me. My life turned upside down. A year of sleepless nights, painful grief and flashbacks followed and I started to get very sick. As a distraction from the pain, I became obsessed with food. All-consumed by a concoction of eating disorders and depression, I isolated myself from the world and turned the one thing I had always loved into something very dangerous.”
Rebuilding positive relationships
“For some years, the illness was my way of coping. When bad became worse I had to seek help. Through counselling, alternative therapies and good support something clicked that made me want to get better. This had to come from within and what came was my need to rebuild positive relationships – not only with food, but with wellness and more specifically wellness for the mind.
I wanted to learn how to live in a way that would enable me to manage moods; find stability and passion through nurturing my mental health. To do this I unlocked a new toolbox of ingredients, plants and superfoods that sparked a new passion far from any old issues I had.
Long story short – I battled my way through uni and finally finished my degree specialising in wellness design and lifestyle trends. Then, as quickly as you can say “kale”, I retrained as a raw chef! I set out on a new path, finding a way to connect everyone with the links between plant-based food, lifestyle and mental health.”
Plant-based cooking was life changing.
When I was ill, I had huge issues around food; so many barriers and so much uncertainty. At this time, I was cooking a lot but never for myself. I was on death’s door and really had written off the future for myself.
One day, with great support around me, I realised I just couldn’t do it anymore. I remember being out for my grandma’s birthday and the restrictions I was putting up were unbearable. Something just clicked. Things had to change and it was time to rediscover food.
This is when plants came into their own. I re-learnt how to nourish myself in a new way and I saw the real power of plants. I took baby steps to reintroduce all foods I had cut out, but at this point I was eating mostly plant-based. It was gentle on my system and opened my eyes to a new way of eating and, therefore, cooking.
Following my passion
This led onto a real exploration of how to get involved in the food industry. I started up a wellness consulting business. I connected with people who were doing inspiring things. This led me to work with Rob Rees MBE, start my first job out of uni as the ‘wellbeing pixie’ (official title) at a place called The Matara Centre, and eventually work with Asparagasm. They were the first vegan pop-up in London, looking to open premises in the Cotswolds. At this moment, I had about six jobs. I was exploring what I could do.
Having experienced first hand the crippling effects of mental illness I knew I wanted to share what I had learned and do something I could see had meaning. These opportunities carved out a new life for me. I had some great mentors at this time. The seed was planted for a concept where I could bring dreams to life through food.
Asparagasm was really the start of everything. As it was a small restaurant in the Cotswolds, I was lucky to be involved with every element of setting it up. I was able to shape the brand into something that was inspiring for others. At this point, it was clear my passion is not simply making food but creating a lifestyle and sharing the idea that anything is possible when you set your mind to it.
Food for mental health
It’s obvious to say “we are what we eat”. But, there is research out there now on the power of food to feed our minds.
The brain uses a quarter of our total energy. Just like eating for fitness, our brain needs the right stuff. But, this isn’t just about whole ingredients. It is about developing an attitude to food, the joy you feel when you are in the kitchen; the way that you can turn off when cooking and focus on something else.
On many levels, food nourishes us not only with pure nutrition but the act of cooking, coming together around a table and doing something deeply incredible for yourself.
Feed your Mind Candy
In 2018, I launched Feed your Mind Candy. I organise Mind Food workshops, supper clubs and collaborative events that share what a mind-focused food lifestyle could look like.
It is all about inspiring better mental health through food. It’s not just about the ingredients, but also experiences around food. It’s an ongoing project. There’s lots on the way so expect to have a tangible experience soon!
From London to Bali
Over the years I continued to learn. I ended up in LA training at Matthew Kenney Culinary. This had been a huge dream of mine. It was my first solo trip to do something with purpose. It opened my eyes to a new world of opportunity.
First, I thought I was going for a month. I ended up embarking on another two months of training, one in LA and one in Barcelona. The company then invited me to set up their culinary school in the city and teach students from across the globe plant-based food.
After teaching in Barcelona, I was looking for a break. We had closed Asparagasm. I decided to travel to Bali to detox. There, I met the founder of Alchemy Academy. Everything on that trip pointed me in the same direction. Within months, we collaborated and designed a level two plant-based course for Alchemy. So, now I teach there twice a year.
Learning the art of raw food with Deborah Durrant
Raw food for me offered a new perspective and Debs was a part of that. She had set up a raw food studio and I started to train with her leaning so much about how elevated raw food could be. Especially in terms of desserts, these dishes lived up to any dessert I’ve ever loved.
'I unlocked a new toolbox of ingredients, plants and superfoods that sparked a new passion far from any old issues I had.'
Raw or cooked?
I now do a mixture of cooked and raw food, but do often lean towards raw when making meals for myself. The main thing I learnt is anything is possible. You can be so creative with raw food. Through Matthew Kenney, Debs and Kate (Kate Magic) I really saw this potential!
The benefits are the vibrancy in the food, the power to tune in and think what makes you feel best – if that’s something warm and cooked, something fresh or something utterly indulgent. Different foods fit certain moods and for me they all have an important place.
The Plant Academy
Most recently, I set up the Plant Academy. It is all about bringing dreams to life through food. When I embarked upon this adventure it was a struggle to find useful information about plant-based businesses, plant-based techniques, and other people with a shared passion. Now, we live in a world with the opposite situation; so much information!
My vision for Plant Academy is to showcase the best in plant-based food though the chefs we collaborate with, the sustainable ethos we share and the seasonal ingredients we use.
I love to connect with people more than anything. We work with some incredible chefs whom I feel lucky to call friends, from Richard Buckled, to Sara Kiyo Popowa, Arthur Potts-Dawson and Douglas McMaster. Plant Academy gives the students from across the globe a gateway to this community and also a connection to others who share the passion. It’s a mindset, a lifestyle and a new way of making an impact on the food system.
At the moment, I’m mooring the Academy into a vibrant new space in collaboration with a great friend. If you’ve been following our Instagram account you’ll have a flavour of what we are about and things to come.
We also recently curated the food concept for HOY, Paris’ first plant-based hotel. I’ve been working with the team to navigate the industry and how we can be most useful.
The best places to eat out plant-based in London
- Silo at Unit 7, Queens Yard, Hackney Wick, London E9 5EN – the world’s first zero waste restaurant
- Plates on 93a Kingsland Rd, London E2 8AG – Chef Kirk Haworth creates innovative plant-based recipes
- Scully on 4 St. James’s Market, London SW1Y 4AH – an explosion of flavours inspired by chef Scully’s multicultural upbringing, made with sustainably sourced ingredients
- CUB on 153 Hoxton St, London N1 6PJ – a collaborative project from Mr Lyan, Doug McMaster, and others
- Palm Greens at NT’s bar, Netil House, 1 Westgate St, Hackney, London E8 3RL – plant-based, feel good food
- and any pop-up night I discover!
Shopping for favourite plant-based ingredients
I tend to connect with local makers and growers. So, at the moment I love:
- Mother for veg and pantry goodies
- Club Cultured in Hackney Wick for tempeh and ferments
- BULK Market in Hackney for refills
- Hodmedod’s for beans
- Raw Living and Hybrid Herbs for superfoods
- Erbology for all your pre and fab ingredients like rose water, sea buckthorn and those crunchy crackers!
Tricks and treats
For me food is all about being creative. I love to make plates that are delicious not only to eat but to look at. I prioritise colours and textures when creating a meal.
- Always add a crunch. It’s proven to keep your meal interesting and release pleasure in your brain
- I’m a sucker for extra magic. I love to use Lion’s mane, CBD and pine pollen in my dressings all for an extra boost of the good stuff
- Load up on greens and dress them well. I love kale massaged with tamarind and nut butter in salads, sandwiches and soups. It’s so satisfying!
- Chocolate always! It just makes me so happy. At the moment, I’m loving Themptation’s raw bars
- Hemp is amazing. Look into it and work it into your life and you’ll see what I mean.
Lauren’s recipe for wellbeing
Enjoy what you do mixed with moving every day in a creative way. Sprinkle on top connecting with those who inspire you and drizzle with loads of curiosity for the world around you. Take time to rest. Mix with good ingredients and serve for a delicious life.
If you’re looking to transition into a plant-based diet…
Always remember to prioritise balance; whole grains, good fats, a rainbow of fruits and veg, good quality protein. Eating plants should be deeply satisfying. If you’re hungry, there might be something you’re missing!
Take it step by step and go easy on yourself. Change can be challenging for your mind and body.
It can be helpful to find a book or person who resonated with you. Don’t get distracted by all the noise out there. It’s overwhelming. Go with your gut and have food you enjoy!
Follow Lauren on IG @lauren_lovatt and @plantacademylondon to stay up to date with her pop-up events, workshops and more.
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