Are you going vegan this Veganuary? If you’re thinking of giving a plant-based diet a go, you’ll be making a positive choice for your health and for the environment. However, giving up meat and dairy can be tricky at times. That’s why we caught up with talented plant-based chef Lauren Lovatt to ask her the most common questions that new vegans ask when making the transition.November 18, 2022 6:39 pm January 04, 2021 2:32 pm
Reasons for going vegan
Lauren Lovatt is a plant-based chef with a fantastic pedigree. She has worked as a chef and a cooking school teacher all over the world, making delicious dishes from only plant-based ingredients. Her inspiration comes from her own journey into veganism, which was provoked by health problems.
‘I became plant-based after a rollercoaster ride with my own life and mental health,’ says Lauren. ‘I was finishing a five year degree in art and fashion design. I just realised that food had always been my passion and something I was ready to pursue!’
As for many people, Lauren discovered the benefits of a plant-based diet after becoming ill. ‘I realised that I was (and always had been) intolerant to gluten and dairy. When I started to get better from an array of mental health issues my body was very weak. Foods I was eating, like dairy and bread, were literally knocking the life out of me.
‘So, I learnt more about raw foods and whole food ingredients and cooking. Through an awful lot of trial and error, I found a new lease of like by focussing on quality ingredients.’
She decided to make the change in her personal life, but also realised that it was the right route for her career, too.
‘I’ve never, ever eaten eggs and was looking to retrain as a chef,’ she says, remembering the difficulties of finding the right course. ‘Traditional courses weren’t inspiring to me at that time, but plant-based food and living really was.’
Luckily, Lauren was eventually able to find a course in plant-based cooking and began to train as a vegan chef.
‘The future is plant-based’
As we move towards a future threatened by climate change and lifestyle diseases such as obesity and diabetes, the appeal of a plant-based way of living is becoming ever stronger.
For Lauren, making the switch was life-changing, not just because of the environmental and health benefits, but because of the sudden burst of creativity it gave her.
‘Plants opened up a whole new realm of ingredients and ideas,’ she says. ‘Things like raw cakes and whole vegetable dishes really excited me.
‘Living in the Cotswolds at the time, I had always been inspired by Acorn Vegetarian (now Oak) in Bath. I had seen what was possible in terms of plant-based food. So, I went for it, finding classes and training that could take this plant passion to the next level.
‘I then had the chance to open Asparagasm. It was the original vegan pop-up in London and is just about to become a permanent site.
‘I could see the future was plant-based. I felt transformed myself, and the more I learn, the more driven I am to share this passion and support others to ignite their passion for plants!’
So, if you’re going vegan for Veganuary 2020, Lauren is perfectly placed to answer all your questions. Here, we’ve asked her some of the most common questions that people ask when switching to a plant-based diet.
"I advocate going as organic or ‘close to source’ as possible with any ingredients."
“How do I build a healthy vegan meal?”
New vegans often struggle with no longer being sure about what components make up a healthy meal. At school, we’re often taught about the ‘perfect plate’, made up of protein (usually from meat), carbohydrates and fresh vegetables. But it’s more difficult to visualise your healthy plate when you take away the more well-known sources of protein.
Lauren’s advice is to build a meal based on how satisfied you feel when eating it.
‘The key thing in transitioning is to make sure you are satisfied both in the flavour and body of each meal,’ she says. ‘It’s key to have things you enjoy and would normally have. After all, so many dishes are vegan by default and we don’t even realise!’
Start with a base of vegetables and build up from there. Remember to include a source of plant-based protein such as beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, chickpeas or quinoa.
‘Opt for whole ingredients rather than processed products,’ Lauren advises. ‘Aim to make colourful plates including some seasonal veg, and be curious!’
“Are meat and dairy substitutes any good?”
If you’re used to building a meal around protein like chicken or beef, it might seem like the easiest route is simply to replace it with a meat substitute.
There are a huge number of products on the market which aim to replace meat and dairy, such as chick’n, tofurkey and vegan cheese.
While Lauren thinks they can be useful, sticking rigidly to meat substitutes means seriously limiting your options. Plus, these products are often heavily processed, which limits how healthy they are for you.
If you decide to use meat and dairy substitutes to help you through the adjustment period, make sure you’re choosing high quality products.
‘I’m not a huge fan of substitutes myself, but I do think that there are some amazing options out there for those in the transition phase,’ says Lauren. ‘The Green Grill, Pure Filth and Chicken Dish are all products led by great plant-based people using good quality ingredients. Personally, I love Tempeh by the guys at Club Cultured.’
And if you’re ready to broaden your horizons, there are lots of other vegan options which can work brilliantly in place of meat. ‘I love to explore using mushrooms as the more ‘meaty’ element to any plate,’ Lauren says.