Article by Joanna Sarah-Freedman
There’s no denying that to many, the term vegan used to conjure up an image of an eccentric hippy with a crock pot, or an over-preachy activist. But attitudes are changing.
Between 2014 and 2019, the number of people living a plant-based diet quadrupled, and this month alone, a record 2.7 million people are expected to have taken part in Veganuary (as supposed to 500,000 the year before).
What’s more, a new poll has uncovered that two thirds of Brits now think that cutting out meat and dairy is an “admirable” thing to do – quite the jump since the term ‘preachy vegan’ was coined.
Vegan food is becoming a whole lot more accessible (Credit: Alamy)
It’s progress, that’s for sure. But there are still some big misconceptions out there when it comes to the vegan lifestyle, and even people who are vegan themselves might be guilty of believing some of them.
Whether it’s a supposed over-dependance on ‘fake meat’, the idea it’s unhealthy, or the misguided assumption that it’s a diet limited to certain cuisines, vegan chefs and food personalities still have some gripes about how the lifestyle is being portrayed.
So Twisted asked a few of veganism’s biggest names what grinds their gears, and what society is still getting wrong…
Max La Manna (Instagram and TV vegan chef)
Max La Manna is a vegan Instagram star and cookbook author (Credit: Lizzie Mayson)
“I think that, with a lot of plant-based food, the misconception is that it takes too long to cook, and to draw flavours from ingredients.
“I’ve heard, you know, Jamie Oliver say ‘Oh, it takes a long time to really to enhance the flavours’, but I think if you have simple ingredients and you cook them simply then the flavour is already in the food itself.
“I think people are trying too hard to add more to overcompensate for meat, and I’ve been guilty of that, too, but it’s not needed.
“I know it sounds boring, but if you just roast a sweet potato or a butternut squash in the in the oven and you finish it off with some lemon zest, salt and olive oil, then just close your eyes and take a spoonful and enjoy that, there’s something really beautiful about how uncomplicated plant-based food can actually be.
“And it doesn’t doesn’t need to be loaded with butter and cream and cheese and to get all these intense flavours.”
Rebecca McGuinness (Temple of Seitan)
Rebecca is founder of Temple Of Seitan, with branches in Hackney, Camden, Kings Cross and Brixton (Credit: Rebecca McGuinness)
“You don’t have to drink wheatgrass all day long (wheatgrass fans don’t @ me) or spend a fortune to be vegan.
“Pretty much everything you eat right now can be veganised easily!
“Meat alternatives are so realistic nowadays and they give you that same satisfaction as eating the real thing does.
“You don’t have to miss out on the food you love and the animals will thank you!”
King Cook (Cookdaily)
King Cook established vegan restaurants in Hackney and central London, and has heavily influenced East London’s vegan scene (Credit: Felix AAA)
“I’ve been vegan [for] over 10 years and there’s a big misconception about flavours. People might have previously said vegan food was bland, but now? Come on!
“You’ve got Beyond Meat burgers you can grill, you’ve got vegan butter so you can baste it just like a classic French technique, you’ve got vegan cheese you can melt, to intensify the flavour.
“I’m a chef so I know how to get flavour out of herbs and spices, and any chef will tell you that when it’s done properly that’s all you need.
“If you look at Indian cuisine, a curry can blow your mind away because of seasoning, you don’t need pork fat, or whatever.
“And now, there’s even more access to interesting flavours. We have things like smoked paprika, which you can use to make vegan bacon, using salt and a bit of maple syrup for sweetness.
“So it’s definitely dated to think vegan food is bland.”
Kai Zou (Tofu Vegan)
Kai Zou fronts the kitchen at London’s vegan Chinese hotspot, Tofu Vegan (Credit: Tofu Vegan)
“Believe it or not, vegan food is getting more and more popular in China but people don’t know that it’s possible here [in the UK].
“The biggest misconception about Chinese food is definitely just that it can’t be vegan.
“We have people coming to our restaurant who have been dragged here by friends and family, but they’re always shocked that we can make their favourite Chinese dishes without meat.
“We don’t really use dairy and eggs in China, so, if you’re vegetarian there, you’re pretty much vegan.
“‘Vegan’ ingredients like tofu come from Asian cooking, and we’ve been cooking with them for thousands of years.
“We use contemporary ingredients and mock meats now too, which makes vegan food more interesting, and [for a meaty texture] you can substitute in mushrooms, too.”
Biff Bloom-Burrows (Biff’s)
Biff is founder of legendary vegan fast food delivery brand, Biff’s Jack Shack (Credit: Biff’s)
“Maybe it’s because we were all brought up with our mum’s over-boiled carrots and mushy school bean burgers, but one thing that lots of people wrongly assume about vegan food is that it lacks texture – and the texture it has can’t be anything close to meat without lots of weird stuff added to it.
“But you don’t need lots of ultra-processed gluten to get a meaty texture – you can make incredible substitutes using just fruit and veg.
“At Biff’s our famous Crispy Fried Jackfruit Wingz look and act like breaded fried chicken: they’re soft and tender inside, perfectly crispy on the outside, and even have a bone in the middle – but it’s all made from plants, not weird stuff from a lab.
“Every food has its place, but we’re big believers that the more creative you get with the textures of your veg, the more fun you’ll have with vegan meals.”
Joe Stewart (Enak)
Joe Stewart founded Enak, which now serves vegan Indonesian grub in London’s Boxpark (Credit: Enak)
“A common misconception is that vegan food leaves you wanting more. ‘I just need a bit of meat or I’m still hungry’ is something we hear too often.
“At Enak, we prepare our vegan Indonesian dishes without changing original recipes, using fresh, natural ingredients including traditional protein sources such as tempeh.
“Natural protein sources like this are commonly used in Indonesian cooking and are just as filling as meat, proving you don’t need animal protein to make a fulfilling meal.
“I first discovered tempeh in a small village called Wairkoja on the island of Flores in Indonesia. We would buy freshly made tempeh from the market, still warm and wrapped in its banana leaf.
“An Aunty in the village prepared the most simple, delicious tempeh dish cooked with tomatoes and kecap manis to create a sweet and sticky dish, which blew me away.
“Tempeh is really versatile and it is becoming very popular in cafes and restaurants across the UK, but I’d love to see more people using it at home.
“I think because tempeh isn’t as widely used as, say, tofu, that people probably feel a bit unsure of cooking it themselves, but it is just as easy!”
Irina Linovich (Holy Carrot)
Irina Linovich is founder of London’s bougiest vegan hotspot, Holy Carrot (Credit: Holy Carrot)
“The common perception is that a vegan diet is boring and restrictive but plant-based dishes can be fun and varied.
“At Holy Carrot, we constantly experiment to showcase exciting and adventurous plant-based ingredients.
“Put a vegan spin on a traditional BLT Sandwich with holy smoke cheese, organic smoked tofu, Artisan bread, light pickle cucumbers, tomato and lettuce.
“Swap a hamburger for a “Crab” Burger made with hearts of palm & lobster mushroom crab cake, Caesar sauce and watercress.
“Plants can be the hero, not just a side dish.”