Food always tells a story. We create rituals with what we make on special occasions. We use food to celebrate, seduce and show care. The foods we choose to eat every day become a story we tell ourselves - whether its one of compassion or fear and restraint.
Writer Keri Bainborough chooses to tell a story of kindness - to animals, the environment and, ultimately, herself. I have been following her journey as a vegan on Instagram from the beginning, and watched as she's made major strides in illustrating that vegans are not angry, aggressive, unreasonable or fussy, but can be warm and make hearty, comforting food free of animal products. She is real, approachable and the furthest thing from the pious health-instagrammer people often associate with this lifestyle. I interviewed Keri about her amazing new vegan cookbook, A Guide For Wildflowers.
1. Tell us about the spark for the Guide for Wildflowers. When did you decide to take the leap of translating your love for vegan cooking into a recipe book?
To be honest, it was a combination of factors rather than a spark. My brothers were constantly asking me for help and advice on how to cook vegan food. Every time I posted a picture of my vegan meals on Instagram or Facebook, I was asked for the recipe or for advice on how to lead a plant-based lifestyle. When I first went vegan, I was frustrated that all the vegan cookbooks in stores were American or European. I did not recognise most of the ingredients or wasn't able to get hold of them. Gradually, I became determined to create a guide for South Africans that proved that one could find vegan ingredients and make yummy, easy vegan meals at home with all the vegan ingredients found at South African supermarkets and health shops.
2. What do you wish people knew about the vegan lifestyle?
That it’s really not as hard as you think! Or as expensive as people perceive it to be. For sure, it’s difficult in the beginning because you have to rethink your approach to food and what traditional plates of food should look like, but once you get the hang of it, it’s so easy. And SO rewarding.
3. You are a great writer, in addition to being a prolific vegan cook so this must have been a wonderful creative challenge for you. What did you love most about the writing process?
It really was! As all wonderfully creative things are, it just “flowed." The guide began as an email to both of my brothers when it became apparent they were not saving any of the recipes I sent them via text messages. As the idea for an actual book began to grow, I continued to write the guide as if I were addressing my brothers. This made the process far easier and I probably wrote the entire thing in about three weeks! Instead of worrying about mistakes and language, I just concentrated on banging all my thoughts and ideas out, and then went back to edit appropriately afterwards. Perhaps when I eventually get around to writing The Great Novel, I will begin it by addressing it to them too! Having a non-judgemental audience in mind sure helps with getting the creative juices flowing!
4. Which books were instrumental in your transition to veganism?
The Kind Life by Alicia Silverstone, Mainstream Vegan by Victoria Moran and of course, my dog-eared handbook, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. I had already made the decision to follow a vegan lifestyle before reading these books, but they certainly helped cement my decision.
5. Which recipe in your guide would you recommend to someone a bit nervous about giving up meat and dairy?
Definitely the lasagne or the cottage pie. These recipes are traditionally loaded with meat and cheese and I think that the recipes in the guide will show you just how tasty and creamy and filling plant-based meals can be without the animal products!
6. Which is your favourite comfort food recipe in your guide?
The basil pesto pasta is a firm favourite of mine when I want something comforting, nourishing, quick and easy!
7. What did you do to celebrate the day you received your first printed copy?
I wish I could say I funnelled a bottle of Moët & Chandon, but alas, I had just found out I was pregnant with our wee little Beanborough, so I had an alcohol-free cocktail and went to bed early!
8. There is a misconception that a vegan diet is 'hard' and 'unhealthy.' Why do you think this is the case?
Ah, there are so many reasons! Firstly, Veganism is still not seen as mainstream, and anything “new” and different is always seen as hard or unhealthy. Secondly, we have been brainwashed for decades by the meat, dairy and egg industries about how our only sources of healthy proteins, vitamins and minerals come from these animal products. Agribusiness is BIG business and they spend millions of dollars every year on campaigns and advertising to convince the public that eating meat, dairy and eggs is healthy and normal, when the real truth is that it’s causing life-threatening illnesses like cancer and heart disease, abusing and slaughtering billions of animals every year and bringing about climate change at a scary and rapid rate. But as people are opening their eyes to the cruelty and deception involved in animal agriculture, more and more people are choosing to eat vegan, open vegan-friendly businesses and provide the general public with healthy vegan products. As the movement escalates, I think we will find that going vegan will become easier and healthier for the public en masse.
9. What is the most common question you get asked about veganism and how do you answer it?
Oh there are so many! But “Do you crave meat/cheese/dairy” and “Where do you get your protein from?” are probably the most common. I always say that if you truly want to be vegan, you will do it for reasons other than getting skinny or being seen as a health nut. Once you have exposed yourself to the truth about agribusiness and the many harmful ways we use animals in our daily lives, you will not ever think of wanting to eat a steak or cheesy pizza again. You will very quickly discover all the amazing plant-based sources of protein out there and that, in fact, protein is in EVERYTHING, from broccoli and beans to oats and pumpkin seeds. My conviction to go vegan was so strong and my desire to not hurt an animal or the planet so real, that there was no way I could find an excuse to eat them ever again. I have read and researched every possible argument against veganism and in doing so, have become more and more convinced that it is the way I should be living my life.
10. What books are you looking forward to reading in 2017?
I have Dr Greger’s How Not To Die on my bedside table and I also desperately need to get hold of The World Peace Diet by Dr Will Tuttle. Fiction wise, I’m busy devouring Swing Time by Zadie Smith and am finally getting down to reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.
Get the guide here!