I want to start out by saying that I am currently so inspired by the feedback that I receive from you, and the other members of the V&M community, that are along for this journey with me. Each time I hear from one of you that you have tried a recipe, upped your veggie intake, swapped something out for a healthier option, challenged yourself to go veggie for a week (month, year), learned something new or simply looked at something with fresh eyes… my soul lifts off! This is why I do what I do. When I started out on my plant-based journey there was ZERO recourses available to me. In fact the term “plant-based” had not been coined, vegetarians in my community ate a diet loaded with pasta, bread, dairy and eggs and I am pretty sure that no one I knew, knew anyone who was vegan.
I have always been both a creative person and a visual communicator. Reading and writing has never been my strongest suits but give me the chance to create, build, design, problem solve or visually communicate something and I am your (wo)man!
I grew up in Hobart, Tasmania, and my primary school friends and I all liked cooking. During after school and weekend “play” sessions at each other’s houses we would often end up in the kitchen, cooking cakes and even entire meals. Looking back I feel very grateful that those parents enabled the activity of cooking to be so comfortable and accessible to us. I never recall any discussions about kitchen safety. We must have just been responsible and trustworthy and proved that we had what it took to be left to our own devises in the kitchen.
It was at age 11 that one of these friends and I jointly decided to “go vegetarian”. To this day I don’t exactly recall if there was a particular incident, awakening or discussion that provoked this change but from this day on… I was vegetarian.
To illustrate just how bad people’s understanding of vegetarian food was in the 90’s I want to share the experience of my first ever Home Economics class back in first year high school. I remember explaining to the teacher that I was vegetarian but that I was also very confident in the kitchen (by this time I had already spent time “working” in my aunt and cousin’s restaurant). Both these statements were met with intense confusion by this cooking teacher. I remember this conversation quite vividly and it was clear to me, even as a kid (12 years of age), that I was out on my own.
The first ever “recipe” I cooked in Home Economics class was a special dish… just for me “the vegetarian one”. I kid you not… the recipe went like this. Take a Kraft Single cheese slice. Lay it in the bottom of a ramekin, crack an egg on top, then cover with another Kraft single cheese slice. Then bake in the oven! Even today, this still makes me laugh.
So fast forward through high school. I continued to work casual jobs in restaurants doing veg prep, baking cakes, prepping for service and generally helping the chefs with anything that needed doing. I liked watching cooking shows, collecting recipe books, hosting “dinner parties” for my friends and at the same time began to get really interested in photography. As high school wrapped up and I started looking at my options for university I was drawn to photography. I had excelled in the subject at school and loved the idea of telling stories with images. This was back in the day when newspapers were king and weekend newspapers were filled with masses of high quality photography.
So I packed up my camera equipment and moved to Brisbane to complete a Bachelor of Photography with majors in Photojournalism and Art Theory. And just indecently my first ever Uni photography assessment saw me photograph macro (close up) cross-sections of veggies and fruits. They were brightly coloured abstract images celebrating the wacky and weird insides of produce.
By this time we are now moving out of the 90’s and into the 00’s but things really had not improved on the healthy vegetarian food front. As a student I lived on home cooked steamed veggies and other basic meals which wasn’t bad but my eating out options comprised of Hungry Jack’s veggie burgers and the standard veggie meal option at the time which was always a creamy pasta or goats cheese “something”.
All these refined carbs, cheese and cream really didn’t do me any favours and it was becoming clear to me that not only did these foods contribute to weight gain but that I was clearly dairy intolerant and as a result struggling with nausea, sleeplessness and constipation.
During my 20’s I sought advice from nutritionists as I was growing increasingly aware that the way I was eating wasn’t working. This experience really left me more confused and disappointed. Dairy continued to be suggested as the best way for a vegetarian to maintain the “required” daily intake of protein. I would have professionals write me meal planning ideas (loaded with diary) and the only plant-based snack I remember being discussed was hummus. Don’t get me wrong… I love hummus and eat it many times a week but I knew there had to be more I could eat to maintain a healthy weight, hit my nutritional requirements and feel well.
I met my Irishman James in 2006 and moved to Dublin with him in my late 20’s and my diet remained the status quo. It wasn’t until I was riding a mountain bike in the Kilarney National Park on my 30th birthday, and quite frankly struggling, that I knew that I needed to know more.
I joined a gym, I enrol in a nutrition course and dove head first into the growing online world of food blogging. Sadly the trainers at my gym again provided the same shoddy nutritional advice that nutritionists had told me previously. But interestingly I found some really inspiring people and communities online. Remember this was 2010. There was no Instagram, iphones were only brand new and the vegan fitness and plant-based diet phenomenon had not yet exploded.
I wish I could remember the name of the woman but one of the first resources that really resonated with me was a vegan fitness professional who was selling her meals plans online. This resource was invaluable but I found it ultimately impractical to be making new recipes each day with a swag of new ingredients that were spoiling in the fridge before they could be used up.
Around this time I also become aware of the growing numbers of amazing documentaries and books that were available on the topic of nutrition and the plant-based diet. I consumed all the documentaries I could find including: Food Matters, Forks Over Knives, Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead and Vegucated. Through these I learned about medical pioneers in the field such as Dr Joel Furhman, Dr Dean Ornish and Dr T. Colin Campbell. My recipe book collection also started to grow with titles like Kim Barnouin’s Skinny Bitch, Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet and Robert Cheeke’s Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness.
The books that have had the most impact on me are Eat To Live by Dr Joel Fuhrman and The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner. Eat to live presented me with all the medical facts about why to choose the Plant-Based Diet but also provided practice tips for how to actually eat this way. One of my biggest take aways from this book was the need to eat a large amount of legumes each and every day. This is something I am still working on achieving.
The Blue Zones is a truly remarkable piece of research and writing. Dan Buettner discovered the five places in the world—dubbed Blue Zones—where people live the longest, healthiest lives and surprise surprise one of the things they have in common is a Plant-Based Diet.
Then in early 2011 Veggies & Me was born. I was doing heaps of experimenting in the kitchen and wanted to get these recipes documented for myself and for others like me looking to improve their vegetarian diet.
Since then my life has changed so much and the website is onto it’s 4th complete rebuild. I continue to use my photography, recipe development and research skills to engage with a community, which I am very excited to say, is now officially mainstream.
Despite now holding a certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition and investing almost 10 years in research I still have daily struggles with nutrition. I, just like you have a busy life and am constantly battling against the clock to prepare healthy meals and snacks that taste good and don’t break the bank.
My first daughter was born in 2104 and this is where my education in feeding kids began. This is a whole challenge in itself. Feeding your kids can be hard at the best of times but throw a whole food plant-based diet into the mix and things get just that bit more tricky. I have wins and losses and love sharing family friendly recipes on the blog. I particularly love hearing from the parents in the community that have tried these recipes and triumphed.
Growing our own food has been such an important things for me since moving to our own house in 2017 (just before the birth of our second daughter). I find growing your own a great way to connect to nature, get outside, get healthy incidental exercise, provides a limitless opportunity for teaching my kids and above all supplements our weekly grocery shopping with the best produce that money can’t buy.
Gardening and growing produce for me is in my genes. Generations before me, in my family, have grown their own food and it just feels so natural and important to me. I have been sharing my experiences in the garden on the blog and through my social media channels over the past couple of years and love receiving feedback about the impact these stories have on you. There truly is a renaissance in growing your own food at the moment and this is a topic I look forward to sharing into the future.
James and I have always love visiting farmers markets. These too are currently growing in popularity. For us the experience is so much more than just a shopping experience but an opportunity to personally connect with food producers and our community. Since moving to the Central Coast we have also taken part in local produce swap events and will continue to share stories of these wonderful initiatives over time.
So what next… well I have just rebuilt the website again and hope that the information there, including the almost 400 blog posts, are providing you with what you need to get the most out of your diet. But I would love to hear from you what content is going to help you to achieve your nutritional goals.
The one single thing that has helped me over the past decade is learning to listen to my body. I honestly believe that many of us take too long to understand what a healthy body feels like. We get so used to managing and living with symptoms that we forget what normal (healthy) feels like.
As a result I have been developing my own suite of recipes that work for me and my body. I don’t need a recipe to make them, substitute in what ever veggies I have in my fridge (or garden) and they don’t require a huge array of expensive ingredients. I am a huge fan of keeping things simple when it comes to, in particular, weeknight meals and hope to be sharing more on this topic with you over the next little while.
I started off 2019 with a pledge to my community that this year’s focus was going to be on healthy convenience food. I stand by this pledge and promise that all the new content coming your way will feature fast recipes and techniques that are not only tasty but cost effective. After all this is what is all boils down to… lets get as much healthy plant-based meals in our lives with the minimalist amount of hassle.