The Big Vegan Interview - Top tips, advice and more.

To celebrate World Vegan Month, we've been chatting to three fantastic people who are following a Vegan or Vegetarian diet and we've been finding out all about their journey so far. We've left no stone unturned, from their favourite Vegan dishes, to the health benefits they discovered when moving to a Vegan diet and the advice they would give to others who are just starting out. 

Meet our interviewee's...

Aaron Calder  @aaroncaldervegan 

Sarah Kirby @sarahkirbyblog

Alex Ayling @tofuqueen_

  1. How long have you been a vegan?

AC: It will be 4 years in February. 

SK: I started to transition from a vegetarian to a vegan around 4 years ago. I do however like to allow myself some flexibility in life so I tend to say that I am 'mostly vegan' as occasionally I will eat vegetarian food. But I try my best and that's the most important thing! 

AA: I can’t remember the exact date I became vegan but I think it was around four years ago now!

  1. What influenced you towards a vegan lifestyle?

AC: I was already vegetarian for animal welfare reasons but after watching a couple of documentaries on Netflix I thought I'd give it a go. I'd watched Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead and couldn't believe how his health improved just living on plants. This lead me to watch Forks Over Knives and convinced me to give it a go to see what all the fuss is about. 

SK: I think it was definitely my love for animals. Being honest with myself I knew that I could never harm an animal myself so I felt I was being hypocritical by claiming to be an animal lover but also eating them. After I carried out some research and watched some documentaries, I soon realised that I needed to make the change towards a more vegan lifestyle. The films Vegucated, Cowspiracy and Earthlings are very powerful and they really impacted me.

AA: I’d been vegetarian pretty much my whole life but it was when I started looking into the dairy and other animal agricultural industries, I was completely shocked by what I found and realised I couldn’t live my life contributing to that anymore.

  1. What advice would you give to those starting a vegan diet?

AC: Everyone is different and should do it how they most feel comfortable. Over a couple of weeks I phased out milk & eggs yet my sister (an omnivore) did it overnight and never looked back. I think everyone thinks it will be difficult but once you've re-educated yourself it's something I hardly think about when I'm shopping. The most important thing is to try it and not be put off by any mistakes. I find by making vegan alternatives of my favourite meals feels, I'm not missing out. Originally I just ate chickpeas, couscous tofu and vegetables. Now I'll have a creamy carbonara, pizza, burger, quiche or stir-fry. The options are limitless. Find a reason to stick with the diet. Whether it's for animals, health or environmental issues. When you find something that you are passionate about it will be easier to remember why you decided to go vegan. After a few weeks when you see and feel the benefits you'll not want to eat animal products again. 

SK: I think from my own experience I have realised that it's better to try your best than not try at all. It's not about achieving a level of perfection that you may find too challenging and then ultimately give up altogether. It's about doing what you can and any reduction in meat and animal based products is a step in the right direction. The way I see it is, that even eating vegan one day a week is better than not trying at all. I always tell people to treat it as a transition and you will find it easier. Take your time to find alternative products and foods that you really like. Do your research and ask for recommendations on social media. The good news is that it's easier to be vegan now than it's ever been before! There's a lot of choice in all of the supermarkets and many of the chain restaurants now offer vegan menu's.  

AA: Do lots of research, know what motivates you to do it and try new things! Instagram helped me a lot with meal ideas and learning what foods were already vegan that I ate. It is also important to eat a lot of whole foods and unprocessed foods, it’s always okay to have a treat but check labels and see what you are really putting into your body!

  1. What is your favourite vegan dish?

AC: If I had to choose one it would be tofish and chips. There's so many great options it's hard to pick just one. I also like a stir-fry with tofu and wholegrain noodles.

SK: There's too many to choose from! But if I had to narrow it down i'd probably say either a spaghetti bolognese made with soya mince, mixed bean chilli with rice or a jacket potato with beans and chopped up vegan sausages on top! 

AA: I couldn’t possibly choose one! I love ramen, anything with lentils and a good vegan burger! 

  1.  Are your eating choices time-consuming to implement & what are your hacks?

AC: The most time consuming thing is posting it on my platforms. I try and keep my meals to about half an hour from start to finish (ready to eat). I like to plan ahead so I'll let something defrost or marinate through the day while I get on with work. I always have chopped tomatoes, beans, pasta & meat substitutes in the cupboards so I know I can make something regardless of how much time I have. 

SK: No I don't feel that my eating choices are time consuming at all. I tend to have my favourite foods saved online when I do my food shopping which I tend to get delivered. That does make things a lot quicker and easier when it comes to food shopping. There are also so many convenience food options available now including ready meals, sandwiches and quick and easy lunch time products like Mr Lee's Noodles which can be made in just a few minutes. 

AA: Not at all, sometimes I choose to take longer cooking a meal but between work and studying, I often make quick meals. Meal planning saves a lot of time as I can be really indecisive when it comes to food! So having it planned out in my head makes things quicker. Meal prepping for the week makes a massive difference too, or even making an extra portion from dinner to eat the next day at lunch. There are loads of great vegan on the go items now too, such as noodle pots, microwave grains, bars and of course most fruit and veggies are fine eaten raw and on the go!

  1. What would you say the major health benefits of being vegan are?

AC: For me there were so many. Having been very unwell several years ago my health dramatically improved after a couple of months. I lost weight (but ate more), my skin and eyes were clearer. I noticed my hair and nails grew faster and thicker. My energy levels shot up & I slept better at night. I came off a couple of medications as my digestion was great again and my blood pressure normalised. It's hard to explain but I feel cleaner and more mentally alert. It really made me realise how bad my vegetarian diet was. My tastes changed and I'm much more conscious about eating low sugar, wholegrains and lots of fresh fruits.

SK: Firstly, I think it's wrong to consider veganism as a health movement because it never has been. Eating vegan food has always been about demonstrating compassion to animals. I think it's a huge misconception that being vegan = being healthy. Yes there are a lot of healthy vegan food options, but there are also a lot of processed and junk foods available too. From my experience though, giving up meat and leading a mostly vegan lifestyle has impacted really positively on my health in that it has reduced cholesterol and completely taken away the IBS symptoms I experienced as a meat eater. 

AA: Increased energy, personally for me my mental health improved since cutting dairy, and a vegan diet can lower the risk of a lot of well known health problems and has even been shown to reverse some conditions! 

  1. Do you ever find it tricky to find a vegan alternative when you're out and about, if so, where? E.g. Travelling on trains, planes.

AC: This is one of the most difficult challenges when you're vegan. Things have improved so much in the past few years and most restaurants offer a lot of vegan options. When I've been abroad eating out is sometimes hard but I just think it's one bad meal out of hundreds of great ones. The best thing when travelling is to do your research and take a few things with you. My last holiday we took soya milk but it turned out the local supermarket sold it any way. 

SK: Sometimes I do find it difficult and I guess that's why I allow myself some flexibility i.e when there is no other option I will choose to eat vegetarian. Also, because I live in rural Essex I don't have the amount of choice on my doorstep as I would do if I was living somewhere like London or Brighton. That being said, I think if you can prepare and plan for these events then you will be ok. As already mentioned, there are lots of vegan friendly convenience food options available now and for when you're on the go. Most supermarkets and cafe's/coffee shops now offer vegan options and you always have the option of taking products like Mr Lee's Noodles out with you in your bag. 

AA: Personally I have never found it hard, maybe there isn’t always an option but I would always bring something myself if I was ever in doubt. It is very rare to be in a situation where there is not even fruit and veg as an option. I always carry around a few snacks in my bag anyway and if I’m going to be out for the day I’ll bring an on the go meal with me!

  1. Having tried Mr Lee’s Noodles, did you enjoy it and would you recommend it to others? 

AC: I love how they are low sugar, salt and saturated fat. Full of taste and good for you. I've recommended them to friends who need something for lunch that's vegan and nutritious. 

SK: I have always loved noodles and for myself and my husband they are a great quick lunch option for us on busy working days. We both really enjoyed the Mr Lee's Noodles pots we tried and found them to be very warming and full of flavour. Check out my review on my YouTube channel.

  1. What benefits are important to you when choosing a product like Mr Lee’s in the supermarket?

AC: They're convenient, quick and easy to make and you can travel with a cup or two. 

SK: I think the benefits for me are definitely the quick and easy aspect. I tend to get really busy during the day and making lunch can feel like a real inconvenience at times, especially when you are up against deadlines. Products like Mr Lee's just make life a lot easier!

AA: Definitely looking at the ingredients and making sure there is nothing nasty inside, just healthy ingredients that won’t upset my body! I love that Mr Lee’s noodles has low sugar and the lowest salt categories too as that is always something I am conscious of when buying quick meals. 

  1. Are there any magazines or any vegan influencers that you enjoy following and inspire you?

AC: I really enjoy reading Vegan Food and Living magazine. My favourite influencers are Gaz Oakley @avantgardevegan, Bosh @bosh.tv, Bret Cobley @bretcobley, and Holly Jade @thelittleblogofvegan. They have incredible recipes that have changed the perception of dull vegan food. 

SK: I tend to find that I get most of my inspiration for vegan food online now and within the vegan community. I always like to try and take part in #veganhour which takes place on Twitter on Tuesday's between 7-8pm - it's a great place to get advice and recommendations. I also always find it's worthwhile exploring the vegan hashtags on Instagram too, particularly for meal inspiration which I think we can all struggle with at times and fall into a bit of a rut eating the same things. There are also quite a few vegan groups on Facebook which offer a wealth of information and support. 

AA: The vegan influencers (and activists) that inspire me the most are Joey Carbstrong @joey_carbstrong, James Aspey @jamesaspey and Earthing Ed @earthlinged. I absolutely love Joey’s videos and they’re always so informative.

In the UK, Mr Lee’s are available in selected stores at Asda (Free From Aisle) and Holland & Barrett , Amazon, Ocado or Mr Lee’s Online Shop 

In Australia go to Woolworths, Metro or your local Harris Farm Markets supermarket or order online on Amazon or on our website.

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