Q&A with Tracey of The Lentil Diaries
Georgia Brogan for No Meat May
“When I first went vegan I asked my family whether they’d join me if I promised I’d make them good food. They kept their side of the bargain so I’ve kept mine.”
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Tracey Sharman, also known as The Lentil Diaries (check out her Instagram and blog). I wanted to engage with our No Meat May community and share the stories of its participants, and Tracey stuck out to me immediately because of her incredibly inspiring food shares.
After just a brief glance at the No Meat May Community Facebook group, you’re guaranteed to have caught sight of at least one of Tracey’s divine meatless creations. Her food is consistently impressive for its restaurant-quality presentation and variety; frankly, it is the cream of the plant-based crop in the No Meat May community.
Tracey shares her story with me below - I hope you enjoy the read!
How did you first come across plant-based eating/veganism and why did you choose to undertake this diet?
I’ve been aware of veganism for quite some time, but I always regarded it with suspicion if I’m honest. I think it gets bad press generally and it always seemed extreme to me. The very word conjures up images of tree huggers, sandals and burning incense sticks.“To say you love animals while still contributing to their violent lives and deaths by way of your plate is a hugely hypocritical state of affairs.”
Left: Baked soy ricotta with marinated grilled tofu, baked spuds with mustard dill butter, garlic rubbed bread, roast smoked beetroot.
Right: Chocolate orange tart with vanilla ice cream.
My path to veganism began through being made aware of the palm oil issue. Once you start digging and looking deeper, you inevitably unearth more dirt. I’ve always considered myself an animal lover - always ready to donate to animal charities etc. I took a good look at myself and realised I was no such thing. To say you love animals while still contributing to their violent lives and deaths by way of your plate is a hugely hypocritical state of affairs. The turning point for me was while I was doing my Christmas shop in December 2014. I’d gone with the intention of buying a ham. I stood there in the meat aisle and, for the first time, realised that I was looking at the body part of a pig. I had the fabled epiphany that people talk about and left the shop without any meat.
I ate my last piece of meat on New Years Day 2015 (Neil, my husband bought and cooked the meat for a beef Wellington and I ate it because I knew it was my last time) and turned fully Vegan on 1st May 2015 - which is why No Meat May has a special significance for me. I still consumed dairy and eggs until the 1st May 2015 but that was really because I considered myself a vegetarian and was happy to be so. As I mentioned earlier, the more you dig the more you find, and what I found was that the two cruelest industries are dairy and egg. Once I learned that then there was no going back.
What have been the benefits of making this change (assuming you were an omnivore before)?
The main benefit for me is being able to align my beliefs with my actions. It’s a huge sense of relief too, to know I’m not knowingly contributing to animal cruelty. There’s no such thing as perfection as a vegan - some things are just beyond our control - but striving for perfection is a great effort.
Another fantastic benefit for me is a health-related one. For over 25 years I suffered with IBS. It was debilitating for me and over those years I endured medical procedures, elimination diets, hypnotherapy, numerous courses of medications, ruined social life, embarrassing incidents, etc.
Within 2 weeks of turning vegan I got my life back. I no longer had to make sure I was always within dashing-distance of a toilet and I could once again eat out with family and friends without any worries.
Above: Lemon tart
How did you come across No Meat May, and what has it offered you as an organisation? Has it influenced your friends and family too?
No Meat May was a chance discovery on Facebook. I was a couple or so years into veganism and I thought it could be something helpful in terms of support and cooking inspiration. I’ve been part of the NMM community for quite a few years now, mainly just posting meal ideas, etc. I post all through the year to try to help keep the momentum of the community going.
My husband is also a member of the group so it's a bit of a family affair! As a vegan in the group I try to be judgment-free of people who are just starting out, or the members who still consume dairy, eggs, etc. My view is that anyone eating less animal products, for whatever reason, is worthy of praise and encouragement. No Meat May is always something to look forward to for me as it’s also a yearly reminder of the date I became vegan. It’s a very happy and noteworthy coincidence.
Above: Cauliflower and soy ricotta fritters, green rice and veg.
How do you manage the 'harder' parts of veganism?
The hardest part of veganism for me is people’s ignorance about it. People assume that I’m missing out on something when in reality it’s the exact opposite. The food we eat is fantastic, varied, delicious and never boring. We rarely eat the same thing twice.
When I first went vegan I asked my family whether they’d join me if I promised I’d make them good food. They kept their side of the bargain so I’ve kept mine. Feeding my family delicious, nutritious food is so fulfilling and rewarding for me as a keen cook. We often get asked if we find our food bland. My husband, who was the biggest meat eater ever, is usually the one to step in and voice his opinion about the food we eat now.
We really aren’t the stereotypical vegans everyone expects. We aren’t pale, undernourished individuals at all. In terms of meeting our nutritional needs, we’ve never subscribed to the idea that you need a certain amount of protein from your food. I’ve never heard of anyone dying from a protein deficiency before.
Yes, there are certain things you need to be aware of but those needs aren’t just limited to a vegan lifestyle. We have never had any medical issues as a result of being vegan - in fact quite the opposite.
Left: Plant Asia duck pancakes, Vish fishcakes, Textured Vegetable Protein beef and mushroom wontons, broccoli in black bean sauce and sesame noodles. Right: Omnimeat spicy pork mince lettuce cups.
What vegan meals are you most proud of that you have made?
Now this is an interesting question! I can’t possibly choose from the dishes I’ve created over the years. I always thought I could cook before becoming vegan but in reality, I was just arranging meat and vegetables on a plate. Now I understand flavours, textures and construction of meals. There really are no boundaries. I make absolutely anything and everything. We grow our own vegetables and herbs and I’m influenced more and more by seasonal cooking.
Left: Roast seitan turkey, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, stuffing, steamed vegetables and gravy. Right: Steamed ginger and treacle pudding
Any words/advice for people who are considering making a change and becoming vegetarian or vegan?
The best advice I could give is to not fixate on what you’re giving up, but instead embrace new experiences, ideas, and just be adventurous with food. Concentrate on your motivation for doing whatever you’re doing.
Back in the early days I used things like pictures of animals, like cows and pigs on my phone home screen and fridge as a gentle, constant reminder of why I was doing this. Nothing tastes as good as vegan feels.
Above: Kofta Bhoona, onion bhajis, poppy seed potatoes, lemon rice, roti, poppadoms, aubergine chutney and raita.