Late September 2006, I moved to London from a sleepy town in Yorkshire to study at St. George’s Medical School. Aged eighteen, the city was my oyster, full of excitement and opportunity.
Just three months into my adventure in the capital, I realised I would never have enough money. Whilst my new friends were partying at west end clubs and hot spots, I stayed home having spent my savings on rent and bills. I loved being in London and was grateful for the opportunity life had dealt me, but money was incredibly tight to the point I had to spend less than £10 per week on food.
One hazy, winter afternoon, I began the walk home from university. People were rushing, shopping, and eating around me, I was hungry and intoxicated by the fragrance of Indian spices and the smoky sizzle of Lebanese street food. I stumbled upon a fruit and vegetable market, with the sweet, heady aroma that is unique to markets, that of sweet, ripe strawberries.
As I approached the stall, the vibrant colours reflecting like a psychedelic rainbow, I could hardly recognise one single fruit or vegetable. As I was nudged and pushed by busy shoppers, the stall holder shouted “What can I get you?” he asked, his south London accent bringing me back to the moment. “What’s that?” I asked pointing at a shiny, orange fruit. “Sharonfruit my love, ten for £1” I didn’t know what a Sharon fruit was, but ten of anything for a pound seemed good value to me. “And what’s that?” I asked, pointing at a parsnip-like vegetable. “Mooli” he replied. It didn’t stop there; I walked away carrying three brown-paper bags filled with these new discoveries, impulse buys that I couldn’t wait to eat.
Every Saturday morning after that, I rushed to the market, as early as I could, to get the freshest produce and be back in time to get inspired by a day of food programmes on TV. I didn’t have Nigel Slater’s kitchen garden and I couldn’t afford to shop in Nigella’s favourite delicatessens, but I had a brown paper bag full of fragrant fruit and vegetables waiting to be cooked into something delicious, even if it was in the tiniest of kitchens, with just two pans and a cracked jug.
Buying fresh, local and plant-based gave me an affordable way to enjoy food.
Like many home-cooks, I turned to the internet for recipe inspiration. I came across websites promoting vegan food and a cruelty-free lifestyle. It was from that point that my diet choices had a deeper meaning other than simply eating for taste. This blog does not serve the purpose of discussing the politics of veganism, but respects that choice is a personal matter with regards to sustainability, food costs, animal welfare and ethics, environmental issues and improving health.
As my recipe repertoire developed, I cooked for friends and family who frequently asked for my secrets, which was why I started this blog Little Miss Meat-Free. To my surprise, the website has become popular with home cooks, meat-eaters, vegans, vegetarians and foodies wanting to try something different. I’ve developed a firm following of people trying the recipes, taking photographs of their creations and telling me about their food journey, which is why I continue to share my kitchen creations.
I feel so blessed and lucky to demonstrate my cooking at large food festivals and work with a number of well known food brands, but I never forget the humble beginnings of my vegan food journey- feeding my hungry appetite with very little money. So this week, to celebrate Meat-Free Week 2015, I will post a selection of low-cost vegan recipes to show that meat-free eating is versatile, healthy and great value.