MEET THE CHEF WITH OPINIONS
"When I looked into veganism as a concept, it just made total sense to me; it really resonated with me personally and philosophically. It was honestly an “I have seen the light” moment!"
Emily Wilkinson is a Glasgow-based chef and writer, known for both her hearty recipes and outspoken advocacy. She spends her days cooking up scrumptious vegan feasts in the kitchen, sharing recipes on her blog 'Vegan Lass', and speaking widely on topics she feels passionately about. Emily proudly calls herself a "chef with opinions", and with her very own Vegan recipe book available and a successful blog bursting with mouth-watering meals, we were excited to find out more about the girl behind the blog...
Can you tell us about your journey into veganism and where it all began?
I went vegan in 2010, when I was living in Seattle. Veganism was much more widespread over there than here (Scotland) at that point, so there were vegan restaurants everywhere. I was already very interested in food and food production more generally, but seeing all this vegan food got me researching the movement more generally. I was deeply shocked and upset by what I learned about the animal industries, and when I looked into veganism as a concept, it just made total sense to me; it really resonated with me personally and philosophically. It was honestly an “I have seen the light” moment! After that I went vegan pretty much immediately, and I haven’t looked back since.
What inspired you to first start writing a blog and where has it led you to now?
Like a lot of vegans do, I quickly became very passionate about veganism, and I found my desire to talk about it was matched by interest from the people around me. A lot of people were curious about my lifestyle and I felt like I could answer their questions in a constructive way. I always loved to cook, and had loads of hearty, traditional-style vegan recipes I wanted to share to show that being a vegan didn’t automatically exclude you from traditional food and food culture. I also felt like I saw certain issues within a lot of advocacy efforts (all well-meaning, of course), and wanted to speak out against the things that I thought were problematic. Vegan Lass has definitely evolved along with me, my career, and my own understanding of veganism. When I quit academia to work as a chef, I decided to shift my focus more towards the “foodie” side of Vegan Lass, online and offline; so nowadays I concentrate on cooking and writing recipes. But I still discuss activism, theory, and other things, especially on my Facebook page. I guess I think of myself as a chef with opinions; food is what I most like to do, but I’ll happily chat philosophy after I’ve fed you a big vegan dinner!
Can you share a bit about your experiences speaking at events including Vegfest? What do you enjoy exploring in your presentations?
The experiences I’ve had at speaking events, including Vegfest, have been overwhelmingly positive. Initially I thought doing talks would be totally nerve-wracking, and in a way, it is- it’s like live-blogging, but without the anonymity of the Internet. The people you’re talking to are right there in front of you- eek! Luckily I’ve found the vast majority of my audience to be very receptive to me, my thoughts, and my food. I’m a big fan of intersectionality theory, so have spoken against racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, and other forms of discrimination within the vegan movement. Unfortunately the animal rights movement can be very hostile to certain groups of people, and while there's this idea out there that human issues should be left out of the movement, I don't think we help anything by ignoring them. On the contrary, I think that all forms of oppression- animal and human- are interconnected, so there's no sense in promoting liberation for one group of people (human or nonhuman) whilst also perpetuating the oppression of another. For example, I don't think we should promote veganism using campaigns which objectify women's bodies, or perpetuate racial or ableist or ageist stereotypes, even if it "gets attention". This in no way means compromising animal rights, and I still maintain their right to not be used as resources absolutely; I just think we need to allow women, people of colour, marginalized people to have their say in a movement which has so far been generally unrepresentative and often unwelcoming.
I also love talking about food and food history, and do cooking classes and demos too- so I do switch things up pretty often.
What inspired you to create your vegan recipe book 'New Traditions: Christmas Recipes For A Vegan Future'?
New Traditions came about because for a long time I had wanted to create a book of vegan recipes based on traditional Christmas dishes. As I touched on earlier, that aim of veganising traditional foods, or rather foods which are my tradition, is really central to what I do with Vegan Lass, so in a sense the book is an extension of my wider aims. I think it's really important for vegans to showcase foods that have a past, so people see that veganism isn't some drastic rejection of all that came before. Making traditional foods with vegan ingredients demonstrates that going vegan doesn't mean giving up comfort food, memories, or traditions- just animal products. In a way I think Christmas is one of the "most traditional" times of year- everyone who celebrates it has their own festive traditions- so I always wanted to focus on Christmas specifically. My hope was that by sharing my vegan Christmas recipes, I might help a few people find their own new traditions. I don't think I can pick just one favourite recipe in the book, but my top five are probably: the Maple, Fig, and Cashew Cheese Crostini, the ultimate Roast Potatoes, the Seitan Wellington, the Whisky Tablet, and the Hazelnut and Amaretto Truffles (AKA Ferrero Rocher!). These are all things I make year-round, not just at Christmas.
I can see from your Instagram that you're a fan of foraging?
Yes! I love wild food and think it's really undervalued, especially here in Scotland where we have some amazing edible plants. I think more people are foraging recently, but it's still nothing like what it was before the 50s, or even nowadays abroad; there are so many cultures that make foraging a part of daily life. It's not even "foraging" there, just eating- and it's not just the preserve of people with time and money. A friend of mine from the Czech Republic told me you have to get up very early to get the best stuff, before other people find it- especially the "babis" (grandmas)! I think it would be great if we could get to that stage here, with everyone just finding a bit of what they eat, sustainably. By posting about my own finds, and hosting wild food pop-ups, I'm trying to encourage that.
What exciting things are coming up for you?
I’ve got a lot to look forward to at the moment. In not too long I’m heading off on something of a culinary adventure, cooking in a few different kitchens abroad and learning what I can of different cuisines! When I come back- full of inspiration- I’m also hosting a series of pop-up dinners here in Glasgow. I’m already obsessing over the menus for those, so can’t wait to get started! I dream of opening my own place someday, so maybe that’s not too far away either- or so I hope!