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Vegan food gets a Caribbean twist

ON A MISSION: TV presenter and businesswoman Susanne Kirlew

AFTER MORE than two decades as a vegetarian, the choice to become a vegan was a no brainer for food writer and TV presenter Susanne Kirlew.

Taking her newfound knowledge, the north Londoner is making waves with her venture Kirly-Sue’s Kitchen and is on a mission to get more black Britons into vegan food with her remix of Jamaican vegan recipes.

“I was watching some different films, one is called Vegucated and the other one was called Forks over Knives and I was reading a book called The China Study,” Kirlew told The Voice. “I learned how meat eaters and vegetarians still consumed relatively the same amount of saturated fats. But when you’re a vegan, the number is significantly lower.”

In addition to her vegan cooking show, which has been broadcast in the USA for the past four years, Kirlew shares her advice on living a meat-free life as a columnist for Pride magazine and hosting a series of seminars.

OPPORTUNITY

While the lifestyle choice came as a natural step, it wasn’t without its challenges she tells The Voice. From the lack of options at restaurants to having to defend her personal choice to critics, one of her key gripes would actually offer a unique business opportunity.

“One of my biggest challenges was finding a decent recipe books. Some of them are really yuck. It’s getting better but its part of the reason why I wrote my own book and I’m in the process of writing my second one,” she said.

Her debut cookbook Kirly-Sue’s Kitchen takes inspiration from her Jamaican heritage and British upbringing, culminating into 50 mouth-watering recipes that don’t compromise on flavour and spice.

The secret to preserving taste Kirlew insists is in the seasoning. Sharing one of her interpretations of a Caribbean classic, Stew peas and rice, the food expert explains that she follows the same method and simply leaves out the meat.

“Traditionally it’s made with meat but if you follow the recipe exactly and put the same seasonings in because that’s were people usually make the mistake, they think because it hasn’t got any meat or fish that you don’t need seasoning, oh yes you do,” she laughed.

Commenting on the Caribbean diet, Kirlew recognised that the popular meals and the way they were prepared could be perceived as generally unhealthy, but insisted that there are some valuable properties in Caribbean cooking.

She said: “Most traditional meals around the world are not healthy, but within the Jamaican diet there are a lot of things that are healthy but because we’re so used to it and it’s never been drawn to our attention we don’t really think of it as something healthy to have, we kind of take it for granted.”

VEGAN

Not wanting to be perceived as an “angry vegan,” learning to navigate people’s opinions and reactions was also a major part of the vegan lifestyle.

“It seems like as soon as people find out you’re a vegan they immediately become a self-elected nutritionist telling you all about what your problems are going to be because you don’t eat meat or fish,” said Kirlew.

She continued: “I’m not an angry vegan so what I don’t want is a long drawn out discussion or argument so I used to shy away openly saying that I was a vegan but then I thought, that doesn’t actually help so I just developed an off the shelf answer – that it’s a choice I’ve made and I think it’s a healthier lifestyle. I don’t enforce my opinions on others.”

Raised in the Seventh Day Adventist church, the spiritual foundation of her day-to-day lifestyle choices is a philosophy that can be found across other religions.

“The Bible says, the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and so healthy mind, body and spirit that’s what the church teaches and that what I believe as well. There are other religions that have the same sort of philosophy, maybe not the same doctrine but definitely the same philosophy.”

With present debates on food scarcity, and the rise of bloggers and celebrity vegans including Boy Better Know MC JME, rapper Akala and actress Angela Bassett, Kirlew is confidant that we will continue to see a rise in the number of vegans of African and Caribbean descent.

“Veganism has suddenly become far more glamorous,” she highlights, beyond the image there is also a genuine health concern encouraging the black community to think about the alternative lifestyle. Because of the different diseases that are showing themselves, people are looking for answers on how to avoid falling victim. When I run the seminars one of the questions I ask is ‘what has brought you here today?’ and the majority of people say it’s health, whether it’s because they’ve got a parent suffering with cancer or they know someone who is ill. They want to make better decisions.”

Looking ahead on her burgeoning empire, the businesswoman envisions a future with a bigger platform for her cooking show and creating a safe haven for fellow vegans.

“I want my own villa in Jamaica that would be a vegan villa where people could go on holiday and wouldn’t have to worry about the food.”

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