No one conveys the joy of a vegan lifestyle better than Rachel Ama. In this feelgood chat Gemma and Rachel discuss the small joys in life alongside:
Food influencer and Insta-star Rachel Ama creates delicious recipes using the flavours from her Caribbean and African roots. Here she shares what got her into vegan food, and the philosophy behind her brilliant new book, One Pot, Three Ways
‘I became vegan six or seven years ago, after I learned how some of the food I was eating ended up on my plate. I’m a city London girl and I was shocked. I made a choice to live life differently. I was determined for ethical reasons, but I also wanted to make sure my food was so delicious that I stuck with it.
‘My hobby became making food I loved from my Caribbean roots, as well as food I’d had on holiday or just down the road – anything where I thought, “I need that in my life right now, but there isn’t a vegan version.” That sparked my cooking and recipe testing.’
‘Veganism was never really part of my family or social interactions. My friends thought it meant all you ate was a celery stick. However, one thing that made going vegan easier was I’d already cut out dairy so I was just removing meat, eggs and fish. Years before, I’d had a bunch of health issues, and my mum, who’d studied nutrition, said to me, “Rachel, I think you’re lactose-intolerant.” That broke my heart because I love my cheese toasties and hot chocolate. But after eliminating dairy, I felt insanely better and within a year all the health problems had dissipated.’
‘When my grandma’s generation came to London, the kinds of foods they’d make were jerk chicken, curry mutton, oxtail, all meat-heavy dishes. But in the Caribbean lifestyle, meat was mainly for celebratory dishes or Sundays, not something you ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
‘Caribbean cooking uses spices that work so well with vegetables. You can cook and grill all the flavours up with aubergines, oyster mushrooms, supermarket mock meats. To me, even the Scotch bonnet pepper is like a big hug. Other people with Caribbean heritage were also excited because they wanted the food they’d grown up with – that smell from the kitchen their mum used to bring. Now they can create it in a plant-based way. It’s amazing, fun and beautiful.’
‘After my first book, I got asked, how do you do it every day? I want my new book One Pot, Three Meals to help people with busy lives have nutritious, delicious vegan dinners. I grew up with that big centrepiece of meat you used up over the next couple of days. So, I said, instead let’s make it a big vegan dish and use the leftovers from that. For example, I’ll make a peri-peri feast in the oven – it’s hot, it’s crispy, it has sweet pineapple in it. The next day you can have it again with roasted potatoes, the next in a pitta with avocado and salad dressing. That means you don’t come home from work and go, What am I going to make?’
‘It’s all about finding balance. Before pregnancy, I was running on burnout. Now it’s about reserving those two days a week for yourself and giving yourself time to breathe.
‘When I was pregnant last year, everything was closed, I couldn’t go the gym or do pregnancy yoga. I lost a lot of muscle, and my body changed. I’ve built my strength back slowly. I started by training once a week, then twice. Now if I need to pick something up or quickly jog to car I can do it – every bit of movement is easier. I walk with the confidence of just feeling stronger in each step I take. It’s been the biggest reminder of how important staying active is.’
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A doctor for over 17 years, Gemma Newman has worked in many specialities as a doctor including elderly care, endocrinology, paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, psychiatry, general surgery, urology, vascular surgery, rehabilitation medicine and General Practice.
Dr Newman's specialist interests are in holistic health and plant-based nutrition as well as lifestyle medicine. In her practice she has come to understand that body, mind and soul are not separate, and that it is only in addressing the root causes of stress and disconnection that we can truly heal, from the inside out.