We talk to the woman behind Dee’s Wholefoods, Dee Collins, about starting her business and why she chose a vegan diet
I started my business on a farmer’s market stall in the West Cork towns of Skibbereen and Kinsale, and now we are a small team based in Cork City in the South West of Ireland. Although it’s a city, we are only a fifteen minute drive to the beach! It’s a fantastic location. Our company is growing fast and each day brings a new challenge. As the MD my position is varied. I oversee different departments such as finance, marketing, sales, and production, but my favourite part is chatting to friends of Dee’s on social media. I love seeing how inventive our fans are when they are cooking our food at home. Not everyone has time to cook healthy food from scratch every day. Our food helps people to make healthier choices as it is easy to prepare. Our sausages have been described as a “game-changer” for vegans, and as I spent two years of my life developing our sausage range this makes me very happy!
I have a BSc in Food Science and Nutrition, I learned all about the food industry in University and also all about artificial additives, colours, preservatives and the level of processing that goes on to make the “food” that sits on our supermarket shelves. This processing strips food of nutrients, which is why you often see nutrients added back in after processing i.e. “fortified with…” After college I worked in a large food company, and that was a real eye-opener. I wanted to make food that was truly healthy, made from simple ingredients and minimally processed, without any of the “anti-nutrients” like high levels of salt, saturated fat or added sugars. I set myself a challenge to re-create the ultimate convenience food – a burger – and make it super-healthy by using simple organic ingredients like wholegrains, seeds and vegetables.
Just because food is vegan, does not automatically make it healthier or better for you. Lots of vegan “meat-free” products are chock full of artificial additives and chemical binders like methylcellulose (made from wood pulp). A lot of people who are vegan for health reasons do not want to eat additive-laden food.
Everything starts with the ingredients. People would be surprised at the amount of additives that are contained in foods – even simple ingredients like coconut milk can have an amount of gums and preservatives. We use coconut milk that has two ingredients; coconut extract and water. If you pick up a tin of coconut milk in your local store you will see what I mean. Another ingredient is sulphites, which are used as a preservative. We avoid this ingredient by choosing organic un-sulphured apricots and raisins to use in our Moroccan Veg Pot. The process then is as simple as you would do at home; grains are boiled, veg and seeds are cooked and mixed together. The only technical piece is stuffing the sausages into the sausage casing (which is vegan and made from rice flour and seaweed).
We also don’t use any soy, palm-oil or GMO ingredients because of the damage these ingredients do to the environment. Sustainable sourcing is important to us, we like to use orphan crops like millets and hope that these ancient grains will become more popular, and in their native countries that people can generate an income from them. Research funds are invested in developing the big four crops such as rice, corn, wheat and soy. We want to help support the cultivation and promotion of other native grains.
I eat vegan food for health, environmental and sustainable reasons. There is more to being a vegan than simply eating vegan food and I, like many others, am on a journey to eliminate where possible any products that do harm. I want to put vegan food into the mainstream, I want meat-eaters to realise that vegan food is tasty and that they don’t have to have meat every meal of every day. I grew up in the countryside in Ireland and many people’s diets consist of pork or bacon for breakfast, ham sandwiches for lunch, and bacon or pork again for dinner. Seriously, that is a meat- overload! If we can encourage more people to think about what is on their plates then the benefits for our bodies and the planet are unparalleled.
I think it’s crazy that we choose to feed our protein to animals first; it’s such a waste of the earth’s resources. We could actually feed the world if we turned the agriculture system on its head! I’m trying to get the message out that you don’t have to be vegan to eat vegan food. If food is tasty then more meat-eaters will choose vegan food as a meal option, demand for crops for human consumption will increase, farmers will stop growing crops to feed animals and choose to grow crops for human consumption and animals won’t be bred for food! It’s maybe too simplistic a view but simple does makes sense sometimes!
Check out all of Dee’s range at: deeswholefoods.co.uk
Image credit: Neil Danton. Copyright © Neil Danton 2014.