Lucy Watson spoke to Vegan Life about her personal journey to veganism, her new cookbook and her views on animal companionship
Lucy grew up on a working farm in Surrey and loved being outside and around the cows, sheep, chickens, ducks, horses, dogs and alpacas which were kept on the farm. However, the experience of living on a working farm opened her eyes to animal cruelty and after a visit to the slaughterhouse, Lucy went vegetarian at primary school. Lucy then went vegan in her twenties after watching Cowspiracy. The former Made in Chelsea star is now a dedicated vegan and campaigner and is set to release her first cook book, Feed Me Vegan, this September.
We met Lucy at her publishers in London on a sunny Thursday afternoon. Lucy walked in to the room, her companion dog Digby on her hip, with a bright smile and an even brighter yellow t-shirt with ‘Mac and Cheese’ printed on it. Immediately drawn to it, we start discussing food — typical vegans.
“I feel like I don’t need to specify vegan before every single thing that I eat. I hate that so much. We have different definitions of what mac and cheese is. Just accept that. People get annoyed when you don’t say it though. If I don’t say it people are like ‘I thought you were vegan?’ You can’t win.”
We ask her if, because of this, she thinks that there is still a stigma around vegans: “Yes, 100 per cent. I think it will take years for people to soften towards vegans and understand vegans because unless you are a vegan, you don’t fully understand it. You would be vegan if you did.
“I think there’s a stigma around the fact that people think vegans are preachy and only eat healthy food. I find that when I’m eating out or I’m going somewhere that is catered, I always end up with salad. That’s fine but I really like food and I get hungry and I don’t want to just eat a salad because I will just be hungry all night. There is more to life than that.
“There is obviously also stigma around the way people dress and maybe even personalities but there is no way that you can put all of us into one box and say that we are all the same because it’s just not the case.”
Lucy’s new book, Feed Me Vegan, aims to dispel that myth that vegan cook books have to be healthy and overflowing with superfood salads. Offerings in Feed Me Vegan include Mushroom Mac and Cheese, Ultimate Cheeseburger and Chocolate Fudge Cake.
“I’ve always loved food but I’ve never really been that into cooking. When I became vegan, I felt quite limited in what I could eat. I had to teach myself to cook. I’ve always been naturally gifted with cooking but I was just quite lazy, especially with a busy schedule. I would always end up getting take-out. I turned vegan and realised that I would need to start experimenting a bit because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to have all of the things that I really want to eat. I had to recreate all of the things that I was missing out on.
“I guess with the book, it was a book for me – that was the reason in the first place – but also I have a lot of people asking me about going vegan. They don’t know where to start. It’s so frustrating because I don’t really know what to say. All you can really say is do your research. I think that a lot of vegan cookbooks out there are really intimidating because they are so healthy and not everyone wants to be the healthy vegan. So I just thought, at least when I have the book I can say to people, try my book because it has some really easy recipes which will make the transition much easier.”
Do you have to be a cooking ninja to navigate the recipes though?
“There are some that are a little bit more advanced than others I would say. Some involve skills, like kneading dough, that people may not necessarily know how to do, but most of them are really simple, straightforward recipes. It’s so clear in the instructions that you can’t really go wrong.”
We briefly discussed aquafaba and Watson admits that it’s something that she hasn’t tried yet. She laughs as she mocks herself and tells us that she doesn’t have the common sense to remember to save the protein rich liquid when she drains her chickpeas. After a few twists and turns in the conversation (Lucy is a bit too easy to talk to we go a little off topic for a while) we come to disasters in the kitchen.
Lucy said: “When I first started out I had a few, especially with baking. Working out how to replace eggs was a bit of a struggle. I would end up with really solid, thick cakes that you bite into and it was like hell. So I had to learn how to make them fluffy and what to include to do that. I use vegetable oil quite a lot and I find that it’s quite good as an egg replacer. I think, when I first went vegan, I thought I couldn’t use flour anymore, I don’t know why, but all the recipes I saw used buckwheat flour or coconut flour but actually you can just use normal flour and it works really well for baking.
“People always ask me if I eat gluten but there is absolutely no relation to veganism. But I think because a lot of people do it for health reasons, they tend to remove gluten from their diet as well.”
Vegan myths are rife at the moment, as the movement grows in momentum and Lucy agrees: “A lot of people don’t realise that vegan is a lifestyle not a diet. I think a lot of people say that they are vegan but to say that you are vegan is one thing, to say you have a vegan diet is a completely different thing.”
Lucy’s name was launched into households in 2012 when she joined the fourth series of Made in Chelsea, a show which is watched by hundreds of thousands of people, and depicts the day-to-day lives of the London Borough’s elite. Part of the reason she is so revered and loved by her fans is her strong character and blunt opinions but also, her undeniable fashion sense. However, in the past Lucy has said that she has found vegan fashion tricky.
We ask her about her favourite handbag brands. She said: “I love so many. I love Charles and Keith, Matt and Nat – I love them so much, their materials are crazy. So many high street brands do vegan handbags without even knowing it. So I work with a stylist who helps me organise my wardrobe and works with brands on my behalf. River Island and Topshop do faux leather. Skinny Dip also design really good vegan bags and, obviously, Stella McCartney — but you’re not going to buy a new bag every few months because they are so expensive.”
Does she reuse leather that she bought before she was vegan?
“I don’t personally. Maybe I put more pressure on myself, being in the public eye. If I’m wearing a Prada bag, everyone knows its leather, so I would be promoting something that is cruel. I had so many designer bags that I had to sell just because I’m so conscious of being a hypocrite. For other people, who are not in the public eye, I understand. But I think that anyone who is vegan will get to that point where they don’t want to have that bag in their life because you look at it and think, it’s a dead cow and its actually feels wrong. It feels like a bad energy.”
A regular at London fashion week Watson is passionate about banning fur. She has worked with PETA on their campaigns against fur. She told us: “I have recently collaborated to help London Fashion Week ban fur from the catwalk because the fur farms are actually illegal in the UK but we are still seeing it on the London catwalks.” Lucy continued: “It is slightly contradictory so I’m working towards a ban on fur on the catwalks because designers can easily showcase their pieces without having to involve fur.”
Vegan debates also penetrate her personal life. Lucy met her boyfriend, James Sandford, on Made in Chelsea and the couple have gone from strength to strength since quitting the show. However, there is still one sticking point in the relationship: “He eats all my vegan food to the point where it is annoying because it’s like – you know what, I’ve gone out of my way to find these products and to come home and find that you’ve eaten them is really annoying and you’re still eating things like chicken. Part of me is like, I really want him to eat those vegan things because if you’re eating that, you’re not eating meat but he is eating meat as well so the other part of me thinks that he doesn’t deserve it.
“He doesn’t follow the vegan lifestyle and we have completely different mind sets although, weirdly, he does agree with my lifestyle and he agrees to raising our children vegan. He’s promised me to go vegetarian at some point. If we were to raise our kids as vegans, but their dad is eating meat, it’s not a very good influence or role model so I think by then hopefully. I’m constantly battling with myself to not pressure him into something that is not his own decision because he is just so headstrong. It needs to come from him; it has to be something he decides to do otherwise he will just resent me.”
She has had more luck with her sister Tiffany, who is also a member of the Made in Chelsea cast. On Lucy’s YouTube channel, Tiffany recently said that she was a pegan (a vegan who eats fish). However, Lucy tells us this has changed.
“She’s fully vegan now. She has completely the same morals and beliefs as me. I think that maybe I helped speed up the process because I kept saying ‘by the way, fish have feelings’. It is a lot easier for her because the motive was already there but being around me showed her how easy it can be. She has started getting rid of her leather too which is really good.”
Vegan hasn’t always been the way for Watson though.
Lucy says: “I used to go to the zoo and I loved it because I love animals and I liked being around them but, even before I went vegan, I started to think that it wasn’t right and that they didn’t look happy, they’re not free.
“Even with [companions] I’ve started to feel like it’s wrong to have them. I saw this man with his dog on the lead running on the pavement and this dog was really old, trying to keep up and it was being dragged along by the collar. The guy has no idea and wasn’t even looking down at the dog. He’s on his run and thinks his dog is getting exercise and it is all happy days, but the dog doesn’t want to be running. I went home and I had this weird comparison. I’ve started relating having animal friends to people getting kidnapped and forming a bond with their captors. I think it’s so similar because we take them away from their parents at a really young age, we put them in our homes and they are prisoners. They eat what we tell them to eat but there is no way around it because dogs, now, would not survive in the world.”
I ask her if she is considering not having any other animal companions after Digby, who is curled up on her lap. She said: “It’s just so hard because I would want to help dogs from rescue centres but I think breeding needs to be illegal. I think it needs to be phased out more. I think of myself as a really good owner of my animals and I care about them so much and do so much for them but there are so many people out there who aren’t like that. I hear horror stories all the time. I think there should be stricter licencing around people having animals because I hear so many horror stories and I think that it’s a huge issue. It’s very controversial.”
What would Lucy say to people who are thinking about veganism?
“If you’re an animal lover, you’re on our level, you already agree with all of the things we do. I know people who call themselves animal lovers and eat animals and I just think you are very much mistaken if you think this is the best thing for them.
“People turn a blind eye. I don’t want to know and I haven’t seen it in my face so I can just pretend that it’s lovely and peaceful. People say things like at least it’s a humane slaughter. There is no such thing as a humane slaughter. Those words do not work together in a sentence. All slaughters are horrendous. All death is death and all animals want to live. No animal wants to die.
“People are selfish and greedy and want that for themselves because they can’t be bothered to change their lives, and their diets. Looking at this little one [referring to Digby], he’s the same to me as any sheep, cow or anything. Animals just want to love us. That’s so sad, isn’t it? Most of them just want to be friendly and we just go around killing them.
“Just change your perception a little and you’ll just get it.”
Lucy’s new book will be out in September but is available for pre-order now.