Hi readers! It’s Lizzy here, from our social medias! I spoke to Jaz Cassells, the author of the Veggin’ Out cookbook, on a Live over on our Instagram (@mezepublishing) to learn a little more about her and her book and her journey with vegetarianism. You can catch the video over on our IGTVs but in case you fancied a read (slightly shortened- the interview lasted 40 minutes!) instead we wanted to share it on our blog as well. Enjoy!
When did you go veggie, and how was that different from your diet before that?
“Very interesting. So I’ve been veggie for about, going on six years, and I actually came from a very heavy meat-based diet. The majority of my meals were meat and three veg – it was always plants based around my meat – rather than you know, what I’m doing now. It’s been a bit of a journey now and I’m really enjoying it. Initially, when I started taking up eating more plants, I started as a pescatarian – I slowly got rid of the red meat and the chicken – and just stayed on the pescatarian diet. I still dabble in that every now and then.”
Do you ever really miss meat?
“No, I don’t actually! Again, this is kind of the purpose of why I wrote the book – I’ve actually taught myself how to mimic meat – so I don’t miss it. I think if I was consistently eating just vegetables, just very bland veggie meals, probably yeah (I would miss meat) because my background is meat-based. But that was one of the things that inspired me to write the book and create these recipes was to show people that you can in fact still have the texture, still have the taste – being really fulfilled and satisfied still – but it’s made out of plants instead. It’s all in the sauce! – It really is though! If you think about when you purchase meat – you purchase a chicken fillet or a rump steak – you’re not going to just chuck it on the “barbie” or the pan and eat it plain – it’s quite bland. We’re in this culture where we’re happy to season and make the meat very flavoursome but what’s the difference of doing that with plants? It is in fact all in the herbs, the spices, and you leave the texture up to the seeds, the nuts, the beans.”
What made you move to the UK?
“The big thing that made me move to the UK was that I haven’t done a lot of travelling, and I really wanted to fulfil my wanderlust, I wanted to travel the world. I’d been working from such a young age that I never really had the opportunity – I was quite a young, independent teenager. So, I just thought, ‘you know what, I now have the opportunity to go and travel the world’ so I packed up my life in two suitcases and moved to the other side of the world. I’d never actually been here either so it was all very new and exciting. And then the pandemic hit, so I couldn’t actually do any of the things that I set out to do here.”
What was it like, moving here where you knew no one, and going through the pandemic?
“I lived on my own before I came over here. I’ve got a cute little apartment in Newcastle, Australia, so I think for me the transition wasn’t all that daunting because I’ve been on my own for quite a long time. In sense of meeting people, I took it on as it came – I’m quite a social person – I love people in general so I didn’t find it that hard to meet people along the way. I think it was initially just when I arrived here I had only been in the country a month before the first lockdown happened. I thought ‘what am I going to do? I literally have no friends, I can’t leave the house. Jas, you’re going to be climbing up these walls if you don’t try and put your mind to something.’ And that’s when the book began.”
What inspired you to go veggie in the first place?
“A few things. First was my health, I couldn’t say that I was ever really a healthy person before I adopted this way of eating. I don’t really like to call it a diet, rather a lifestyle. I was very unhealthy in the way I used to eat. I think it was purely because I was quite uneducated. I’d been living out of home since I was fifteen and all of the food that I made was always a chore – it was either ‘you’ve got to cook to feed yourself’ or order in, and I got really lazy – most of the time I would eat a lot of takeout. When I would go shopping the majority of my trolley was filled with processed food. I guess following that, not eating healthy shows physically, and it does affect you mentally as well. The moment that I did find this lifestyle is when all of that really started to change quite noticeably and quickly.”
What else inspired you to write this book, especially in such a weird time?
“There were definitely a few other key things. Mostly, if I was out for dinner or if I was meeting new people, and I would announce that I was vegetarian or pescatarian (whichever I was at the time) I’d have two types of people. I’d have people that would either be quite curious and question reasons why, or I had people that would criticise me. So, I wanted to respond to their feedback in a book that was going to really answer their questions, but also reach and teach a lot of people what a plant-based diet actually means. When you say plant-based a lot of people off the cuff naturally say “oh, you’re a vegan?” and I’d respond saying “no, I’m not a vegan, I’m a pescatarian.” They’d then argue “but you’re not plant-based” to which I’d say, “I actually am”, so then they’d want to know more – they were the curious people. I guess for the people that would criticise, they’d always say, “oh, I could never give up meat” and I’d reply, “Look, I used to be just like you, and I kid you not I now haven’t been eating it for x amount of years”. We’d get into these discussions and one thing I would say to not everyone, but some people, was “if I could give you a steak that smelled the same, tasted very similar, the texture was quite on point, but was made of plants, would you eat it?” and all of them would say, “yeah, I probably would”. So I just thought, okay, I need to really get in the kitchen and be really creative with my food.”
What is your favourite recipe that you’ve created for Veggin’ Out?
“That’s really hard because I do obviously like them all – that’s the reason why they’re in the book – but I base my food off my mood. I wouldn’t say that I have particularly a favourite one that I cook more than the others, and if anything the recipes that are in the book I don’t tend to eat as much as I used to. I’m at a point in my life now with the plant-based lifestyle, where I’m creating new things and really diving into mixing different types of nuts and seeds and beans with sauces and spices and herbs.”
So, does that mean a sequel?
“Possibly! I have definitely thought about it and there’s a definitely a lot to learn in a plant-based lifestyle which I really want to share. I don’t want to be preachy about it; the book Veggin’ Out is not preachy whatsoever, it’s based purely on my journey, how I found it, how it’s helped me and how to mimic meat. The audience I had in mind when I was writing this book and creating these recipes were people that are meat eaters. It wasn’t about trying to convert them as such, more so just trying to show them you can eat a little bit more sustainably, whether that’s 3 nights a week, or 4, or even maybe just 1.”
What was the process of creating a book like for you?
“I would say it’s been quite a rollercoaster. Initially, I didn’t think I’d be published by a publisher. At the beginning I was like ‘ooh, this is a cool idea’ – I tend to get all these ideas in my head every now and then – and I just started writing. The fun part was creating the recipes and having my flatmates be my food critics. But then finalising things and actually having you guys (Meze Publishing) take me on board and believing in my vision was surreal – I thought ‘am I dreaming, is someone going to pinch me’. And then working with creatives as well in the process was a really nice moment. But then, I think on a personal level, it got to a point where there was a lot of self-doubt that crept in, a lot of ‘I can’t do this; I’m just a small-town girl from Australia’. But I got there in the end from all the support from Meze Publishing and everyone else that I worked on the book with – Paul Gregory and Rob Hudson – they were the photographers that did the food styling and portraits throughout the book.”
So in the end, when you finally had gone through the process and had the book in your hands, what was that feeling like for you?
“It was very surreal! I had a buzz at the door and the lorry driver was like, “geez, what did you order?”, “books” I replied. When he asked how many, still in disbelief, and I told him it was my book, he got confused. So, I started to think ‘how do I say this?’ and said, “I think I’m like an author now!” The driver was really impressed and that was just a cool, surreal experience. I think that was the first initiation of telling a complete stranger I’m an author, and it was a nice feeling but it was very surreal.”
Have you always been into climate-change and sustainability, or is that something that’s developed for you as you’ve gotten older?
“That developed during the transition into a plant-based lifestyle – when I was learning more and more about plant-based eating it naturally fell into it. I found it really interesting and I really believe in the studies that show a lot of reasons why our climate is changing so quickly and so very poorly. That was another inspiration why I wrote the book – if we can learn how to eat more sustainably and live more sustainably – which I also do throughout my everyday things, whether that be my toothpaste, my deodorant, my hair (treatment).”
What kind of lifestyle changes would you suggest to someone wanting to dip their toe in the waters, but not wanting to completely go plastic free – the small changes?
“I would definitely say your everyday products, in terms of your body wash, moisturiser, toothpaste, even in the kitchen try and use eco-friendly liquids, washing detergent – just little things like that. Initially, when I was uneducated on this stuff I thought ‘it’s too expensive to be eco-friendly’ but it’s really not. You do have stores that are a bit more pricey, but you’ve also got stores that cater to your budget. That’s another key thing – people initially think that it all comes down to price and the reason why they don’t want to go plant-based is because it’s too expensive – but it’s like anything, there’s prices that will suit any budget.” – if budget is the issue, if you buy something that’s really high quality that maybe is slightly more expensive, it’s likely going to last you a lot longer and therefore you’re not buying lots in the long term – so you’ll probably save money that way. It might just cost you a little bit extra in the beginning, which a lot of people find daunting, but in the end it is a few extra saved pennies in your pocket. “As soon as you get your pantry stocked up with your staples, your seeds, nuts and beans – things like cans of chickpeas and lentils that are actually so cheap and versatile (I feel like I could make 20 different recipes from a can of chickpeas as a recipe!) then a plant-based lifestyle is actually a lot cheaper. Meat can be very expensive, but again, I’m not saying you shouldn’t eat meat – I’m not trying to preach the book – a lot of my friends and my close loved ones eat meat. It’s more about trying to eat it in a sustainable mind and trying to purchase it from people that have produced the meat more sustainably.”
We’re looking into doing a Live every month with one of our authors so keep and eye on our Instagram and join us for our next interview!