For years, advocates have extolled the virtues of a vegan diet and lifestyle.
A plant-based diet has been promoted as a healthier choice for humans, and also as a way of lessening our individual carbon footprint on the planet.
Traditionally there has been push-back against what has often been perceived as holier-than-thou advocacy – along with an assertion that vegan dishes simply can’t offer the taste, or nutrition, of meat, fish and dairy-based fare.
But public interest has grown exponentially over the last decade and many major international corporations in the food industry have taken note – and positioned themselves to take advantage of a burgeoning market for plant-based foods.
A local face of this new pragmatic veganism is White Rock’s Grounds & Greens Cafe, where owners – and chefs – Mannel and Ben Kilford are dedicated to preparing vegan food and beverages that win converts, not through lectures, but primarily by tasting good.
The couple hopes – as their website states – they are “building a community that will embrace a plant-based lifestyle.”
But they say they can understand those who are cautious about dipping a toe in the water, particularly on the basis of dated perceptions.
“When you say vegan, people tend to think it’s all kale and tofu, just basic, bland, no flavour,” Mannel said.
“Going back 10 years, that’s what it was,” added Ben.”But it’s evolved so much in the last decade.”’
Both Mannel and Ben know whereof they speak.
They met during their apprenticeship at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver, and then travelled to Europe where they worked as chefs for the Four Seasons chain. Returning to Vancouver, Ben became executive sous-chef for the Four Seasons, while Mannel became senior chef for the Cactus Club Cafe.
Mannel said she first started researching a vegan diet from a health standpoint when her late grandmother was diagnosed with cancer in 2011.
That led her and Ben to extended tries at veganism over the years, but it was hard to maintain, she said. Not only were they cooking meat and fish every day, they were both born and raised in traditions (Mannel in the Philippines, Ben in England), where meat dishes are a staple.
What clinched a vegan lifestyle for them was the birth of their son, Ollie, three years ago, Mannel said.
“We wanted to raise him in a healthy environment and also reduce our environmental footprint,” she said, noting that this led directly to the creation of Grounds & Greens, which started as her individual project, but has taken over as the family’s main income.
For those who feel intimidated about going vegan, she advocates a gradual approach, and doing a little research, she said.
“Take small steps – it took us 11 years, after all,” she said.
“You can start with breakfasts – start by substituting milks. There are so many milk substitutes available today – oat milks, almond milks, cashew milks – there is no need to buy dairy milks.”
There are many other vegan substitutes for meat and dairy products that are available today Mannel and Ben said – and most mainstream restaurants are also offering vegan options on their menus. The key, they said, is to find something vegan you enjoy and build from there.
For those who feel ready to experiment, Mannel said there are many easy vegan recipes online.
“All of the dishes we make are really easy to do,” said Ben. “The only complicated thing about them is the number of ingredients we include – but they can be adapted to your own needs.”
“That’s what any chef will do – take a recipe and make it their own,” said Mannel.