In the kitchen with... Charlotte Williams
Charlotte lives two minutes away from us in Brockley, so of course, we’re running late. She greets us at the door with a grin and invites us through to her kitchen, counter tops spilling over with cans of beans, lentils and fresh vegetables, ready for lunch.
She’s preparing us a chickpea and spinach curry, chopping and slicing while chatting away: “My sister’s vegan and she’s a better cook than me. She’s like Queen Cook. Her curries and chillies are amazing.” After demolishing two portions each in half a heartbeat, we’d beg to differ.
Having been vegan for ten years now, Charlotte is reluctant to talk about ‘being vegan’ when we first start asking her about it. Having worked at Urban Outfitters and now at Agent Provocateur as a graphic designer, she’s pretty fed up with people looking sceptically at her food in the workplace. After a decade of justifying what you eat to other people, I can see why it’s a topic she doesn’t like talking about much.
“If you’re brought up in South Wales, you eat meat.”
Growing up in Caerphilly, she didn’t even know a vegetarian, let alone a vegan. So when she and her sister Rachel went vegan, they were very much one of a select group.
“Me and my sister went to art college and she met this guy that she had the biggest crush on in the world. He was vegan and totally tattooed, her dream guy – she ended up marrying him. He used to pick us up in the morning and drive us to art college and we’d ask him every single question under the sun about why he was vegan. We’d never heard of it before.
“Straight away, Rachel and I were shocked. He gave us all these references, books and websites to look at and we just thought, this is so outrageous. Rachel went vegan straight away, but I eased in and went vegetarian for one year. I decided that, on the one-year anniversary mark, I’d go vegan. And I’ve been vegan since.”
Back then, she explains, veganism wasn’t seen as a trend, like it’s sometimes considered to be now. No-one was using veganism as a diet to lose weight or to be seen in a certain way. Whereas a lot of people might dip in and out of veganism now, Charlotte got pretty freaked out by everything she’d learned about animal welfare and has never so much as flirted with a block of Edam or a wheel of Camembert since.
It’s so much easier to eat vegan now with the availability of vegan blogs, cookbooks and health food stores selling vegan products and meat and dairy alternatives. Back then, Charlotte would have to rely on PETA recipes and trips to Holland & Barrett. She didn’t mind because she knew she was doing something worthwhile.
“At the time, I was so young and I was happy about being vegan. I felt I was doing something good. But I had to go out of my way a lot. I had this super old vegetarian cookbook that my Mum got for me in a charity shop and I used to cook from there.
It was beans, lentils, veg – that’s how I started cooking and it’s reflected in how I continue to eat now.” When Charlotte went vegan, she was still living with her parents in Wales. Living at home and eating vegan while the rest of your family doesn’t can be understandably difficult.
“My Dad thought we were fucking stupid. At the time, we were coming home with piercings and tattoos and listening to Marilyn Manson.”
“I had posters of HIM on my wall and they all looked like vampires. I think my Mum thought we were trying to kill ourselves or something.
“My poor Mum! I think she thought we were trying to make her life a misery by being so awkward and not listening to her – basically doing everything she didn’t want us to do.”
Once she moved out and went to university, it got easier. She had the freedom to experiment without outbursts in the kitchen or the fear that a piece of rogue meat might pop up in her dinner.
“Having a vegan diet pushes you to learn more about food and what goes well together. I moved out shortly after turning vegan. I got really creative with my cooking because I could buy shit that my parents wouldn’t buy. It made me a much better cook, much more adventurous.”
One of the things she realised about eating vegan was that it was actually really cheap, which is ideal when you’re a student. “It’s not expensive at all. I was buying veg, rice, beans and pulses, and that’s such an amazing meal.”
"Cooking time got really complicated. What’s in that? Did you put that in there? You better not have touched my meal with that fork!"
Eating vegan can be expensive if you’re constantly buying produce from specialist stores, or if you’re buying a lot of meat substitutes. But if you’re mainly eating vegetables and grains, it’s not pricey at all.
“By the time I’ve walked out with three bags of veg and rice and stuff, it’s so cheap and I have loads of food for the whole week. I can do my shopping each week for under a tenner.”
As a vegan veteran, we wanted to get Charlotte’s advice for people looking to cut down on meat and dairy: “I would say, do your research. If you want to stick at it, research animal rights. The impact that has makes you stick with it.”
In terms of books, she recommends Skinny Bitch. “That book changed my life. The way it’s marketed is to trick you into reading it. They understood that people want to look good, but really it’s all about the core values of being vegan. I haven’t read it in so many years but it’s amazing.”
After reading into the subject so much, she knew she’d never go back to eating meat or dairy. “It was drilled into me so much that I think that’s why I never lapsed. When people would say ‘don’t you miss this or that?’, I’d say no, not at all, because I know what’s in it and where it’s come from.”