with Jefferson's Vegan Pantry
Contrary to popular belief, becoming a vegan is a lot easier than you may think. There's no compulsory cult tattoo, selling of soul or ceremonial occasion to mark your transition into a plant-based being, just a shift of mind-set and a little sacrifice. While the thought of full throttle veganism might have you shaking in you boots thinking about all the kale you're going to have to consume, let us reassure you that going vegan is not only easy, but also rewarding and potentially life-changing.
And who better to join the conversation on going vegan than Michael Jefferson, whose own powerful journey led him and his family to opening their own Vegan Pantry.
Why did you choose to become vegan?
"My journey into veganism started by me reading a lot into the health benefits of a plant based diet
as I had a brain tumour and knew we would need IVF because of it. So naturally I wanted to do
whatever I had to in order to help with both of those."
"I definitely fell into the category of thinking vegan/vegetarian dishes were side dishes. This was
absolutely the case early in my career as a chef for the RAF... Rhiannon has been a vegetarian for most of her life, so hers was quite an easy transition."
"My change to veganism started as a quite a selfish venture as it was focused on the health benefits
to me. However, as I say to many people, it doesn’t matter how you start, once you learn something you can’t unlearn it. I started for health reasons, but as soon as you learn about the treatment of the animals and the environmental effects of animal agriculture you can’t go back. That now far outweighs the benefits to me personally."
Did you find anything difficult at first?
"I did slip back into having dairy for a little while at the very beginning. It definitely is more
addictive than people give it credit for! As with everything in my life I go research crazy... It soon changed my mind."
"What surprised me was how I didn’t find the change difficult. That was even after years and years
working as a chef, cooking meat and eating it three meals a day. The way I felt after a little while of it not being in my diet was crazy, literally like a fog was lifted, as cliché as that sounds, which I
wouldn’t believe if someone told me."
Tell us about the rise of Jefferson’s Vegan Pantry.
"We came up with the idea for Jefferson’s a couple of years ago. It was our master plan for when I left the RAF. My leaving the RAF wasn’t conventional, as it was through a medical discharge due to an injury, which meant the goal posts of my exit date kept shifting."
"The idea for Jefferson’s was because of how much we struggled as a family to locally get all we needed for a vegan diet. We thought that we can’t be the only ones who struggle, there are 7 vegans in our immediate family, so we knew demand was here for a solution. It kind of all fell into place that we would try and fix this problem. There are so many more vegans of all age demographics locally that were apparently in need of our shop!"
"We have already gone through several changes in store to meet our Vegan + Environmentally Friendly ethos. Changes such as the Greengrocer side of the shop being moved to a pre-order system instead of holding stock in store. This has meant that we now have zero waste on that element of the shop too. We couldn’t be zero waste on dry goods, then throw away fruit and vegetables. It just didn’t sit right with us at all. This change has proven really popular as our customers can now only get it fresher if they help unload the van. Our customers also like that they can build their own box of the exact amount they want, they also add the other zero waste items to it. Essentially doing their weeks shopping zero waste and collecting in store."
This change also allowed us to free up shop space to stock eco refills and eco items in addition to the food side. Changing to refill your household and beauty products is such an easy win on reducing plastic. Those sectors produce so much plastic waste that it just made sense making this change to our shop to help combat this issue. Obviously, not all of our vegan products are also plastic waste free etc. but I think we have found a balance with what we provide on both sides. We are always on the hunt for eco versions of our products."
Would you recommend going vegan to others?
"100%. I am definitely one of those that says if I can do it anyone can. As I said previously, I was a chef in the military where the view was (in my opinion) that you had to have meat to be strong and have energy for the physical demands of our roles. So if I could change completely to vegan then anyone can."
"Documentaries like Game Changers has really helped. As I said before, people might change for their own personal reasons, but as soon as they learn the ins and outs of the animal welfare side they can’t unlearn that and are more likely to be vegan for life."
What are your three top tips for newbies?
1. Research, research, research
"Genuinely number one for me was research, not just the mainstream vegan documentaries but the other side of the coin. Documentaries/articles are great but always have a bias, so I made sure to see both sides of it all and come to my own conclusions. Which to me were so far on the vegan side it wasn’t even funny."
2. No pressure, no judgement
"Don’t try so hard. People put a lot of pressure on themselves, which is not needed. If people want to start by just cutting down and down until they are vegan then that’s awesome too. They don’t need to become an activist overnight. This also means to just do it for you. I worked in a kitchen and when I left the majority of my colleagues didn’t even know I was vegan."
3. Quit comparing
"Try to change how you view a meal. I found it a lot easier to try not to replicate many traditional meat dishes and just ‘eat the rainbow’. This way we weren’t trying to a compare the meal to memories of a previous one. It also made the new dishes more creative as you were trying new things all the time to find you favourites. That way you soon end up with a list of staple dishes to go to."
What staples would you recommend to begin building a vegan pantry at home?
"Beans, lentils, pulses, grains & pastas... Start with the basic basics first and then just build it up from there. That’s part of the reason we do our zero waste refills. So you can buy a recipes worth of an ingredient. If you like it you can always buy more. But at least you don’t have 500g of something going in the bin."
What vegan hero products could you not live without?
"For me, as boring as it is, it was finding a great milk replacement. I, like most people, don’t function fully without a latte to start my day. Finding one that Barnaby enjoys too was really important. He loves Minor Figures!"
"A recent addition to our kitchen was finding some vegan wax food wraps... They tick many boxes and stop you using cling film and tinfoil. What’s not to love?"
Share your favourite recipe and cookbook
"My favourite recipe is one that I used when competing for the RAF Culinary Arts Team. I have since tweaked it to make it vegan. Even the guys who did our wedding breakfast did a twist on this as our sweet. It is a Pistachio, Orange & Olive Oil Cake with a Honeycomb & Cardamom Ice-cream and Beetroot caviar... Recipe will soon be on our social media!"
"[And] The Happy Pear – Vegan Cooking for Everyone. It is an amazing vegan cookbook, especially for those starting out. The recipes are great and super easy to follow."
Thank you so much to Michael for sharing your story and advise with us. Want to check out Jefferson's Vegan Pantry? Find them on in our directory here.