Wildlife expert and TV presenter, Chris Packham was one of our celebrity supporters for National Vegetarian Week 2020. Here he chats to us about why he went vegetarian, his pet poodles, Sid and Nancy, and what he’s been missing while in lockdown.
What made you decide to go vegetarian?
Many years ago, back in 1990, I had virtually given up eating meat. I didn’t eat a great deal anyway, and there was a veggie pledge week where you were asked to eat no meat for a week. Michaela Strachan encouraged me to do it. We were overseas at the time and I was still eating meat – I ended up with amoebic dysentery (infection of the intestine), and after that it was really easy to give up meat.
In going vegetarian, have you discovered any new ingredients, dishes or cooking techniques?
Celeriac. I absolutely love it! It wasn’t something we had as kids but baked celeriac is fantastic!
Do you think you need to be a good cook to enjoy vegetarian food?
I’m not a good cook myself and yet I still manage to knock together food that is not only tasty but also nutritious. Over the years vegetarianism and veganism has become more mainstream and the big supermarkets are doing really well in terms of catering for these diets. You can now get all kinds of ready meals, cook in sauces and veggie equivalents so you really don’t have to be a master chef to eat well!
What are your three top tips for switching to a vegetarian diet?
Try it! When you go to a restaurant (when they are open again) give it a go – the restaurant is likely to produce something you are unlikely to make at home and probably very good. You need to know that you don’t need to commit to it overnight, it’s about moving in the right direction. Cutting back, instead of eating meat every day have a few days or meals a week that are vegetarian. It’s also an opportunity to eat more healthily – smoothies and juices – to trying new things. The misapprehension is that people think that veggie/vegan food is bland because they have had a bad experience but it’s simply not true. India in my opinion has some of the best food in the world and a great deal of it is vegetarian.
What would be your perfect vegetarian meal?
Baked celeriac! Also love fresh garden peas, mange tout, brocolli and plenty of garlic.
What do you think is the most versatile vegetable and why?
Potatoes – because you can do so many things with them, easily available and cheap.
What is your favourite kitchen gadget?
What is your favourite vegetarian cuisine?
When you’re busy, what is your grab-and-go snack?
Wholemeal pitta bread and houmous. So easy to make. You can whip it up in three minutes in processor.
Why do you think it’s important for more people to try vegetarian food?
Did your pet poodles, Sid and Nancy, enjoy having you around more during the lockdown period?
They really have! And I’ve loved being with them too – we have really bonded during this time so everyone has benefitted.
Have you missed travelling and getting out and about in nature during lockdown?
I have missed being able to go and see people. My partner, Charlotte, has been on the Isle of Wight self-isolating and I’ve been in the New Forest so we haven’t seen each other. I am very lucky that I am in a part of the UK that is very green and wooded and I am able to get out into it daily. I am well aware that this is not the case for everyone, which is why we started the Self-isolating Bird Club to try and reach out to those less fortunate during these challenging times.
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