In December we published an article about vegan pregnancy and after I tweeted it I got a reply about English writer Charlie Plunkett, telling how she wrote two books about it with a big focus on the vegan element. I was so thrilled to hear about her and I went to her website to read about her and her books (The True Diary of a Bride-to-be, The True Diary of a Mum-to-be and The True Diary of Baby’s First Year). I was happy and sad at the same time. Happy to know more about an amazing person and writer, but sad to just learn about her now that my baby is almost one year old. I can’t stop thinking about all the help I could of had with her books, but I plan to still get them and her newest one too, 100 Little Words on Parenthood.
I contacted Charlie and asked for an interview and she was nice enough to take some time to answer my questions whilst in the process of publishing her most recent book. It is already available on Kindle and should be available in the stores in time for Mothers Day (UK date, March 10th 2013).
Here’s a little bit of information about 100 Little Words on Parenthood: “A beautiful collection of anecdotes, poems, words of wisdom and humour on all aspects of parenthood. Compiled by author Charlie Plunkett with contributions from mums, dads, grandparents and experts who all share their experiences on what parenthood means to them in 100 words. From the miracle of birth and those early days of sleep deprivation, breastfeeding and teething each childhood milestone is charted. First steps, funny things children say, toddlers, tantrums, teenagers and grandchildren are all celebrated in this book that will appeal to new parents, experienced parents, grandparents and those considering becoming parents.”
Hope you enjoy reading about Charlie, her family and her books as much as I did!
Why and when did you become vegan?
I would love to be able to say I have been a lifelong vegan but I was brought up, like many children, in a family of mealtimes consisting of ‘meat and two veg’. When I was fourteen I got a strange skin allergy after picking my mum a bunch of flowers that turned out to be ragwort, a very poisonous plant. From then onwards whenever the sun came out so did this horrible rash. I went to a Chinese herbalist and the tea he gave me was not to be taken with any red meat or fish. I was also influenced by a vegetarian friend. This was the era when exciting things like couscous had hit the supermarket and whenever I ate a brightly coloured salads, bursting with vitality, my chicken and turkey looked unappetising. The next time I went to see my herbalist I announced I was a vegetarian and asked him to make sure that whatever he prescribed was also vegetarian and the subsequent vile pills he gave me were to be taken with no dairy products. I don’t think Dr Wong intended to make me a vegan, but these things coupled together with reading the book ‘The Silent Ark’ by Juliet Gellatley and Tony Hardle meant that I haven’t looked back and have been a strict vegan for nearly 20 years.
Are your husband and son vegan too?
My husband is vegan when I’m cooking, but is vegetarian when left to his own devises! My little boy is 4 ½ and is totally vegan.
You wrote two books about being a mother, The True Diary of a Mum-to-be and The True Diary of Baby’s First Year. What did inspire you to write about getting ready to become a mum and the first year with a baby?
I have kept diaries most of my life and since childhood have always dreamt of becoming a published author. They say to write about what you know and so for me my diaries were an obvious choice. The books are inspired by my love for my husband and my little boy. My first book was an account of our wedding The True Diary of a Bride-to-be and we actually got married twice, once in Vegas and again in Brighton, England. Both weddings were vegetarian/vegan as it was something we both felt strongly about – no dead animals to be present on our special days! We had two vegetarian/vegan receptions and a two amazing vegan cakes, the details of our menus and suppliers are in the book.
I continued to chart the milestone moments in my life – my pregnancy and the birth of my little boy in The True Diary of a Mum-to-be and all the magical moments of his first year in The True Diary of Baby’s First Year.
I have to say that this first year is really challenging and not that easy to us, parents. What are the most challenging aspects in your opinion and how should parents deal with them?
Personally my biggest challenge was with breastfeeding, I simply hadn’t expected it to be so difficult and painful! After having a totally natural homebirth with absolutely no medical intervention and drugs I found myself having to make decisions about whether to use Lansinoh on my sore boobs (vegetarian but not vegan) too taking antibiotics for a nasty bout of mastitis (I opted for the liquid vegan version, truly disgusting!)
My advice to other parents would be to ask for help and not to suffer in silence. For me breastfeeding groups were lifesavers, they made me realise I was not the only one struggling and friends made there are friends for life. I would also add not to get too overwhelmed by well-intended advice. As soon as you have a baby everyone from your Doctor to your family and total strangers will pass judgement on your parenting. Trust that you know what is best for you and your baby. We also actively sought out natural, organic, vegan products to use on our little boys skin.
I had a great vegan pregnancy and I couldn’t see anything hard about being vegan and pregnant but I realized that many mums-to-be don’t get support and aren’t sure about keeping a vegan diet during pregancy. Did you keep a vegan diet while pregnant? What would you tell these mothers?
I clearly remember going along to my first Doctor’s appointment armed with two brilliant books about vegan pregnancy ‘Pregnancy, children and the vegan diet’ by Dr Michael Klaper and ‘Vegetarian and Vegan Mother and Baby Guide’ by Rose Elliot. I was worried that I may receive negativity for my choice of lifestyle and wanted to have all the answers should I get questioned. In reality the conversation never came up and I decided that I would play it by ear. My intention was to remain vegan throughout my pregnancy, but I decided that I would listen to my body and let my instincts choose what was best to nourish my growing baby. This, as it turned out, was a totally vegan pregnancy (despite worrying about craving coal, ice-cream or heaven forbid steak! ) My biggest cravings were for salad with loads of delicious tahini dressing and fresh fruit smoothies made with banana and cherries. I felt it was important to keep a track of the meals I ate to ensure I was getting the optimal nutrients and I share my weekly meals in the planner at the end of my pregnancy book The True Diary of a Mum-to-be.
Do you think it’s hard to raise a vegan child? What are your biggest challenges?
So far it has been very easy, with exception of the fact that like most young children my little boy is not a massive fan of vegetables! He was exclusively breastfed up to the age of 7 months and then we followed the vegan weaning chart from the fabulous company ‘Foods for Life’ (which is also available at the end of my book The True Diary of Baby’s First Year). We also adopted many of the great tips from the great book ‘Baby Led Weaning – helping your baby to love good food’ by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett.
I think the biggest challenges are no different to those faced by all parents, encouraging your child to make healthy choices and of course we although we haven’t experienced this yet I’m sure in the future there will be birthday parties and school trips where I’m not there to see what my child has polished off! On a serious note I hope to raise my son to make his own choices based on age appropriate information. A the moment he is happy being the same as his mummy but if in the future he wants to become vegetarian like his daddy that is fine by me too. When he is older and understands fully where food comes from he can make his own decision about what he chooses to eat.
What advice would you give to parents or parents to be who are still not sure about raising their children as vegans?
I would say there is no reason for you to worry that your child is not getting adequate nutrition from a vegan diet, especially if you are breastfeeding. Despite having difficulties in the beginning I persevered and have breastfed my little boy for over 3 years. (For me this is piece of mind knowing that all the healthy things I have eaten will pass on to him) I think each child should be treated as an individual, as parents we have never insisted our little boy is totally vegan and he sees his daddy eating a vegetarian diet but has never expressed an interest in trying it. The crèche he attended was 100% vegan, we didn’t actively seek it out it was just a fortuitous circumstance. (One of the main reasons we moved to Brighton years ago was how accepted it is here to be vegan.) Nursery was totally vegetarian and whenever they did any cooking with the children they always used vegan ingredients so my little boy could be included. He recently started school full time and I had worried that he would return each day with a full lunch box but am delighted to report it is always empty, bar a few crumbs!
I read on your page that you love to cook and are a “wanna be domestic goddess”. Do you cook just vegan food?
Yes I do, I would never tell someone else how to live their life but after reading ‘The Silent Ark’ it doesn’t sit well with me to cook with dairy products. My husband has milk in his coffee and occasionally will have an omelette or some cheese on his food but it quite rare as it’s easiest for us all to have the same meal. My family and friends are always quite intrigued when invited to dinner as to what I will serve them and to date I’ve had no complaints!
Which are your favorite vegan foods?
Oh my goodness there are so many! I am quite a foodie and could quite happily spend the day planning and preparing feasts for my family and friends. In reality it’s quite difficult to fit being a domestic goddess in with being a mum, wife and writer.
I love comfort foods like dragon pie (like shepherd’s pie but with red lentils and aduki beans) lasagne, chilli, soups, a tasty nut roast with all the trimmings and we frequently have Indian, Chinese and Mexican food. At the moment I’m really into beetroot and carrots. Raw, roasted, juiced I just can’t get enough of them! I love making/eating raw chocolate energy balls and have lots of fun baking with my little boy. His favourite recipe is for vegan chocolate cupcakes, he is quite the budding chef.
All that talk of food has made my taste buds tingle. Thank you so much for the fabulous opportunity to answer your questions. I’m off to make something deliciously vegan in the kitchen!
(All photos courtesy of Charlie Plunkett)