Food

Can this 13-year-old boy persuade you to go vegan?

Omari McQueen has a passion for vegan cooking that he wants to share with the world. The Big Issue caught up with Britain's youngest celebrity chef.

Omari McQueen. Image: Supplied

For his 10th birthday, Omari McQueen asked his parents for a LinkedIn account. Three years later the enterprising youngster is the country’s youngest award-winning chef, with his own business Dipalicious and CBBC programme, What’s Cooking Omari? He caught the cooking bug at the age of seven after being taught by his dad when his mum became ill. Omari developed a passion for vegan food and wants to inspire others to eat more healthily. Here, he gives us his top tips for how we can change our menus in 2022.

The Big Issue: It’s time to think about New Year resolutions. How can people make a positive difference to their lives by changing their diets?

Omari McQueen: People could make a positive difference to their lives by adding a lot more fruit and vegetables to their meals, and they could choose a specific day in the week to have a vegan meal, for example Meatless Monday would be a good place to start. You don’t have to go all in when trying veganism. Everything takes time and once people do their own research they have the right to make their own choices on how often or much they choose to include vegan food into their diets.

What are the biggest problems with people’s diets? The biggest problem in the UK is that hardly anyone is researching what they are eating and have no idea that they are not getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals their body needs. It is easier to eat unhealthy meals because junk food is a lot cheaper, quicker to cook and more accessible. People can learn to reward themselves with healthier foods by having fun in the kitchen and experimenting with different foods to find healthy options they enjoy.

Do you think vegan food gets a bad rap? Yes, I do believe that vegan food has an unfair reputation because people believe we are not getting enough nutrients. Even though there are many substitutes available, some people assume that there is nothing nice to eat and all vegans eat salad. Hopefully I can help to break that myth! In my new book I have recipes for delicious meals like burritos using plantain, fried mac-and-cheese spicy nuggets, BBQ jerk mushroom steak and veggie maple syrup and lemon kebabs!

What dish would you serve a veggie sceptic? I would definitely serve something sweet, as most people enjoy sweet desserts like pumpkin pie. You would be surprised with what you can make with veggies.

You are proof that children are engaged with the food they eat. Can they play a part in changing the behaviour of their families? I do believe more kids are getting engaged with what they eat, because if I didn’t choose to become vegan there would be no way my dad would even consider eating a vegan meal or know anything about veganism! But now he loves the variety of meals I can create in the kitchen using just vegan ingredients.

What ingredients should people stock up on that will liven up any dish? Here are some of my most-used ingredients:

Ackee. This is the national fruit of Jamaica, and is used as a vegetable. Ackee has a creamy texture and mild taste and can be bought in tins in supermarkets and world food markets.

Beans. Beans are great for vegans as they are a good source of protein. They are also used a lot in Caribbean cooking. I like chickpeas, butter beans and kidney beans (and lentils). Confusingly, red kidney beans are called peas when cooked in the traditional dish rice ’n’ peas.

Jackfruit. This is a meat substitute in vegan cooking. Sold fresh and raw in tins, it has quite a mild, fruity
flavour that loves spices. Jerk jackfruit is the best.

Lime. A squeeze of this bright green citrus fruit is the best on just about everything – sweet or savoury. Like lemons, limes are high in vitamin C. 

I like a variety of seasonings as experimenting with flavours makes cooking fun.

Nobody is perfect, so what are your guilty pleasures? Desserts, almond milk ice-cream and vegan chocolate… I couldn’t live without them! I have a very bad sweet tooth.

Vegan Family Cookbook by Omari McQueen (Scholastic, £12.99) is published on January 6

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach local your vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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