‘I am an all-or-nothing person if I decide I want to do something. There is no compromise,” says Derry-born vegan Aine Carlin, who brings flair and imagination to food and fashion. In doing that, this talented woman, with her cute hairbands and Breton stripes, is transforming the image of veganism.
The founder of food blog PeaSoupEats and author of the best-seller Keep it Vegan has just been named Most Stylish Vegan 2015 by Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), another string to her bow (speaking of which, she is also a trained violinist).
So how did she become a vegan? It all happened when she moved with her Cornish-born husband, Jason Robbins, an animator, to live in Chicago six years ago. She had completed her music studies in London and a postgraduate degree in acting when the couple met in Camden.
“In Chicago we just saw our health declining; we never felt our best. I had always had an interest in cooking and decided to take a closer look at what we were eating and investigate what dairy and factory farming does to the body. I got in to wholefoods and that started our vegan journey.
“So all animal products went out of the fridge and we started afresh.”
The effect on their health was immediate and positive, she says.
It has been estimated that there are seven million vegans in the US, and the trend is steadily moving from the margins to the mainstream. Vegans eat plant-based foods, avoiding all animal products. Many, including Carlin, extend ethical principles to clothing as well. Carlin’s ability to make vegan food appealing, full of flavour, simple to make and with only easy-to-find ingredients has been central to her success.
“The book was aimed at non-vegans as well as vegans; like mothers of teenage vegans who don’t know what to cook for them. The idea was to give them more ideas and variety.”
One of her most popular recipes is an alternative to macaroni and cheese made with butternut squash and coconut milk.
Vegan beauty products
How did she extend her principles to cosmetics and clothes? For a start, she sourced vegan beauty products and provided DIY tips for her followers.
“People are more aware of products tested on animals,” she says. “L’Oréal, for example, has committed to stopping animal testing by 2016. Mac used to be bought by vegans, but now, because Mac sells in China where it is mandatory to have cosmetics tested on animals, it is no longer vegan.”
Her girlish, colourful appearance and fluent, easy chatter have made her quite a star among followers of her YouTube channel. In London she had a brief career in the fashion world, working for a while in Matches boutique, followed by an internship on the fashion pages of the Financial Times. She also wrote for Rankin's Hunger magazine "on art, fashion, food, music, anything they threw at me".
Being a vegan means that she pays close attention to clothing labels. "You have to be aware of what you are buying, although it can get complicated. My budget doesn't stretch to Stella McCartney, " she says, adding that sales of angora, for instance, have dropped since people realised it came from rabbit hair.
She wears a lot of second-hand clothes and vintage, mixing such items with high-street fashion, “but I am super-aware of not contributing to fast fashion either, and I try not to buy too much. I hate waste in general and tend to go down the timeless route with things that don’t date.”
She wears linen, cotton and synthetics but not wool. She says it took time for her to transform her wardrobe.
“I didn’t throw everything out overnight . . . and kept my leather shoes until I could afford a new pair of alternatives.”
She now lives in the pretty Cornish fishing port of Mousehole. Her daily uniform comprises jeans, a Breton top and headscarves (most of which are from charity shops or by SeaSalt, a Cornish brand). For a recent wedding she wore a midi-skirt with a simple jumper and vintage jacket. “I am quite casual and need to feel comfortable. Style is about the ease with which you wear clothes and not about how expensive they are.”
She obviously doesn’t wear fur, although she has one fake-fur jacket and mentions the supercool fake-fur brand Shrimps as being the most popular among the fashion set at the moment.
“In general I would rather stay away from fake, because I don’t feel comfortable about wearing it.”
Her second book, due out next year, will cover food and fashion. In the meantime her first, a best-seller in Eason at Christmas, has been reprinted three times and is being published in Germany, Italy and Brazil this year, with further interest being expressed from other countries.
Although dedicated and passionate, she avoids arguments about her beliefs. “I am not a confrontational person at all. I live my life the way I think is right for me and I don’t make judgments on others. If I come across as down-to-earth, that speaks more volumes than having an argument with people about what they are wearing.”