Rachel Khoo's New Podcast & Whether Veganism Can Really Save The Planet
Following her cooking show filmed in her Parisian apartment, Rachel Khoo is back with an insightful new podcast
She won hearts with her cooking show filmed in her Paris apartment, now Rachel Khoo is back with a podcast that asks if veganism really can save the planet
Food is a complicated subject. How we eat, what we eat and why we eat it is tied into so much more than just what we fancy for dinner that night.
There are philosophical and moral reasons, cultural norms, mental and physical health concerns, socio-economic factors and availability to contend with before you even get to the not inconsequential matter of what you actually enjoy eating.
However, it was environmental concerns around global warming that led British chef, writer and broadcaster Rachel Khoo to her own moment of crisis. Rachel became a household name in the UK after the successful BBC television show The Little Paris Kitchen: Cooking With Rachel Khoo, which documented her straightforward approach to classic French cooking, filmed in her tiny Parisian apartment.
The show followed her book of the same name, chronicling the recipes she mastered during her time in Paris, where she attended Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and turned her small kitchen into an intimate restaurant for two, the ideal recipe-testing ground. Since then she’s released five more books and starred in 10 television series.
“I felt there was a portrayal of veganism in the media as being the answer to sustainability,” she says. “It was a very black and white answer, like, ‘Do this and we’ll save the planet’. I really questioned that. Is it as simple as just changing your diet?”
Rachel wanted to find out. Her search for answers led to making A Carnivore’s Crisis, her brand new eight-part Audible Original podcast, which launched yesterday. The series tucks into the increasingly heard claim that going vegan will save the planet. But just like a hungry diner at a buffet, Rachel quickly finds her plate overflowing as the series spirals into unexpected areas.
“Doing the series I realised, ‘Oh my goodness, it really isn’t that simple’,” she says in a moment of understatement. Throughout the series you hear Rachel struggling with what she’s learning and the ramifications it may or may not have on her own cooking. More than once she’s forced to confront her own attitudes to food.
“It wasn’t easy. There were many levels that I found difficult,” she says of the conflicting facts and figures that she was routinely shown by the farmers, activists, cooks and scholars that she spoke with on both sides of the argument.
“But life in general is full of challenges. I relish challenges in life because it’s how you deal with them that will make life more enjoyable. If you embrace them and you’re willing and open to explore them, and push yourself in that way, then you will get more out of life than if you’re like, ‘Oh, challenge! I can’t deal with this.
It’s too much.’ So it was difficult but that’s fine. It’s okay to struggle with it. It’s normal. It’s human. It was hard but also a learning process and I felt like I grew from doing the series and meeting people and listening.”
She says her goal with the series was not to provide an answer for people but to instead equip them with the information to make their own reasoned decision.
“It’s not about judging. I’m not here to tell people, ‘This is what you should be doing.’ For me, this series was an opportunity to delve deeper and listen to all the different sides of the story and for people to find out more and decide in the end, ‘What is right for me in my personal situation? What can I do?’”
While she doesn’t provide the answer, she does have an answer for people like herself who are worried about the impact their lunch is having on the planet but also enjoy munching down the odd cheeseburger.
“If anything, I would say my approach is just be more mindful,” she offers. “Be more mindful of what you’re eating. That is the most important. Because I don’t want to give people guilt. The last thing you want to have is guilt when you’re eating. Food is so complicated and when you get guilt involved that’s when you also get eating disorders. Food should never be guilty.”
It’s interesting how the question in A Carnivore’s Crisis changes. The tone shifts from one of environmental concern to become almost a moral conundrum as factory farming, supermarket production scales and organic farming enter the mix.
Listening through the series it becomes evident how well humans are at separating themselves from reality. You can call yourself an animal lover and not think twice about throwing a pack of sausages into your shopping basket.
“I’ve always been a big advocate of using [fewer] meat products when you can. Buy meat, buy less but buy better quality,” she explains. “The way I consume meat personally I tend to use very little but when I do, I spend more money on it.
But I’m also aware that some people live in situations where they can’t afford to be so fussy because they don’t have access, they simply can’t afford it or they live in a food desert where there’s only fried chicken places in their neighbourhood. They don’t have access to fresh fruit and vegetables. That’s why I think people have to do the best they can do in their situation.
“Eating less meat, that’s not a bad thing,” she continues. “Having more plants in your diet is a great thing for your nutritional side. There’s nothing wrong with cutting back. We’re so far removed from our food source that I think it’s important people understand where things come from. When they’re wrapped up in plastic in the supermarket, people forget that an animal sacrificed its life for it. That’s why I always come back to this term of being more mindful.”
The best thing we can all do for ourselves and the planet, Rachel says, is to look at how we consume our food. She quotes American writer Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals, who said if people ate just one plant-based meal a day that would have a massive impact on the environment.
“They don’t have to be drastic changes,” she enthuses. “I don’t completely eliminate animal products. I’m just doing small changes. If you make a thing out of it then people are like, ‘Eww, it’s vegan,’ and straight away you get a label put on it.
But when you make changes that people don’t even notice, that is the easiest way to introduce more plants into your diet. It tastes great and you don’t have to go and find that special aisle in the supermarket and get some hyper processed fake meat products. You don’t have to become full-on vegan, but small changes like that can make a difference.”
But, she adds, there is a lot to consider when it comes to plant-based alternatives too. “I spent a whole hour in my supermarket trying to work out which plant-based milk is the best option. It’s so hard. It’s mad. If anything, doing this series I’ve realised that it is not as simple as just, ‘Right, I’m going to change everything.’ It’s not that simple.”
She returns to her mantra and smiles, “Don’t make yourself guilty. Just be more mindful.”
• A Carnivore’s Crisis, an Audible Original podcast, is available now.