Interview: Fiachra McKermott, history buff and vegan

No more excuses, just blogging from now on! 🙂

As some of you may know I’m also a freelance journalist and (quite a few months ago now) I published a feature in Cork’s Evening Echo about veganism for World Vegan Day! You can read the article here. Two of the interviews in particular I had to cut short because the page is only so big and as such I’ve chosen to publish them as Q&As here because there’s a lot of valuable information to be had.

In the second and final installment below, you’ll get to know my go-to source for vegan information and best friend in the world, Fiachra (Fig) McKermott!

Why and when did you become a vegetarian?

I went vegetarian in July, 2007. It was a process. I had been considering what I was eating for a while and I had been reading up on the facts behind the origins of our food and I was frankly horrified by what I found. I was so sheltered from the truth and I wanted to make the change. I was travelling at the time and was eating a piece of chicken when something inside of a chicken breast burst onto my plate. I then realised that I was eating a piece of something that needed it far more than I did. It was like a switch in my head and I never looked back.

Why and when did you become a vegan?

The switch to veganism didn’t come until New Years Day, 2013. I had spent five years learning and reading countless books about food and its origins and I learned that the processes behind the dairy industry were abhorrent. The treatment of cows and chickens in pursuit of their milk and eggs is frankly beneath us. The suffering they suffer needlessly was not going to be carried out in my name ever again. It was honestly the easiest decision I have ever made. It helped that I was giving up things that were bad for me; animal protein is a very unhealthy thing to put into the human body in any form, not to mention the chemicals, sugar, fat and antibiotics in all milk.

You’ve travelled a lot so how does being a veggie or vegan differ here to in Oz or elsewhere?

I have frequently criticised Ireland as a bit of a nadir for vegan food but the fact is that there are choices. There is always somewhere to eat and there will always be a Chinese or and Indian that caters to your tastes. I do feel that the country is changing and that more and more people in the restaurant industry are willing to cater for vegans because they have to; veganism is growing and they need our business.

The most difficult places I found to live were Spain and Australia. Both countries suffer from an inflated sense of their own masculinity, which through generations of indoctrination and false education leads to the consumption of meat at an alarming and entirely unhealthy rate. I found it almost impossible to eat out in these places but eating in is, sadly, very easy!

How easy is it for you to eat out in Cork?

Eating out in Cork is easy. In fact, it one of the reasons I love Cork so much. Cork is a very progressive place and very accepting of alternative lifestyles. When you walk down Patrick Street in Cork and you see two men holding hands you know that you can get vegan food. The city, to me, has always been a beacon of accommodation for people of every creed, colour and taste and I am very proud of the city for that.

Where’s your favourite place to eat out in Cork as a vegan and why?

I love Mexican food. If I go for a full meal I will go to Café Mexicana. It is a genuine experience of Mexican flavours. The setting is authentic, the staff are lovely and understanding, the location is central but most importantly, the food is delicious and there is more than one vegan option.

If I am just looking for a snack or something to munch on the move I go to Amigo’s Burrito Bar on Washington Street. The food is fresh, delicious and healthy. The staff are sound and they always accommodate vegans. It is also reasonably priced and did I mention it’s delicious?

Where’s your favourite place to shop in Cork as a vegan and why?

I love to shop in the Quay Co-op. They have everything that a vegan could ask for from organic vegetables to an upstairs restaurant, the place is a haven for those who want to live an empathetic lifestyle.

#VEGAN #SUGARFREE Chocolate avocado torte, waiting for you in the restaurant this weekend! Nom.

A post shared by The Quay Coop (@quaycoopcork) on

What’s the hardest thing about being a vegan in Cork?

There are still plenty of restaurants that are very ignorant of veganism. Most will offer you pasta or salad, as if that’s all we eat. Being offered fish and being told it’s not really an animal is also indicative of the country we live in. It’s infuriating sometimes. The belittlement of some people towards a lifestyle that is based on benevolence doesn’t make sense. Ireland can be a very conservative country and sometimes that seeps into the otherwise progressive Cork.

Has it ever been difficult dating or living with people with different diets?

I have never dated a vegan but there has never been a real problem when it comes to dieting. I sometimes find it difficult to get my head around a person sporting a leather bag/jacket/shoes when they are aware of its origins. It can sometimes make you question your suitability.

Living with non-vegans has been a huge problem. The use of my kitchen equipment to store/cook/eat meat and animal products in particular is not something I ever wish to experience again and is frankly disrespectful. It is based in ignorance and a lack of compassion.

What are some of the most common misunderstandings you’ve come across in Ireland about being a vegetarian or vegan?

People don’t understand it. People are often lead by two common misunderstandings. Firstly, they are under the impression that our bodies have evolved to eat meat. This is simply untrue. From our teeth to out intestinal tracts, our bodies have evolved to eat greens and no amount of quackery and meat industry-sponsored ‘research’ can change that.

Secondly, we measure animals by what value they bring to our lives and this is wrong. People assume that we are at the top of the food chain and that this means we can do what we like to what we like. Put one of every animal in a field with nothing but their own instincts to get them by and you’ll soon find out who is atop the food chain.

What advice would you give people thinking about becoming a vegan?

Research, research, research. There is something in your moral fibre telling you to make the change. Focus on that and let it guide you because this little voice is right but don’t rush it. If you are a vegetarian and want to go vegan, perhaps try giving up butter, then milk, then chocolate. Do it step by step and make sure to take supplements along the way. Keep your iron and B vitamins up. If in doubt, beans and greens! It might be hard but you are doing the world, animals and your body a huge service. Never stop giving a crap.

What would you say to someone who said your diet wasn’t healthy? Do you get comments and questions about your health and nutrient intake a lot?

People accuse my diet of being unhealthy all the time. I simply ask them to identify the largest, strongest animals in existence. They usually reference the largest dinosaurs or modern day gorillas. I simply point out that most of these animals are vegan. People are very ignorant of veganism and that is okay. It is my job as a vegan to explain to them, if questioned, why it is so beneficial.

I get asked constant questions about my diet. I try to be accommodating at all times but it can grate, especially when the same people repeat the same nonsense about protein, simply proving that they are entering the conversation with a closed mind because they remember nothing of what you have told them before.

What changes have you seen in your body and mental health since becoming a vegan?

I was overweight and now I am at a comfortable weight. My heart is stronger. I have so much mental and physical energy. I have more stamina. I have not been sick since July, 2007. I feel fitter. I feel fresher and I have a sense of self-worth that I didn’t know I could have.

Do you find the lifestyle more or less expensive?

Being a vegan is cheap. It can be more expensive if you give in to fads and publicity. We are encouraged by society to purchase ‘healthy’ products such as branded diet products, which are strewn with chemicals and dangerous E numbers. (Check out my 101 of began and non-vegan E-numbers right here!) If you do your homework, shop around and be a bit adventurous in the kitchen, the vegan lifestyle is a lot cheaper and infinitely more delicious that the old ways.

What’s your top tip for doing vegan on a budget?

Beans and greens! Go to the Tesco short-dated fruit and veg section. Swoop to Aldi for their six cheap fruit and veg section. Make your own sauces; a can of coconut milk and a bag of peanuts make a delicious, cheap and vegan satay sauce for less than €2.

My number one piece of advice would be to avoid junk. Vegans can still eat poorly, so avoid instant noodles and similar processed foods. They’re fine on occasion (I love them) but because they are cheap, easy and vegan, it can become a habit.

Above all, shop around, there are offers everywhere!

For people hosting vegans at dinner parties, what advice do you have?

Research. Don’t assume that some nuts will suffice. If you are creating a feast for the non-vegans, push the boat out for the vegan(s). Vegan food can be so simple, yet delicious if you put in a bit of effort. There are also plenty of vegan-friendly options out there these days that ignorance isn’t really a valid excuse anymore.

*So simple and yet so goooood!

Vegan foooooooooooooooood

A post shared by UltraBomb (@fmckermott) on

Would you raise your children as vegans?

Yes. The idea that children need cow’s milk to grow has been debunked for years now. We raise our children to the best of our abilities; applying our world knowledge and the lessons we have learned in the hope that they will have the best start possible in life. Not raising a child as vegan goes against all of that. I want my child to be as healthy as I am and veganism is the only way to ensure that.

What’s the best thing about being a vegan?

Knowing that none of the cruelty is done in my name anymore. I am not naïve enough to think that I can change the world but I can make a difference. If one person cannot make a difference then why do we vote? I make a difference, just a little difference, every single day. Animals deserve better than the life we give them. They deserve better.

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