Name: Ava Szajna-Hopgood
Twitter/Instagram @names: @guacandrolluk for both
About Me: I’m a freelance writer and small-scale caterer. I write for The Debrief, Munchies and my own vegan blog, Guac & Roll. I also cook as Guac Kitchen for small projects I believe in, organise supper clubs in Berlin with Poppadom Preach and roll burritos for Club Mexicana. Aside from food I love writing about arts, music and culture for Village Underground and Run Riot.
Favourite Animal: I have to say rabbits. But belugas, bison, orcas and wild dogs are also some current faves. Planet Earth is my favourite thing to watch when I’m hungover or can’t sleep. I think I’ve even seen the DVD extras 10 times!
(Lunch time in Berlin)
When did you go vegan?
Why did you go vegan?
Because it felt right. I was raised vegetarian, turned into a meat eater in my teens (my rebellious phase included going to church on Sundays followed by McDonalds for dinner. I’m not joking). And then over one winter I decided I should either become the kind of meat eater that also deals in offal and kidneys and livers, or become properly vegetarian. So I started reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, and by the 80th page I had given up eggs, and at half way through I went vegan and it’s just been that way ever since.
(Beautiful Burgers in Berlin)
What have you found challenging/difficult?
When I first went vegan I knew of two people that were also vegan, but I didn’t know them well enough to go around and pour all of my feelings out to them. So it did feel lonely at first. I didn’t have a community of people to turn to when something annoyed me, and I was a bit naive in how I dealt with things that pissed me off. I would often replay this video by Ellen DeGeneres, as I think she sums up a lot of the feelings new vegans have, that outrage and anger- and that feeling of making a huge change not a lot of people want to hear about. I try to keep those feelings in mind with every post I do on Guac & Roll, because I know veganism can feel like you’re finally seeing the truth about a lot of the food industry, and often you have no one to talk to about that.
My parents were really supportive of me going vegan and my omni friends just took it in their stride. I was worried I wouldn’t be invited around for dinner any more or people would think I was acting like a diva/ above them just for the sake of it, but it’s actually been the opposite. My friends loved trying out vegan recipes for the first time, and respected that I had some new convictions. I have a lot to thank them for that!
(One of the delicious vegan meals made by Ava’s Parents)
Over time a few of my friends went vegan too, and then I got to know some awesome vegan friends online and then IRL, like Tsouni at @yesitsallvegan, Rupa at @fortorching, Dena at @kalesfromthecrypt and Meriel and Lois at @clubmexicana. Now I get to hang out with vegans all week, txt vegan pals when something pisses me off, try out recipes with new friends and track down new vegan joints whenever I can.
(Club Mexicana’s loaded nachos)
What product most surprised you when you found out it wasn’t Vegan/Cruelty free?
I can’t think of one specifically, but I do get really exasperated when food businesses get really close to a vegan option, but have to slather things in mayo, honey or yoghurt. Why not make something vegans and vegetarians can enjoy?! I used to spend my lunch hours emailing and complaining to a lot of sandwich chains! Now I choose to celebrate the independent companies doing a great job of catering for vegans instead. People like Club Mexicana, Cook Daily, Mildred’s in London and then The Soup Kitchen, V Revolution and Unicorn in Manchester do a much better job 🙂
If you could say anything to your previous non-Vegan-self what would it be?
When I was in university I went through a stage of considering veganism, but a friend I had at the time would say “vegetarians are one thing, but vegans are just dicks”. And I would listen to her. Obviously we’re no longer friends. But I do think everything happens at a certain time for a reason, and part of turning vegan or making any big decision like that for yourself is learning to speak up and hold your ground. I’ve never wanted to be like everyone else, but there was a definite thing of not being an inconvenience to people. So learning to put my morals first has been a big lesson for me in my 20s, and I don’t think that would have happened any sooner.
(Curry for a Poppadom Preach event)(When Ava & Tsouni get together and create Ultimate Food Heaven)
What are your favourite Vegan restaurants/cafes/shops?
As mentioned, Club Mexicana do a great job of often being the only vegan trader at street food events in London- we get a lot of meat eaters in the queue too which I think is a sign they’re doing something really right. Mildred’s is great for special occasions (try to budget for cocktails if you can because they’re DIVINE). I go to Cook Daily when I’m hungover instead of turning to junk food- it’ll do you a lot more good. There’s also a falafel stand by Shoreditch High Street station in London that does a massive £3.50 falafel wrap and drink – I go there when I’m down to my last fiver.
One of the major things I started picking up on when I went vegan is that decent travel guides are hard to come by. So I started writing a few for Guac. That lead me to Manchester two years ago. Manchester is actually a vegan haven- I’ve been reduced to tears more than once in Unicorn and IDGAF who knows. If you’re in Manchester The Soup Kitchen does amazing food you’ll want to eat all day, V Revolution is great for a really affordable junk food fix, and places like Eighth Day are also total meat-free institutions. Also Glasgow and Berlin have really awesome vegan communities and businesses. There are too many to mention but if you’ve recently gone vegan, those cities would be some great places to visit in Europe to be inspired by and feel like you’re on to a good thing.
(Delicious spread made by Guac Kitchen for a Wedding Reception)
What is your favourite Vegan documentary/book/Instagram account/blog/YouTuber?
I still turn back to Eating Animals a lot (I have three copies as my friends never give it back!). Forks Over Knives is a great documentary for the food focus on a plant-based diet. I haven’t been able to watch Food Inc. or Earthlings because I find them too upsetting, but those or Cowspiracy are the ones my friends discuss. It’s not directly dealing with veganism, but Blackfish is an incredibly intelligent and well-constructed documentary on animal cruelty. I’m fascinated by the hubris humans have, and the fact we find it so difficult to comprehend that other animals can be intelligent in ways where we fall short.
Instagram-wise, I follow @yesitsallvegan for the latest news on the vegan beat, awesome advice, junk food galore and hilarious captions. @talinegabriel for some of the most beautiful, colourful vegan food I’ve seen. I love how @pocobzb style their food, and @hotforfood, @vso_veganchef and @champsdiner for recipe inspo. And when it all gets a bit too FOMO, @uglyvegan is great at keeping it real.
(Some of the delights Copenhagen has to offer)
(Lunch at Font in Chorlton, Manchester)
Which well-known vegans would you have at your fantasy dinner party and what 3 course meal would you serve?
I would hold it in a huge warehouse space up here in Tottenham where there are still warehouse spaces (for now). It’d start in the early afternoon and I’d invite Ellen DeGeneres to interview key note speaker Alicia Silverstone. If you’ve seen any of her cookbooks you’ll know her life is literally like Cher Horowitz went vegan after college and stuck to it. She has birthday parties at animal sanctuaries and EVERYTHING. So we’d have a casual buffet thing that I’d cater for with my friend Hannah from @hello_dhaling who will be helping me on my Guac Kitchen work this summer. It would be lots of fruit, crudités, dips, flat bread, and good, grainy salads. The Poppadom Preach crew will be on hand for take-away curries for anyone that can’t stay all day because no one should miss out on vegan goodness. That’s the first course. Along with that I’d invite Father John Misty and Dan Deacon who I think are vegan at the moment as the live acts, which will start at 7pm. Then we’d have some dance competitions. Then at about 10pm we’d have a barbecue out in the drive, FJM would be on grill duty. Club Mexicana will ply us all with otherworldly tacos but also hand out dance competition trophies. Dan Deacon will be in charge of the salad bar which Alicia Silverstone will then take over because he’ll take too long chatting to everyone. Then for the final course my Mum will make a huge summer berry pudding she makes every year. But a giant one, assembled using an old bathtub.
Then Ellen will make sure all the guests get the right Uber carpools home, and the Poppadom Preach crew will stay to clean up and drink more, because that’s what we do best.
(Summer Berry Pudding made by Ava’s Mum)
(Christmas Day Curry)
What advice would you give someone who was thinking about going vegan?
It might feel like you’re having to say no to a lot of foods, but use going veganism as a reason to say yes to things you’ve never tried before. Search for any local vegan supper clubs or meet-ups happening. Start an Instagram account to document your favourite recipes or discoveries- you can use it like a journal with all your thoughts and reviews easy to access whenever you need. Plan a mini break somewhere with a few vegan cafes and restaurants you’d like to try. Start a zine and see if your local independent shops will stock it. Host a meet-up at your favourite vegan pop-up or street food stand. Buy a few second hand cookbooks on eBay and learn about a new cuisine and watch as many vegan documentaries as you can to keep inspired. And lastly? Keep positive vegans around you, the negative ones are no different from your average person- they’re draining and they’re wasting you time.
Please can you show us a picture of the inside of your fridge/cupboards?
Sure! It’s organised chaos because I do most of my shopping at my local Turkish shops, which sell everything you can imagine, so I often end up experimenting with different grains, beans, sugars and flours. My fridge is full of vegetables from Crop Drop (a local vegetable bag scheme I use in Harringey) and leftovers, because I always cook too much.
Any further comments or anecdotes to share:
Obviously these answers have focused on vegans doing a great job, but there are also lots of vegetarian and omnivore websites/cookbooks/people out there also helping the vegan cause. Any meal with less meat in it is a win for veganism, so I think being patient and considerate is the way forward for turning veganism mainstream.
(Aubergine Curry made for an event in York)
(Donuts for the most recent Poppadom Preach event)