Interview With Founder of Vegan Community Cookery School, Made In Hackney

Photography by Tom Hains

Photography by Tom Hains

“All that time I thought I'd been living a compassionate life and actually dairy to me, seemed a more abhorrent industry than meat in some ways.”

Made in Hackney is a plant-based community cookery school, but it is also so much more than that. They are a team that believes everyone should have access to healthy, affordable food that is good for health and the planet, too. They have worked with people that have had their lives changed for the better, with the help of this charity.

We are fortunate enough to be good friends with the compassionate founder of Made in Hackney, Sarah Bentley, and also fortunate enough for them to be our charity partners for the festival this year!

Keep on reading to find out more about this super vegan, and her journey with Made in Hackney.

What made you want to leave your career in journalism and lecturing and start Made In Hackney?

I loved my career as a journalist but I'd reached a point in my life where instead of writing about inspiring things other people were doing - I wanted to do something tangible myself that brought about change.

When did you go vegan, and why?

I went vegan in 1999/2000. I'd been vegetarian since I was 9 years old. None of my family were but I just couldn't bare the idea of loving animals but also eating them. That seemed absurd to me. I went to Jamaica to write about the reggae scene as a young journalist and was exposed to all the incredible ital food eaten by Rastafarians. I loved it and to this day it's my favourite food to eat and cook. When I got home from Jamaica I attended a Viva event and was completely shocked about what I learnt about the dairy and egg industry. All that time I thought I'd been living a compassionate life and actually dairy to me, seemed a more abhorrent industry than meat in some ways.

Made in Hackney at Vevolution Festival 2018

Made in Hackney at Vevolution Festival 2018

Made in Hackney at Vevolution Festival 2018

Made in Hackney at Vevolution Festival 2018

Do you believe that just about anyone can go vegan with the help of your classes?

Yes I do, but it would certainly be a lot more challenging for some people than others. Our classes are very much about getting people onto their plant-based journeys and then it's up to them how far they want to take it. We find with this fun, relaxed, supportive and non-judgemental approach - people make incredible dietary transitions that they never imagined themselves - or their households - being able to make.

“Now veganism is fashionable (which is fine by me), and Hackney, like Brixton, Peckham, Walthamstow, is a cool place so veganism is bound to thrive here now.”

And do you know whether any of your participants have actually gone vegan because of Made in Hackney?

Yes they have. A number of them. I see MIH's job is to equip people with all the skills, knowledge and inspiration to eat a 100% plant-based diet so that when they encounter a hard hitting campaign by PETA or VIVA or Earthling Ed they don't think, 'Oh how terrible, but what can I do?' But instead they think, 'Oh how terrible, hmm, right I know what to do. I have the skills. I can do this. I can be vegan.' We're leading with solution.

It's no secret that the vegan scene in Hackney is amazing. Why do you think so many vegan businesses decide to start up there?

I have lived in Hackney for 16 years and I've always thought wow - we are so ripe for a vegan scene and yet it was only in the last 5 years one really took off. When MIH opened in 2012 it was still pretty niche. Hackney has a large community of Rastafarians who eat ital food. It has a long history of progressive, left leaning, artistic, forward thinking, radical feminist communities - and eating vegan food often goes hand in hand with these communities and they laid the foundation. Now veganism is fashionable (which is fine by me), and Hackney, like Brixton, Peckham, Walthamstow, is a cool place so veganism is bound to thrive here now.

Sarah at She Loves Plants 2019

Sarah at She Loves Plants 2019

Sarah at She Loves Plants 2019

Sarah at She Loves Plants 2019

“People recover from type 2 diabetes. Heal life long digestive disorders. Lose staggering amounts of weight. Make friends. Feel appreciated and valued. Gain life skills and get jobs. Feel part of something meaningful.”

What is the most rewarding part of your career at Made in Hackney?

Seeing how our programme brings people together and changes their lives in ways they never imagined a cooking class could. People recover from type 2 diabetes. Heal life long digestive disorders. Lose staggering amounts of weight. Make friends. Feel appreciated and valued. Gain life skills and get jobs. Feel part of something meaningful. And all this happens with food that is good for the planet, good for people's health and also good for the animals. Waking up and knowing what you're doing for work day in day out, even if it's a boring spread sheet, is directly helping to tackle the climate crisis, improve people's health and prevent animal suffering - it's a good feeling. I couldn't work as hard as I do - nor the rest of the team - if it wasn't like this.

What's coming up for Made in Hackney? Is there any cool news that you'd like to share with us?

We are just about to move into a new venue which we're madly excited about. It will be fully accessible and surrounded by a garden and be really beautiful. It's a collaboration with a community group called Clapton Commons and they worked with the council to turn a disused but beautiful park toilet into a new community space - and this will be out new home! On 21st October we will be featured on Jamie Oliver's new TV show Meat Free Meals which is also hugely exciting.

What has been your favourite Vevolution event so far?

Damien and Judy's wedding! Oh, sorry that wasn't Vevolution was it!! 😂

Who are you most excited to see at Vevolution Festival 2019?

How to choose one person! I haven't met Rachel Ama yet so looking forward to connecting with her and also Lamar Ita - as a former music journalist I'm always excited when my two passions - veganism and music collide.


JOIN SARAH AT VEVOLUTION FESTIVAL THIS NOVEMBER

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Vevolution Festival is for the curious, the passionate, the bold, the compassionate, and those who want to change the world. It’s a celebration of the plant-powered movement, and we cannot wait to be surrounded by hundreds of incredible people for yet another year!