Shona Reid

Shona Reid

'The Council Estate Vegan'

I always knew I didn’t want to eat animals since I was a small child. At 9 years old I was finally allowed to be vegetarian, then went vegan at 15, when I discovered what one was. I became independent at 16 and lived in homeless hostels and bedsits while I was still at school. This was nearly 30 years ago when there were not much vegan foods, cookbooks or internet. I had to learn how to budget £20/ wk from my benefits for food shopping and it was from this that I learned how to make cheap but healthy meals from scratch that were easy to cook. My meals were based on ingredients like TVP, pulses, beans, tinned goods and in season vegetables. After 5 years on the waiting list I got a council flat, and 2 months later I went to university. I am still in that same council flat now.

The Council Estate Vegan came about during lockdown, a tongue in cheek name as a coping mechanism. This was a very tough time for everyone but especially challenging for me. I lived next to a drug den who had made life very difficult all the other residents in the block, and we couldn’t now escape it. Also I work freelance in theatre and suddenly had no income. So to distract myself I cooked. As well as cooking for myself, I cooked for those in need. I cooked for a homeless man who had lived in my meter cupboard for the past 4 years. I cooked for an elderly diabetic neighbour who couldn’t use many of the ingredients in the government boxes. I cooked for a vegetarian disabled lady who couldn’t leave her house. I cooked for a pregnant single Mum with 3 children who was struggling. I also have a community fridge in my street I volunteered at. I went back to cooking the very low cost but healthy meals I made when I was younger, and using local ingredients.

I decided to set up an Instagram account to document my meals. There are so many beautiful accounts on social media and mine was so different I wasn’t expecting much of a response. It was my cheap meals, taken with my basic camera phone, on a bookshelf with woodchip wallpaper in the background. But it proved more popular than I ever expected. I had people say they liked my account as it was real. My life isn’t glamorous, but most people’s aren’t. I make meals that can be quickly cooked every day with easily accessible ingredients that are cheap and healthy. It also seemed that the old school ingredients that were normal to me were unknown to many new vegans. Veganism is a different journey for everyone. For me, having been vegan for so long, veganism is its own form of cuisine, rather than trying to replicate meat, and I enjoy sharing my story and giving advice. I also give advice about sourcing cheaper food, adapting recipes to fit what you have, bulk buying & cooking, and cover basic nutrition.