29 Jun Renae Smith
Five Minutes with Renae Smith Celebrity chef, vegetarian food educator, host and PR whiz, Renae Smith, shot to fame after appearing in the 2013 season of Masterchef.
Placing eighth overall, she quickly became known for her healthy, vegetarian creations. She’s an ambassador to Meat Free Monday and is frequently consulted in Australia on vegetarian and vegan cuisines. Gently Vegan joined her for a chat about her busy and beautiful life.
• What inspired you to a kinder lifestyle?
I have been vegetarian on and off most of my life but never really committed to it. Being on Masterchef meant that I was around tonnes of meat every day – whole ducks with their heads on, tonnes of pork, beef, rabbit etc. After two weeks, I realised I couldn’t stand seeing another dead animal. I decided then and there to commit to being meat free. • How old were you when you realised you wanted to live this lifestyle? I was 31 when I made the full time commitment, but at about 12 or 13 I remember telling my mum I didn’t want to eat meat anymore.
• How has it allowed you to grow as a person?
I think the difference is consciousness. It has afforded me the space to really look at things that I do and wonder why I do them. I often worry about mindless consumption of food, clothing, resources etc. I think changing in even one of these areas, allows you to see it in others. Before being vegetarian, I barely bothered recycling or using chemical free products – it’s now just natural for me as I think I’m more conscious.
• Do you feel healthier?
Absolutely. I think that’s the biggest bonus of being meat free – the lightness you feel is amazing! My skin is better, my hair and nails are better. My whole body just works better this way.
• Do you have days when you are full vegan and then others when you’re vegetarian? Which would you say is more prominent in your lifestyle?
I claim only to be vegetarian because I realise there will be times (mostly when I travel) that being vegan is a stretch. In saying that, I would say that most of the time, I am vegan. I don’t like eggs at all and dairy makes me feel a bit weird in the tummy – so it doesn’t feature in my diet much. If I eat out, that’s more likely to be when the ‘vegetarian’ side is more prominent.
• Describe your time on Masterchef?
It was emotionally and psychologically hard – they sort of wind you up into this odd paranoid and insecure bubble without proper sleep, because that makes good TV. I was pretty messed up when I left the show because for four to five months I’d been in this state of paranoid anxiety. Yet, I have to admit that I found out a lot about myself and I was really proud of some things I discovered. Also, the friends I made on the show are still a huge part of my life and for that I am truly grateful.
• How easy or hard was it to stick to your vegetarian/vegan ethos on a show like Masterchef?
Privately, it was super easy. I was allowed to have vegetarian catering, so it was super easy for me to eat vegetarian. Unfortunately, you can’t be on a cooking show and not cook what they want you to cook! The hardest for me was when a fellow contestant made me receive an eel that was still ‘flapping’ and had blood coming out of its head where they had ‘spiked’ it. They told me I had to cut off its head and I had a full-blown panic attack – I couldn’t do it. It was so awful, I cried for a long time even having to see that poor thing with all the blood. They cut that bit out, obviously – but that was the hardest part.
• How do you cope with people who like to ‘vegan shame’?
I don’t get it a lot, I think because of who I am. I don’t suffer fools and I usually don’t bother responding to rubbish or uneducated assumptions. The biggest one I get is “where do you get protein from” and the only response I have given is “The same place elephants and cows get theirs – plants.” I then make it clear the conversation is over.
• What is daily life like for you? How do you fit everything in?
I am really structured. Firstly because I have terrible anxiety, but secondly, because it helps me stay organised. I have a paper diary and use an electronic diary for reminders. When I wake up, my focus is on my PR Agency. I spend several hours doing that in the morning and getting on top of all the work. I work until my inbox is empty and then move on to the rest of my day. I teach my children school when we travel (via NSW Education Distance Learning) so after work, I then set the kids up for school. Once that’s done, it’s time to start on lunch. While lunch is cooking, I work on my freelance stuff like writing articles for MYOB etc. After lunch, it’s back to PR for a bit and then to work on my private brand, creating recipes or working on booking appearances. I do have a TV show in the works, which will throw this out the window, but I will manage that when I come to it!
• Do you have any go-to vegan make-up or fashion brands? Why do you love them?
For my skin, I love Snow Fox. Their products are based around peppermint oil and it’s so amazing. For fashion brands, I love The Social Outfit from Newtown. They’re not vegan by ethos, but they do offer vegan clothes and their back-story is gorgeous.
• What is your absolute indulgence?
Vegan Coconut Bites. I make these with shredded coconut, coconut cream, salt and maple syrup, coat them in vegan chocolate and put them in the freezer. They are so, so, so, so good! Sometimes I add lime zest and make them like a Pina Colada. I love them so much.
• Have you ever had incidents where you became low in iron or other vitamins and if so, how did you balance it out?
Funny enough, when I ate meat I had really low iron and used to have to take supplements. Since becoming vegetarian, I am no longer low in iron. I think there’s a danger of just ‘taking the meat out’ and not replacing it when people go vegetarian – but I am super mindful of this. I’ve had three blood tests since 2014 and they’ve all been completely normal, so I haven’t had to worry yet.
• How do you feel about lab-raised/artificial meat?
I mean, the idea is great, I guess … but for me, processed food is processed food. It’s not wholesome, it’s not natural and that’s not something I am personally interested in. If it helps people cut out meat, that’s a good thing, but I don’t really know if it’s something I will ever get behind.
• What advice would you offer for those embarking on their journey towards a vegan lifestyle?
Don’t feel like you have to do it all at once. Even cutting out animal products for one day a week is a huge start. My partner, for example, used to only eat meat on weekends – that’s his choice and I applauded it simply because anything is better than nothing. Don’t beat yourself up if you slip up or if you struggle. Rather than claiming to be vegan and feeling shame when you mess up – claim to be conscious and celebrate every time you have a little cruelty free win.
Interview with Lifestyle and Beauty editor Shonagh Walker