Louise Hird has just been named the ‘hottest vegan over 50’ in the UK. Catherine Scott meets her to find out why.
It is 25 years since Louise Hird stopped eating meat and five since she became a vegan.
“I came from a family of big meat eaters, but then when I was 27 I saw a documentary about the meat industry and how animals were treated when they went to slaughter and I just decided there and then I wasn’t going to eat meat any more,” said Louise , 52, from Selby.
“It was very sudden, which is not really like me as I am a planner and like to do my research. Also I had only been married for nine months and I remember being worried about telling my husband Chris as I thought he might divorce me, but he has been brilliant.”
Far from divorcing her, Chris also became a vegetarian and they brought up their three daughters as vegetarians.
“It wasn’t all that easy as back then people still viewed being a vegetarian as something a bit strange, but I got a lot of information from VIVA and PETA which really helped, especially with recipes.”
The family continued in this way until five years ago when Louise decided to take the plunge and become vegan.
“I did some research and started to learn amore about the dairy and egg industry that I had been ignorant about,” explained Louise.
“For me it has always been about the animals and it was a journey I had started on more than 20 years ago and so I decided to go vegan.
“I think I must have been quite brave as, again, veganism wasn’t as popular as it is today. My family thought I was going a bit too far. In the early days I did occasionally question my decision, normally after someone criticised me but then I just thought of the animals and that was it. It is a lifestyle and I will never change.”
As well as the animals’ welfare, Louise believes being vegan has brought her health benefits.
And when her eldest daughter Emily, who has a severe form of epilepsy decided to become vegan, together they launched a blog.
Emily had developed NEAD (non-epileptic attack disorder) and eating well became a vital part of her recovery.
“Emily developed epilepsy when she was six and it brings a lot of complications. I am her full-time carer and we thought it would be a good idea to start the blog, to try to encourage other people to understand about being vegan.”
Louise’s website is called inthekitchenwithemandlou.com and contains lots of plant-based recipes, but also insights into living a vegan lifestyle.
“It has become a bit of a trend to take up a vegan diet but being vegan is much more than just about what you eat,” said Louise.
To raise awareness further of what it means to be a vegan, Louise decided to enter a competition run by the animal rights charity PETA.
Chris was at first sceptical of his wife’s decision to enter the UK and Ireland’s Hottest Vegan Over 50 Competition due to its name.
“But when I looked into it I found the competition wasn’t just about the way you look. It is far more than that. I think they wanted to show that a vegan way of life is sustainable well into your 50s and 60s.”
PETA said they were looking for ‘vegans who are compassionate, enthusiastic, dedicated, optimistic, smart, fun, encouraging, and uplifting – all these virtues are super-attractive’ and wanted to ‘celebrate the venerable vegans who are setting an example of compassion for the younger generations to follow.’
Louise added: “I had also had a difficult year and so I decided to give it a go. I never expected to win, especially as I am naturally quite a shy person who doesn’t really like being in the limelight.”
But win she did after securing the highest number of votes from the public and her prize includes a complimentary one-night stay for two in the world’s first all-vegan hotel suite, located in the five-star Hilton London Bankside Hotel.
“I didn’t really think about the prize when I entered the competition, it was more about raising awareness,” said Louise who is planning to take Emily with her to share in for the special treat.
As well as writing the blog and winning a number of short story competitons, Louise, along with Emily, is planning to write a family vegan recipes book.
“I don’t think there is anything really that you can’t make vegan in one way or another,” she explained. However, Louise admits she is not sure of the current trend for what she calls ‘vegan junk food’.
“The vegan sausage roll, for example – for me it somehow defeats the purpose.
“As well as the animals, becoming vegan was a health choice, so to then have vegan junk food doesn’t really make sense to me.
“I want people to know that you can eat healthy plant-based recipes which are good for us, good for the animals and good for the planet.”
PETA Director Elisa Allen said: “Louise Hird is living proof that at any age, going vegan is the best thing that we can do for animals, the planet, and our own health.
“PETA encourages everyone inspired by her integrity and vitality to follow her lead and give going vegan a try.”
According to PETA, in addition to saving the lives of nearly 200 animals every year, people who go vegan could very well be extending their own lifespans, as vegans are less prone to suffering from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity and are, on average, fitter and trimmer than meat-eaters.