Sheffield pals Ian Theasby and Henry Firth’s ideas for tasty vegan meals are a big hit, with 26 million watching their YouTube channel and their books selling well. Now they have their own ITV cookery show. Catherine Scott reports.
Less than a decade ago, saying you were vegan would send a shiver down any self-respecting meat eater, who feared they might be sucked into a vegan cult.
Not anymore. ITV’s decision to have the first vegan-only cookery show on a Sunday morning shows just how far we have come and how mainstream and acceptable vegan diets have become.
The show, aptly named Living on the Veg, is presented by Henry Firth and Ian Theasby.
In their early thirties, with trimmed beards and a jovial, easygoing manner, they epitomise a whole new generation of vegans.
The friends, who met when they were 11-year-olds growing up in Sheffield, started their YouTube channel BOSH .TV! nearly four years ago after they both became vegan. They have two million followers, making it the biggest plant-based online food channel and they have three best selling cookery books – the latest BOSH! Healthy Vegan was published last month.
They put their success down to spotting the growing popularity of veganism, but also to the fact they do not preach.
“Of course we want to share our knowledge and it’s our mission to encourage people to lead a lifestyle that is healthy for them and for the planet, but we definitely don’t preach,” says Firth.
“First and foremost it is about the food – showing people that they can eat vegan food that is tasty and good for them whether they want to be vegan, veggie or flexitarian,” continues Theasby.
It was Ian who was the first to decide to go vegan.
“Becoming vegan is the best thing that I have ever done,” he says. “I come from a Yorkshire farming family, who are all meat eaters and I still love them. Eating meat doesn’t make you a bad person and not eating meat, being veggie or vegan doesn’t make you a good person.”
“I thought it was ridiculous. I made fun of him,” says Firth. “But then I watched a documentary - Cowspiracy – that changed everything. I went vegan overnight.”
Cowspirary explores the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, and investigates the policies of environmental organisations on this issue. The film looks at various environmental concerns, including global warming, water use, deforestation, and ocean dead zones, and suggests that animal agriculture is the primary source of environmental destruction.
Firth, who had been running a technology company, was going through a tough time and was looking to do something more meaningful – ideally with his best friend.
“We knew that more people were turning to veganism and that it wasn’t going to be a flash in the pan,” says Henry. “I think our families thought we were mad. But they have always been so supportive.”
They discussed a number of ideas, Theasby had initially been keen on opening a vegan restaurant, but they decided to get their message to a far wider audience that a YouTube video channel was the way to go and BOSH.TV! was born. They knew that there was a gap in the market for what they were offering but they had no idea of the demand.
In the first year BOSH.TV! had more than a billion views and currently reaches 26 million people a month.
“We drew up a plan in 2017 of what we wanted to achieve,” says Theasby. “We wanted to have a best-selling cookery book, we wanted to have the first vegan cookery show on television and to have a range of products.”
Well, the first two they have achieved, and they are currently on the third which means we could be seeing BOSH! vegan products in the shops before too long.
Although the YouTube channel and cookery books seem to have come quite easily for the boys, taking their message mainstream was a harder prospect.
“It was a bit of a rollercoaster,” says Firth. “We had this idea for a vegan cookery show and we pitched it to lots of different television companies but no one was interested and we started to think that wasn’t the way forward.”
They had started to give up hope of spreading their message to a wider, more mainstream audience when they were approached by Rock Oyster production company who asked if they’d every thought about doing a vegan TV show.
“We didn’t really believe it. Both of us had really put the idea to bed and then suddenly it was really happening.”
Living on the Veg, which started on ITV 1 earlier this month, shows just how popular veganism has become.
According to the Vegan Society, the number of vegans in Great Britain quadrupled between 2014 and 2019 to 600,000. The sign-ups for the Veganuary campaign – where people eat vegan for the month of January – nearly doubled in 2019, with a whopping 250,000 people signing up. Supermarkets now routinely stock vegan products.
“Us vegans should be grateful to the people in the middle, the flexitarians,” says Theasby.
“Around 35 per cent of the UK are flexitarian and they are the ones driving the increase in vegan products in the supermarkets.”
And it is very much these people – and even meat eaters – they are trying to appeal to with their 10-part series Living on the Veg.
“It was important to us because we wanted to reach an audience who may never have even considered cooking vegan food,” says Firth. “Sunday mornings on ITV means we are talking to an entirely different audience. Even if we just get people to try some of our recipes then that is fantastic.”
The format is very similar to other cooking shows, with the duo rustling up some of their favourite recipes and joined by a special guest each week.
The first episode saw them joined by actress and film director Sadie Frost who has been a vegetarian all her life, but not vegan.
Cooking up pizzas, burgers, curries, pies, big breakfasts, decadent desserts – nothing is off the menu. Their aim is to show people just how easy it is to recreate all your favourite meals without the meat and dairy.
The show is very lighthearted, full of banter, and demonstrates the duo’s enduring friendship – Theasby will be best man at Firth’s impending marriage to girlfriend, and fellow vegan, Emily-Jane Williams.
They are also quick to point out, however, that contrary to popular belief a vegan diet doesn’t necessarily mean healthy.
“When we both first became vegan we lost weight, our sleep was better and our lives changed for the better,” explains Firth.
“But a couple of years later, we had become indulgent eaters, often cooking and eating up to five meals a day as we tested recipes for our cookbooks.”
“We had taken our focus off health and well-being and we were eating too many white processed carbs – classic vegan junk food,” continues Theasby. “It was delicious, but our health had started to suffer.”
So they went back to basics, and started exercising more, the result is their third cookbook BOSH! Healthy Vegan. It may contain 80 tasty and healthy vegan recipes, but it is much more than just a cookbook.
There are tips on not just diet, which can be adopted whether you eat meat or not, but also how to follow a healthier, and fun, lifestyle.
The boys’ passion for plant-based food is infectious. They have even managed to convince their families that vegan food can be tasty even if they haven’t managed to completely convert them.
Both had their families for Christmas dinner, which was, of course, vegan, and went down well.
It is clear that their families are precious, with both taking pains to ask me at the end of our interview if we would thank their parents, Shirley and Neil Theasby and Jane and Mark Firth, for everything they have done for them.
“We are passionate Yorkshiremen, even though we now live in London,” says Firth. “We love everything about Yorkshire and everything that our families have done for us.”
Living on the Veg is on ITV1 on Sundays at 10.30am