Jane Marshall was just ten years old when she decided to become a vegetarian and she hasn’t eaten meat since.
“I was on holiday in Spain,” explains Jane.
“I was sitting in a hotel reception area and there was a television which I think must have been on the wrong channel as it was showing pictures of animals being slaughtered. I suddenly realised that’s what I was eating, I’d never really thought about it before and I decided there and then that I wasn’t going to eat meat again.”
Now aged 44, Jane has spent many years seeking out healthy and tasty alternatives to meat.
“When I was growing up it was quite difficult and there was very little choice out there,” she says. “Things have got better but it can still be very difficult and time consuming because the major supermarkets stock such a limited range.”
Having spent years searching for vegetarian products, it occurred to Jane that there was a gap in the market. And in March she launched a new website, Planet V, aimed at helping vegetarians and vegans to find vegetarian products and services.
“I started to think, What if there was a place online just for vegetarians and vegans? It would make life so much easier for existing veggies but it would also encourage new people to try a cruelty-free lifestyle.’ Like all great ideas, it grew and grew,” explains Jane, from Leeds.
“I started to wonder about not just a shop but a whole online community. A place where people could share recipes, find a vegan restaurant and do their weekly shop. So that was the light bulb moment!”
But getting her idea off the ground has proved far harder than she thought.
At the time she was working as Healthy College manager at Bradford College.
In 2005 Bradford was labelled the “Fattest City in England”, with areas ranking second and fifth most deprived in England, high death rates, and high incidence of serious conditions including coronary heart disease, strokes, diabetes and asthma.
During that time the Local Healthy Schools Programme was addressing health issues in the schools but nothing was being done for young people over sixteen. Bradford College saw it as an opportunity to extend the good work delivered in schools to create a culture of health within the college community.
Jane was then appointed as Healthy College Manager – the only post of its kind in the country.“I had a background in health and fitness and nutrition.
“When I started the students would be coming to college not having had any breakfast and then have high energy drinks and be really hyper. The trick was to try to educate them about healthy eating, but without telling them what to do. I know I got through to a lot of them.”
Jane received Government funding to write a book, A Practical Guide to Becoming a Healthy College in collaboration with Bradford College web journalist Helena Stylianou, in a bid to assist colleges and universities across the country implement a Healthy College Programme.
“The Healthy College Programme was being run by a handful of colleges in the North but we were picked to help the Government take it nationwide.”
But when the recession hit Jane could see that the writing was on the wall for initiatives like the Healthy College Programme. “Living healthily should be at the heart of everything we do, but when money is tight it is those non-academic types of initiative which are shelved.”
She’d already had the idea for the website and so took voluntary redundancy to allow her to concentrate on her passion.
“I was ready to do an ethical business of my own. I had the initial idea for Planet V 19 months ago,” explains Jane.
“I just woke up one morning and it just came to me. I thought someone must be doing something similar so I contacted the Vegan Society and they said no-one was doing it.”
Jane employed a company to design and build her website while she a small team set about the painstaking task of researching and compiling the directory of businesses and vegetarian products.
“We had to check all 80 of the companies, their delivery policies and things like that, it was a really long and laborious job.”
But a variety of problems with the web company, which eventually went out of business, meant that Jane lost all the information she had spent months compiling.
“It was devastating. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have the energy or the money to start again, but I had to.”
This time Jane had learnt from her mistakes and now owns her website and all information on it.
“It took us months to get everything right but now it is up and running and looks great. It’s a great relief.”
Jane now has a one-stop shop for all things vegan and vegetarian.
“We aim to take out all the hard work of being a vegetarian. We want to make it easier for people, to give them choices. People have always asked me how do I eat a balanced diet, where do I get my protein from. You do get a bit fed up with it. But these days there are so many alternatives to meat if you know where to look.”
Jane offers to find people those hard to get products.
“The most usual request we’ve had has been for vegan dog toothpaste. We did find it in America.”
Jane runs Planet V with a technical director and also a website manager, Yan Yan Li, and her faithful dog Bouncer in the HR department – that is Hugging and Rubbing.
Promoting a cruelty-free lifestyle
Planet V stocks over 2,500 – and counting – veggie-friendly products on its website. Jane believe a cruelty-free life should be accessible to everyone. That’s why they work so hard to source new and exciting vegetarian and vegan goods. It’s also why Planet V is easy to navigate, friendly and encouraging.
“We offer the full veggie lifestyle, from products and services to our community,” says founder Jane Marshall.
The website is broken down into sections such as beauty, clothing and food. There is also a directory listing vegetarian and vegan restaurants, holidays and spas as well as businesses and charities.
There’s also a blog which includes a product of the month and also links to a variety of other websites and apps aimed at making it as easy as possible to become or stay a vegetarian.
“Planet V is not political. We just want to make it as easier as possible for people to live a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.”
For more information visit www.planet-v.co.uk