Interview with Mari Hult

Mari Hult started her successful blog Vegetarbloggen.no in December 2010, not long after first going vegan. The blog started out as a cookbook for herself, figuring that she would share her stories of success. Today, she is responsible for one of Norway’s most read food blogs, an animal rights activist and the author of two vegan cookbooks. We met up with Mari on a Tuesday at a local coffeeshop to discuss her life as a blogger, her vegan journey and tips for dealing with prejudice.

quick fire

Describe yourself with three words

Hmm.. Bubbly, definitely a cat lover and optimistic.

Do you have a go-to Friday dinner?

To be honest, Fridays are the worst in terms of cooking, and it usually ends up with me having a slice of bread with hummus. However, if there is time to make a good dinner, then it’s for sure falafel (which I would say is my alternative to taco).

When do you feel most like yourself?

I’m an absolute homebody, and I wish I could stay at home all the time. And there is indeed something special about the days where the house is clean, and I have the chance to be in the kitchen, with every food item I love in the cupboards and to cook without a plan. The result isn’t always a hit, but it’s always wonderful when it is.

One kitchen utensil you just cannot live without?

*Laughing of “embarrassment”* This might be a bit boring, but I have this pink utensil. I’m not 100% sure whether it’s a spatula or some kind of swisp, but I use that thing everyday. It was my first kitchen utensil that weren’t black or made of wood, and that made me very excited when I first got it.

Personal

When did your interest in cooking arise?

Prior to going vegan it is safe to say that I was not great at cooking, and that habit continued when I just started my vegan lifestyle. At first I thought the transition would be a breeze (my optimistic side peaking through) and that I only needed to substitute regular meat and cheese with vegan sausage and cheese. I have this vivid memory of me being idiotically optimistic and going into a health food store buying a vegan burger, vegan cheese and bacon, thinking I would be able to make a cheeseburger that tasted the same. Another time I bought a vegan pancake mix, which I also had to add a vegan egg replacer to. When I made them, they came out being as hard as a brick. From there on, I decided to completely cut out vegan powder mixes, such as egg replacers, and most replacement products really. I figured that it wouldn’t be better than the original anyways, so I learned to cook food from scratch. I developed a new passion for cooking that I hadn’t experienced before. From my experience it’s like this: When you limit your options, the quality will often improve. And I feel that applies to cooking as well. It encourages creativity. In the process I discovered that the vegan diet is a world of opportunities. There are more than 20 000 edible plants, while most people heavily rely on 5 types of meat and other animal based products.

What has been your main focus when writing your cookbooks?

As awkward as it might be, for the first cookbook “Sykt Godt” I simply wanted to showcase what I could do. I added my favorite recipes, the ones I had perfected, which gave me the chance to show people with prejudice towards veganism that it does not have to be boring nor difficult. It was made to impress.

The second book, however, is intended to be a guide, especially for those who are open to try more plant-based meals but are uncertain of where to start. In other words, the book illustrates that there is no longer an excuse not to eat more plants as there are more than 100 recipes that can be made in 30 min or less. My publisher also emphasized the importance of using “regular” and familiar produce that can easily be found in the typical Norwegian food stores.

A question for our Stavanger based readers, what restaurants and café do recommend in terms of vegan options?

The vegan food scene is constantly improving. My best tips for vegans in Norway is to use the “Vegan Norway” app which shows restaurants and cafés with vegan options. In Stavanger particularly, I love the vegan takeaway shop “Veggietable” in Pedersgata and the Ethiopian restaurant “Godjo”. If I’m in the mood for a burger, “Inside” and “Døgnvill” are my go to. For fine dining I like “Söl”, and specifically the chocolate cake created by Pavel Pavlov at “Renaa express”. This cake is without a doubt a piece of art, with cookie dough, chocolate mousse and chocolate filling. I seriously do not get how he does it!

Veganism

How did you discover the vegan lifestyle, what was the main reason you went vegan?

My vegan journey started around 9 years ago, when there was a limited amount of vegan alternatives available. There was only one health food store, an that was the only store selling soy milk and substitutes for meat and cheese. My transition to veganism happened gradually. I’ve always had an affinity for cats; they have so many characteristics and they experience emotions similar to human emotions, like anger and embarrassment,. At one point I realized that my cat is just like any other animal. And since I would never eat my cat, why would I even consider eating other animals that are more intellectual than cats? Within the following years I put the pieces together and found out just how wonderful veganism is to the environment too, which makes it even better.

The best and worst aspect of transitioning into veganism?

The worst part would have to be all the questions. Fortunately, people have become more open-minded the last few years. But when I first vent vegan, I didn’t like to talk about veganism. I didn’t tell anyone, unless they asked me about it. It was tiring to always have to defend my point of view and argue, especially as this lifestyle is deeply rooted in my emotions. Luckily, I have become much more confident in by beliefs.

The best part of transitioning to veganism, would have to be the feeling of making a difference. With every meal, you are doing someone a favor. And I think that is good for you mentally. Furthermore, it has given me the opportunity to be a part of an amazing community. Now I have a network all over the country, that I’ve met at vegan festivals or through my blog.

Have you met any prejudice in regards to your vegan lifestyle?

Yes of course I have, and I’m guessing just about every vegan has. Some examples would be “What would we do with the animals if we stop eating them?”, Vegans are eating the food which should be for animals”, “Plants have feelings too” and “Vegans don’t get protein!”. To disprove the last statement, I have put in a lot of work in building up my strength. As a last resort, I will ask them to arm wrestle, and show them that I don’t lack protein.

When talking about stereotypes, I don’t really mind being perceived as the stereotypical “hippie”. For instance, when they assume that you either bike or use public transport. That would have to be a compliment really.

Best way to tackle the situation when you experience being met by prejudice: Be positive and open. It is almost impossible to disagree with me, due to my positivity. Also, remember that ignorance and fear are connected. Inform - speak with a kind voice and an optimistic mind. I don’t judge, no matter how “stupid” I think someone might be. A tip is also to introduce sceptics to how delicious veganism can be, by bringing them good vegan desserts.

What is your opinion about vegan activism. - Most efficient and functional?

I believe it is most efficient to simply be kind. Veganism has been a gradual journey for me, but I understand the people who are shocked by animal and go vegan overnight. They get angry, because nobody has told them up until that point. I have a great understanding for those who experience that, and want to open other people’s eyes as well. I believe everyone who act, sincerely believe that what they do will benefit the animals. It is possible to take different paths towards the same goal. And I think it is important that we take different paths, in order to spread the message. Some people need to be shocked, while some people need to have the same journey as I had. However, I believe that PETA in particular, often contribute to the stereotypes and prejudices that people already have, which is the opposite of the wanted effect.

I also think it’s important to remember that there are different forms of activism. Some people make sure to correct false claims in the comment sections, while other people make apps in order to make everyday life as a vegan easier. If people can use their best qualities to make a difference, I believe it can go a long way.

One thing to keep in mind for people going vegan?

Remember why you decided to change your lifestyle. Whatever the reason might be, it will keep you going in times of doubt. For me, my reminder has always been my cat Tobias, the love I have for him and animals in general.

Photo credit: Erik Sæter and Mari Hult