Original Flava: The South London duo proving Jamaican food can be vegan too
Shaun and Craig McAnuff – the brothers behind the culinary sensation original flavorwith nearly 160,000 followers on Instagram – admit that vegan dishes were not part of the dinner parties of their childhood.
Growing up in a Caribbean household in south London, meat was really the main event, but that has changed now, with the duo experimenting more with plant-based foods – and their mother has even been vegan since 2017.
Their new book is called natural flavor, and Shaun calls it “a first step in trying to lure people into healthier, happier eating — because most of the Afro-Caribbean community primarily eats meat.” He wants to show people how to find a balance, saying, “We’re not trying to tell people to be vegan. We’re not activists, because I don’t think that’s the best way to introduce people to things. Only two or three times a week – changing your diet is the best way to start.
The Caribbean diet may be high in meat, but the McAnuffs have found it easy to whip up recipes using plants from their culture. Growing up, “vegetables were used in sides – but they were very tasty sides,” says Craig. “It was always an eclectic range of different vegetables, rather than just Brussels sprouts.”
A big source of inspiration for many recipes is the Rastafari movement, with a section of the book dubbed “Ital Inspired” (a belief that food should be locally grown and unaltered). Shaun calls them one of the “pioneers of plant-based vegan foods.” Food is spiritual for Rastas, with Shaun saying, “It’s about eating dirt and taking care of your body.”
Craig continues, “The Rastafarian movement isn’t just about food, it’s about how to preserve Mother Nature, with much more respect for the environment. That’s why they say the earth and everything born naturally is good for you, whether it’s food, whether it’s medicine. They always encourage using what’s natural, so that was really the central inspiration for this book.
Before releasing their first book in 2019, original flavor, the brothers made a pilgrimage to Jamaica – and it’s the plant-based food they remember the most. “The best meal I ever had was a vegan meal in Jamaica,” recalls Craig. “It was amazing. It was different vegan dishes on one plate – stewed peas, pumpkin, coleslaw, tofu curry, rice and peas – all in one bowl. We took that excitement and drive, and those Caribbean ingredients in what we do now.
Caribbean ingredients are certainly at the forefront of the book, and the brothers could talk lyrically about them for hours – including callaloo (“like spinach,” Shaun says), ackee (“which is a , but it is eaten like a vegetable”) , and, of course, plantain.
Plantain recipes are present throughout the book, but you won’t just see it as a fried side dish. It’s in stews, lasagna, desserts, hummus – there’s even a recipe for making your own plantain milk.
“We come from a Caribbean community where we’re so used to these ingredients, so we wanted to show it in a new light,” says Craig. “Plantain is a very popular vegetable – delicious, it’s from the banana family, it’s sweet but still starchy. There are so many different ways [to cook it]and we wanted to show our community and the world how you can use different Caribbean vegetables, as well as everyday vegetables, with added flavor.
The “F” word — flavor — is something the McAnuffs come up with time and time again, but they also can’t ignore the benefits they’ve both experienced from eating more plant-based meals.
Neither brother is fully vegan (although Shaun was for a year in 2017), but they are increasingly incorporating plant-based meals into their diets. Craig says they are now “happier inside ourselves – mentally and energized too”.
Shaun says the difference in their mother’s health – she became a vegan when Shaun started experimenting – is striking. “She had type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, but was able to control and eradicate that as well,” he says. “For his health, it did wonders. She’s lost so much weight, her skin is glowing, she’s happy. She really loves it.
For the brothers, food has always been a family affair and that couldn’t be clearer in their new book, with photos of their children throughout (Shaun has a two-year-old son and Craig has two-year-old twin daughters. years).
There are three years between Shaun, the eldest, and Craig, and being business partners and siblings has its ups and downs. Craig admits they bicker, saying, “Not all the time, but obviously as brothers we do. I would say we bicker less than most people, but we always turn things around in a minute or two.
Shaun adds that the main thing they argue about is “what recipes will we make next” – which is certainly a nice problem to have.
‘Natural Flava: Quick And Easy Plant-Based Caribbean Recipes’ by Craig and Shaun McAnuff (published by Bloomsbury, £22; photography by Matt Russell), available now.