Originally from Brisbane, Australia, Aimee came to Sheffield in 2013 as a photographer and gradually found a vegan lifestyle. Her Instagram – @compassion_fruit – is a treat for eyes and tastebuds alike. It features minimalist, bold photography and, of course, some damn tasty food.
Finding out she lives 20 minutes away, we invited ourselves over to eat some food, and play with a whippet called Louie.
What are you making today?
I thought I’d make vegan kebabs. I’m going to do some cauliflower tabbouleh and a cashew sauce with some salad. I can’t wait.
They’re always a hit with omnivores. After a few drinks, everyone loves to smash in a kebab and I like to think that I’ve made a healthier, tastier version with so many different flavours. I make it quite often because it’s quick and easy. I use chickpea flour to make the kebab meat because it’s cheap and filling.
How did you find veganism?
I’ve been vegetarian since I was eight so I cut meat out a long time ago. I came to Sheffield to visit Matt, my boyfriend, and I watched a documentary called Home. It was about the human impact on Earth and there was a section on animal agriculture. I realised that because I was still eating dairy, I was affecting the world and the degradation of our land.
I toyed with the idea for a month and, when I headed back to Australia, I told my dad on the way home from the airport. He thought it was extreme but I tried it for two weeks and it was fine. That’s when I started to learn about the dairy industry and the issues.
How did your diet change?
It didn’t change that much actually. I just stopped having halloumi. I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner, because it was how I ate anyway. It made me realise that vegans aren’t missing out on anything. You can veganise all kinds of things. You can have spaghetti bolognese, for instance, but you also discover new tastes so you don’t need to substitute as much.
How has your cooking changed?
Being vegan has made me find a love for cooking that I didn’t have before. I feel proud of the meals I’ve created. Food brings people together so making tasty food is all about sharing for me.
I like to be in control of what I put in my body and still make it tasty and interesting. I suppose it’s a form of creativity. I don’t tend to follow recipes. I just experiment and nothing comes out the way I plan, so I learn to fix things where they go wrong. The kebabs I’m making today have a lot of elements to them, so there’s a lot of fun involved.
What do you love to make?
I make something different every day, so it’s hard to pick a favourite. I cook a lot of fresh food. I like my meals to be vegetable rich and I feel better for doing that. I put my bodyweight in black pepper on food and I love strong flavours like garlic, so I add a lot of them in.
If I want a quick meal, I’d maybe make a buddha bowl or a soup. Pumpkin soups are easy because you can store pumpkins and squash forever. It really depends how healthy I want to be that day.
What would be your go-to ingredient?
Chickpea flour. It’s just amazing! You can make so much with it and it’s so healthy. I can make mock meats with it, or use it for binding. It takes on great flavour and it’s high in protein. Plus it’s got a lovely earthy taste. Which is why I thought I’d make kebab meat with it today.
What is Brisbane like for vegans?
It seems quite good. There’s lots of whole food shops selling vegan cheese and stuff. Lots of independent grocers and vegan cafes and supermarkets. I went to a really nice, classy vegan restaurant last time I was there and the food was so good.
How does it compare with Sheffield?
I find that being vegan in Sheffield is really great. It’s so easy and is by no means restrictive. I don’t feel like I struggle to go out and eat. There are heaps of places to eat out and lots of them have vegan options.
There’s a vegan burger emporium that’s just opened up called Burger Lolz, and Matt and I have had creamy Italian pasta delivered to our door. I’ve been here on-and-off for three years and I can say that I’ve watched it grow and change.
What does Matt think of it?
Matt isn’t a vegan [spoiler: this interview happened a few weeks ago and MATT IS VEGAN NOW] but he gets really excited about vegan food. He’s really trying to cut things out but he loves a chocolate bar at lunch time. We’re pretty much a vegan household.
So tell us about your blog.
It’s for omnivores really – to show them what we can eat, to show that it’s easy and if you just make a few vegan meals a week, you’re still making a difference. I felt I could share recipes whenever, but if people saw what I actually cook and eat day to day, it’s more relatable.
Actually, I had someone I knew in high school send me a message the other day. He said “I just want you to know I’m a vegetarian and you’re mostly to thank for that.” That just makes it all worthwhile. If I’ve inspired someone to change then that’s all I can ask for. Obviously I want everyone to do it, but one is better than none.
I feel like the healthy blogs that encourage skinny bodies are a lie. Everyone’s bodies are different and I’ve struggled with my own body image so I don’t want people to think that if they eat vegetables and plants, they can lose all their weight and be skinny and toned.
My blog is supposed to inspire others to make veganism work for them and do it for their own reasons, not something that says ‘you can be like me’.
As a professional photographer, how do you set up your food photography?
Honestly, I have a makeshift board and some lovely natural light from the front window so I either photograph my meals on my desk, or on the floor in the living area. I bought a light reflector for £10 off the internet to help create more light as well.
What’s your style like, and how did it develop?
Originally, I wanted my photography to be quite dark and moody. I wanted it to be lifestyle-like with cute things placed around the food and it just wasn’t working out the way I wanted. It was difficult and stressful to get it to look like it had jumped straight off Pinterest.
Instead, I got a big wooden board that I painted white and it became quite minimalist and clean. I wasn’t in a financial position to buy lots of props so I had to use whatever I could get hold of. I had to make do with what I’ve got, hand-me-down stuff. I got another board from a builder.
I’m getting lots of compliments for what I’m doing though and all I thought was ‘well this will do’. I’m happy so long as other people are.
What food photography advice do you have?
It takes patience and planning before you actually have the food ready. Make sure to set it up and test the shot first with something else in place of the food. If I use props, it’s often an element of the dish I’ve used so think about what ingredients you’ve got.
A lot of people think it’s important to be consistent and have a theme to ensure you gain new followers on Instagram. But I found it hasn’t really worked for me and it means that if I go out for a meal and take a picture of a lovely vegan pizza on my phone, it doesn’t really fit my theme. I’ve definitely pigeon-holed myself and I don’t like that.
OK they’re ready. I’m just going to plate them up.
And then we take pictures?
Yes, then we take pictures. We don’t need to worry about our food getting cold today which is nice.
Get Aimee’s vegan kebab recipe – including a cashew tzatziki, and mint and cumin hummus – here.
Follow Aimee on Instagram.
We would like to extend our thanks to Amiee for the grub, and Louie the dog for providing such wonderful entertainment and happily accepting us fussing his face.