The thought of going vegan might seem daunting, but thanks to the advice of YouTube cooking channel BOSH!, you can explore the middle-ground before taking the plant-based plunge

It’s a Wednesday afternoon and I’m at a bustling cafe on London’s Regent Street meeting Henry Firth and Ian Theasby – the so-called ‘vegan Jamie Olivers’ behind BOSH!, the plant-based YouTube cooking channel revolutionising our eating habits, one legume at a time.

It’s been four years since the Sheffield-born friends quit eating meat and dairy, and began ‘veganising’ dinner time favourites. From bolognese to burgers, Ian and Henry have devised thousands of meat, dairy and even honey-free versions, which they demonstrate in quick, no-nonsense videos (hence bish, bash, bosh!) on their website and social channels.

Starting out in June 2016, and now uploading a new recording every day at 3pm, Henry and Ian’s videos reach more than 25 million people each month, with 1.5 billion views since they started.

On top of two best-selling vegan cookbooks – the first is the highest-selling of all-time – towards the end of 2019, Henry and Ian released How To Live Vegan – a handbook endorsed by Russell Brand, which will apparently help you “save the planet and feel amazing”.

They talk from experience. Ian and Henry went vegan overnight within six weeks of each other after watching the Netflix documentary Cowspiracy, which they say laid bare the environmental impact of animal agriculture, and inspired a need to take personal responsibility for change.

Ian and Henry in the kitchen laughing

Portraits | Nicky Johnston

“Animal agriculture is the biggest contributor to planet change, more than cars, trains, and planes combined,” says Henry. “David Attenborough has said we should reduce our meat and dairy intake to help the planet, and it’s known that 25% of our personal carbon footprint is down to the food and drink we consume. The biggest thing we can control individually is changing our diet.”

Now here’s the astounding bit – you don’t have to go fully vegan to make a big difference. Flexitarianism – “Eating less meat and consuming more consciously,” Ian explains – is a fast growing trend in the UK, aided by initiatives such as ‘Veganuary’.

“Eating aware and doing your research into what you’re eating will arm you to be a conscious consumer, or what we call a ‘mindful meatie’,” explains Henry.

“A really easy thing to do is meat-free Monday. For breakfast have granola, for lunch have a falafel wrap, then for your evening meal, some tomato pasta or a veggie lasagne. If every single person in the country decided to do meat-free Monday, that would be a very good place to start.”

Yet preachers they are not. Instead, Henry and Ian hope that developing appetising, plant-based recipes everyone can enjoy, will persuade even the most diehard carnivores to slash their meat consumption.

BOSH! is about plant-based food for everyone. It’s our mission to make it as accessible as humanly possible, to as many people as possible,” says Ian.

Vegan eating is about compassion for yourself and your own health, for animals, for the planet

“Flexitarians have all the buying power,” adds Henry. “They doing the bulk of the buying, so the more vegan products that meat-eaters buy, the more that will be available, and the more likely there will be subsidies for plant-based food producers.”

Henry and Ian don’t pretend to be doctors, nutritionists, or dietitians, and while studies galore highlight the health advantages of well-planned vegan eating – including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, plus better gut health and immune system functioning – they talk anecdotally of improved health since adopting a fully plant-based diet. They noticed better sleep and clearer complexions, Henry claims his long-term hay fever ceased after giving up dairy, and he mentions a pal whose “crippling sinusitis” disappeared after he went vegan. Ian’s “never had so much energy”, and there are mental health benefits, too.

Vegan eating is about compassion for yourself and your own health, for animals, for the planet, or for starving people as well as the social justice angles,” says Henry. “When I went vegan, I felt better in myself and in my choices, I was more congruent with my ethics because I knew I was eating in line with my ideals.”

Ian adds: “Every time you cook a vegan meal, you can be safe in the knowledge that you’re doing a good thing, and it will give you more satisfaction and hunger to do it again. Cooking really is good for your mental health.”

As I bid BOSH! farewell, they dish out hugs and thrust a bag of homemade chocolate-chip cookies into my hand – vegan, of course. Flexitarianism never tasted so good…

Piri Piri Chorizo Bake

Photography | Lizzie Mayson

BOSH! tips to help you become a mindful-meatie

1. Prep like a vegan pro

“Spend time reading books, watching YouTube videos, and get to grips with the theory behind cooking plant-based food because that’s going to be your new norm,” advises Ian. “Then open your cupboards and check every label. If it’s not plant-based, put it to one side, and choose what you want to do with it – we took ours to a food bank. Clear your cupboards of potential pitfalls and trip ups.”

2. Essential ingredients

“Nutritional yeast is the must-have ingredient for anyone looking to substitute dairy cheese,” advises Henry. “It gives an instant cheesy flavour – it’s a bit weird raw, but the minute you put it into a cheese sauce it tastes perfectly cheesy!”

Tinned tomatoes, white or brown pasta (only egg pasta isn’t vegan) garlic, onions, salt and pepper are kitchen must-haves. Oh, and don’t forget chickpeas. “Not only can you make the vegan staple, hummus, but you can also make aquafaba,” reveals Henry.

3. Moo-ve over, cow's milk

According to research, it takes about 1,000 litres of water to make one litre of dairy milk, compared to 297 litres for the same amount of soy milk. “Swapping dairy milk and cheese is an easy and great step to cut down on your carbon footprint,” says Ian, adding that shopping for plant-based alternatives has never been easier. “Walk into a supermarket and you’ve got oat milk, almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, hemp milk – the list goes on and on.”

4. Bye bye beef

“Beef is the meat with the highest carbon footprint because of cow’s farting,” explains Henry. Put simply, cows produce a lot of methane so feeding cows grass contributes to the production of greenhouse gases. “If everyone in the UK cut out meat from one meal a week, it would cut the UK’s carbon footprint by 8% per year. That’s the equivalent to taking 16 million cars off the road.”

5. Embrace cooking

“You’re going to discover loads of new foods – ingredients such as tempeh (made from soy beans), seitan (made from wheat gluten and high in protein) and jackfruit (a meaty substitute like pulled pork),” explains Henry. “Retrain yourself how to cook and then, once you’ve nailed a few recipes, try veganising your old favourites.”

6. Eat the rainbow

“Try to pack your basket full of colourful plant foods to get diversity on to your plate,” says Ian, “and all the fibre, potassium, magnesium, vitamins, antioxidants and protein your body needs – it’s good for your tastebuds as well as your health!”

7. Take time for texture

Ian talks proudly of BOSH! being the first to create the two tofu technique scrambled egg – a mixture of blended and crumbled silken tofu, turmeric, black salt, spring onions, dairy-free butter and garlic. “It has the same mouth-feel, and tastes the same, as scrambled egg, but contains no cholesterol and is packed full of protein,” he says.

8. Cope with criticism

“We’ve found that an effective way to tackle criticism is to not argue, let people have their different opinions, respect those opinions, and try not to be too judgemental,” says Henry. “By being the best you can, you set an example for others that eating vegan – or more vegan – can be really great.”

‘BOSH! How To Live Vegan’ by Henry Firth and Ian Theasby is out now. Recipes from ‘BISH BASH BOSH!’ also out now (HQ, HarperCollins).