For Megan May, growing up in a family that helped pioneer the organic food movement meant food and nutrition was always going to play an important role in her life. After studying environmental science, Megan followed her dreams and started Little Bird Organics. We met Megan at her renowned café, The Unbakery to discuss her latest recipe book, organic food and healthy habits.
Story photographed by Neeve Woodward.
Tell us about Little Bird and how it started:
Little Bird started in 2009, at a time when the conversation around raw food was almost non-existent. During the conception of the business, we had to do a lot of education around what it was, and why adding more raw foods to your diet could be beneficial. It goes with the concept ‘you are what you eat’ and once you grasp that, it makes sense that eating an abundance of fresh, vibrant, unprocessed and raw wholefoods is probably going to give you much more energy and vitality.
There is increasing interest and conversation around raw and organic wholefoods. When do you think people’s attitude towards food started changing?
The food scene has changed drastically, particularly in the last 4 years. This steady trend seems to have followed on from the social media boom, that saw everyday people begin to have a voice in the market, not just large corporations telling us what to buy, and what’s good for us. There are so many incredible and inspiring social media influencers out there now, helping pave the way in the market, changing consumer demand, behaviour and influence. I also think Netflix has had a big contribution, definitely for our customers. We’ve had so many say they turned vegan or started eating more plant-based due to the documentaries they’d seen on Netflix.
In comparison with other countries, there is still a bit of work to be done around organics here in New Zealand. But I think the more people begin to become aware of the environmental impacts their food choices have, it becomes much harder to look the other way, and look past the importance of organic food. We are starting to see an increase in demand for organic produce and products though, seeing an expansion in their availability over recent years.
What differentiates organic food from natural food and how can people be sure that what they are consuming is organic?
The general understanding of organics is food that has been grown naturally without the use of man-made fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, irradiating food and GMOs. But organics is so much more than this. It’s a system that preserves the integrity of the soil, flora and fauna, considering the impact on the wider environment like your local streams and rivers. It’s a long term approach to farming, rather than looking for only quick turnover and profit at the cost of the environment and our health.
The term 'natural' is largely unregulated and can mean a lot of things, unless its backed up with other information to support its legitimacy, I would never trust the term ‘natural’ on its own. When I first started Little Bird, I had a few problems with ingredient shortages and ended up having to use some non-organic ingredients, only to find out that they didn’t sprout because they had been irradiated. For me, this is a big red flag, as it means your food has been stripped of all it’s vitality.
Organic certification is a great way of ensuring that your products are organic, but that’s not always possible for every farmer or company to do. It can be a very expensive process, or hard to obtain depending on the circumstances. Therefore, always read the backs of the labels, and remember that ‘organic’ doesn’t always mean ‘healthy’, you can still have highly processed organic food.
This is similar to the fashion industry. Does greenwashing also affect the food industry?
I have been caught out a few times lately by assuming things about a company based on their great marketing, which has made me get back to reading everything in detail.
When it comes to natural foods or labels like ‘spray free’ you have to use your initiative and ask questions. Look for transparency and honesty from the company, so you can be sure that what they are saying is what they are doing, and always look for wholefoods ingredients and products that are minimally processed.
What is your personal food philosophy?
Eat an abundance of fresh organic plant-based wholefoods, and avoid highly processed foods – if you don’t recognise an ingredient, don’t eat it. There are so many reasons why this is so important to me. For the environment, ethics, and my own personal health.
Listen to your body, and learn what it thrives on. We are all so genetically varied. Different people thrive on different foods, and at different times. Don’t get stuck on fad diets, Chinese and Japanese have been eating high carbohydrate diets for centuries and are some of the healthiest people on the planet with the greatest longevity. Experiment a little with your body, and find out whether a meal rich in carbohydrates gives you more energy, or gives you an afternoon slump, or whether a meal rich in healthy fats gives you a greater boost. Always eat seasonally, and don’t be too rigid in your approach (unless it’s for a medical reason), don’t count calories, and instead learn to eat intuitively.
For me, I find that eating a seasonal diet abundant in greens, healthy fats and fermented foods is best for my body.
You recently released your second recipe book. Where do you get your ideas?
There are so many places to get inspiration from with food. On the most part, inspiration for my second book has come from what I’ve craved. I love trying new things and ingredients, so I look at what produce is available, think about what I want to eat, and what is going to make me feel great.
This book is also filled with a lot more kid-friendly recipes. Having a child really changed my approach to wholefoods, as it wasn’t just about what appealed to my tastebuds anymore, everything had to get the seal of approval from a fussy toddler. I had to really try and recreate plant-based wholefoods versions of classics like burgers, snickers and ice cream that were just as delicious, but filled with an abundance of nutrition.
What recipe would you share with sceptical people to challenge their perception of a plant-based diet?
Desserts are always my go to when it comes to seducing someone into the world of plant-based eating. This Raw Cacao and Raspberry Summer Torte often does the trick, providing that decadent richness you’d get from pure chocolate and cream, but made with simple wholefoods ingredients instead. Once you feed somebody a slice, they are a whole lot more open to the idea of a plant-based diet and just how delicious and flavourful the food can be.
You also have a degree in environmental science. What environmental issues are concerning you, and how can people take action?
All of them! I think of the environment like I do my own health. There is not one issue that needs fixing, but instead a holistic approach is required to understand how everything is linked together, and why. If my hormones are out of balance, I’m not just going to pop a pill, I’m going to figure out what is leading to that imbalance, why it’s happening, and what steps I can take to fix it.
When it comes to the environment, we are the problem. Collectively, we are all guilty, and need to change our consumer habits and approach to life, in order to reduce our impact and find a way to live in harmony, and restore balance to the whole ecosystem.
That’s why I’m so passionate about what I do. If there’s one thing we can all do to make a big difference, its to consume an organic plant-based diet. It can drastically reduce our impact on the environment, as well as benefiting our own personal health at the same time.
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