DENISE L'ESTRANGE-CORBET, World-brand fashionista, columnist and agony aunt, is perhaps best known for wowing the international fashion community on catwalks and high streets.
To New Zealanders, she is well known for speaking her mind! But did you know that since she was 13, Denise has held steadfastly to her belief that to share the planet with animals means not serving them on your plate.
Why did you become Veg and when?
I became vegetarian on the 31st December 1973.
What’s the greatest thing about being Veg?
The greatest thing about being a vegetarian is, knowing that in my lifetime I have saved at LEAST one cow, one sheep, one pig, a turkey, a few chickens and lots of fish from ending up on my plate; and sparing them the ordeal of being killed, that for me is my contribution for sharing this planet.
How did you make the change?
Easily. I was 13 years old and watching the 'News at Ten' at my cousins’ house in Battersea, London on their new colour TV, and they were making haggis for Hogmanay, and I sat and watched in horror. I had never seen anything so disgusting in my life. I had never really thought about meat before, and what we were actually putting inside our bodies. I decided from that moment on that I would never eat another animal slaughtered for my own selfish consumption. If people had to slaughter their own meat, I am sure the majority of people could not stomach it; it is heart wrenching to see a baby lamb killed so we can eat its dead body, because that is what it is. I find it abhorrent. However, my diet was quite limited and my mother went on and on about me not getting enough iron and nutrients, but she eventually gave up, as she could see I would not budge.
Was it hard to make the changes?
No, it was an incredibly easy. It is the only thing I have changed in my life and stuck to. I have never wanted or even been tempted to touch the stu" since that day, and if my mum sent me to the butcher’s for the family meat, I would write a note with what she wanted, and tap on the glass, and hold it up to the window outside. The butcher would bring it out into the street for me, and I would pay him for it. He would always growl at me, as he thought I was weird, but the smell of the dead bodies made my stomach lurch. My mother thought I was barmy and put it down to 'another one of her fads' as I had many, and my cousins were always saying things like, 'Have a sausage, we won't tell", but I did not want to. Even when I go back to London now, they always ask me, 'Are you still vegetarian?' They really should give up asking, it has been 39 years now!
Are your family and friends Veg too?
I have a few vegetarian friends, but they always eat fish and to me that is not vegetarian! None of my family is vegie and I do not put the hard word on them, unlike people did with me when they heard I was a vegetarian all those years ago. I could not believe how people reacted, so badly in fact, like I was the one in the wrong, when in fact it was them! I do not hassle them for eating meat, so they should not hassle me for not wanting to.
What’s your favourite food?
I love all things bad, cake especially! My favourite meal would be vegetarian sausages, mashed potato smothered in butter, peas and vegetarian gravy– ooh, my mouth is watering just talking about it! Or macaroni cheese with veggie cheese; my mother still makes the best macaroni cheese I have ever tasted.
What’s your favourite restaurant?
I love the vegetarian menu at 'Sidart' in Ponsonby. Sid Sahrawat does an amazing vegetarian degustation, which is sublime and such a treat from the normal 'pasta or pizza' I normally get o"ered when I say I am a vegetarian. I am always quizzical about how pizzas are called 'vegetarian' when the cheese has animal rennet;surely it should be vegetarian cheese? We still have a long way to go!
What is a typical day’s menu for you?
Toast and coffee for breakfast, sandwich for lunch if I have time, and anything veggie for dinner.
What do you do for fun?
Reading! I devour books, I love the written word, so any spare time, my head is in a book.
What do you do for fitness?
For fitness I go to Vibra Train in Victoria Street every other day, go to the gym twice a week and walk whenever I can.
What is the funniest thing someone has ever said to you about being Veg?
The funniest thing said to me was by my best friend Eileen's mother, Kathleen. The Higgins are a large, strict Irish catholic family, and in the late 1970s I was over at their large house in Balham, South West London, and her mother asked if I would like some ham sandwiches. Eileen said, "No mum, Denise is a vegetarian", and Kathleen said, "Oh, I am so sorry, (like I had some incurable disease), how about a nice chicken sandwich?" Eileen repeated, "No, Denise is vegetarian", so Kathleen said, "How about a nice beef burger?' Eileen, now exasperated, said, "DENISE IS A VEGETARIAN" and Kathleen replied, in her strong Irish accent, god bless her, "I KNOW what a vegetarian is, it is a person that does not eat vegetables!" After bursting out laughing, we both went out to eat! Her poor mother just did not get it! Eileen and I still laugh about it today.
Are there any challenges in being Veg?
There are no challenges to being a veggie, only huge benefits to your health and wellbeing.
Do you have advice for others about to Go Veg?
Just do it! Being a vegetarian is so much easier now than it was in 1973, but NZ still lacks good, ready-made vegetarian meals. I wish our supermarkets would get onto that, as sometimes you just want something quick and nutritious, and there is nothing but meat, meat and more bloody meat!