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international women's day 2022 - an interview with ms dynamite

Updated: Mar 9, 2022



I'm just grateful for the joy of eating! And all the preparation and love and energy that’s gone into it. And the earth where the food is coming from!


i sat down with Black british icon ms dynamite to talk veganism, haggis and the difference between a bake and a fried dumpling. read along for the recipe for her favourite dish!




sisterwoman: how would you describe your diet? do you subscribe to any labels?


Ms Dynamite: I definitely wouldn't put myself in any box or give my dietary lifestyle any kind of label to be honest. I like to practise listening to my body and being in tune with my body and going through natural phases. Being in tune with the environment, the season, and just more observing the kind of things I feel like eating as opposed to having the discipline to put myself in a specific category of eating.


sisterwoman: have you gone through phases or has it always been the way you've eaten?


Ms Dynamite: I’ve definitely subscribed to labels; I've been vegan, I've been a pescatarian, I've been a total carnivore… I’ve definitely gone through phases over the years, but even that was based on my feelings. Now a lot more people are strict vegans, suddenly I’m not! But for me it wasn’t about anything other than how I felt at the time. My body was like let me try this now, it’s time for a shift.



I wasn’t intentionally on that journey until I started doing a wellbeing course, and part of it just happened to go into food and its effects on the body, why we crave certain foods and stuff like that. There were things that really resonated with me emotionally, in terms of the links between emotional eating and food. It just really fascinated me, and it also helped me to identify some things within myself that I had never even considered. I guess then it became real for me.




sisterwoman: what was your experience with veganism like?


Ms Dynamite: You know what, it was amazing. It changed my life. It was for quite a long period of time, and I just remember feeling really aligned, in flow, healthy. I remember thinking when I first started to become a vegan that I couldn’t imagine not eating meat and being full up. I didn’t realise this at the time but the thing I was always looking for from food was to feel full up. I couldn’t imagine not eating meat, but something in me just didn’t want to eat it anymore. So I made the shift very quickly, I just made it happen, and I felt the benefits of it straight away. I didn't fully understand then, because I didn’t fully understand the relationship between food and how we feel. I just suddenly felt like not eating meat and I felt better within myself. I felt lighter, I just felt a way I never expected to feel. I felt more healthy, like I had more energy, more happy, you know?



credit ms dynamite 2021


s: you definitely seem to lean towards a more intuitive style of eating. has that ever been difficult for you?


Ms Dynamite: Food has always been a massive part of my life, I’ve always loved it. I don't feel like I’ve been much of a fussy eater - I like most things give or take - but then I might be fussy about the way I eat something or the way that it’s prepared or something like that. I don't think I’ve ever found it “difficult”, although when I was a strict vegan that was really challenging at the time as there weren’t as many options as there are now. At that time I was touring loads, and you go to places that just didn't understand the concept of veganism. Particularly at that time, before the recent evolution of food and food awareness. Our perceptions about food have changed so much and advanced so much in such a short space of time.


s: oh definitely, I've been vegan since 2014 and there’s been such an acceleration in that short time alone! what brought you to understanding the connection between food and overall wellness?


MD: I guess I did have some understanding because my brother was a vegan long before I was, and I knew he did it for health reasons, but actually I remember I was having some issues with my skin and that was the first thing that made me think about trying something different. Thinking about it now I probably did have some kind of unconscious awareness of the connection between food and wellness, but I wasn’t intentionally on that journey until I started doing a wellbeing course, and part of it just happened to go into food and its effects on the body, why we crave certain foods and stuff like that. There were things that really resonated with me emotionally, in terms of the links between emotional eating and food. It just really fascinated me, and it also helped me to identify some things within myself that I had never even considered. I guess then it became real for me. As well as, “oh my skin’s gotten better and I feel like I have energy that I didn’t think I’d have, and I can now see some information that feels very relevant”.


I wouldn't class myself as a conscious eater, I kind of eat what I feel and if I’m totally honest about it, sometimes how I feel is not conscious, you know! But it’s a practice, and the majority of the time, if not always, there’s gratitude with whatever it is that I’m eating, because there are so many people on the planet that are not eating, not able to eat, not able to have a choice or conversation about being picky and choosy about their diet or what’s best for their health. Also just grateful for the joy of eating! And all the preparation and love and energy that’s gone into it. And the earth where the food is coming from!





s: how was your relationship with food first cultivated?


MD: I first really learned how to actually cook when I left home, because I wasn’t really allowed to cook in the house. When I would go to my gran’s I would always watch, but my grandad was the real chef in the house and he didn’t really want women in the kitchen when he was cooking. Of all the jobs that I was made to do, I wasn’t allowed to cook. Saying that, I did used to bake with my stepmum when I was a child, which I loved. I really enjoyed the whole process of mixing and stirring and then it came out transformed! I really enjoyed that, but in terms of actual cooking when I left home as a teenager it was just trial and error. I’d made a few dishes here and there before then, and I was amazing at a fry up, but in terms of real cooking and exploring and venturing out and trying different things, that started when I moved out. It started on a real budget first, which was interesting. I can’t totally remember what meals I made but because I’m very creative I would never have something in a straightforward way, I’d always have to add a little bit of this or a little bit of that, and it was a long process of trial and error. Some things were disgusting, but because I didn’t have money I still just had to eat them! I’ve always loved food, but I probably fell even more in love with it once I grew up a little bit and was able to buy foods that I liked and was able to cook for my family. I think then I was just beyond in love. I maybe didn't realise then the connections between creativity and being expressive and the love that you put into your food. The whole concept and expression and ceremony of having a family dinner or family gathering and that preparation of that food. I hadn’t consciously thought about that whole process and what that means to me - as a mum, sister, daughter, a maternal figure within the family. That brought even more things to life for me about cooking.



I feel like it would be great to see information about food - taught in schools, spoken about in homes, just across the board. From my personal journey with food and my own experience and the things I’ve seen other people experience, food is so important and so vital to our quality of life, often to our health, to our state of mind. It can either support a healthy lifestyle or it can sort of deplete us. Having information helps us to make more aware and informed choices, and I guess if we are fortunate enough to be in a position where we do get to choose what we’re eating, we can create either better habits for ourselves or just a more conscious relationship with our food and with our eating. And that’s not at all to sound like some preacher that is conscious of what I’m eating all the time, it’s definitely not like that, I just say it because I’ve learned a bit of stuff that’s helping me and it would be great if information was more readily available and accessible and relatable. Why would that not be an amazing thing?



s: being Black and mixed race has been a large part of your identity. what are some of your favourite food memories from jamaica and scotland?


MD: I really remember going to Scotland for the first time as a child with my brothers and sisters and my mum and having haggis, and just thinking “oh my gosh, no way, this can’t be real, this can’t be true”. I also remember all of my Scottish aunties, great aunts - oh my god. They baked their own bread, they made scones, they made cakes, they made shortbread. They made all the “naughty” stuff, but they were melt in your mouth, magic that I've never tasted anything like again!


On my Caribbean side, I’m actually biologically Jamaican, but my step dad is Grenadian, my godfather is Guyanese, one of my grandad’s is from Barbados, so what was really interesting was going to all the different houses and they all come from different islands but then you suddenly realise they cook things just that slightly bit different or they might have different names for the same things. So one house I might be saying, can I have a bake? And hearing back “it's not a bake, it’s a fried dumpling!”



s: you’re the oldest daughter of THIRTEEN kids! what was a typical dinner table scene for you growing up?


MD: Depending on the period of time that you pick, when we were younger we went through quite humble periods. A funny thing about being mixed race, in terms of cuisine, is that there are Black people’s broke dishes and then there are white people’s broke dishes, English and Caribbean, so on one side we’d constantly be having egg and chips, and on the other we’d be having corned beef and rice. There would always be joy, and there would more than likely be a Caribbean roast dinner or a more English/UK roast dinner.


S: I’m definitely stirring the pot here, but which is your favourite?


MD: It’s definitely a mixture of both, I guess Caribbean, with added roast potatoes, and I probably would add some English veg in there. I really like my broccoli.



Ms Dynamite pictured with her mum and some of her 13 siblings. credit @ms_dynamite



S: You moved into a hostel when you were a teenager. How did your living space impact your relationship with food?


MD: I had access to a cooker and I was able to cook, but you didn’t have a lot of money to spend on cooking and it was a communal kitchen - I moved to a few places, and the kitchen was always shared. Depending on the hostel, you didn’t necessarily wanna spend time in the space. There were different periods, some places I loved and I loved being there and I loved cooking. I’d even save my Jobseeker’s Allowance, don’t ask me how, and I would cook for my friends at the weekend and they’d all come round. I remember the kinds of things I used to make, they were also hit and miss… It would just be things like tuna pasta, similar to student meals I guess. There was a long period that I went through where I wasn’t really eating at all, and sometimes I would just drink a can of Nourishment. There were lots of different and difficult periods during that time.



s: growing up it was corned beef and rice or egg and chips, but what was your personal go-to “struggle meal” as an independent adult?


MD: Ooooh! You know what I used to love? I used to make a tomato sauce with tinned tomatoes and tuna, season it up, then make some rice and fried dumplings, and I’d do a big pot and that would just last me for days. It was so filling and I would dip my fried dumpling in the tomato sauce and sometimes add a likkle sweetcorn for sweetness.



s: this may have been a late noughties fever dream, but do I remember correctly that you were on a celebrity cooking show?


MD: Yeah I was! Hell’s Kitchen with Marco Pierre White.


s: how was that experience?


MD: It was interesting, really interesting. Interesting that it kind of… just wasn’t for me. The intention was completely about cooking and what I was gonna learn about being a chef, and cheffing skills and knowledge, but it didn’t end up being that for me. I guess I did learn a little bit more about what chefs experience, like the pressure on chefs and the chaos. I would never have known in a million years that when I get my plate of food when I’m sat down in a restaurant, behind the doors people are losing the plot to get that food out there on time!


s: on minimum wage as well, most of the time.


MD: On minimum wage, on minimum sleep! So yeah I got a bit of experience and understanding in that way. I didn’t learn loads about food but I did randomly fall in love with asparagus. I mean fall in love. I’ve been obsessed with it ever since.


s: what’s your favourite way to eat it?


MD: Literally just steamed lightly. I could eat it by itself. I could just sit there and eat asparagus the way people eat chips. Just a little bit of crunch!



Credit ITV. Ms Dynamite pictured with her Hell's Kitchen costars


s: what was your diet like when you were on the show?


MD: At that time I was a pescatarian, and not long after is when I became vegan. Obviously I have this confident, stereotypically strong exterior, but then I have this super sensitive internal being and when I saw them doing things like throwing crabs into boiling water I just could not bear it. I just left the room and teared up, it felt too much for me. There were a few other tasks like chopping certain things and I was like nah this is all too real.


What was really amazing was that when I had a chat with Marco about it we had a good debate. He said something along the lines of, “you don’t wanna harm those animals but you still eat fish. Every lunchtime I see you eating some kind of fillet, but you’re not willing to get your hands dirty”. I suddenly kind of felt like a coward, like, it’s really true! I would never wanna harm an animal, but because it’s in a packet, I never thought it was really an animal. I was like “Ni, how did you miss that?” I’ll be like “don’t hurt the spiders, don’t hurt the ants, get a paper cup and put them outside!”, but I’d never made that link before.



s: that reminds me of an angela davis quote, “most people don’t think about the fact they’re eating animals. when they’re eating a steak or eating chicken, most people don’t think about the tremendous suffering that those animals endure simply to become food products to be consumed by human beings”. we’ve become so removed from the entire process! so many people see meat and fish as separate and ethically different.


MD: It’s all life! It’s about our perception. I feel like once I had that realisation it was like “oh yeah, obviously”. Meat had always been such a part of my life culturally in terms of the food I’d eat on both sides of my heritage. On the Caribbean side there was also “veganism” from the beginning, but when you were younger and it wasn’t so popular to be a vegetarian, it just seemed boring.


Your journey is personal, and hard and fast rules just don’t work for everyone. It’s probably a little controversial but for me, one example from my hostel days is when I would maybe experience really low emotion I would just eat crap, fast food or constant fry ups and greasy whatever. That was a comfort for me and I needed to eat that then. There were loads of other things I needed then that would have been more healthy or capable of fixing the problem but those things weren’t available to me, whereas a chicken burger was. I feel like within my journey with food one of the really interesting things that I ultimately feel like it’s about for me is my intention. I could be vegan for example and I could talk about not harming animals, and I can potentially have all of this information about how all of this is so good for your health, but I could still have a very negative or low expression and I could be judgemental and all of these other things that aren't harm to animals but they're still harmful in the world. There are different ways of causing harm. I’m also aware that our eating and the harm that we can cause is a reflection of what we are collectively feeling on the inside and that is something that also needs to be addressed. We can’t make changes if we don’t know why we are eating the things that we are eating.









rice n peas, dark leafy greens and plantain are some of ms dynamite's staples. credit sisterwoman vegan.



s: what are your top 3 favourite foods you can't live without?


MD: Callaloo, avocado and plantain. Special mention goes to pistachios!


s: Island gal fi real fi tru! what’s your go to when you want to cook something nourishing for yourself?



MD: Salmon and a salad and greens.


s: what was the last meal you ate that brought you joy?


MD: My lunch today actually brought me joy: rice n peas with a chickpea and broadbean stew and callaloo with a likkle bit of salad. The rice n peas felt really comforting as always and the stew was also really warming. It wasn't home cooked but it felt like a real home cooked meal.







MS DYNAMITE’S FAVOURITE DISH


“And my reason is because it just sounds like a hot mess and it kind of is a hot mess. It looks like a stew with cauliflower rice by the time it's done, but the thing is, I kind of like to eat slop…

It's really bad because people make me food or I eat out, and it could be so amazing in the presentation but I always just mix it all together. And if there's a sauce of whatever it is, I will drown whatever it is I’m eating in the sauce. I don’t want soup all the time but I basically eat as if I'm eating soup because I want it to be that wet all the time. Sorry, that's so random. So basically, this is kind of like slop. It's not even a dish, I have to just be honest…”




Spicy tomato and lentil stew with turmeric cauliflower rice


Serves 2


Ingredients


Spicy stew:


1/2 scotch bonnets (adjust heat as required)

1 400ml can of chopped tomatoes

1 red pepper, seeded and roughly chopped

1 inch ginger

3 cloves of garlic

1 red onion

1 tsp thyme

1 tsp curry powder

1 bay leaf

3 dried apricots, chopped

Handful of cashews, walnuts and pistachios, roughly chopped

½ cup cooked lentils

Handful each of kale and spinach

Salt and pepper


Cauliflower rice:


½ Cauliflower

½ onion

1 tsp garlic powder

1 inch ginger, grated

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp coconut oil

Salt and pepper


To serve:


Pomegranate seeds

Scotch bonnet, finely chopped

1 avocado, thinly sliced

¼ cucumber, thinly sliced

Fried plantain



Method


  1. Blend together the scotch bonnets, tomatoes, red pepper, ginger, onion and garlic.

  2. Fry off your spices (thyme, curry powder, bay leaf) in a drizzle of coconut or sunflower oil until fragrant, then add the tomato mixture. Continue on a medium low heat until the mixture thickens and gets darker.

  3. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

  4. After 10 minutes, add your cooked lentils, nuts and apricots and leave to simmer on a low heat.

  5. In a food processor, make your cauliflower rice by pulsing until the cauliflower is in small, rice sized pieces.

  6. Fry your onion until translucent and fragrant.

  7. Add the ginger to the onion, along with the garlic powder and turmeric. Once fragrant, add the cauliflower rice and a pinch of salt and pepper and stir for 3-5 minutes until the cauliflower is soft.

  8. Add your green veg to the stew and stir until wilted.



Serve with a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds and chopped scotch bonnets, some thinly sliced avocado and cucumber and some fried plantain.
















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