‘Why I gave up meat’ – Frankie & The Heartstrings frontman Frankie Francis on going ‘vegequarian’

Frankie & The Heartstrings
Frankie & The Heartstrings
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It’s National Vegetarian Week and the perfect opportunity for all you meat eaters to give it a go. Cara Houchen speaks to Frankie & the Heartstrings frontman Frankie Francis about why he gave the burgers the boot plus we bring you some easy recipes to try.

MILLIONS of people around the world live without meat or fish and they probably each have their own reasons for doing so.

 From animal cruelty and sustainable food source issues, to it just being a healthier lifestyle option, making the choice to change your diet can be simple and rewarding.

 Singer Frankie Francis has been ‘vegequarian’ as he calls it since leaving school. He said: “The technical name is pescetarian – basically, I still eat fish.”

 The 27-year-old musician, who is the frontman for Frankie & The Heartstrings, made the change as he felt at the time he was eating too much rubbish.

 “It seemed the easiest way to cut out the crap,” explained Frankie. “I’ve never looked back since.

 “At first it was hard, especially when I was coming home to macaroni cheese every day, because my mum thought that was all vegetarians could eat! But it just became a way of life.

 “I don’t miss meat – occasionally on tour when the other lads are tucking into a hot chicken dish and I’m hunting round for a cold salad it can be tough, but the choices now are a lot better.”

 He added: “I’m the only one in the band who is vegetarian, the rest are red-blooded meateaters, so they do take the mick out of me. On tour in countries like Spain or America they don’t really cater as well for us non-meateaters, but usually I don’t have a problem.”

 But what do vegetarians eat? Well, Frankie says the choices available are fantastic, especially for people like him who are on the road a lot and busy.

 He said: “Now they have Marks and Spencer Simply range in service stations I’m spoilt for choice – it’s not just a Ginsters cheese pasty on offer these days.

 “When I’m cooking I follow the same recipes as everyone else, I just take out the meat or I use fish, tofu or Quorn. They are great substitutes.”

 Frankie went vegetarian to improve his diet and he says he’s now eating a lot more fruit and veg than he would have done.  

 He said: “I don’t eat processed food at all. It’s surprising what foods you can use to substitute meat. You can get protein from nuts but as I have a nut allergy, I get mine from fish and protein shakes.

 “I don’t feel like I go without anything and I’m an active supporter of vegetarianism, but I would say take a look at all the information before you make the decision.”

 He added: “I don’t think we make a connection between meat and where it comes from. My reasons for taking meat out of my diet weren’t motivated by the treatment of animals, that came later, but I couldn’t have killed an animal and ate it.

 “Saying that, as a kid I would see a chicken in a supermarket looking perfect and pop it in the oven without a second thought. Society needs to be more connected with where meat comes from. If you buy cheap meat you have to expect to be eating other things. I didn’t gloat when the horse meat scandal hit, but you get what you pay for.”

 Frankie, from Houghton, says that being a vegetarian has broadened his food horizons. He said: “My favourite dish is veggie moussaka. People need to realise that you don’t just have to eat chips for tea – although potatoes are very versatile!

 “Everyone should give it a try this week. You’ll be surprised how much healthier your diet is and how much cheaper it is too.”

•For more information on National Vegetarian Week visit www.nationalvegetarianweek.org

NATIONAL Vegetarian Week 2013 starts today and is setting out to prove that going meat-free is surprisingly simple.

 Liz O’Neill, head of communications at the Vegetarian Society, said: “Going vegetarian is fun, tasty and seriously rewarding, and there’s never been a better time to enjoy a meat-free lifestyle. Our world is complicated enough and this one, surprisingly simple, change will benefit your health, the environment and animals. It’s not rocket science, it’s just delicious.”

 She added: “I went vegetarian 25 years ago because of ethical concerns about the treatment of animals and those remain a key reason for people going veggie today, but a balanced, meat-free diet is also a really healthy one and is much more sustainable than one built around meat.

 “Making any big change in your lifestyle can be daunting, of course, but there is lots of help out there, including loads of information on the Vegetarian Society website and a range of helpful leaflets that you can order or download free of charge.”

 Liz added: “Meat reduction is one of the biggest trends in food consumption these days. People are becoming more and more aware of the environmental impact of the meat industry and every time something like the horse meat scandal occurs, the general population finds out a little more about how animals are treated before they are turned into somebody’s dinner.

 “Bad news is a key motivator for many people changing their eating habits, but there’s also a really positive side. Good quality vegetarian food is available in every supermarket and the vast majority of restaurants these days – a vegetarian diet is delicious, nutritious and sustainable, what’s not to like?”

 She added: “Vegetarian food is as varied as your imagination. I personally really like tofu stir fries, veggie chillis and anything with spinach and pine nuts, but if you prefer food that looks and tastes like meat then there is plenty available in the shops. Balanced vegetarian diets have all the nutrients you need for every stage of life, from pregnancy and childhood through to marathon runners. People sometimes worry about the protein and iron that they are used to getting from meat but there is plenty of protein in pulses (such as beans and peas), soya, eggs, dairy products, nuts, seeds and meat substitutes such as Quorn.

 “Iron is found in leafy green vegetables, chick peas, lentils, tofu and all sorts of fortified foods like breakfast cereals. In fact, even meat eaters get 85 per cent of their iron from vegetarian foods. I have two children who have been vegetarian from birth and the rate at which they outgrow their clothes certainly doesn’t indicate anything lacking in their diet!”

Recipes to try

Anne’s Mushroom Stroganoff

Serves four

Preparation time 10 minutes

Cooking time 15-20 minutes



1 tbsp olive oil

250g mushrooms, sliced

Two shallots, chopped

One red pepper, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

250ml vegetable stock

½ tsp dried, crushed chillies

110g basmati rice

200ml soya single cream

Ground black pepper, to taste


1. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and then add the mushrooms, shallots and red pepper. Cook until they soften and most of the liquid has disappeared. Add the garlic and cook for two more minutes.

2. Add the vegetable stock and chillies to the frying pan. Cook for seven minutes, until about half of the liquid has reduced.

3. While cooking, begin to cook the rice according to packet instructions.

4. Add the cream and a generous amount of pepper to the stroganoff, then simmer for approximately five minutes, stirring frequently.

5. Once cooked, spoon out the rice onto plates and spoon the stroganoff on top.

Enjoy with garlic bread.

(Recipe created by Anne Clark, from Brentwood, for the Vegetarian Society’s ‘surprisingly simple’ member recipe competition)

Ruby’s Cookie Pie

Serves 12

Preparation time 30 minutes

Cooking time one hour

Can be vegan*


For the pie base: 
110g dairy-free margarine

250g plain flour
80g sugar
1 egg (*or egg substitute)
For the cookie filling:
Two eggs (*or egg substitute)
65g plain flour
115g sugar
100g brown sugar
170g dairy free margarine, softened
150g dairy free chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 160C.

2. For the base: crumb together the margarine and flour then add the sugar and mix in the egg*. Roll out the mixture and put into pie dish.

3. For the filling: beat the eggs* in large mixing bowl, until foamy.

4. Beat in the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar and, finally, margarine.

5. Stir in chocolate chips and spoon the mixture into the pie base.

6. Bake for 55-60 minutes. Cool slightly on wire rack. Serve warm.

* If using egg substitute, use according to packet instructions.

(Recipe created by Ruby Clemans from Torquay for the Vegetarian Society’s ‘Surprisingly simple’ member recipe competition)