Everyone knows how significant a wedding day is, and for Zena Al Nazer and her groom it had to fit in with their ethical and moral beliefs…
When Isaac and I began planning our wedding we knew it had to be one that reflected our ethics and beliefs. At the time we met we had both been vegetarians since our teens. I’d almost given up on meeting a man who shared my animal rights beliefs, so you can imagine it was a very pleasant surprise to find out Isaac was a vegetarian too. We both went vegan about 6 months after we met and haven’t looked back! Our reasons for being vegan are mainly ethical and moral, but also environmental and health-related. We love experimenting with vegan cooking, baking and cheese making, and a lot of what we’ve created can be seen here: www.instagram.com/fiercevegan.
As food is an important part of our lives, getting the menu right for our wedding was a priority, especially as it would probably be the first all-vegan dinner many guests would ever have.
Finding a caterer
Our wedding was held at the beautiful Glengarriff Lodge in West Cork and, as far as we know, it was the first 100% vegan wedding in Ireland. The main challenge we faced in having a vegan wedding was the food. It was a challenge to find the right caterer for the event. You’d be surprised how many turned down the event by saying that they just wouldn’t be able to make vegan food. Unsurprisingly, most of the caterers we initially spoke with suggested roasted vegetables, cous-cous and salad. Essentially what non-vegans think vegans eat! We were very clear in our desire to create a menu to surprise our guests. We wanted them to come away from our wedding thinking “Wow! Vegan food is delicious, filling and not at all what I expected!” We knew that most people thought they would be munching on carrot sticks and eating lettuce all day, and we wanted to show them that vegan food can be so much more than that!
Sorting a menu
Through a series of fortuitous events, we were lucky enough to secure Eunice Power (www.eunicepower.com) as the caterer for our wedding. It would be her first vegan event, but from the outset Eunice threw herself into the challenge with gusto. I sent her a number of vegan cookbooks for inspiration and filled her in on a few key vegan ingredients she may want to work with. Things like seitan (vital wheat gluten) and jackfruit may be commonplace ingredients for vegan foodies, but for those who eat an omni-diet you might as well be speaking a foreign language. Eunice put together a spectacular menu and I’m confident that without her and her team our wedding wouldn’t have been the success it was.
The food was served tapas style on the table, so guests could help themselves to as much as they wanted. We served the following wines with the dinner (both vegan): White – Casa Roscoli, Pinot Grigio, Italy, 2015; Red – Cantino Volpi, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Italy, 2014. It was a lot of fun holding blind tastings! Serving only vegan wines limited our choices a bit, but we wanted all aspects of our wedding to reflect our values.
We served midnight snacks of vegan burgers, sausages and fries. We were okay using frozen vegan food for the snacks – we wanted tasty junk food to keep everyone’s energy up, to make sure they didn’t go home saying they were hungry, and to show them that vegan burgers and sausages can be delicious! Eunice used Fry’s (www.frysvegetarian.co.uk) and I was very impressed. Eunice put her own touches on it all by serving the burgers on beautiful fresh baps with fried onions, ketchup and mustard.
Having a vegan wedding is about more than just the food. As we didn’t want to wear leather, we both sourced our footwear from online stores that specialise in vegan shoes. Isaac’s shoes were from Wills Vegan Shoes (wills-vegan-shoes.com) and mine were from Elegant Steps. We also both chose to wear vintage. Isaac wore his father’s wedding suit – a white 1970’s Italian handmade suit – and I wore a vintage 1970’s white dress that I bought in Dirty Fabulous boutique (www.dirtyfabulous.com), Dublin. My flower crowns, and those of my bridesmaid and flower girls, were designed and created by Hanna at Hanako Floral Studio (hanako.ie) in West Cork. We both love the wild, natural look that West Cork landscape epitomises and we designed our day with this in mind. We trusted Hanna so much that we let her design all the flowers herself, including colour! Hanna grows almost all her flowers at her farm in West Cork, so we knew that her flowers would fit in perfectly with the look we wanted. As much as possible we wanted to use local suppliers and we were so happy to find a perfect florist in our locality. The cake also deserves a special mention. It was created by Rachel Dare at Organico café in Bantry. I always loved Rachel’s vegan chocolate cherry cake and was delighted when she agreed to turn it into a wedding cake.
It must be said that many non-vegan guests didn’t react well when told the wedding would be vegan. Some even asked why we couldn’t have a vegetarian wedding instead. We found that very funny! Why do people find the word ‘vegan’ so scary? We had to endure vegan ‘jokes’ and countless questions and we were even told it was embarrassing that no meat would be served. It took a long time before people finally realised that having a non-vegan wedding was not an option.
If I were to give one piece of advice to other vegans planning a wedding, it would be: Don’t tell anyone your wedding is going to be vegan. It’s none of their business! Plan the wedding the way you want it. Plan the menu that you want. Guests can find out when they arrive that there won’t be animal products served. They may not even notice and, if they do, it’s too late to say anything about it. My mistake was telling people in advance. This opened me up to criticism and questions from ‘well-meaning’ family members and friends. In an ‘ordinary’ wedding (for want of a better word), the bride and groom only discuss the menu with the venue, the caterer and a select few people close to them. Why any different if the wedding is vegan? Keep your cards close to your chest and remember the day is about the bride and groom. Don’t worry about pleasing everyone, because it can’t be done.
Another piece of advice would be: Make sure you have lots of food! Guests may go home complaining there was no meat, but don’t let them go home complaining that there wasn’t enough food! Feed them, feed them, feed them! When our guests arrived at the venue, they were met by waiters serving a selection of either a non-alcoholic Elderflower Fizz or Bombay Sapphire Gin and Tonic. After the ceremony was a champagne reception with vegan canapés, which included quesadillas, sushi and cones of roasted nuts. That, along with the dinner and the late night snacks, meant that our guests were eating at almost every possible opportunity – which was the plan.
Ultimately it was so special to have a wedding that reflected our beliefs. We’re happy we stuck to our guns and didn’t let popular opinion sway us. We want other vegan couples to know it’s possible to have a vegan wedding and, even more so, that it’s possible for everyone (non-vegans included) to enjoy it. In fact, months later, guests are still talking about the food. We consider this a win for vegans everywhere!
If I could have done things differently, I wouldn’t have discussed the menu with people in advance or worried so much about pleasing everyone. I would have focused more on myself and my groom, instead of on my guests. It’s very hard to switch out of hostess mode, but it’s so important to do. If I could do it all again, I would have spent more time just standing still and enjoying the moment. Everyone always says it but it’s true – the day flies by and soon it will be just a fond memory.
Our dinner menu was as follows…
- Baba ganouch, beetroot hummus and Kalamata olives on the tables with flatbread
- Tempeh Kibbeh with cucumber and mint yoghurt
- Roast aubergine with pomegranate molasses, walnut and coriander pesto, pomegranate seeds
- A salad of rocket, onion and roast squash, crushed pistachio and quinoa
- Little cups of roast tomato soup with basil oil
- Braised rissoles with black beans, butternut squash, roast garlic, roast red pepper and chilli sauce
- Aubergine, chickpea, mushroom and apricot tagine, lots of coriander and toasted almonds
- Tabbouleh with pistachios
- Roast baby potatoes with garlic rosemary and thyme
- Summer peas, asparagus and purple sprouting broccoli with garlic and fresh herb oil and hazelnuts
- Dressed organic green leaves
Knickerbocker glory served with coffee and chocolate cherry cake