TVHICETVOERGYAN

As the lat­est global food trend, plant-based din­ing is be­ing taken very se­ri­ously by chefs around the world

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - On Sunday -

ONCE upon a time, the word ve­gan was a bit of culi­nary joke, as­so­ci­ated with nut roast, lentil curry and a bad case of wind. But now ve­gan is one of the most ap­peal­ing food trends and, im­por­tantly, it is also be­com­ing de­li­cious.

It has helped the ve­gan cause that a suc­ces­sion of global is­sues have plagued an­i­mal and fish pro­duc­tion, such as bird flu, mad cow dis­ease, can­cer links with cured meats and links be­tween some an­i­mal fats and heart dis­ease. Not to men­tion con­cerns over ev­ery­thing from foie gras pro­duc­tion and the cru­elty of in­ten­sive fac­tory farm­ing, to ex­ces­sive hor­mone use in feed and over-fish­ing.

Aus­tralia is the third fastest grow­ing mar­ket in the world for ve­gan foods, with the value of ve­gan-la­belled food mush­room­ing from $135.9m in 2015 to $153m in 2016, ac­cord­ing to re­search by Euromon­i­tors In­ter­na­tional. This has been driven in a large part by the non-dairy cat­e­gory, which in­cludes soy, co­conut and nut milk.

The grow­ing in­ter­est in plant-based cui­sine has had an amaz­ing im­pact. Top restau­rants such as 11 Madi­son Park and Blue Hills in the US, and Os­te­ria Frances­cana in Italy, are now will­ing to cre­ate ve­gan menus for ta­bles of guests. Mario Batali’s Del Posto, an up­scale Ital­ian restau­rant in New York, of­fers both veg­e­tar­ian and ve­gan menus.

World me­dia is go­ing crazy for dishes like salt-baked turnips cracked at your ta­ble at P.Y.T. in LA, the black rice ve­gan sushi at Be­yond Sushi in New York and David Chang’s meat-free burger that looks, tastes, and even bleeds like meat at Mo­mo­fuku Nishi, also in New York.

On the other side of the At­lantic, Lon­don has the raw ve­gan menu at Nama in Not­ting Hill, the ve­gan fine din­ing menu at Vanilla Black and the ve­gan de­gus­ta­tion at Lyle’s in Lon­don’s East End. Paris is also in the grip of a veg­etable rev­o­lu­tion. Top chef Alain Pas­sard has de­clared this “the golden age of veg­eta­bles”. He and fel­low top chef Alain Du­casse have cre­ated veg­etabledriven menus, though can’t go fully ve­gan as Pas­sard needs a lit­tle but­ter for his sautees and pra­lines, and it’s the Comte cheese that makes Du­casse’s cau­li­flower and black truf­fle Wellington sing.

It is Ber­lin, how­ever, that is con­sid­ered the ve­gan cap­i­tal of Europe. The city boasts 60 ve­gan restau­rants, which serve the 80,000 ve­gans liv­ing there – 10 per cent of Ger­many’s ve­gan pop­u­la­tion. Hold the bratwurst sausage.

At the other end of the din­ing spec­trum, ve­gan fast food is also on the rise. The big chains in Aus­tralia are start­ing to come to the meat-free party with com­pa­nies such as Sub­way, Domino’s, Nando’s and Go Sushi of­fer­ing veg­e­tar­ian and ve­gan menu op­tions.

More and more eater­ies are op­er­at­ing un­der the clean eat­ing ban­ner. Cru­elty Free Shop has stores in Bris­bane, Syd­ney, Can­berra and Mel­bourne, sell­ing more than 3500 ve­gan prod­ucts, in­clud­ing 50 ve­gan cheeses. An in­creas­ing num­ber of Aus­tralian con­sumers are into any­thing branded ve­gan, even if they don’t live as ve­gans. It seems “ve­gan” is the new foodie buzz­word.

Over the last year, Google searches con­tain­ing the word “ve­gan” have spiked dra­mat­i­cally with more searches per capita made in Aus­tralia than in any other coun­try.

A grow­ing un­der­stand­ing of the en­vi­ron­men­tal cost of meat pro­duc­tion, in­clud­ing its im­pact on green­house gas emis­sions, and the is­sue of agri­cul­tural run-off, makes the idea of a veg­etabledriven diet more at­trac­tive and, for some, also the right thing to do.

De­spite that, there still aren’t that many true ve­gans out there. The num­ber of Aus­tralians eat­ing a mainly veg­e­tar­ian diet has risen by over 23 per cent in the last four years, ac­cord­ing to Roy Mor­gan re­search. As of March last year, 2.1 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in Aus­tralia said they ate a com­plete or mainly veg­e­tar­ian diet. That makes up 11.2 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion. This trend, dubbed “flex­i­tar­ian eat­ing” by one of the US’S hottest diet books, shows a bur­geon­ing in­ter­est in plant-based di­ets.

This is all begs the ques­tion – can you be a part-time ve­gan? Given the food pol­i­tics, ethics and ecol­ogy in the ve­gan move­ment, I’d sug­gest not. But then, you don’t need to own a mo­tor­bike to buy a Deus Ex Machina T-shirt.

So maybe – and the old nut roast brigade will hate this – “ve­gan” is just the lat­est la­bel for a fash­ion-con­scious, food con­sumer.

Ve­gan dish freekeh tab­bouleh. Recipe at de­li­cious.com.au

MATT PRE­STON

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