GO­ING VE­GAN gets sexy

From burg­ers to beauty – how ve­g­an­ism be­came the hot-right-now trend we’re all learn­ing to em­brace

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Body and Soul - - FRONT PAGE -

What’s the first thing you look for when scan­ning food la­bels or pe­rus­ing the menu at a new cafe? For some, it’s the sugar con­tent or whether the meal is gluten-free, but for a grow­ing num­ber of Aussies, it’s a ve­gan-friendly guar­an­tee.

De­spite Aus­tralia’s rep­u­ta­tion as a coun­try of meat-eaters (with sausage sizzles and af­ter­noon bar­be­cues deeply wo­ven into our cul­tural fab­ric), more and more peo­ple are opt­ing to lead a plant-based life. In fact, a re­cent sur­vey by Roy Mor­gan Re­search found that al­most 2.1 mil­lion of us now choose to eat meat-free and, ac­cord­ing to data from Google Trends, Aussies are more in­ter­ested in learn­ing about ve­gan prin­ci­pals than they are about the much-hyped keto and Pa­leo di­ets.

“Peo­ple ev­ery­where are ex­cited about ve­gan food,” says Mo Wyse, co-founder of ve­gan restau­rant Smith & Daugh­ters in Mel­bourne. “Most pubs now have a [ve­gan] op­tion and if they don’t, they know they’re tak­ing money out of their own pock­ets.”

She’s not wrong. Ac­cord­ing to re­searchers Euromon­i­tor In­ter­na­tional, Aus­tralia’s pack­aged ve­gan food in­dus­try will be worth an es­ti­mated $ 215 mil­lion by 2020, mak­ing it the world’s third fastest-grow­ing be­hind China and the United Arab Emi­rates.

Ev­i­dently, what was once a fringe move­ment has now be­come part of the main­stream food scene – but that’s just the tip of the ice­berg. From fash­ion and beauty to sex toys and clean­ing prod­ucts, ve­g­an­ism has made its way into ev­ery facet of mod­ern life. “Ve­g­an­ism is no longer a model of de­pri­va­tion and sac­ri­fice,” ex­plains Dr Matt Ruby, a psy­chol­o­gist at La Trobe Uni­ver­sity, and a ve­gan. “Past re­search has shown that ve­g­an­ism is of­ten re­ferred to as strict, avoidant and dif­fi­cult, but this image is shift­ing.”

THE MANY FACES OF VE­G­AN­ISM

While ad­vo­cates of the move­ment were once writ­ten off as rad­i­calised protesters or ide­al­ist hip­pies, today’s ve­g­ans take the form of high-pro­file celebs such as Liam Hemsworth and Natalie Port­man, and ath­letes like Aussie crick­eter Peter Sid­dle. Even sport­ing le­gends like Serena and Venus Wil­liams have talked about go­ing ve­gan part-time. It’s a trend that’s also fol­lowed by UFC fighter Nate Diaz and spurred on by global cam­paigns like Meat­less Mon­day and Ve­gan­uary (which asks car­ni­vores to go ve­gan at the start of the year).

Be­cause it’s no longer nec­es­sary to con­form to all of ve­g­an­ism’s pil­lars, its stereo­types no longer hold true. At Smith & Daugh­ters – where the ve­gan sym­bol is no­tice­ably ab­sent from the all-ve­gan menu – cus­tomers in­clude fam­i­lies, foodies and tradies.

“There’s a lot of con­struc­tion in the area, so trades­men come in for their choco­late milk and pies, and they don’t even re­alise it’s ve­gan,” Wyse says.

“We don’t want to pull the wool over any­one’s eyes, but we don’t want to push the ve­gan mes­sage in a con­fronting way.”

So what is the ve­gan mes­sage? While the life­style has al­ways been grounded in an­i­mal wel­fare, these days it’s also tied to en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivism and gen­eral well­be­ing. “There’s a grow­ing aware­ness around how food is made. More peo­ple are be­com­ing con­cerned about the im­pact meat and an­i­mal prod­ucts have on the planet and their health,” Ruby ex­plains.

This aware­ness is partly thanks to the rise of pro-ve­gan doc­u­men­taries like Cowspiracy – which links agri­cul­tural farm­ing to cli­mate change – as well as the re­lease of damn­ing sci­en­tific stud­ies. Just two months ago, re­search from Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity in the UK re­vealed that a plant­based diet can re­duce your car­bon foot­print by 73 per cent and free up 3.1 bil­lion hectares of farm­land.

“The health ben­e­fits of re­duc­ing your meat in­take are also be­com­ing in­creas­ingly well-known,” di­eti­tian Ni­cole Dy­nan adds. “Not only are plant-based di­ets linked to a longer life span, they’re also as­so­ci­ated with weight loss and a de­creased risk of di­a­betes, high choles­terol, heart dis­ease and cer­tain cancers.”

That’s not to say go­ing ve­gan in­stantly makes you health­ier. Faux meats and ve­gan junk food can be just as un­healthy as their meat and dairy coun­ter­parts, and Dy­nan says you also need to en­sure you’re get­ting the right nu­tri­ents ( like zinc, pro­tein, iron, omega-3, cal­cium and B12) to avoid de­fi­cien­cies.

And it’s im­por­tant to note that you don’t need to be ve­gan to be healthy. “The Mediter­ranean Diet, which is con­sid­ered one of the health­i­est in the world, is mostly plant-based but has small amounts of meat and dairy,” Dy­nan says. “Even the Aus­tralian di­etary guide­lines rec­om­mend that peo­ple eat some lean red meat, poul­try or fish each week as they can be very nu­tri­tious,” she adds.

So while you needn’t go com­pletely plant-based to reap the ben­e­fits, thanks to the avail­abil­ity of more and more ve­gan foods, it’s never been eas­ier to test the wa­ters.

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