Once humble vegetables have done their time on side plates as meat’s poor cousin and are now taking centre stage on everything from the main meal to mouth-watering desserts
Vegetables were once meat’s embarrassing cousin but now the humble vegie is coming into its own as veganism booms in Tasmania.
The Tasmanian vegan community is unique, according to Hobart chef Alan Whykes. “It feels more like a family,” he says. “The vegan community here really welcomes people and that produces a really good vibe.” Whykes runs Otis Beanery, a vegan cooking school in Hobart. Last month he gave two cooking demonstrations at Tasmania’s first VeganFest held in the Kingston Beach Hall and carpark which attracted about 3000 patrons. “You could barely move, the crowd was so thick,” Whykes says. “Most of the food vans had sold out half way through the day.”
He says many in the crowd were committed vegans who had dragged along friends and family in the hope of tempting them into the animal-free eating world. People who have given up meat and dairy products to go vegan have made Australia the third-fastest growing market for veganism globally.
The man who organised Tasmanian’s first vegan festival, Chris Simcox, says the appeal of eating animal-free produce in the state is growing. More Tasmanian restaurants are offering vegan options on menus and vegan-friendly products are being added to supermarket shelves. “It’s definitely becoming a lot more popular than it was 10 years ago,” Simcox says.
But Whykes, who has helped several Hobart businesses design vegan meals for their menus, says many Tasmanian chefs could be doing more with the incredible, fresh produce being grown here. “It’s a shame that chefs don’t often see vegetables as a main ingredient in a dish,” he says. “Where is the signature Tasmanian potato dish? We don’t have one and that’s a shame because our chefs are putting them on the side of the plate.”
According to Coles, the growth in vegan products has been significant in the past year, with many of the supermarket giant’s vegan options experiencing double-digit growth.
When Suzy Spoon gave up eating meat 30 years ago she really missed sausages and spaghetti bolognese. Supermarket vegan options were tasteless and rubbery, she says, so she took matters into her own hands and created plant-based alternatives her meat-eating friends and family loved. Now she’s running a wholesale vegan butcher near Sydney with 14 different handmade and organic products, including vegan sausages made with seaweed skin. This year she’s been taking early orders for her festive roast because they always sell out of the roulades of seitan, tofu, nuts, cranberries and traditional herbs. Tasmanians can order and buy her products at City Organics in Criterion Street. Spoon says vegan business is booming.“It’s a massive growth [industry],” says Spoon. “I have really noticed a huge growth in the number of people wanting to eat a plantbased diet. I have been making vegan food for 30 years and I have never seen anything like the growth we’ve had in the last five years.”
As further proof of the popularity of the lifestyle choice, this year the Taste festival has added an extra 12 vegan stalls to keep up with demand for plant-based cuisine. Festival director Brooke Webb says there will be 18 stalls with vegan options and another eight stalls who can modify their menu for vegans. “They won’t be just serving up spinach leaves, a few tomato sli-
ces with a side of salad and dressing,” Webb says. “There’s a very big focus on delicious, substantial and multicultural vegan food offerings that really showcase the best in Tasmanian provenance.”
Passionate Tasmanians creating delicious vegan products in their homes and industrial kitchens and running small, market businesses are also experiencing great demand. If you ask Dale Jeffery from Eden Pantry, the vegan movement in Tasmania is experiencing a real boom. He started making dairy-free desserts at his Huon Valley industrial site three years ago because his wife Gemma is lactose intolerant. Now, his organic, veganfriendly, creamy tasting coconut yoghurt and ice-cream treats are available in shops all over Australia. Eden Pantry is a regular fixture at the Farm Gate Market in Hobart and Jeffery says support from the Hobart vegan community has been overwhelming. His market sales are up 25 per cent in two years. “It’s growing so fast,” Jeffery says. “It’s been massive.” One of his regular customers is the woman who runs Raw Dealer, the vegan dessert stall that’s been next to him at the market for five months every Sunday.
“The vegan growth has been huge in the last 18 months,” says Holly Oakden. Her delicious dairy-free, egg-free, honeyfree desserts are stocked at a dozen Tasmanian cafes and she sells at both the Salamanca Market and Farm Gate. Her customers share their vegan conversion stories with her and Oakden says it’s largely social media vegans with huge followers and horror stories with gross and graphic details of animal cruelty who have influenced and converted them.
Oakden mixes her biscuit-base cheese-cake-like, moussecentred creations and bliss balls and slices in her Sandy Bay home-kitchen. Her products are “raw”, which means they aren’t heated above 48C. Her top-seller is her Snickers cake, an allchocolatey creation with salted caramel and peanuts. But many of her products are nut-free, too. Her non-vegan family and friends test her new creations because she knows if they enjoy eating them, her vegan customers will love them. She’s just had to buy a fourth 500-litre freezer to keep up with demand. When VeganFest was on, it clashed with her Farm Gate market so she asked her mother, Debbie, to run the Kingston stall and she was inundated. “She kept calling me saying ‘I need more stock, I’ve sold out again’ so I was ferrying cakes back to her three times before 1pm. It was incredible. I don’t think anyone expected those sorts of crowds for our first-ever vegan festival.”
Fear of missing out, is something people exploring a plantbased way of eating are worried about she says. “Many of the people who buy from me have confided that they were initially hesitant about going vegan because they didn’t want to miss out on treats like dessert,” Oakden says. “But people don’t have to worry about that because the vegan options are endless. You don’t miss out because there are so many delicious alternatives.”
Julie Martyn says it is the fear of missing out on cheese that has largely driven the success of her northern Tasmanian vegan cheesery. “For some people the thought of saying goodbye to excellent cheese is too much but when they taste our cashewbased cheeses they fall in love.”
The vegan, former scientist runs Artisa, an upmarket, plantbased cheese business near Launceston. She uses cashew nuts blended with filtered water, coconut oil and Tasman Sea Salt, which is then cultured with dairy-free probiotics to create hand- made, plant-based cheeses that champion Tasmania.
“We have forged our own path and created a range of products that are like no other,” she says. “Our cheeses are flavoured by Tasmania. We add ingredients sourced from our pick of the many local gourmet producers here.”
She’s talking about the native pepperberry that’s dusted over her kunanyi cheese, the stout used to wash her blue vein Launceston cheese, the black truffle flecked through her Tamar Fresh cheese, cold smoking with local apple wood that enhances the nuttiness of her Gladstone cheese and the vine ash that gives the Ben Lomond its lushness.
Artisa has a stall at the Evandale Market every Sunday. Last year it took out the gold prize at the Royal Hobart Fine Food Awards for its Coal River cheese dusted with foraged fennel pollen. Martyn says picky French tourists who have been dubious about the quality of vegan cheese from Tasmania have been hugely impressed after tasting her creations. In October, she packed her products into a suitcase and flew them to several European countries, to be tasted by some of the global giants in plant-based cheeses.
“These makers are so experienced and knowledgeable and we’ve been fortunate that they’ve tried our products and absolutely loved them,” Martyn says. “Their feedback is our cheeses are up there with world-best standard.”
When Portia D’Anverrs was a little girl she used to help her father muster, brand, castrate and ear-tag the cows on their cattle property near Rockhampton. “It’s a bit gory,” says D’Anverrs who is now following a wholefood, plant-based diet. “But we would shoot the cows to feed the tourists.” D’Anverrs was only 10 when she first started questioning the killing of animals and two years later had cut meat from her diet. Last month the 28-year-old, Hobart-based fly-in and fly-out locum doctor was named a finalist in a national vegan competition run by an animal welfare group. She is passionate about encouraging everyone, especially people struggling with obesity, to start eating more fruit and vegetables, lentils, pulses, nuts and seeds. “Some people think vegans are a bunch of weirdos but weren’t not,” she says.
When she’s not working as a doctor, D’Anverrs helps busy women to reach their fitness goals. She runs a Tasmanianbased, 90-day plant-strong program for new vegans. “We work out how we can fit in plant-based and wholefoods and achievable strengthening exercises into their week and then I touch base with them weekly and talk through their struggles,” says D’Anverrs. “It’s all about slowly, slowly improving habits and they can take a long time to change.”
Most Sunday mornings, after a workout, D’Anverrs will head to Farm Gate Market in Hobart and support the many businesses there who she says make amazing vegan-friendly products. “Tasmanians are so lucky to have an abundance of locally grown fruit and vegetables and a plethora of small businesses who make delicious vegan foods.”