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

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - UPFRONT - WORDS TRACY RENKIN

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.”

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