Flexitarians drive growing vegan scene

JAKE DAY

Veganism is becoming more popular in Brisbane, but ‘flexitarianism’ is the main reason you’ll see more meat-free options in supermarkets and restaurants.

Minced plant-based 'mince'

Funky Fields’ plant based ‘Minced’ product offers a realistic looking meat alternative and was originally positioned in the meat section in supermarkets. Photo: Jake Day

Flexitarians are people who primarily eat a more traditional diet of meat and vegetables, but for a variety of reasons chose vegetarian or vegan options for some of their meals.

Other flexitarians are people who simply enjoy eating some plant-based meals.

And making the choice to eat vegetarian or vegan options is becoming increasingly easy, as meat and dairy free options are no longer the domain of health food or specialist stores.

Australia’s major supermarkets stock a range of vegetarian and vegan foods, ranging from dairy-free milk options and meat-free schnitzels and sausages to vegan biscuits and ice cream.

Woolworths now stocks ‘Minced’, a plant based minced meat alternative that looks remarkably similar to meat mince and that Funky Fields, the manufacturers, say tastes “close to” that of minced beef.

Even Aldi, which has a smaller product range than Coles and Woolworths, has a long list of “vegan suitable products”.

And the options for vegans don’t just stop at the supermarket.

You can grab a vegan hot dog from 5Dogs in Fortitude Valley or Surfers Paradise after a late night out.

You can even get a meat-like burger from Lord of the Fries that “tastes like a fresh beef burger”.

Even popular burger franchise Grill’d offers a range of vegetarian and vegan burger options.

And for those who want to dine in but still eat vegan, Brisbane has a growing number of restaurant options.

One of the relative newcomers on the block is Yavanna Plant-based Bar & Eatery on Latrobe Terrace in Paddington.

Yavanna co-owner and plant-based food consultant Cale Drouin said there was a growing market for vegan food.

“It’s just people wanting to reduce meat,” Mr Drouin said.

“It’s the flexitarian sort of thing that is driving this more so than veganism,” he said.

Vegan cupcakes

These days even baked good, such as cupcakes, can be vegan-friendly. Photo: Jake Day

Mr Drouin, who previously owned Lutwyche’s The Green Edge vegan cafe and grocery store, has been vegan for 15 years.

He said he hasn’t seen anything like the current move towards vegan foods in Brisbane.

“In the 15 years I’ve been involved in this space, I haven’t seen anything like what’s happening right now in every different pathway,” Mr Drouin said.

“But flexitarianism is where the… major growth is happening at the moment and… people can go all sorts of different ways with this and that’s what’s great about it,” he said.

“If you’re giving it a good shot, fantastic,” Mr Drouin said.

“If you’re not vegan, who cares?”

“If you’re reducing the amount of meat and dairy that you take into your body, and that has to be produced, it’s a win.”

“So, it doesn’t need to be this all or nothing sort of purist approach,” he said.

QUT business lecturer and food marketing expert Dr Gary Mortimer said supermarkets and restaurants were always keen to get on board with a trend.

“Where there’s an emerging societal trend like organics or vegetarianism or veganism, businesses such as restaurants will curate their menus in order to serve that particular growing market,” Dr Mortimer said.

He said business owners did whatever they could to give shoppers what they wanted.

“It’s a competitive marketplace out there whether you’re selling, whether you’re growing lettuces or kale or salads, or you’re farming pig, or you’re farming poultry.”

“At the end of the day, there’s only so much of a market that you can satisfy.”

Dr Mortimer said health benefits and concerns for animal welfare were part of the reason why more people were choosing vegetarian and vegan food options.

“So, there’s certainly the health, or the alleged health benefits, of going to a vegan or vegetarian diet, but a lot of the growth is also very much related to ethical consumption and concerns for animal welfare,” he said.

“And it would certainly be imagery of live sheep trade, and certainly drought conditions in far west Queensland and suffering animals, that would potentially encourage consumers to turn away from meat products and focus on veganism,” Dr Mortimer said.

He said flexitarianism wasn’t the only dietary choice increasing in popularity, and said changes in Australian cuisine were also driven by multiculturalism.

“Diet and eating styles change.”

“Even over the past 40-odd years the standard fair in Australia was meat and three veg.”

“Due to migration and cultural shifts within Australian communities we see the emergence of Japanese fare, Vietnamese, Sri Lankan, Tibetan, Indonesian.”

“So, we’re seeing a whole range of new meals and dietary options entering the market place,” Dr Mortimer said.

The Brisbane Vegan Markets West End

The Brisbane Vegan Markets are held twice a month in West End due to popular demand and offer a wide range of vegan food options. Photo: Jake Day

Brisbane Vegan Markets founder John Garrison has also been vegan for 15 years and said the vegan scene had exploded since he came to Brisbane seven years ago.

Mr Garrison said when he first moved to Brisbane the options for vegans had been limited.

“If you wanted anything specific you’d have to travel across the city.”

“But now, you know, literally two minutes out the door and, yeah, it’s all there,” he said.

He said the Brisbane vegan community gave the markets a solid base, but said a significant portion of the people attending weren’t vegan at all.

“I’d probably say only about only half the people that attend here are vegan.”

“’Cause we have an information table down the bottom and their sort of thing is, they’ll chat to people and basically try and convince them to go vegan or to at least field questions they have,” Mr Garrison said.

“And the feedback I get from those guys is that it is basically 50 per cent of the people they talk to.”

Mr Garrison said awareness was the key thing driving the increase in vegan food options.

“I think it’s awareness really,” he said.

“When I was first vegan all those years ago I was sort of the odd ball.”

“There weren’t many of us around and people would just think I was strange and weird,” he said.

“But then once more people start agreeing with you then you’re not so much in the minority and people start to listen.”

“And then with all the undercover footage and things like that, and also I think celebrity culture’s like a huge thing in changing a lot of the younger people in their views,” Mr Garrison said.

Mr Garrison said the trend was likely to continue as more and more people opened up to the experience.

“I think it will continue, yeah, absolutely.”

“I don’t think it will ever get to a point where everyone’s vegan.”

“I think that’s unrealistic.”

“But I certainly see it continuing to grow, definitely.”

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