AISHA ISABELLA ULSTRUP-HANSEN
Vegan living is on the rise in Australia, thanks to wider availability of meat-free alternatives, celebrity endorsement and greater awareness of the potential benefits of a vegan diet, including reducing animal cruelty and helping the environment.
According to Roy Morgan research from 2019, around 2.5 million Australians claim to eat largely vegetarian diets, making Australia one of the fastest growing vegetarian and vegan markets in the world.
Vegan diets take vegetarianism one step further, excluding meat, dairy, eggs, and any other products of animal origin.
And while there is a lot more attention being given to vegan issues on social media these days, local vegans believe meeting up with like-minded people can make the transition to a vegan lifestyle easier.
“Veganluck in the Park”, which takes place on September 21 in in the Elizabeth Sloper Gardens at Palm Beach on the Gold Coast, is just one of the many vegan community “meet-ups” taking place around the south-east, where vegans have the chance to meet other vegans and share their experiences.
Vegan Life is a local Gold Coast organisation with 1052 members, which aims to inspire vegans and non-vegans to learn more about the vegan lifestyle.
Vegan Life organises the regular Veganluck in the Park event, which takes place twice a month in different locations in Gold Coast.
The event is open to all and welcomes people to network at the event, share their diet experiences and bring vegan dishes to share.
Vegan Life founder Harry Boleman arranges a variety of vegan events via the social network app, Meet Up.
Mr Boleman became a vegan when he was 16 years old and said because he was from a small village he was the only vegan he knew, and said he struggled to feel accepted by non-vegans.
Since then, he has become a spokesperson for veganism on the Gold Coast, creating Vegan Life in 2014.
“At that time there was a need for vegans to have the opportunity of connecting and making friends, and to feel like they weren’t outsiders,” Mr Boleman said.
“Social isolation is not healthy,” he said.
“However veganism has become much more well known today.”
According to Mr Boleman, events like Veganluck in the Park help vegans make new friends and feel accepted, while enjoying healthy food in nature.
He said he enjoyed participating in the events and strongly encouraged anyone who was curious about veganism to attend.
Vegan Life also organises visits to different vegan restaurants each month, giving members the opportunity to try out some of the Gold Coast’s newest green eating places.
Vegan Australia director Greg McFarlane said it had become more common for people like Harry Boleman to want to increase awareness about the vegan lifestyle and animal protection the past years.
Mr McFarlane said while his organisation campaigned nationally for veganism, their website also provided information about vegan diets and listed vegan events around the country.
He said there were around hundred organisations around Australia that organised vegan events, and said Vegan Australia tried to list as many of the events as they could.
Mr McFarlane said the events were especially important in order to raise awareness about animal rights and protection.
He said veganism wasn’t just a diet, but was also about protecting animals.
“You don’t need animal products to live a healthy life,” he said.
“People can learn a lot about not causing suffering to animals [through vegan events and resources] and this may change people’s behaviour.”
“We live in a very non-vegan world, where most people find it perfectly acceptable to do those things to animals.”
Mr McFarlane said in his experience, most people made the decision to become vegan after talking to other vegans or watching videos concerning veganism or animal rights.
He said people could feel isolated after change their lifestyle to a vegan one, and said vegan community events provided a supportive network for new vegans.
“The events are crucial in helping those people to not feel isolated, and to make them feel that the decision they made is valid,” Mr McFarlane said.
Twenty-two-year-old student and athlete Flavia Streiff changed to a vegan diet when she started to have recovery issues after intensive track training.
Ms Streiff said she came across an article said a vegan diet could be beneficial in relation to recovery after exercise.
According to ”onegreenplanet.org”, the two elements that slow recovery time down are inflammation and oxidative stress, and a vegan diet can reduce inflammation and combat oxidative stress through the consumption of a rich array of nutrient-dense plant foods.
She said she started reading more about veganism and talking to others about becoming vegan.
“I have heard a lot about vegan events, which I like,” Ms Streiff said.
“It is fun to try new things, which I can include into my diet, and to show my friends that veganism isn’t “boring,” she said.
Ms Streiff said she used alternative meat products or “fake meat” in order to include her non-vegan friends in meals and private events.
These products are made to look like animal meat, but are made from plant-based ingredients.
“When I cook dinner with my friends and we decide to have burgers, I go for vegan burgers, for example vegetable burgers, black bean burgers, beyond burgers, because sometimes it is boring only to eat bread and salad,“ she said.
While there are a growing number of alternative meat products readily available in stores and in cafes, a 2019 study by The George Institute for Global Health in Melbourne showed that many of these meat alternatives contained high levels of salt, which can be a cause of heart disease.
Emily Goddard from the Heart Foundation said consumers should be aware that meat alternative products could look healthier than they were.
”Meat alternative products available at the supermarket, like meat-free sausages, burgers and falafels, often appear healthier than they are, but can be highly processed and packed with salt,” Ms Goddard said.
“Eating too much salt is linked with high blood pressure, which affects more than six million Australian adults,” she said.
“To put that in perspective, that is one in three people living with high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke and kidney disease”.
“Our message is to limit the amount of processed and packaged foods in your diet because 75 per cent of the salt we eat comes from these foods [and] that includes processed meats and meat-free products,” Ms Goddard said.
“If you are choosing these items at the supermarket, remember to check the label and choose the less salty option.”
Mr McFarlane said changing your lifestyle so as not to cause suffering to animals, and eating healthy food, were two different things.
He said packaged meat alternatives were similar to fast food, and advised people to look after their health, eat whole foods, fruits and vegetables, rather than relying on processed food, whether it was vegan or not.
“Most nutritionists would agree that a healthy diet is a whole food diet,” he said.
Ms Goddard said when going vegan it was important to make sure you still got all the necessary proteins and vitamins and minerals for a balanced diet.
She said Heart Foundation experts recommended people focus on the combination of healthy foods and how regularly they ate them.
“[When going vegan] it’s important to focus on the quality and sources of plant foods,” Ms Goddard said.
“We recommend limiting processed and packaged plant-based foods and focusing instead on fresh foods like legumes such as chickpeas, lentils and beans, [and] nuts and seeds,” she said.
For more information about Vegan Australian, visit www.veganaustralia.org.au.