Q: What do Brad Pitt, Miley Cyrus and Rosanna Davison have in common?
A: All have chosen a vegan diet.
This isn’t just a celebrity fad. It’s happening in Ireland too. In 2001, we ate 93kg of meat per person. This had fallen to 77.5kg by 2011. The same happened with milk consumption. We drank 154 litres of milk and buttermilk in 2001. This had decreased to 135 litres in 2011.
Food businesses such as Dublin’s Veginity and Vish.Shop are catering for our changing tastes. Set up by Australian Mark Senn, these businesses serve plant-based street food that is entirely vegan.
Mark’s own experience as a vegetarian was what inspired him to start experimenting with food. “I was looking for alternatives to meat and two veg,” he says. “I quickly realised there was a huge amount of other things to try and I wanted to bring that variety to other people.”
Having spent years developing his vegan, vegetarian, raw and gluten-free recipes, Mark decided to open a food truck two years ago. “Dublin can be a pretty tough place to find space when you’re beginning so I’d been looking at lots of different options,” he says. “When a warehouse space [in Richmond Place, Portobello] came up, I jumped on it.”
The fact that it was off the beaten track appealed to Mark. “What we were doing was niche so I trusted that it could become a destination for people,” he says.
The food on offer at Veginity was different from the beginning. “We changed our options every week,” says Mark. “My inspiration might be a country, a city, a taste from my childhood or just something that was hard for vegans to get in Dublin. I wanted our food to reflect cultures and ideas and to be innovative with a nod to tradition.”
One week, dishes might include soft-shell tacos with chipotle black beans, corn and jalapeno salsa with guacamole. The next, a ginger tofu ramen could be served with fennel and fresh bean shoots. There were plant-based desserts too, from chocolate gelato to a peanut caramel nougat cake.
This food was such a hit with customers that soon non-vegans were coming to try Veginity dishes too. “At the start, I’d say our customers were 80% vegan to non-vegan,” says Mark. “But as word got out about our little warehouse pushing the boundaries, it’s become 50:50. People just want to try the unique aspect of our cooking.”
His take on vegan fish and chips has proven to be so successful that it has spawned a separate business, Vish.Shop.
“The Vish was something we did as a one-off,” he says. “We asked ourselves what a chipper would serve if it was completely vegan.”
His answer was a plant-based version of fish and chips made from battered cassava and wild seaweed. Customers liked it so much that when Mark purchased a second food truck, he decided that it would serve only Vish and chips.
“We thought it was a good idea to see what came of it,” he says. “There are lots of alternatives for beef and chicken but not many people are focusing on the ocean which is extremely vulnerable at the moment. We want to offer an alternative and reduce the impact on the ocean environment. That’s why our slogan is ‘Give Fish a Break’.”
Mark has now separated Vish.Shop from Veginity entirely. “We see them going in two different directions,” he says. “We will be trying to franchise Vish.Shop in the future as well as getting it into everyday use in supermarkets.”
His plans for Veginity are for it to continue to be a forum where he can experiment with food “It will be an incubator for innovation,” he says. “We will use it to continue pushing the boundary of what people think is good plant-based cuisine.”
He thinks the growth in Ireland’s vegan market is only just beginning. “When we started, there were only two fully vegan options in Dublin,” he says. “Now there are least five purely vegan places to dine in as well as vegan options in many others.”
People’s minds are opening up to the potential offered by vegan food too. “Some people were a bit confused about the idea at the start so a little education came into play there,” he says. “It’s amazing to see people come and have a vegan meal for the first time and walk away with their minds blown. It changes their perception of what you can actually eat as a vegan and that has a huge positive impact for others who are pushing plant-based alternatives.”