Veganism has taken off in Ireland alongside a huge surge in popularity worldwide.
Although there are no official figures for veganism here, a recent survey for the UK’s Vegan Society found the number of vegans there had tripled in a decade to more than 500,000.
Meal delivery platform Just Eat which operates in 15 countries reported a 987% rise in demand for plant-based options in 2017, with one-third of its restaurant partners providing vegan options.
In the US, veganism has seen a surge of 600% in three years, from 1% of the population identifying as vegan in 2014, to 6% in 2017, according to GlobalData research.
While vegans don’t consume any animal products, including dairy and eggs, they also avoid wearing products such as leather and using cosmetics and other products with animal-based ingredients.
Bart Sova, owner of restaurant Sova Vegan Butcher, says the reasons for someone to adopt a vegan lifestyle can be a combination of wanting a healthier diet, concern about the environment and animal compassion.
Starting with a pop-up, Mr Sova opened a permanent restaurant off Dublin’s Camden Street in 2016.
Mr Sova says his eatery is one of only 15 to 20 vegan butchers in the world and the only one in Ireland.
He admits the term “vegan butcher” is an oxymoron. It describes restaurants that make their own dishes using meat substitutes such as seitan — a wheat-based protein — and tofu and tempeh.
He says passers-by find the concept “a bit weird or interesting,” and estimates that while about 60% of his customers are vegetarian or vegan; the rest are meat eaters who are curious about vegan food or want to reduce their meat consumption.
We try to get as close as possible to the taste of meat, Mr Sova says. “Everything is made in-house from scratch, including truffles and mayonnaise.” Dishes on the lunch menu start at €10 and a three-course dinner from €26, includes dishes, such as king skallops, seitan steak, chia cheeseburger, and soya schnitzel.
It would seem that millennials have driven greater awareness of environmental issues, health and animal welfare with 42% of UK vegans in the 15 to 34-year-old category.
However, Mr Sova says his 55-seater restaurant’s customers range in age from babies to a 92-year-old eating out with her granddaughter.
Mr Sova, who has been a vegan for four years, says at 40 years old he feels “super healthy”, and better than he was in his 20s.
Choices for vegans and vegetarians are much better now compared with 20 years ago, he says. The change has been rapid: just one year ago he found eating out as a vegan was difficult. Now, most restaurants provide a vegan option.
Mr Sova says the fact that supermarkets like SuperValu, Tesco and Lidl are investing in plant-based start-ups, is an indication of where the trend is going: “This the future, I would say. We need to reduce our meat consumption, our livestock, our greenhouse emissions. I hope it’s not too late.”
Meanwhile another Irish company, natural cosmetics WhiteWitch rebranded as vegan last year. Founded in 2005 by Ruth Ruane, the beauty brand was already organic and cruelty-free so becoming 100% vegan in 2017 was “a natural progression”.
Ms Ruane says it was easy to do; she just dropped a couple of products which contained beeswax and honey.
A herbalist, Ms Ruane began making a product for her daughter’s skin based on oatmeal.
She was interested in reducing plastic waste and used cloth nappies for all of her seven children.
She started off selling her products from a market stall and local health shops.
She says WhiteWitch, which currently has stockists in 14 countries, is unique because products are both completely plastic-free and vegan.
Attitudes towards veganism have changed over 13 years, Ms Ruane says. When she started out, vegans were labelled “hippies”.
“Now because of social media veganism is more accepted. Everywhere you go now every restaurant will have a vegan option,” she says.
Ms Ruane says despite being spoiled by everything being instant, changes are happening: “People are more willing to sacrifice their immediate convenience for the planet. They’re asking ‘what’s more important: the planet or my wanting that cup of coffee now’.”