The life of a non-meat-eater in Dublin

Stien Verdick looks at the growth of options for vegetarians and vegans in the city.

The Vegetarian Society and the Vegan Society regularly ask markets and restaurants to supply vegetarian and vegan friendly meals. Vegetarian meals are without meat or fish; vegan meals are made with no animal products.

They also organise events such as Vegfest, a vegan festival with vegan food and vegan speakers. Both societies are non-profit and run by volunteers.

“I think that the numbers of vegetarians and vegans are growing all the time. The participation in the Vegfest and World Vegetarian Day is increasing and more veg-related businesses are starting and succeeding. It is wonderful to see the pace of change,” said volunteer Mary Minihane of the Vegetarian Society.

Ms Minihane does not know the number of vegetarians and vegans in Dublin but she assumes that the people that join organisations such as Vegetarian Society Ireland or Vegan Ireland are only a small percentage of the overall people who lead vegetarian and vegan lives.

Vegan Niamh McCartan appreciates the efforts of the Vegetarian and the Vegan Society. She is vegan for nine years, which is one-third of her life.

“Because of the Vegetarian Society and the Vegan Society, there is now a vegetarian and vegan community,” she explained. “More markets are supplying vegetarian and vegan friendly convenience food. This makes it a lot easier, because I don’t have the time to cook every day.”

Even in the last year she saw a lot of positive changes. “A lot of restaurants now have at least one vegan option and a few vegetarian options. Also most people now know what being vegan and vegetarian is.”

Before Ms McCartan was vegan, she was a vegetarian. “I did it for the animals. I grew up on a farm and I worked with the lambs and there were cows and horses all around. I started seeing the connection between what’s on my plate and I started feeling like it was really sad.”

Then she became lactose intolerant and becoming vegan then seemed very easy. “This thing seems to fit how I do things anyways,” she thought when she discovered veganism.

“In terms of my ethics or thought process, I find it almost hard to call myself vegan. I guess I am a vegetarian because I don’t even like meat, so I probably wouldn’t eat it, even if my ethics were different. But in terms of veganism, I think I am maybe not so strict.”

She sometimes tries new things such as honey, which is not vegan-friendly, but she did not really like it. She thinks Dublin still has a way to go; in America and in Germany they have vegan supermarkets now but in Ireland that is not the case.

Another initiative in Dublin is the Dublin Food Cooperative. It is located in the Dublin 8 area. It is a members-owned food cooperative that has been operating since 1983 originally. It is a vegetarian market, with most items also suitable for vegans.

The majority of the clients are not vegetarian but they still buy vegetarian food. “It’s food; it isn’t meat or fish food, but it’s food,” said Tim Cookson, the operation manager of the Dublin Food Cooperative. He is working there for 18 years.

There are people who are coming back for 25 years or more. It is a lot of the same people that do their weekly shopping here and a lot of the regular clients also are not vegetarian or vegan.

“The participation in the Vegfest and World Vegetarian Day is increasing and more veg-related businesses are starting and succeeding”

The Dublin Food Cooperative has already been selling for a long time substitute meat. It is protein food that looks like burgers or sausages but that is made without animal products. “I don’t think anyone is pretending that it’s meat, but vegetarians for the last 40 years wanted food that is easy to make.”

A lot of substitute products consist of Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP). They structure vegetables, such as beans, so they can make burgers or sausages of them. The Food Cooperative also always had a box of ingredients to make vegetarian burgers or sausages by just adding water.

But in recent years more new products have been added. The availability for vegetarians has increased, in general and in the Food Cooperative. Now they also have frozen sausages and burgers and “meat” pies with vegetarian fillings.

Operation manager Tim Cookson is a pescetarian; he does not eat meat but he still eats fish. He is not really happy with the offer of fish in Ireland. “Ireland, for a small island, is a disappointing place for fish. You would expect there would be more fish available, considering we are located by the sea. You can get it, but it’s not so good.”

He would also like to see less farmed fish and less fish coming from countries far away. “In supermarkets you have a fish counter with not a lot of locally farmed fish like salmon. It’s more like sea bass farmed in Greece or fish from Vietnam. It’s mad; we’re in Ireland surrounded by the sea and it’s ridiculous.”

Mr Cookson also does not like the way the dish fish and chips is made in restaurants. “It’s a real problem because very few places use fresh fish. In most places it’s frozen fish. Also most fish-and-chips shops fry their chips in beef fat, which is not great for pescetarians. And it seems to be the standard.”

He does not really mind living in a real beef city such as Dublin. He has not eaten meat for a long time, so it has become a way of life. He is used to going to restaurants and having only one choice on the menu. It is normal for him to go to somebody’s house and have to say, “no thank you, I don’t eat meat”, when they offer it.

It is easier in other big global cities like London, where he is originally from. “There you just have more options; it’s a massive city with more possibilities. Dublin is much much smaller. You also have a lot more Indian restaurants in London, which are great for vegetarians and pescetarians I think.”

But, all in all, he is not really having problems with being a pescetarian in Dublin.

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