As Limerick responds to the growing appetite for vegan and vegetarian menu options, Limerick Voice reporter Sarah O’Brien explores what’s on offer in the Treaty city.
Veganism, a lifestyle promoting compassionate living but long dismissed as the preserve of crunchy counterculture hippies, is in vogue according to a new survey.
The latest figures from the Vegan Society show that veganism has grown by a whopping 360 percent in Britain over the past 10 years.
Of that figure, almost half are between the ages of 15-42, with most dwelling in urban areas. Though there are no official stats for Ireland as of yet, if Britain’s are anything to go by, consumer demand is there and it’s growing at a phenomenal pace.
Limerick, with its combined population of 190,000 now has three vegan and vegetarian eateries servicing that growing demand. Limerick’s newest vegan and vegetarian restaurant, located at 35 Thomas Street, is set to open next week just in time for the Christmas rush.
The Old Fire Station restaurant owned by Hollywood actor Kevin Kiely Jnr. and business partners Sean and Marci McNamara, will serve an array of delicious veggie options including avocado toasties and sautéed mushroom on sourdough bread. They’ll also be serving a selection of vegan-friendly craft beers and wine.
While there are many different kinds of vegan diets, ranging from raw foodists to junk food vegans who live primarily on Oreos and doughnuts, a vegan diet is typically understood to shy away from the use of any animal product or derivative.
Unfortunately, many distilleries, wine-makers and brewers still include animal products such as isinglass, egg whites and gelatine in the processing and filtration of alcohol.
Guinness, one of Ireland’s most famous exports, until recently used isinglass (fish swim bladder) as a clarifying agent in the production of its stout.
Actor Kevin, who is well known for his roles in Hollywood blockbusters World War Z and The Dark Knight Rises, believes that the influx of brands bringing vegan-friendly products to the market shows a trend towards ethical consumerism and people ‘voting with their wallets’.
“All these little decisions people are making are having a massive influence. People are requesting meat and dairy alternatives at a phenomenal rate”, he said.
Of course it’s not just strict vegans who are responsible for this tectonic shift in attitude. A growing trend toward ‘clean eating’ and flexitarianism (part-time veganism), has increased the popularity of vegan substitutes almond and coconut milk, soya butter and textured vegetable protein (TVP).
So much so that they can now be found in most retailers across Ireland. Tesco have also begun catering to more diverse dietary needs, even going as far as to curate a special vegan selection box for the 2016 holiday season.
According to Bubble Tea Paradise Café owner Przemek Stawiarski, flexitarianism has really taken off in recent years with only a minority of his customers actually being strict vegans. “It’s funny like 85% of our customers are normal meat-eaters and have nothing to do with veganism. They just want to try it, to try something healthier and different”, he said.
The 35-year-old restauranteur and long-time vegan, opened Bubble Tea Paradise Café in 2014 with the aim of bringing healthy organic food to the people of Limerick.
Nestled adjacent to Limerick’s Hunt Museum on Rutland Street, Przemek’s wood clad café entrance stands out like a plant-powered beacon.
Inside the door, hangs a poster the Polish man affectionately refers to as the ‘Periodic Table of Vegan and Vegetarian Stars’, with some surprise names featuring on the list-Albert Einstein, Mike Tyson, Ellen DeGeneres and Russell Brand among them.
One of the concerns Przemek espouses is the acceleration of childhood obesity and believes that it’s imperative parents start educating themselves and their families about nutrition and raise awareness about what they are putting into their bodies. “It’s all about knowledge, if the parents aren’t informed how can they expect their children to make the right choices”, he said.
Bubble Tea’s bright and friendly atmosphere has certainly lent itself to becoming a hub of activity for Limerick’s vegan community over the past two years. The wide ranging and inclusive menu makes it an ideal restaurant for anyone with a special dietary requirement including a coeliac. Some of their most popular dishes include a gluten-free homemade quinoa red lentil and spinach burger, vegetable curry, chickpea stew and delicious sweet potato kale.
Limerick’s very first vegan and veggie restaurant, a rustic establishment sequestered away on Upper Cecil Street, has been serving the people of Limerick for more than 30 years. The Grove Kitchen’s owner Sue Hassett is well known for using only the freshest, locally sourced ingredients in her dishes-something that’s built the restaurant quite a loyal following over the years.
Sue’s restaurant will also be catering to the Christmas rush with a variety dishes including the Grove’s famous nut roast. “Vegan and vegetarians are not concerned about having tasty Christmas dinners because they know there are lovely alternatives available.
“However, sometimes their hosts worry about what to cook for their vegan or vegetarian guests as they associate Christmas with more traditional menu options. For the past 18 years one of our most popular demands at Christmas is for nut roasts which people come back time and time again for”, Sue said.
Other dishes on offer at the Grove Kitchen include sweet potato and coconut soup, chickpea and spinach with organic basmati rice, and butter bean casserole.
*This article originally appeared in the 2016 edition of the Limerick Voice newspaper.