Sunday 19 January 2020

Giving up meat for Veganuary

Zoe Worden and Oisin Coyle
Zoe Worden and Oisin Coyle

Veganuary barely made the headlines when it was first held in 2014. However, in the years since then, the event, which is designed to promote plant-based eating and educate people about a vegan lifestyle, has taken its place centre stage, alongside Dry January.

Veganuary has spread to 178 countries around the world, with more than half a million people signing up to become vegan for the month of January - and maybe longer.

It's rise in popularity has seen fast food chains like Burger King, McDonalds, KFC and Domino's Pizza, hardly the bastions of plant-based food, coming on board with special menus to cater for vegan customers.

People's motives for embracing a vegan lifestyle vary, from concerns about the environment to animal welfare. Climate change activists like Greta Thunberg and documentaries such as 'Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret' and 'The Game Changers' have led to people turning their backs on meat.

Celebrities such as Paul McCartney, Joaquin Phoenix, comedian Sara Pasco, tv presenter Chris Packham are all Veganuary ambassadors as is Co Louth's Evanna Lynch. The actor, who found fame in the Harry Potter films, says: 'I've loved Veganuary's work for a long time because I know, having been a vegetarian who was intimidated by veganism, that so many people just won't start because they think it's too hard and that they're going to fail. And Veganuary presents you an opportunity to do it with other people, with a community, and it's not saying it's a lifelong commitment, it's saying 'try it for a month and see how you feel'.

Dundalk writer Jaki McCarrick has been a vegan for many years. She had been a vegetarian, on and off or many years, but after a conversation about animal welfare at a wedding with another guest who was a vegan, she decided to quit dairy products and to become a vegan. The guest spoke of growing up on a farm in Galway and listening to the cries of the cows after the calves had been taken of them and sent to Holland for slaughter as veal.

'I see my veganism as a journey, a quest - not as any kind of inflexible religion etc. It has led me to become much more environmentally aware for instance. I care passionately about wildlife and biodiversity and think that Ireland really needs to do much more to protect these.'

'When I first gave up dairy products I felt the healthiest I have ever felt, and since becoming a vegan have had very few health issues,' she says. 'My main reason for veganism is not my health however - it's animal welfare. Since farming became intensive (my father grew up on a farm where the animals were cared for like family - that's how farming used to be), animals have been treated terribly, and I think that if humans can survive without this kind of mass slaughter then we have a duty to try. Pigs and chickens especially have absolutely appalling lives.'

She is also fundamentally against a small country like Ireland attempting to feed China, via increased meat production, pointing out that the waste products and chemicals from pig factories in Ireland have poisoned rivers and water systems.

'Also, less meat production means less carbon emissions,' she says citing a study by researchers at the University of Oxford which found that cutting out meat and dairy from a person's diet reduces their carbon footprint by 73%, 'so veganism is the single best way to help fight climate disaster'.

'Nowadays especially it's easy to be vegan. There are so many plant-based products out there, though I try to eat as little processed food as possible.'

Jaki also runs a Facebook page called 'Dundalk Vegan Society' where she regularly shares information and vegan recipes.

Zoe Worden and Oisin Coyle, the duo behind the Dark Horse Pizza restaurant at Bellurgan Point, have been introducing diners to the delights of vegan cuisine with their Supper Club and cookery classes.

Zoe had already been a vegan when she met Oisin, who comes from a well known family of butchers. 'He was like, no way, I'm not going to be vegan', she recalls. As she began cooking for him and educating him about the benefits of a vegan diet, he decided to give it a go. A fitness enthusiast who enjoys running, he soon embraced this new way of eating.

The couple set up their vegan food company called Dark Horse Pizza, which began by selling vegan pizzas from a converted horse-box at festivals around the country. They soon found a following for their delicious food and were the winners of the inaugural Irish Street Food Awards in 2017.

However, Zoe says that travelling around the country selling food at festivals proved 'way too stressful' so they started their restaurant beside their home at Bellurgan Point.

The move proved a huge success and Dark Horse Pizza has become a destination restaurant, with diners travelling from as far as Dublin, Balbriggan, Drogheda and counties Down and Armagh.

'We get all ages of people coming,' she says, 'At the start we were expecting loads of young people, but it's really varied , middled aged, older people, families, couples, groups of friends.'

Zoe says she 'totally understands that people have misconceptions about vegan food and have the idea that it is awful. A lot of time, it is just an afterthought on a menu, but here we try to make it really nice food that will appeal to everyone.'

'We now grow our own organic vegetables in poly tunnels, so we change our menu regularly according to what's in season.'

The couple also run cookery classes for those interested in learning how to cook easy and delicious vegan dishes, and Zoe points out that all the ingredients for vegan cookery can now be found in supermarkets.

There's an introduction to vegan cooking with a Veganury workshop on Saturday January 12 and a vegan desserts cookery course on January 26. Contact 089 2078319 to book a place.

The Argus