November 16, 2018
Issue 12 2018

Wellington's buzzing vegan scene

Wellington has always been known for its eclectic collection of eateries and now there’s an explosion of places to eat vegan meals. Massive Magazine's Jess Rogers looks at this spiralling growth.

At first glance, vegan scrambled eggs could be the real thing. Soft, fluffy and yellow, you’d never know that they were not from a chicken. With hash browns, gluten-flour sausages and a grilled tomato, this is a favourite amongst vegans.

Another favourite, greasy looking traditional fish and chips, which in reality are made from banana blossoms instead of something caught in the sea.

Two decades ago, finding these meals on a cafe menu in Wellington would be as rare as winning Lotto. But now, the capital boasts many plant-based restaurants and cafes.

Being vegan for almost 21 years, Russell Lee knows what it was like before veganism became the new hit thing.

“Twenty years ago, I don’t even think there were any vegetarian cafes or restaurants in Wellington. Indian restaurants who did vegetarian options were kinda the best you could get,” Lee said.

Lee is now in the thick of the growth, owning a vegan convenience store called V1 Vegan with partner, Amanda Grubner. The store on Cuba St sells every ingredient needed for a vegan recipe, from dairy-free cheese to plant-based marshmallows.

“I would have had my mind blown for a place like this to exist at all in Wellington five years ago, let alone 20 years ago,” he said.

And owning the vegan general store of his dreams makes everything worth it for Lee.

“The fact that we own it is pretty amazing,” he said.

The vegan community thrives on food and products made without animals, helping to reduce impact on the earth one step at a time. Vegans typically do not consume or use any animal products. This means that not only do they avoid eating meat, dairy and eggs, they also do not contribute to the slaughter of animals.

Lee credits social media for helping expand veganism in New Zealand and across the world.

“The nature of people doing more of their socialising online means that it is easier to spend time with others who have a similar mindset.”

The Facebook page Wellington Vegans, currently has 4,880 members. This is up from only 1000 when Kris Bartley became vegan three years ago.

She now runs that first completely vegan cafe in Wellington, Sweet Release Cakes and Treats on Willis St. The cafe boasts plenty of sugary treats and drinks daily, as well as veganised savory meals like BLTs and bacon and egg bagels.

Bartley also founded ‘Vegan Vault’, a vegan night market held the first Saturday of every month at Clyde Quay School that began last year.

It was World Vegan Day 2015 that marked Bartley’s official transition to a vegan diet.

Bartley initially tried out a vegan diet to combat on-going health issues. She soon found that her health improved rapidly over the next few months.

“I was like, I never want to go back to risking my health.”

Sweet Release began as a non-vegan cafe over four years ago but when Bartley transitioned to a plant-based diet, she decided that she didn’t want to serve food that wouldn’t be on her own plate.

“I didn’t want to serve meat anymore. If I’m not eating it, I don’t feel comfortable serving it.”

To anyone wanting to transition to veganism, Bartley recommends finding your support group and letting your friends and family know, which will help make social situations easier.

Bartley also enthused about new vegan food spots that are popping up.

“Whenever a new business opens up and they’re fully vegetarian or vegan, I get excited because it means that I can eat there.”

On the other hand, Lee, of V1 Vegan advises anyone who is interested in trying a non-animal diet to treat yourself kindly.

“Don’t be too hard on yourself at the beginning. Bringing it back to why you’re making the change can be really really helpful. Whether it’s health, environment or the animals.”

Another piece of advice comes from Yingjie Zhang, who runs Aroha, on Wellington's Willis Street. She encourages anyone who is interested in transitioning to a more plant-based diet to be open to new flavours and textures.

“Try different food with an open mind."

Aroha is a plant-based restaurant that has been open for seven months. Zhang has been vegetarian for more than ten years and is currently transitioning to a vegan diet.

“We are glad that we have the opportunity to support the vegan community by providing delicious vegan food,” Zhang said.

A final piece of advice comes from Scott McLeod, Simon Lyons and Rose McLeod from Plant Blazed, on Dunlop Terrace.

“Education is crucial in transitioning to a plant based diet,” says McLeod.

Plant Blazed has been open for business for four months and is Wellington’s first all vegan takeaway spot, serving a variety of burgers, ‘dawgs’ and salads.

The team at Plant Blazed are all committed vegans who thrive on a plant-based diet.

“For all of us veganism has been a vital, empowering commitment that has changed our lives for the better.”

McLeod describes the vegan community as a place where all types of people can get together to enjoy good food.

“We have noticed that no matter what life background people come from veganism brings people together. We love the vegan community in Wellington, it's been amazing to receive support from people who strive to make it a stronger, ever growing, accepting whanau.”

“Our favourite thing about being vegan is that no matter how small it may feel sometimes we are making a difference and doing what we do we get to see new people changing the way they live all the time. It's all positivity!” says McLeod.

This team of long-term vegans are excited to see Wellington’s vegan scene grow in the years to come.