Image Source: ABC News
By Anastasia Monaghan
Vegan: it’s a word that has been in almost every Australian’s mouth in the past two years.
Doctors are talking about it, animal activists stand proud on the streets, the media thrives on the vegan epidemic, and it’s rare to find a restaurant in 2019 that doesn’t have a clearly labelled menu item for vegans to enjoy.
According to Vegan Australia, between 2014 and 2016 there was a 92 per cent increase in the number of vegan food products launched in Australia, and Australia ranked number one in the world for vegan Google searches in 2018.
In 2019, more than 190,000 people registered to take part in Veganuary, which encouraged people to avoid consuming animal products for 31 days.
But vegans didn’t just appear out of thin air within the past two years, and it certainly wasn’t as accepted or easy to dine in Adelaide 25 years ago—just ask Tricia Watkinson-Hills.
Tricia has spent the past 30 years as a vegan, which means she avoids the consumption of dairy, meat, eggs, and honey for ethical, environmental and health reasons.
The University of Oxford reported that a global shift to a vegan diet would avoid 8.1 million premature deaths per year, and shifting to a vegan diet is the single biggest way to reduce a person’s impact on planet earth, which is why Tricia chooses to avoid animal products.
After growing up in the racing industry and feeling as though she betrayed one of her horses by “giving her love and letting her go [to the slaughterhouse]”, Tricia realised at 18 years old the disconnect between her love for animals and her lifestyle choices, which she described as “spiralling all at once”.
After doing as much research as possible through vegetarian and health magazines, she endured 12 months of a vegetarian lifestyle before cutting out animal products altogether.
However, this was the start of what was going to be a long journey of self-discovery, compassion, and discrimination, especially when she had to eat outside the comfort of her own home.
“I used to get asked by chefs: ‘what’s a vegan?’” she said.
“I would try and order a meal and get asked what I could eat, and I would literally get laughed at in my face by waitresses.
“The difference between back then and now is discrimination and respect.
“Every time I went to a restaurant, up until six years ago, I would cringe.
“I got nervous they would use some sort of animal-based stock to get back at me for being difficult.
“My treat was usually pasta with tomato sauce, dry bread, lettuce, and tomato.
“That’s about as good as it got, and I paid full price.
“They thought I was a weirdo, a hippie, an opinionated tosser.”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t just the lack of compassion from the Adelaide hospitality scene that made Tricia feel isolated, but family and friend gatherings also included lots of eye rolls and discriminatory comments.
“Back then, it was just social isolation,” she said.
“I wondered: am I from a different planet? Why do they not see what I see? Is there something wrong with me?
“Social media wasn’t around; there wasn’t anywhere I could make a connection with someone who had a similar mindset – it was just me.”
Today, Tricia says she doesn’t feel alone anymore after weaning out potentially problematic situations and opting for fully vegan restaurants to make eating out easier.
“I feel the most comfortable when they are passionate about it,” she said.
“My favourite non-vegan restaurants are Hispanic Mechanic, who have a separate vegan kitchen, and Mai Kitchen who also have a really beautiful understanding about veganism.
“I get a bit nervous at times. I can’t help but psychologically wonder if a pan has been washed after meat has touched it, but I’m realistic; it’s just not there yet.
“In another 10 years, another 10 vegan restaurants will open.
“The change is happening quicker but it is still a slow wheel turning.”
And as awareness and vegan options have increased over the years, so has the tolerance and attitude towards Tricia, who stuck by her values through 25 years of jokes and rude remarks.
“There has been such a massive change in the last twelve months to two years, it has been phenomenal.
“I feel like people are saying to me ‘you were right, I was wrong and I’m sorry,” she said.
“Most days, I feel hopeful for a change for the better.
“I feel there is an underworld of compassion brewing and exploding… a lot of people are questioning what they have been told and I’m glad for that.”
While 1994 saw days of Tricia going home to close her door to the cruel world around her, she said she isn’t so scared to open that door anymore.
“I used to open this door and wonder if it’s stormy or if there is someone in the bushes waiting, but today I open the door and go ‘wow the sun is shining and everyone is saying welcome’.”