You better be-leaf it: FNQ joins growing vegan movement
ISABELLA McCarthy was nine when she had second thoughts about eating meat. She bucked the trend in her household and became vegetarian.
Today, she is one of millions around the world who have turned their back on animal products in favour of a plant-based diet as veganism explodes across the globe.
Australia, America, Great Britain, Europe and Asia have joined the trend to animal-free products, much of it driven by health and environmental concerns.
"I originally went vegetarian at nine after cooking my family a roast chicken and making the connection between the living animal and the food," says Isabella.
It wasn't the easiest option for a child in a regular family with a mainstream diet.
"I switched back to eating meat after a few months," says the 19-year-old, now studying business and communications at Queensland University of Technology.
"My family wasn't vegetarian, but we often cooked vegetarian meals, so I was always drawn to a more vegetarian diet.
"I waited until I moved out for university before I became completely vegetarian again in 2017, when I was 17," says Isabella, who went to school at St Andrew's Catholic College and Cairns State High.
"Initially, I did it as a challenge to see how long I could go without and found it was actually really easy and I enjoyed it, so after a month of vegetarianism, I became vegan," Isabella says.
"Again, I was just trialling the diet to see how it worked for me and found it really worked for my body.
"My acne began to clear up and I felt healthier and more energetic."
Isabella says she became vegan through a combination of ethical, health and environmental concerns.
"I did a lot of research around the environmental impact of high animal product diet and wanted to reduce my contribution," she says.
"I found the diet made me much more conscious of what I was eating and motivated me to maintain a balanced diet, especially since I was facing a lot of criticism for my choices and everyone was convinced I'd become deficient," Isabella says.
"Since becoming vegan, I get blood tests every few months to check on my health and haven't had any issues. My iron and B12 levels are always within a healthy range."
Isabella says her friends were keen observers on the transition to veganism.
"They were interested in how I'd manage and if I would still get to enjoy the foods we'd all usually eat together.
"I guess a lot of them hadn't heard of scrambled tofu as a breakfast alternative until I started cooking that way."
Cairns dietitian Lorinda Stutterd from Health Management Dietitians says a vegan diet has many proven health benefits, but requires care.
Meat and animal products must be replaced by plenty of nutrient rich plants.
She says the benefits can be largely attributed to a lower saturated fat intake when meat and dairy are removed and the increased fibre, phytochemicals and antioxidants from eating more vegetables, fruit, pulses, nuts and grains.
"Key vegan meat alternatives such as tofu, tempeh, legumes, lentils, soy products, nuts and seeds should be included at every meal," Lorinda says.
"Additionally, vegan diets need to be well thought out to prevent the development of nutritional deficiencies."
She says B12 is only found in animal sources, so strict vegan diets need to be fortified with soy milk, fermented foods and supplements to replace it. Low iron can lead to anaemia and chronic fatigue, so she suggests eating dark leafy greens, legumes, tofu, fortified cereals, vegan meat substitutes, nuts and dried fruit.
Lorinda says calcium is vital for bones, zinc for metabolism and digestion, and omega 3 fatty acids for the heart and brain.
Fortified soy or nut milks are the best alternative for calcium, while pumpkin seeds, soybeans, lentils and brown rice are a source of zinc. Omega 3 can be found in flax and chia seeds, walnuts and soybean oil.
No one is more aware of the worldwide trend to veganism than Nuri Brown and Aron Bradshaw, owners of Snoogies Health Bar in Main Street Arcade.
"Health is part of it, but it's more the environmental aspect," says Aron, a lifelong vegetarian who is now vegan.
"There is concern about the impact of the meat and dairy industry on the environment through deforestation, water needed for production, run-off from farms and greenhouse gases.
"If you asked for a vegan meal in a restaurant two or three years ago, you'd get the basics, but now there are proper vegan dishes. People are getting creative."
Nuri says the internet, social media and documentaries like Earthlings and Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret had pushed more people towards a vegan diet.
"I think it's fair to say there are now more vegans than vegetarians. It's just one little jump to become vegan."
Joshua Geyl was a late convert to the cause after a near-death health scare which caused him to question his diet.
"I wanted to know how the body worked and how a person interacts with their body.
"That's when I started to experiment with a plant-based or vegan diet. My health started to improve rapidly and I started to grow my own food."
A former aircraft technician, he opened Lafew Teahouse & Kombucha Bar in Sheridan St five years ago to share his plant-based cuisine and introduce Cairns to the gut-friendly fermented tea, kombucha.
"I wanted to help people, as well as myself," Joshua says.
VEGAN MEALS TO TRY IN CAIRNS
MR SOYBOY: Wok tossed Asian greens, Szechuan potatoes, charred roti, pad Thai tofu, sizzling Mongolian market vegetables.
SNOOGIES: Pumpkin curry, vegetable sushi, rice balls, vegan nachos, chickpea curry, spicy lentils, soups, salads, wraps.
PANTRY 15: Veggie pesto salad with green beans, mesclun, red cabbage, black olives, chargrilled capsicum, corn kernels, hemp seed and basil pesto.
LAFEW: Earth bowl with bean and veggie patty, rocket, baby spinach leaves, tomato and bean salsa, kraut and potato salad.
BROTHER JENKINS: Vegan burger with Thai massaman, chick pea, lentils and coconut patty on a soft roll with salad, roast capsicum, tahini and walnut aioli served with patatas bravas.
THE LILLIPAD CAFE: Homemade vegan lasagne piled high with layers of pumpkin, zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms and vegan cheese, served with Greek salad.
THE CONSERVATORY BAR: House-made cashew cheese with lemon, herbs and pistachio crust, walnut pate, marinated vegetables and vegan grazing board accompaniments. Extensive vegan-friendly wine list.