Dublin celebrates veganism as report warns of dangers of meat

Kim Carroll reports on Dublin’s first vegan festival and the growth of veganism.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a department of the World Health Organisation (WHO), recently released a statement that it had classified processed meat as carcinogenic to humans, based on sufficient evidence that its consumption causes colorectal cancer. Red meat was sub-classified as “probably” carcinogenic, based on strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect.

Those with a financial stake in the Irish meat industry rushed to the media to make a case for continuity in the consumption of animal-based foods. The chief executive for the Association of Craft Butchers, John Hickey, stated on the RTÉ Radio 1 show, Morning Ireland: “In the case of processed meat, it has established a link but the hazardous nature of that link, as it says in the report, has not being clearly defined. And in the case of red meat, it keeps using the word ‘probably’ but it is in no way conclusive.”

Speaking on Today FM on Tuesday, master pork butcher Edward Hick said that consumers should not worry about the WHO report once they had a generally healthy diet. Speaking at that time also Dr Mary Flynn, who is the chief specialist in public health for the Food Safety Authority (FSA), agreed with this view and advised that the FSA have always advised people to have a mixed diet and to eat in moderation.

As these findings were being published, Ireland also that week hosted its first vegan festival, Dublin Vegfest 2015, which took place in the R2 Centre in Rialto, Dublin on World Vegan Day (1 November).

Laura Broxon of the National Association for the Rights of Animals (NARA) said that the festival was “a celebration of vegan food, business and culture in a friendly environment that is not just for vegans” and that the aim of the event was to provide an arena of opportunity for the general public to learn about natural ethical products and plant-based foods. It was a non-profit event and the entry fee was a nominal €8.

Almost every restaurant in Ireland provides a “vegetarian option”, but more and more well-known eateries are now offering more than a sole companionless dish and have begun catering to the growing vegan population. The Fumbally Café in The Liberties actively promotes vegan dining while in May, Sova Food Vegan Butchers opened in Rathmines – the city’s only strictly vegan restaurant. Cornucopia of Dublin city centre is a vegetarian restaurant which will celebrate its 30th birthday next year.

Growth is now being seen by many in the vegan community, with Edward Long of Vegan Ireland observing: “We’re still some way behind other capitals, but people are becoming more familiar with it. The trend is definitely changing.”

Currently, there are no known statistics for veganism in Ireland, but if those provided for the United Kingdom are examined, it can be seen that it is a retail sector that is expanding in numbers. In the last five years, the demand for meat-free products such as tofu and imitation meat products has increased by 21 per cent according to market research group Mintel. Statistics provided by the same company report that approximately 12 per cent of all adults in the United Kingdom are now either vegan or vegetarian, with that figure rising to 20 per cent among 16-24 year olds.

Meatless eating seems to be a trend worldwide, with an estimated 5.2 per cent of Americans now describing themselves as vegetarian or vegan during studies conducted by the Vegetarian Times magazine.

According to the Department of Agriculture, Ireland is the largest net exporter of beef in the northern hemisphere and the fourth largest in the world. There is no evidence available to suggest that the national profit from the export of meat products has dropped in recent times but with processed and red meat now under the microscope by the WHO, this may well change.

Laura Broxon from NARA believes what we eat is central to our well-being and happiness. “You can’t buy your health, but you can buy your food.”

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