Vegan chef Mark Senn is hoping to change the way Irish people look at plant-based food, though he is not one for lecturing meat-eaters.
“We’ve never sort of made our food political . . . my skillset is cooking,” he says.
“Just by not having a political agenda, but exposing people to it, I think more people are more likely to try it.”
That said, the latest report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will not have done his restaurant business any harm. The report argues that a major shift to vegetarian diets around the world is necessary to keep global heating under 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
“You wouldn’t have heard ‘I’m going vegetarian for the environment’ 20 years ago,” notes Mr Senn.
“Lots of veggie places have this sort of hippie hang-on – it’s a big bowl of food, you get lots of rice and a massive thing of curry. It’s filling, but it doesn’t push that boundary,” Mr Senn continues.
“We want to break the cliches surrounding vegetarian and vegan food,” his partner Ingrida Baceviciute adds. Together, the couple are the founders of Dublin plant-based restaurant Veginity and a chipper, Vish.Shop.
Mr Senn started a vegan food truck in Dubln’s Portobello three years ago. “We used the food truck as a bit of an incubator, where we would try different cuisines,” the Australian chef says. “Vish” was born after he tried serving chipper-style food by making vegan fish out of cassava and seaweed.
“We want to get to the point where people can’t tell the difference,” Mr Senn adds, recalling a visiting Frenchman astounded to learn the pastries he was enjoying in Veginity were vegan.
The chef’s cauliflower wings have reached the final of a chicken wings competition two years in a row.
“We might come in contact with up to 500 people a week. And when you think about that, the impact of people just consciously choosing not to eat meat . . . it becomes a bigger thing than me, bigger than all the people that work here,” he says.
The IPCC report stresses that measures on incorporating more vegetables and non-meat sources in diets is a matter for governments and individuals.While it advocates switching to a plant-based diet to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and strongly supports eating less meat and dairy products, it does not recommend limits on consumption and stops short of explicitly calling on everyone to become vegan or vegetarian.
“There is much more we could do in that space that we are not doing, partly because it is difficult,” said Pete Smith, a professor at the University of Aberdeen and a senior IPCC author. “You wouldn’t want to tell people what to eat, that would go down badly. But you could incentivise.”
The IPCC report suggests “factoring environmental costs into food”. Previous studies have suggested meat taxes, or subsidised fruit and vegetables. Meat production ties up most farmland and cutting consumption could release millions of square kilometres for forestry or bioenergy crops, the report says, as could cutting food waste.
Caterina Brandmayr of the Green Alliance thinktank, said: “The key message from the IPCC is urgency: we need to act now to plant new forests, restore our ecosystems, and, yes, to eat less meat.”
Cutting the amount of meat and dairy products eaten in wealthy nations is a “major opportunity”, the IPCC report says, due to the heavy environmental impact of intensively reared cattle. Drastically reducing food waste – 25-30 per cent of all food is never eaten – must also be a key priority.
The report on land use and climate change evaluates eight types of diet and their carbon mitigation potential. The vegan diet (no animal source food) is most effective in that regard, followed by the vegetarian diet (meat/seafood once a month), the flexitarian diet (limited meat and dairy) and the healthy diet (limited sugar, meat and dairy).
Next in the rankings was the “fair and frugal” diet (limited animal source food, rich in calories); the pescatarian diet (seafood), the climate carnivore diet (limited ruminant meat and dairy) and the Mediterranean diet (moderate meat, rich in vegetables).