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Photo: Getty Images
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KaiMarch 20, 2019

How I learned to stop worrying and love the vegans

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Restaurateur Ganesh Raj details the future-of-food epiphany that led him to the conclusion that once the meat-mad dinosaurs are gone, the world will be a better place.

My task was clear. Immerse myself in an alternative universe. One where there might never be meat, as we know it, again. A world where farms would disappear, maybe. And scientists could run our taste buds… maybe.

I was presenting What Next: Carnivore No More. It’s part of a TVNZ OnDemand series following on from the hugely successful TV show by Nigel Latta and John Campbell, where they explored what New Zealand could look like in 2037.

My episode was the exploration of where the meat industry and meat consumption are headed in the next 20 years, and how people view the future of food. But no amount ashtanga yoga would have prepared me for the mental gymnastics I went through in the process.

I ate NZ-bred wagyu almost straight off the animal. It was delicious. That’s going nowhere. Even if we ditch meat and go with the multitude of alternative pea protein products hitting the market, this stuff will remain the holy grail of carnivores everywhere.

But there’s no denying the world transformed when the millennials went vegan. Environmentalists wrapped themselves in the vegan glow and sides were taken. And the phrase ‘f*&cking vegans’ was being dished out by dinosaurs everywhere. 

But then I actually met ‘the vegans’. And they blew my mind.

“The millennials are truly the future of food thought on this planet and their views will shape the future of what we eat” (Photo: Supplied)

They wanted to help the environment and were willing to make every sacrifice to do that. And eating farting cows is something they’ve eliminated without a whimper. They just did it. And I love them for it. The millennials are truly the future of food thinking on this planet and their views will shape the future of what we eat. Their intentions are sound. And things will get better on the planet once the meat-mad dinosaurs are dead.

At my restaurant, The Tasting Shed, we’ve always treated vegetarian dishes as just dishes. There’s no dish discrimination at our joint. And our vegan events are blowing up: ‘Vegans are People Too’ was followed by ‘Vegans of South East Asia’, which led to ‘Vegans of Arabia’, and soon it will be ‘Vegans of the Caribbean’. Every event is curated to deliver fun and excitement, taking vegans (and non-vegans) to flavours they’ve never been to before. 

End of plug. Back to the show.

I met a dairy farmer whose mental health was being ripped from him by global milk powder prices. They’re prices he had no control over, but they controlled his every waking hour. An all too common story in the farming world. So he and his wife made the brave decision to break the shackles of generational farming, and plant pumpkin instead. 

Now he gets a 20-times return from the same piece of land – without the stress – and a future-focused food business. Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin flour are amazing protein sources and the demand for them is growing.

This couple made the brave decision to break the shackles of generational farming – and plant pumpkin (Photo: Supplied)

Their story in particular got me. This husband and wife team had to break so many norms to reach a solution that was good for them. And I learnt about how much water and resource goes into beef production. Personally, I have cut back significantly and can see myself giving beef up altogether. But not chicken, no. Unless their farts also end up making big holes in the sky. Then maybe.

I tried lab meat: the Beyond product. It’s a very competent substitute if you do an Eketahuna switch and pop it in a fast food burger – no one would be the wiser. Fake meat production will help the planet because beef production will go down. But lab-grown meat is a mass-market product and does not stand on its own as a food group. Over 45s might use it to reduce their meat consumption, but the millennials could not care less. They’re happy with what plants provide and don’t seem to care about needing a substitute.

So, what did I learn?

New Zealand is miles ahead in thought – and process – compared to the rest of the planet when it comes to adapting to environmental challenges. We have the ability to change to a more vegetarian/vegan existence if we wanted to. But we also have a great premium beef product that the planet will want for a long time to come. And once the dinosaurs are gone, the world will be a better place.

So thank god for the f*&cking millennials. They’re doing us proud.

What Next: A New Chapter is on TVNZ OnDemand

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