The Malta Independent 22 February 2020, Saturday

Veganuary 2019: Plant-based lifestyle in Malta, a trend here to stay?

Giulia Magri Monday, 14 January 2019, 09:00 Last update: about 2 years ago

As 2019 rolls on, so does the never-ending list of New Year's resolutions. The most popular resolution is to lose weight and eat more healthily. January has also become the month in which people pledge to try - as much as possible - to follow a vegan diet, therefore excluding meat, poultry, fish, dairy products and eggs. The Veganuary campaign grew by 183 per cent last year, with 168,500 participants, and organisers of the British-based campaign have noted that a record number of 170,000 people across 14 countries have signed up for Veganuary in 2019.

Many are aware of the numerous reasons why people become vegan, be it for health reasons, the impact that meat production has on the environment, the well-being of animals or simply taking more interest in knowing where their food comes from and how it is produced. The plant-based, vegan lifestyle is extremely popular abroad, but what is the current situation in Malta with regard to veganism? In a country that takes pride in local dishes such as rabbit stew and the seasonal lampuka, is there awareness in restaurants other catering establishments about veganism?

According to a poll posted on the social media page 'Vegan Malta Eats', 66 people said that they had turned vegan before 2018, and a further 19 became vegan last year. A total of 25 people voted that they had been fluctuating between a vegetarian and a vegan diet before 2018, and 23 people were vegetarian before 2018.

There has also been more awareness of plant-based options in the catering business, as more and more restaurants are catering for vegans, some also creating a separate menu. Last year alone saw the opening of the vegetarian/vegan restaurant Balance Bowl in Gzira and Dr Juice expanding the vegan choices in their outlets. Plant-based food has become available on demand, not just at such restaurants but even simple takeaway places will have at least one vegetarian/vegan burger option, which is an extremely different situation compared to a few years ago.

Going plant-based/vegan does not have to be an all or nothing way of eating. What is most important is that people are more aware of not just the food they are consuming but also of the everyday products used and the environmental impact this has on the planet. Just as eating less meat cuts down on the greenhouse gasses that are produced by cattle farms, so does walking more and using the car less.

Maltese plant-based social media influencers

Deliciously Ella, Irish Happy Pear Twins Stephan and David Flynn are just a few of the numerous Vegan influencers who have taken their plant-based diets and made not just a platform of awareness but also a business out of it, creating workshops and writing plant-based cookery books. There are also many Maltese who have taken their vegan/plant-based lifestyle as a means of showing others the benefits of living such a lifestyle, two of whom are Nikita Manduca and Martina Camilleri. Martina started her own self-catering business - Food Therapy for a conscious living - in 2016. In the past year she has taken part in numerous markets selling her vegan savoury and sweet treats, and  has organised numerous vegan/raw cookery workshops for both adults and children. 'Naturally Nourished Nikki' is Nikita Manduca's personal lifestyle and wellbeing blog, where she posts her own plant-based recipes and information to help educate and guide her readers to find healthier options and become more aware of the impact of their diet.

How long have you been vegan and was the transition period difficult?


Nikita:  "I started eating vegan when I moved to Australia a few years ago while I was working in a vegan environment that just influenced me. I didn't even realise I was vegan as the options were endless, the food tasted better and before I knew it, I hadn't touched animal products for six months! I decided to try keeping it up when I came back to Malta, but it wasn't so easy because I'm also celiac and at the time gluten-free options weren't as common.

I prefer to say I follow a plant-based diet, as certain gluten-free products contain traces of dairy and egg, so as much as possible I am just very conscious of what I eat. Eating out three years ago in Malta wasn't easy but in the last two years restaurants have become more aware of diets and some also have separate gluten-free and vegan menus, which is great. There is also now much more awareness, through documentaries and social media pages, such as the page Vegan Malta."

Martina: "I've been vegan for almost three years now and back then, eating out was definitely a struggle, especially since there was hardly any awareness and knowledge about living a vegan lifestyle and diet. However, I've seen a huge improvement over the past few months with regard to restaurants becoming more aware."


What advice would you give to someone trying vegan for the first time?

Nikita: "Get as much support as you can and follow vegan Instagram accounts and groups where people are also on the same journey. It's important to do your own research and to know what is and isn't actually vegan. When it comes to eating out, Google which restaurants cater for vegans and if necessary ring them in advance as they are more likely to be able to help you if they know beforehand. Also learn the substitutes, such as egg can be replaced by a chia/flax egg or scrambled tofu instead of normal scrambled egg."

Martina: "It's important to start with an open mind and you'll be surprised how satisfying and flavoursome vegan dishes are. It's also a great time to get creative in the kitchen and to learn how to cook. And don't give up or beat yourself up if you have a few slips here and there, but enjoy the journey, be kind to yourself and always listen to your body. You will also begin to notice physical as well as emotional changes from following such a lifestyle and love for animals too."


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