Veganism plants sturdy roots in island of meat-eaters

A nation of meat-eaters is slowly coming to terms with the benefits of plant-based diets, and chefs and TV presenters are influencing their choices, says vegan chef Mark Morales

Restaurants have begun to accommodate vegetarians and vegans and expanded their menus
Restaurants have begun to accommodate vegetarians and vegans and expanded their menus

A nation of meat-eaters is slowly coming to terms with the benefits of plant-based diets, and chefs and TV presenters are influencing their choices, says vegan chef Mark Morales.

Malta has been slow on the uptake but, as meat-free and vegan lifestyles take other parts of the world by storm, even a small island where meat-and-two-veg dinners are the norm is showing itself open to meat substitutes.

“Veganism has become more mainstream. Social media and celebrities have made the public more aware of the growing trend, and shows such as Ninvestigaw x’Qed Nieklu on TVM have helped a lot,” Morales says.

Yet another “meat-free week” has passed in Malta, where a growing industry of foods and restaurants are promoting flexitarian concepts for people to be weaned off their regular consumption of meat. Even Facebook pages like Vegan Malta or Vegan Malta Eats have up to 16,500 followers, signalling a modest yet growing interest in veganism.

“Funny story: back in 1986, when my mother first went vegetarian, it was difficult. She went to a restaurant and told them she was vegetarian, so they got her a piece of cauliflower. Back in the day it was hard, because of people’s mentality, but so much has changed now,” he said.

Today, restaurants have begun to accommodate vegetarians and vegans and expanded their menus.

“It’s easier than ever to go meatless or choosing a vegan lifestyle. And the myth that it is an expensive choice, is false. What I’m finding is that it is being a meat-eater that has now become more expensive, even with fish and seafood. Buying fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, which is the diet every healthy vegan should follow, is cheap and affordable. I mean… if you’re buying vegan cheese and meat substitutes it might be more expensive but not more than meat. I think you’ll spend less money being a vegan than being a meat-eater,” Morales says.

But he admits that practised incorrectly, veganism can be unhealthy – “however, no unhealthier than a meat-eater who does not look after themselves.”

Mark Morales at the Gourmet Challenge studios: “It’s easier than ever to go meatless or choosing a vegan lifestyle. And the myth that it is an expensive choice, is false”
Mark Morales at the Gourmet Challenge studios: “It’s easier than ever to go meatless or choosing a vegan lifestyle. And the myth that it is an expensive choice, is false”

“It can be an unhealthy lifestyle if the person is not paying attention to their diet. But it’s the same for meat-eaters who don’t pay attention to their diet and end up missing a lot of vitamins and minerals because they are just eating meat every day. Likewise, for a vegan who is just eating vegan cheese, vegan yoghurt, bread and pasta, and foods that do not contain much nutrition,” Morales said.

For example, Morales says it is especially unhealthy when a person stops eating meat, without a substitute to compensate for the protein, vitamin and mineral loss. “Meat needs to be substituted with nuts, vegetables and grains… it’s very easy to get protein if you know where to look.”

He recommends when first starting out, that persons should take supplements. “I think if you are a heavy meat eater, and you switch totally to the vegan lifestyle, it’s recommended for the first few months to take supplements to help with the body’s transition.”

The human body is like a machine that grows accustomed to the intake of animal protein and B12 from meat, which means it will need the time to acclimatise to a radical dietary shift. “People will need meat substitutes. If you go cold turkey, cravings will set in, and you will not be able to keep up with the lifestyle. Everything needs to be done in steps.”

Morales also insists it is a misconception that human beings need milk, itself an animal protein. “People do not need to drink milk; spinach has more calcium than milk. You know a horse eats just grass, and I’m sure if a horse is eating fresh grass from the field, they’re not lacking in calcium. It’s very easy to get calcium, not from milk… that’s just propaganda from the dairy industry,” he insists.

Morales advises that people should research a shift to a vegan lifestyle, and to come to their own conclusion before going meatless. “It’s important they know why they’re going down that path… to decide not to be part of that system or the pain and suffering of animals. Even people who continue to eat meat should be researching exactly where their meat comes from. A lot of the time animals are not being fed properly, many of them are sick, and have a weak immune system, and the life they live is a poor one. So the quality of meat is also poor.”

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