Plant-based diets a growing trend in Cape Town

Advocates for a vegan diet say it is healthier than eating animal products.

The vegan trend is a growing one in Cape Town, with more people changing what they eat, and restaurants making the choice to offer plant-based options on the menu.

According to Google Trends data, South Africa is among the top 30 countries worldwide where veganism was most popular over the past 12 months.

South Africa ranks in 23rd place, and is the only African country with a sizeable vegan following.

Let’s break it down – veganism is the practice of not eating food derived from animal products.

This means that if you make the choice to become vegan, you refrain from eating meat, poultry, eggs, shellfish and dairy products.

Vegetarians adopt a similar diet, however, some vegetarians will eat dairy products and eggs.

And as vegan and plant-based diets are becoming more popular, some restaurants are catering to these dietary requirements.

The Table Bay Hotel is among several restaurants which have recently introduced a plant-based menu.

Table Bay sous chef Wesli Jacobs with a vegan biscotti that was recently added to the menu.

The executive sous chef at Table Bay, Wesli Jacobs, said visitors to the hotel have started asking for more vegan options.

He said they started small, giving different breakfast options with the use of mushrooms and tomatoes, and as the demand increased, they offered options of tofu and soya sausage which provides people who don’t eat meat with the same intake of protein. “It’s a big trend for people who want to be healthy and stay away from animal food.”

They’ve recently introduced a full on menu, and Mr Jacobs said he immersed himself into the vegan lifestyle for 21 days before putting it together.

“I felt amazing – my energy levels increased and I lost 6kg. You also sleep better because your body receives the right nutrients.”

He said some of the substitutes he made used soya, lentils and fleshy vegetables such as mushrooms, cauliflower and potatoes. The flavours are enhanced with different sauces, dips and spices.

“There are many things you can do with day-to-day vegetables – some are so flexible. Take chickpeas- you can make falafel and burger patties.”

He said there was a stigma with veganism that people miss out on the good things like desserts. “Vegan ice cream is suddenly better and healthier than normal ice cream… it’s about creativity and consistency.”

Pastry chef Thabile Mloyeni with his vegan pana cotta.

Pastry chef Thabile Mloyeni , agreed, saying its a matter of playing around with flavours.

“It’s easier to put vegan dishes together. People say my desserts taste like ’normal’ dessert. This is another myth because people assume things taste ’vegan’ because it is healthier, but it’s about using substitutes and creating flavours.”

Tiger Brands Venture Capital Fund has made its first investment in Herbivore Earthfoods, a Cape Town business specialising in the manufacture and sale of plant-based and vegan products.

The company’s product line includes dairy-free milk alternatives and desserts, confectionery and protein alternatives.

Together with co-investor, Secha Capital, an early-stage impact private equity firm, the Tiger Brands Venture Capital Fund has become a minority shareholder in the business, which is co-run by founder, Chanel Grantham and Davey du Plessis, Herbivore Earthfoods director.

Barati Mahloele, Venture Capital Fund director at Tiger Brands, said South Africans and consumers across the continent are driving increased interest and desire for a wide range of plant-based products.

Ms Grantham said plant-based was seen as the future of food. “More consumers are realising the benefits of a plant-based diet. Our goal is to give our consumers more plant-based options that are tasty and affordable.”

Tiger Brands and Secha Capital will use their experience in the food and beverage sector to help grow and scale Herbivore Earthfoods with one of its objectives being to make plant-based foods more accessible and affordable for the South African consumer.

While Ms Grantham sees veganism as the future of food, for raw vegan Beatrice Holst, people are merely going back to the simplistic way of cooking. For many of her clients, she says, they identify the foods she uses in her recipes from their childhoods. “I think that in South Africa, we are used to these, but the lack of education and the popularity of fast food and eating on the go made us fall off the wagon. People need to get more in touch with nature.”

Ms Holst, who is from Denmark, became a raw food vegan about 10 years ago because she wanted to be healthier. She was diagnosed with cancer, wore reading glasses and had arthritis. She attributes her improved health to eating better. She says she no longer wears glasses or suffers from arthritis, and is cured from cancer. “Eating unhealthily is like depriving your body of nutrients. In nature, animals don’t cook food or add preservatives, they eat what nature gives them.”

She said eight years ago, she moved to South Africa and there were no plant-based options, so she started making her own. This led to the birth of her then restaurant, Raw and Roxy, which found a home in the city centre until it closed due to the pandemic.

She is raw vegan, which is a subset of veganism, however, it adds concept or raw foodism, which dictates that foods should be eaten completely raw or heated at temperatures below 40 degrees, because “nothing naturally grows over 40 degrees”.

Ms Holst, who now helps people detox and heal through veganism and other health concoctions she learnt through working with traditional healers, life coaches and wild harvesters, among others, says her clientele has changed to people from the poorest communities with ailments, to the middle class who just want to eat healthier.

She said South Africans were lucky to have so many natural resources growing all around, and people can find almost anything from food markets, farms and local grocers. “You really don’t have to spend a lot or be fancy. Just buy what’s in season, and use the veggies you would usually buy to create good foods.

“I think people are becoming more woke. With the new generation of children having access to information all the time, they care about the planet and cruelty to animals. They educate their parents, and they spread the word. It’s a matter of education.”

And with people becoming more aware, a large part of veganism is a concern about animal cruelty.

This is evident in lifestyle choices that vegans make, such as refraining from wearing or using wool, fur, silk, or leather, because it comes from animals.

Vegan make-up has also been introduced, with products being developed with natural, plant-based ingredients.

Make-up manufacturers KryolanSA announced that it will be expanding the range to include vegan products, which will soon be available in South Africa.

KryolanSA’s head of make-up, education, marketing and social media, Cuan Kemp, said: “Humans are a part of nature. We are organic beings. It makes sense that what we put into our bodies and onto our skin remains as close to nature as possible.”

Founding partner of Lekka Vegan in Kloof Street, James Knaap, said, in his experience, he found that people were choosing plant-based foods for different reasons, but also, more people were becoming aware of the cruelty to animals.

He said at his restaurant, a large percentage of the clients were not even vegan, but just chose to cut down on meat. “For me, veganism itself is not growing per se, but the act of reducing meat gradually and choosing plant-based products is becoming more mainstream.”

Mr Knaap became vegan about five years ago for health reasons, and, after becoming more aware of how animals are treated in the food industry, he started advocating for the lifestyle change.

He said while people are focusing on healthy foods, there was little space for vegans to eat comfort foods like burgers, chips and gatsbys, which led to the opening of Lekka Vegan, which recently moved to Kloof Street from Harrington Street.

He said the mainstream foods that vegans can eat were picking up now that society is more open to plant-based. “We can now eat jelly tots, Oreos, junk food and even vegan cheese.”

Meanwhile, with the growing trend, The Plant Powered Show, the first of its kind in South Africa, will take place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre from Friday May 27 to Sunday May 29.

The event aims to bring the plant-based, vegetarian, vegan and conscious-living revolution to a mainstream audience.

The Plant Powered Show will feature professional chefs, celebrity cooks and rising stars presenting live cooking demos, diverse and compelling talks by the health and wellness experts, premium and interactive experiences, exclusive industry networking and a marketplace of plant-based food, drink and lifestyle products.

Tickets, which cost R120 online and R250 at the door, are on sale at Quicket.