I was one of those teenagers who identified as a vegetarian, except on a Sunday when mum cooked a roast, which meant vegetarianism never lasted longer than a week. The extent of my adolescent philosophical pondering led me to believe that if animals weren’t meant to be eaten, they wouldn’t be made of meat.
My move to Canberra in 2009 to complete a degree in primatology coincided with my move to vegetarianism. How could I advocate for the welfare and rights of some animals, but stick my fork in others? How could I love the dog, but eat the hog? Mmmm. Bacon.
I went cold turkey on meat. Free-range eggs were okay. But sometimes I didn’t bother to check. Dairy was okay, too. After all, those lady cows needed to be milked, otherwise their udders would explode. At the end of this animal lover’s day, eggs and dairy formed the spine of my Sunday morning ritual.
As a committed vegetarian, I engaged in vegan foreplay for years, but was never able to commit. The longest dalliance lasted 3 weeks, but the whole time my mind and taste buds wandered. Vegan one minute, face-planting a cake cabinet the next. As a vegetarian, I could have my cake and eat it too, and eat it I did.
This is the part that gets awkward. The bit where I tell you that I have taken the ‘etari’ out of vegetarian. Hang on a second, while I stand up for this bit. Okay, here we go.*clears thoat* “My name is Penelope, and I am a vegan. This means I don’t consume any animal products. No meat, eggs, dairy or honey.”
SO HOW DOES A BORN-AGAIN VEGAN NAVIGATE HER WAY AROUND THE NATION’S CAPITAL?
My first outing as a fledgling vegan went pear shaped the moment my vegetarian mate asked me what I was going to order now, instead of my usual poached eggs. I grasped the menu in my hands, feeling considerable performance anxiety as the queue of people bottle-necked behind my indecision.
Eventually I decided on the omelette. After my friend politely pointed out that omelettes were in fact eggs, I decided I would eat air for breakfast. I sat opposite her, sipping on my soy flat-white, which came with a side of discombobulation. The fear of ingesting any animal product at all had clearly scrambled my brains. Needless to say, as I fumbled my way through my first few outings as a debutante vegan, I wasn’t exactly oozing quinoa infused confidence.
Instead, the people taking my order would stare at me, quite perplexed, as I blurted out random words like, ‘Me. Vegan’. They couldn’t care less what I was, just as long as I could string a sentence together, and didn’t hold up the line. As they wrote ‘conflicted vegan’ on my take-away cup, I am sure they wondered whether they could get away with slipping a Valium into my soy chai latte.
After several robotic attempts at ordering a vegan meal, it occurred to me that the person making veganism hard, was me. In fact, overwhelmingly, since coming to this realisation, and making the conscious decision to be an ‘out and proud’ vegan, I have only been met with a tremendous amount of good-will all over town.
So does your eating out experience in Canberra have to change as a result of veganism? Can I have an unequivocal ‘hell yes’? I need to be clear here, it is not necessarily worse, but it is different. Unless you go to an established vegan café or restaurant (and there are a couple of those in Canberra), you will need to be willing to ‘build your own’ meal.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN AD(VEGAN)TURE: EATING OUT AS A VEGAN IN CANBERRA
Canberra is vegan friendly. This is largely thanks to the trail blazing vegetarians who went before us. All establishments now have at least one vegetarian dish on their menu, and one day I am sure, this will be the case for vegans too. Some places have already branched out to offer a variety of vegan meals in their otherwise omnivorous menu, but in most cases you will need to choose from the vegetarian options and take it from there. Every establishment I visited (and there were 15 of them), were more than happy to adapt their menu. It is important to remember, you are not the only vegan in the village. Vegans have gone before you.
The first thing you do as a vegan, eating in a non-vegan establishment, is to scan the menu looking for anything vaguely vegan. Pulp Kitchen was the venue of my first ‘brunch with mates’, as a vegan. While I didn’t have any luck with the set menu, the folks at Pulp Kitchen, were willing to get in touch with their creative side and have their chef whip up a ‘Vegan Surprise’ (this was actually written on the bill when I went to pay).
IBG (Ink Bake Grill)
The most warm and fuzzy experience I had in a non-vegan café was at the newly opened IBG (Ink Bake Grill), in Deakin. On my first outing there I tried their non-dairy chia pudding, mainly because it was the only obvious vegan choice on the menu and I didn’t want to rock the boat on my lunch break.
The next time I ventured in, I boldly announced my veganism, and ordered the mushroom burger. Not vegan as it turned out. I was thwarted by the invisible dairy, but the staff were all over my inexperience, “She is a new vegan, she is still figuring it all out”. Before I knew it, they were building a meal for me from scratch, checking the ingredients with the chef. In the end I was proudly presented with a mammoth sized char-grilled vegetable burger. IBG is a great place, but at the moment, it is only open during the week, but there are plans to open on weekends.
TILLEY’S DEVINE CAFE
There are just two letters which will bring about a Pavlovian response in any vegan. VO (Vegan Option), which indicates a willingness and ability to adapt a vegetarian meal, into a Vegan Option. Tilley’s in Lyneham comes to mind. A vegan lentil burger is a permanent feature on their menu, and they also offer several vegan option meals, such as their Vegan Nachos, which I have inhaled on multiple occasions.
ADORE TEA HOUSE
The gong for ‘Jesus, Mary, Joseph! I can’t believe this place has a vegan dessert’, goes to Adore Tea House at Gold Creek. Vegan desserts are pretty much unheard of in non-vegan establishments, so when I stumbled across a whole pear, poached in tea, and served with a side of soy vanilla ice cream, I vocalised loudly. When presented with such an unexpected delight, my professional self was out-manoeuvred by my hedonistic self and I devoured the evidence before I remembered that I was supposed to take a photo of it for this article. (I thought I would have to invite you to use your imaginations for this one, but luckily, our photographer got this pic in just in time…)
As a naïve vegan, in the early days, I lived off avocado. So much so, I began to resemble one on legs. Subsequently, I declare myself a connoisseur of smashed avocado dishes in Canberra. So it is with no further ado, that I tip my hat to Bookplate for the most satisfying avocado brunch. And for those of you with a sweet tooth, they also serve vegan chocolate brownies.
Even though navigating veganism in Canberra has been relatively painless for me, and for the animals I don’t want to eat, there are days when you have a hankering for something other than a salad, lentil burger, or (I can’t believe I am saying this)… smashed avocado. This desire hit me mid-way through researching this article, so I trotted off to Sweet Bones in Braddon, an award-winning café that serves only vegan food.
The plan was to harness my chi, people-watch other vegans (in a non-creepy way), and write some earth shattering philosophical reflections. At least, that is what I would have done if I had been able to get in the door. You see, that is the thing about Sweet Bones. It is situated smack bang (in the centre of the universe) where all the hip- to- the- groove Homo sapiens like to gather in Canberra. I stood outside Sweet Bones, gazing longingly through the door, like a dog waiting patiently for its owner outside the local IGA. After about 30 minutes, I grabbed my bat and ball and walked into Civic for a sushi roll. Avocado. But, in the name of credible and balanced journalism, I dusted myself off, jumped back on the horse, and cantered back to Sweet Bones. With a hop, skip and a jump, I catapulted myself with the reflexes of a Russian gymnast, towards the last empty table. This better be good.
Here’s the thing I discovered on that day. Sweet Bones is good. It is better than good, which is why vegans and non-vegans alike are spilling out the door, and onto the pavement. Patti Smith serenaded me as I nibbled on my Eggless Sandwich, which was easily the tastiest morsel I ate on my Vegan pilgrimage.
CAPITAL FARMERS MARKET
I have to say, there is something about making the effort to roll out of bed on a Saturday morning, to arrive dishevelled at the Capital Farmers Market in Epic. For one thing, it gives me an excuse to crack out my Little Red Riding Hood basket and use it for the purpose for which it was intended. That is to hold the vegetables, and aspirations of a newly domesticated vegan goddess, instead of the toilet paper rolls to which it grew accustomed.
The Farmers Market is not for a vegan with a weak stomach. To get to the fresh fruit and vegetables, you need to be willing to weave your way through a menagerie of animal products. If that doesn’t tempt you, Crafted3 and their vegan cupcakes might, a perfect end to a vegan hunting and gathering exercise.
I underestimated the generosity and warmth of the Canberra culinary community. I was surprised by how many people wanted to talk about Veganism. Mainly they asked why, and I responded with this little tale: About ten years ago I went along to listen to Dr. Jane Goodall, world renowned primatologist, speak about the state of the environment and animal conservation. “How many people here love animals?” she asked. I threw my hand up without hesitation. I was all over this. I love animals. Some of my best friends in life have been animals. Then she asked “How many of you eat animals?” Damn.
To find out more about veganism in Canberra visit
Vegan ACT website or Facebook
Vegan Embracing Restaurants
Kingsland Vegan Restaurant
My Rainbow Dreams Café
Au Lac Gourmet Vegetarian Restaurant
Tilley’s Devine Café Gallery
Ink Bake Grill
Adore Tea House
Cruelty Free Sweetie Treaties
Mountain Creek Wholefoods
Living Green Festival – Sunday, 4 October at Albert Hall