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Not long ago veganism was synonymous with hairy armpits and hippie communes. How the tables have turned. Today, it seems, the shiniest, happiest, most beautiful people are vegans, or at least that’s how it appears on Instagram where vegan celebrities and healthy social stars are posting dairy and meat-free food porn pictures that could turn Nigella Lawson.
Forget juicy rump steaks and dripping chocolate pudding. Scroll through your Instagram feed and you’ll find lush organic blueberries and decadent desserts made from coconut water, raw cacao and cashews over creamy dairy products. And they look (and taste) amazing.
So, too, do their devotees, like Victoria’s Secret model Bridget Malcolm. She’s been dabbling in veganism – the abstinence of all animal products including eggs, dairy and leather – since 2009 and, now a “fully committed” vegan, was named PeTA’s sexiest Australian vegan in 2015.
Amongst regular posts about her latest modelling gigs, you’ll find the odd mouth-watering vegan dish (the sweet potato burrito from Brooklyn’s Jungle Café is her current fave. While there’s certainly no better advertisement for the healthy, cruelty-free lifestyle, that’s not Bridget’s only motive.
“Vegan food is delicious!” the NY-based Aussie model told Yahoo7 Health. “You don’t deprive yourself eating this way. I find my followers are highly positive to these posts.”
As for her critics – and there are plenty – Malcolm accepts the issue is contentious. “There’s nothing worse than someone forcing their belief system on you and I think that vegans get a bad rap for being a bit evangelical,” she says. “We associate food with our childhood, with love and family, so no wonder there is such a polarising reaction to adopting a vegan lifestyle. However it is becoming more acceptable.”
While other celebrity endorsers like Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus, have certainly whetted the public’s appetite, some of the most influential names in the vegan movement are Insta-famous foodies. At one end there are evangelicals like US blogger and author Kristina Carrillo-Bucaram (@fullyrawkristina) who recently boasted of a nine-day water fast to her 785,000 Instagram followers.
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At the other extreme is Bonny Rebecca (@bonnyrebecca), a 23-year-old Sydney woman whose posts include sinful-looking cakes and delicious, flaky pies. Bonny advocates a gentler message to her 276,000 Instagram followers. “I promote a more well-rounded vegan lifestyle including cooked foods, which resonates better and allows people to feel they’re not restricted,” she told Yahoo7 Health.
It’s this balanced ability to eat lashings of food guilt-free that first turned Bonny onto veganism two years ago and makes it so popular with other young women, but it’s not the whole story she says. “I just hope people realise they can live an abundant lifestyle cruelty free, and help the planet,” she says.
The message is clearly resonating – type the hashtag #vegan into Instagram and you’ll get three times the number of posts you’ll get for #vegetarian and eight times the number for #meat.
Agent for change
Of course none of this surprises early adopter Maz Valcorza, now 28, whose vegan blogs proved so popular, in 2012 she founded Sydney’s first organic, raw, vegan café, Sadhana Kitchen. Now with a second café in Bondi, she’s just released a book of raw vegan recipes called The Naked Vegan (Murdoch Books; 2016).
“In the beginning, I just wanted to share photos of the food because it was so vibrant,” she told Yahoo7 Health. “Now I love being able to change what people expect when they think about raw vegan food specifically, and healthy foods generally. The food is so beautiful and delicious; it’s not just carrot sticks. Every time I post I get so much engagement, like, ‘Oh my god I need this in my life!’”
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While Sadhana’s demographic is largely women aged 18 to 24, there’s been a notable shift from hardcore vegans to body builders, celebrities, families and the health-conscious, and that’s the key advises the one-time pharmaceutical sales manager. “Look at what micro-nutrients you need and find the best plant-based sources of them, then look at how to prepare and eat them so they can provide for your body healthily.”
Taste is also mandatory in Maz’s book, and if you’re not convinced, she challenges you to try her Mushroom Fiesta Tacos. They’re easy to prepare, ‘moreish’ and great for sharing with sceptics. And if that fails you can always pop online where, if the vegan food porn doesn’t turn you on, the shiny, happy vegans just might.