According to research published by Grain – a not for profit that supports farmers – and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the meat and dairy industries will overtake the oil industry as the earth’s biggest polluters by 2050. To some, this news will be shocking – to others, this won’t come as a surprise at all. Meat and dairy products also cause a massive conflict of interest when it comes to animal rights issues and other ethical matters as well. While it may seem that we here in Australia are powerless, not everyone feels that way. Australia is home to the third-fastest growing vegan market in the world, and Sydney is at the heart of the action – and activism.
When talking about Sydney’s role in the movement, it would be hard to ignore the work of Suzy Spoon’s Vegetarian Butcher. This independent business – created as a labour of love by Suzy herself – isn’t just a food company, it’s representative of something bigger, an entire ethos. Its owner has now not eaten meat for 32 years – and she’s making it easier for the rest of us not to feel the need to, too. Producing an amazing wholly vegan range of sausages, fillets and even festive roasts, Suzy goes to great lengths to ensure that there’s something to suit us all.
To understand the lifestyle that has so easily infiltrated local culture of late – as well as the reasons why – we thought there was no better person to catch up with than Suzy herself.
BYO: You recently got involved with Bunnings’ first ever vegan sausage sizzle in Alexandria on July 14. How did that come about, and is it something you’ve been interested in doing for a while?
Suzy: Last year I was approached by the Paws for Fun dog agility club in Castle Hill with a plan of putting on an all vegan sausage sizzle at Bunnings. I’d not previously heard of one in NSW, but had seen the ones in Victoria had been quite successful - so I was quick to jump onboard and sponsor the event. It turns out there was a vegan Bunnings sausage sizzle in May last year in Lismore so we weren't the first. But we were so impressed with the response from the vegan community who came in droves to make ours a major success.
BYO: When it comes to veganism in Sydney, do you agree that there’s been a significant rise in the uptake of people eating purely plant-based diets – and as a result, do you think that attitudes towards you have changed since starting your company?
Suzy: Yes, I agree the local vegan landscape has changed and grown dramatically over the past 6 years. And yes, I’ve seen attitudes change towards veganism in that time. Sydney has really embraced the plant-based revolution with huge amounts of people moving to a plant-based diet. And even meat eaters are eating less meat and getting involved in Meat-free Monday or Meatless May for example. It's a really exciting time.
BYO: Veganism is arguably in the mainstream consciousness more than ever before. How easy is it for an independent company like yourselves to compete against some of the bigger names which are emerging in the vegan markets?
Suzy: It’s always going to be hard for small business due to cash flow and financial capital limitations. Some small businesses might be able to become larger businesses through hard work and perseverance, while other small vegan businesses might find investors or interested financial partners due to the growing demand of vegan products. What I’ve found hard is competing with Australian and foreign companies that make cheap, crap products using cheap fillers because the customer can't always see why those products are so cheap compared with our products!
BYO: The concept of a “vegan butcher” is obviously pretty unique and it makes people sit up and take note. When it comes to semantics, has the word “butcher” ever been polarising in the vegan community?
Suzy: Sure, when I first opened on Enmore Road six years ago, some people were not happy I’d used the word “butcher” in the name. Some were meat eaters that wanted to keep the word for themselves and some were vegans who didn't like the word used for plant-based products. But we never get comments or complaints about it anymore, people are used to it now. Even though we ruffled some feathers, I’m glad I chose that name because it helped spread the word in the early days and it got people talking about us which is worth a million dollars to a new business.
BYO: It’s said that less than 1 per cent of meat butchers are women. Despite the obvious differences between meat and vegan food; as a woman, did you feel any of the same barriers with your business that are clearly in place in the meat industry? How did you get started?
Suzy: It’s a man’s world, and there are invisible barriers for all woman in business as there are in life. I have experienced many situations while owning this business where I’ve been ignored or negatively targeted because of my gender. The main one relating to the meat industry is in regard to butcher production equipment suppliers. I’m not sure which they made fun of the most, that I am a woman or that I am making vegan sausages. But when you are not taken seriously while trying to spend $70 000 on equipment it can be very frustrating.
BYO: Veganism is attractive to a lot of people, whether for ethical, environmental, or health reasons. Is there are particular cause you are passionate about with Suzy Spoon?
Suzy: I’m in it for the animals. We sponsor and have been supportive of many animal rights related groups over the years. But the issue that I think needs the most attention right now is live animal exporting. It’s imperative as a nation to put an end to the cruel reality of live animal exporting.
BYO: Finally, Sydney is home to so many incredible vegan restaurants, markets, and vegan-friendly stores. Do you have any favourites – or perhaps any tips for locals new to the lifestyle? And do you think Sydney – as part of the vegan revolution – is one of the cities leading the way?
Suzy: Yes, I think Sydney is one of the cities leading the way in veganism for sure. We have so many options now, it’s great. I think Sydney Vegan Market is the best thing to happen to Sydney in a long time. And it’s the perfect place to go if you are vegan curious, new to the scene or even an old-school vegan from way back.
If you’re interested in trying Suzy Spoon’s amazing range of products, you can find them at a variety of stockists across Sydney, you can pop into the Factory Outlet in St Peters or you can order them online.
Suzy Spoon's Vegetarian Butcher
49-51 Hutchinson Street
Mon – Fri, 9am – 4pm