While veganism in Ireland is often cited as the 'trending diet of the moment', those who walk the walk are in unanimous agreement: this is a permanent, sustainable, conscious lifestyle shift and not just a fad.

It's estimated that 2% of the Irish population is vegan - and a further 6% are vegetarian. Of all food tribes, vegans often seem to be the most scrutinized and ridiculed. Just this year, the state-operated food board, Bord Bia, claimed it was investing in research to discover how to "win back" those who have turned their back on meat, dairy, and other animal products.

Vegan food blogger and former Miss World Rosanna Davidson has been criticized several times by Irish farmers for her condemnation of dairy in the diet. The Natural Dairy Council even launched a social media campaign, The Complete Natural, in which it employs social media influencers and athletes to promote the "grass-fed goodness of milk". 

Lifelong vegetarian and now vegan Eva Dowling, a Green Party representative, criticized Bord Bia's ignorance in a recent think piece. If the national food board invested said money into understanding the beliefs of vegans and enhancing how this country serves them, Ireland has a shot at becoming an innovative example for a food community whose rising member base shows no sign of abating.

She wrote, "As with all diets, a predominantly plant-based one isn’t perfect, but in those imperfections lie real opportunities for Ireland to become a world leader. Bord Bia’s investment could be much better spent in researching how to overcome, and where the opportunities lie in, the countless challenges that vegetarians and vegans face on a daily basis."

Read more: Wholesome Irish soda bread recipe

"Rather than explore how lucrative this very healthy and environmentally-friendly trend could be, Bord Bia have dismissed it as a ‘faddy diet’, opting for a naïve approach, trying to ‘win back’ this cohort, when it’s already there for the taking," she continued. "For example, how to easily supplement vitamin B12; the only nutrient that is not readily available in a plant-based diet – or how Ireland can compete in the market of providing plant-based alternatives."

Even the Dublin institution that is the Shelbourne Hotel has a gluten-free and vegan version of its iconic Afternoon Tea service. In fact, everything from vegan fish and chips, vegan battered sausages, and vegan Bailey's Irish cream liqueur is serving the plant-based community in Ireland.

Inspired to learn more about the humans behind the lifestyle that we hear so much about, we reached out to five Irish people who revealed everything from their favorite veggie 'comfort dish' to the reason they ditched animal products in the first place.

Aoife Moore, aka Irish Vegan Girl

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Amazing day at @dublinvegfest, spent with amazing people, eating amazing food. 🌱#irishvegangirl

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"I made the switch to veganism five years ago after watching a video by James Aspey (above) on YouTube. He opened my mind to living a more compassionate lifestyle. I was vegetarian at the time and thought I could never give up cheese. Now I just eat vegan cheese! 

I made the switch pretty much overnight and have never looked back. This might not work for everyone, if people need to make the transition more gradual then that works too. It was originally the ethical side and the animals that made me go vegan but I quickly learned about the health and environmental benefits of veganism too. I think people have a misconception that vegan meals aren’t as tasty or as nourishing as animal-based meals.

I found that I’m stronger and healthier now than I ever was eating meat and dairy. Veganism for me has been about creating new habits and having go-to vegan meals. I love vegan burritos with tons of guacamole; so tasty and quick to make."

Read more: Magnificent seven top Irish recipes you can’t resist

Suzanne McGrath: Irish vegan based in France

 "I first adopted the vegetarian diet in October 2015. I had been working as a community manager for a web store in the farming industry. Even though I grew up close to a sheep farm in Ireland, I was very ignorant to the "behind the scenes" of farming. As a community manager, my mission was to promote organic and sustainable farming. The more I found out, the less I wanted to eat meat. I started cutting out milk, yogurt, and cheese first for medical reasons, then meat and fish. I decided to go fully vegan when I went to Madagascar for two weeks in July 2016. I was there for a charity run, with 50 other women from France, Dubai, and Canada.

We went on a charity run (seven races in all) and we visited 10 local schools, bringing school kits for the children. I decided that if I could live there for two weeks without any animal foods that I could also do it at home. There's a big misconception about what vegans eat - I share my daily meals on Instagram and Facebook and the recipes on my blog. People are very often surprised that I have such colorful and tasty food. The first image that comes to their minds about vegan food is a bowl of salad and that's it! I am trying to change that, one picture at a time. 

I have been learning so much about vegan alternatives since I started, that I shop differently. Reading Zero Waste Home by Beatrice Johnson and The Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo were life-changing books for me. I either sold, gave away, or threw out anything I owned that wasn't vegan and replaced them with vegan-friendly items. The slow cosmetic movement in France also helped me learn a lot about natural cosmetics. Products that are not tested on animals, that are free from plastics and free from nasty ingredients. My three favorite dishes for a day would be a smoothie bowl for breakfast, a Buddha bowl for lunch and a vegan chili for supper. I think that it is so important to enjoy your food, and for me vegan food is just that, a true pleasure."

Read more: Root vegetable and squash soup with cheese soda bread recipes

Holly White: Dublin-based vegan food blogger, author, and TV personality 

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This #worldveganday I would definitely encourage you to listen to a phenomenal podcast by @deliciouslyella on climate change. A few facts gained from it are that since the year 2000 an area of tropical forests the size of the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Portugal put together has been cut down or burnt for livestock grazing and feed, with the last two years being the highest on record. Deforestation is now the leading cause of wildlife extinction. We’re also currently killing about 56 BILLION farmed animals a year in, and that doesn’t include anything from the sea. Going vegan is one of the single best decisions I have ever made in my entire life both for myself and for the planet. 🌍 I’ve never felt healthier, stronger or enjoyed my food so much and I really wanted to show how delicious and easy eating this way is in my cookbook Vegan-ish. Swipe right to see some of my favorite recipes and I’ve a link in my bio today if you want to pick up a copy! I’ve also lots of recipes & tips on my site and YouTube ❤️ #veganforanimals #veganforhealth #veganforlife

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"After I watched a lot of documentaries and also read The China Study, I realized that becoming vegan was a positive change I could make for myself, the planet, and animals. I've been vegan for nearly four years now. I cut out red meat, dairy, and eggs overnight - but I stayed eating fish in some social circumstances until I cut it out about six months later. My cosmetics took about a year to change them to completely cruelty-free and vegan. Hair dye was the last thing I was able to change - now I use a brand called Natulique which is phenomenal. I think some people think vegan food cannot be as delicious, and that you can't feel strong, well, and healthy eating like this - but I feel better at 35 than I did a decade ago! Going vegan has been one of the best decisions I ever made, it's given everything so much more meaning. My hair, skin, and nails are stronger than ever and my weight maintains itself too. For a vegan treat, I have my go-to curry, or a vegan Shepherd's Pie - followed by a vegan chocolate brownie."

Holly's Vegan-ish: A Gentle Introduction to a Plant-Based Diet is published by Gill Books.

Niamh O'Mahony: Cork-based vegan food blogger 

"I have been vegan since September 2017. I made the shift after watching the documentary ‘What the Health’ on Netflix. I watched the documentary on the 11th, and by the 12th I was completely vegan! Before this, I was a major carnivore and relied heavily on the addition of meat in every meal. I found the transition pretty tough in the beginning as I had no idea of nutrition. I also didn’t realize how much I actually needed to eat as a vegan to keep my energy levels up. In the first two to three weeks, I felt very tired and overwhelmed until I started researching more about veganism and the requirements of a vegan diet. I think that there are a few misconceptions of veganism. First of all, I think that a lot of people believe that vegan food is boring, flavorless, and primarily salad based. This is so false! We don’t eat rabbit food, in fact, my food has become more exciting than ever since I have become vegan. It’s as if I have rediscovered the importance of flavor. Another misconception is that all vegans are healthy. I eat a plant-based diet, with little to no processed foods, but many vegans rely on heavily processed ready meals and desserts - vegan junk food- which can contribute to an extremely unhealthy lifestyle. Being vegan has made me learn how to appreciate my food and every meal that I have. It has taught me how to be compassionate towards every being, and how important it is to care for our planet."  

Aisling O'Loughlin: Vegan, journalist, TV presenter based in France

"Earlier this year I was doing research ahead of an appearance on The Cutting Edge with Brendan O'Connor where we were going to discuss the rise in veganism. My vegan Insta pal, Holly White, gently nudged me towards the documentary "Cowspiracy" on Netflix. That doc changed my life.

Suddenly I could see clearly how deeply I had been conditioned to believe I needed meat and dairy to survive. It was a revelatory moment and I immediately switched to veganism. Before turning vegan, grocery shopping and cooking meals for my family were the greatest chores of my life. Every evening I'd reluctantly make some kind of chicken dish, or pepperoni pizza followed by yogurts or ice-cream.

My shopping trolley was filled with animal products. When I switched to veganism it was like Dorothy stepping into technicolor.

Suddenly my relationship with food changed. I immediately felt lighter, spiritually more so than on the scales, it gave my life purpose and set me on a different path. 

Ain't no vegan like a newly converted one! I was evangelical about it, I wanted to convert the world.

What I've learned is people really don't want to reflect on the harm they are doing to our planet, to their bodies, and to the animals. Veganism challenges our worldview. It asks some really uncomfortable and very necessary questions, ultimately about the state of the planet and how we as humans are morally conducting ourselves as so-called custodians of the land. It takes a while to figure out veganism, but there has never been a better time to go vegan.

You'll figure it out according to your taste buds. The meat and dairy industries have big questions to answer, separating calves from their mothers and keeping cows in an induced state of lactation is morally reprehensible. Give me oat milk any day of the week and it lasts for ages too; no waste. Don't get me started on why we're allowed give children processed meat if the WHO has labeled them a Group One Carcinogenic, up there with cigarettes.

Then there's the destruction of the rainforests to make way for more farming land, while cows are fed grain ahead of starving children. The time for action is now! Being vegan has given me great clarity, and I feel my actions are aligned with my core beliefs.

I've even moved country because I yearned to buy fruit and veg without all that nasty plastic packaging. The markets here in France are a joy, I'm happier, more engaged with life and more excited about the future. Turning vegan can be pretty isolating. You will meet a lot of opposition and questions about where are you getting your protein, but it's worth it."

* This article was originally published on our sister website, Irish Tatler.

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