Honest food and harmless fun at Sydney Vegan Market

by Jessica Beaumont

Jones, Market Program Manager at Sydney Vegan Market has been vegan for ten years. With kids of their own, a concern for the planet we live on and the attitude of a ‘tree-loving hippy’ (their words, not ours) environmental motivation is certainly something they don’t lack. Recently, we chatted with Jones to discuss not only the important subjects of vegan burgers, ice cream and souvlaki, but other hot topics such as single-use plastic, trends in veganism, environmentalism, and the emergence of a thriving vegan community in Sydney.

A nucleus for Sydney’s vegan scene

Sydney Vegan Market is the magical amalgamation of all things kind, conscious and eco-friendly in Sydney. Offering endless opportunities for eating, drinking, buying, watching, doing and listening, a trip here really is a whole day out in itself. On the third Sunday of each month, you’d be crazy to make other plans.

Putting on their first event in November 2017, Sydney Vegan Market brings together endless food, drinks, coffee and juices, eco-friendly homewares, sustainable fashion, soaps and beauty products, vegan accessories and bags and other purchasable goodies. On top of this, walking through the aisles you’ll also bump into representatives from animal sanctuaries, a vegan lawyer, a cruelty-free superannuation stand, free yoga classes, musicians and performers. Covid has unfortunately put an end to a ‘TENT talks’ zone for now, one previously brought to life by relevant speakers.

Undoubtedly, the tempting smells of diverse vegan products that jump out from the stalls draw visitors into Sydney Vegan Market. However, it’s really the people here that make it so special. Sydney Vegan Market is a dreamy concoction of individuals who exude a shared passion for animals and the environment. The resultant spirited atmosphere is infectious.

I recently spoke with Jones, one of these people channelling their passion for animals and the environment into the thriving of Sydney Vegan Market. Living the most sustainable life they can at home, and letting this spill over into their work, Jones shared with us how sustainability plays a part in their day-to-day reality.

Sydney Vegan Market
Credit: Sydney Vegan Market

Money as our strongest voice

At Sustainable Guides, we throw the term ‘conscious consumption’ around on a daily basis. Naturally, this was a great place to start my chat with Jones. As a long standing vegan of ten years, understanding Jones’ motivations for removing animal products from their lives naturally had a lot to do with the idea of ‘conscious consumption’:

What I know for sure is that we live within a capitalist society, and our money is our strongest voice. One of the reasons I initially went vegan is because I didn’t want my money to finance the industries that cause harm. As my journey continued, and now that I’m with Vegan NSW, it’s all about choosing where and what you buy, that has the least impact on the planet as well as all beings that are on the planet. 

So, obviously when it comes to food, being vegan is the least impactful on the planet – as far as I am aware – and in terms of the treatment of animals. By not eating animals, we reduce water usage, and reduce the negative impacts that come with the way animals are kept on the land. It helps with the sustainability of the earth. 

Putting your money where your mouth is, can be considered one of Jones’ main values and one way in which they are able to practice their own beliefs in everyday life. Of course, this is nothing out of the ordinary in today’s world. Withholding money from certain businesses that have negative impacts on the planet and redirecting it towards more responsible businesses, is one main way in which vast numbers of individuals are seen embracing responsible consumption habits.

For Jones however, adopting a vegan diet ten years ago wasn’t quite enough. Their motivation to nudge society towards kinder consumer habits soon overflowed, out of the house, down the street and into their work life in the form of a new vegan cafe in Petersham; Maker.

sweet treats
Credit: Sydney Vegan Market

How did Sydney Vegan Market come about?

Running a vegan business in Sydney was previously a pretty difficult task according to Jones, who during our chat alluded to a general lack of support. Having said this, a noticeable shift in the last five years alongside a larger community and more vegan options, has undoubtedly made veganism more mainstream and very approachable. In a way, the difficulties Jones faced during their years at their own vegan cafe, fuelled a sense of wanting to help the vegan community thrive. We asked Jones exactly how Sydney Vegan Market came about.

“Vegan NSW is a not-for-profit that I work for, and Vegan NSW presents the vegan market. So, way back when, I ran a vegan kitchen and cafe and education space called Maker. Michelle – who is now the CEO of Vegan NSW – used to come in and eat there at the weekends, so we got to know each other. Michelle contacted me one day and asked me if I knew anyone who would be interested in organising a monthly vegan market. Of course I was like, me! How could I not? I felt like I needed to. 

So we continued talking and she got approval from the board to use me as a contractor to organise the market. She said: ‘this is what we want: we want it to be monthly, we want all of the stall holders to always be vegan (not just on the day) and we want it to be as eco-friendly as possible. We just want it to done in the right way’. So we kicked it off! There were months of planning and getting all of the documentation ready, and then we launched in November 2017.”

activities at Sydney Vegan Market
Credit: Sydney Vegan Market

What are the core goals of Sydney Vegan Market?

A particularly rewarding benefit of creating Sydney Vegan Market for Jones has been the support provided to the vegan community that previously didn’t exist in Sydney. A number of vegan food businesses have been able to launch at the market, providing them with clientele almost instantly and offering them immediate support. Jones explained this by describing one particular success story:

It’s amazing to see the new businesses that have been created because of SVM, or not because of, but with the help of. So many people have had ideas but haven’t had the platform to do it in a way that is sustainable for them. So having this huge event with lots of people has meant that so many businesses have been able to start up. Lots have actually launched at the market.

‘I Should Be Souvlaki’ launched at the market and now they have a shop front in Newtown and a following. This started because the founders came into Maker one day. It was their first day in Sydney, they had just moved from Melbourne and were living down the road. They told me they ran market stalls in Melbourne and naturally I told them about the vegan market. After coming to the market as an attendee the first time, they decided to set up and have had a stall there ever since.

I feel proud. I feel like a proud dad, helping people do exactly what they want to do. I ran vegan businesses for 10 years and it’s tough, it’s so hard. If I had SVM to go to then, I would have been thrilled and it would have been such a different experience for me. Being able to support these new businesses in this way is great.

Aside from providing a platform and support system for vegan businesses, Sydney Vegan Market’s main goals include crafting an event which is safe, fun and delicious as a way to bring the mainstream to both veganism and more broadly eco-friendly lifestyles. Considered a ‘soft form of activism’, Jones hopes that the market offers a whole selection of people something they can enjoy or relate to.

“Sydney Vegan Market helps us practice a form of activism that doesn’t make people feel that they’re being judged or preached at. Instead, it helps them see that there’s this gorgeous, thriving, growing community, that is very willing to supply you with delicious food and provide you with cruelty-free products. All of the entertainers we have, everyone, they’re all vegan. So for the attendee it is my hope that they can see what we are doing and realise how gentle and wonderful it all is.”

Packing each market event full of entertainment and educational elements is another way in which SVM engages with its attendees; regardless of whether they’re vegan, vegetarian, or just v-curious. DJs, bands, soloists, performers, pole dancers, aerial performers, beatboxers – have all taken to the stage at SVM. TENT Talks – a SVM play on TED Talks – helps to educate the public on important subjects such as wildlife, environment, animal farming, vegan nutrition, plant-based baking and much more. Of note, a letter writing workshop teaching individuals how to write letters to their governments about important issues such as First Nations people and environmental issues has also helped to add a practical element to education at the market.

takeaways at Sydney Vegan Market
Credit: Sydney Vegan Market

How does Sydney Vegan Market manage single use plastics and waste?

Despite placing its central efforts in the promotion of a vegan lifestyle, the attention Sydney Vegan Market pays to eco-friendly behaviours and the promotion of sustainable lifestyles more generally, is not to be underestimated.

Images of floating plastic islands larger than Texas, and sea life tangled in plastic have fostered heightened concern surrounding single-use plastics in recent years. Fortunately, this has in many countries triggered increased efforts when it comes to the use of reusable bottles, cups and containers in many parts of the world. Those with a heightened sense of concern for the environment – Jones included – have for years now implemented lifestyle changes which help protect the planet.

I am also finding myself to be extremely anti-plastic, more so than I have ever been. I have been changing what’s going on in my house so that we don’t use as much plastic; from toothbrushes to bars of soap. Anything that is plastic, I find myself saying: no I don’t want it.”

But when asked what Sydney Vegan Market does with this global, hard-to-kick plastic habit, Jones proudly explained the event’s protocols which we have to say, go above and beyond most events or businesses we have so far seen.

“From the start it was always single-use plastic free. We would never allow plastic. As the journey continued and I learned more about how to organise events that are as eco as possible, I discovered that we needed to be asking food stalls to bring compostable only service-wear. They were mostly doing this anyway, but they are the ones that produce the most waste at the market, with burger boxes and so on.

We don’t want to be creating extra waste which is going into landfill and they’re fine with that – it’s in line with what we are doing. As a vegan market if we were selling single use plastics everywhere it would be hypocritical. They’re really in line with that too. I read a lot about events struggling with this kind of plastic-free model. But I haven’t found that. I have simply said, this is how we do it, the end. And stallholders comply.

Upon establishing a zero tolerance rule for plastic, Jones seemed to find that most vegan stallholders naturally had well established motivations to reduce environmental impact. This ‘common ground’ made enforcing a zero plastic policy somewhat easy. On the other hand, Jones shared that in some cases it had been difficult to influence attendee behaviour, and this was suggested to be a learning curve.

vegan burgers on the move
Credit: Sydney Vegan Market

After some vigorous research into low-impact events, Jones discovered a dire need for composting and partnered with an organisation called ORG in hope of working towards a kind of circular economy. The company collects waste after each event and takes the compostable substances to a facility called soil works in Port Kembla. Here, waste is turned into soil, thus contributing to this ‘circular’ phenomenon.

One of the main issues surrounding composting however, was suggested by Jones to be a simple lack of understanding regarding how this works.

Sometimes it has been hard to manage attendee behaviour. Because there isn’t as much education as there could be around what can be composted and what can’t. If people see something that looks like plastic, they put it into the waste. We have signs, send newsletters and post about it on social media and try and get the message out there as much as possible that things are compostable here.

We have also developed an environmental team of volunteers. They manage the bins on the day with compacting, making sure they’re not spilling over and they also have conversations with people about what can or can’t go in. I also am always walking around the market, so when I see someone putting something in the wrong place I have conversations with them on the ground.

Other than this, attendees seem to be embracing the BYO concept and adopting a new way of visiting a market. Messaging on social media and on signs at the market with an emphasis on BYO containers and cups has helped visitors to arrive, armed with their reusable empties. Jones explained:

What I love is the photos you get on social media after market day. You see big spreads in these random old tupperware containers. We love to see people with a tote bag full of tupperwear containers. I also ensure we’ve got several eco-ware stores too. They have various things like straws, cups, containers for sale and they’re always around, just in case.

personal care products at Sydney Vegan Market
Credit: Sydney Vegan Market

What messages do you want people to take away with them after a day at Sydney Vegan Market?

Besides devouring delectable foods, splitting jammy donuts with friends and listening to music under the Sydney sun, Jones hopes that visitors to Sydney Vegan Market take one key message away with them:

“That, veganism is doable. There is a thriving commintuy to hold you, to support you and to be with you through that process. That, vegan food and products are exceptional and that you won’t ever miss out on anything in any aspect of your life. Whether its eating your favourite thing or buying your favourite products, the vegan world has it, and the difference is that nothing is harmed in the process of it. So, why not. If you can make the choice that means another being isn’t killed or harmed then great.”

“Come and eat a burger with me and we can talk about it”, Jones says at the end of our chat.

Now that sounds like an offer we can’t refuse.

Discover more about Sydney Vegan Market and other sustainable attractions and experiences in Sydney.

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