Is Melbourne the Most Liveable City in Australia for Vegans?

I was reading the latest issue of Vegan Life Magazine, and travelled through the pages to an interview with Dixie Wills. He is a writer, a vegan who took his vegan journey from when he was a carnivore and is now a vegan nomad of sorts. In this interview, he talks about the best ways to travel as a vegan, which compelled me to publish my travel article about my beloved city of Melbourne and whether it’s liveable for travelling or resident vegans.  

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In August 2016, Melbourne was voted the world's most liveable city for the sixth consecutive year. The Economist Intelligence Unit scored and ranked 140 cities globally in accordance to ‘liveability’. These cities are scored out of 100 (being the ideal score) on indicators grouped into five broad categories – stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, infrastructure. So, how does Melbourne fair in its liveability for vegans? At a national level, is Melbourne the most liveable city in Australia for vegans?

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According to the Vegans Australia website, ‘the number of vegans in Australia exceeds 480,000’. Yet, to uncover research to suggest where vegans reside around the country is difficult. At the time of writing this article, not one statistic could be found. The closest was a study conducted by Roy Morgan on where Australia’s vegetarians live. In 2016, 11.3% of Australian vegetarians lived in Victoria – third behind New South Wales (12.4%) and Tasmania (12.7%). Still, let’s look at those key liveability categories. Let’s discover whether Melbourne is the most liveable city in Australia and how it’s catering for a potentially rising vegan population.    

Category 1: Stability

What do people consider when choosing a city in which to live? Is it a choice made by our parents (e.g. where we were born) or is it a conscious decision made by ourselves? Intrinsically, a city needs to offer security for our basic human needs – food and water, and shelter. Equally, a city needs to offer safety and/or refuge. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s report states that ‘global instability’ is growing and violent crime, for example, ‘is on an upward trend’. Victoria alone has experienced an ‘increase in crime rate in three consecutive years’. So, what’s the relevance here for Melbourne’s vegan population? As long as sources for vegan food sources and vegan housemates or partners with whom to live are on the rise, Melbourne does offer a stable location for living. Vegetarian Victoria offers its Vegan Options Available program for participating eateries, both non-veg and vegetarian establishments alike.

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What about safety? Australia’s National Day of Kindness on November 6 each year allows Melburnians to instill a sense of a connectedness and social responsibility annually. Regular vegan events and volunteering efforts across Melbourne are a chance to create lasting bonds within the community. Currently, up to 126 events across Victoria are visible on the Vegan Australia website, a close second only to New South Wales. The act of coming together for common causes while advocating the safety and refuge for vulnerable animals, such as farmed animals, is one of Melbourne’s strengths. There’s a high amount of ‘save’ groups flourishing online thanks to social media and Nup to the Cup is a permanent fixture on the Melbourne horse-racing calendar. On Melbourne Cup Day each November, the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses holds its annual family-friendly, cruelty-free BBQ picnic near Flemington Racecourse. Its aim is to raise awareness to those going to the Melbourne Cup ‘about the cruelty they are indirectly and unknowingly supporting’. A visit to the Animal Liberation Victoria website offers an ever-updated supply of volunteering avenues, protests and vigils to be a part of locally as well.

Category 2: Healthcare

Australia, thankfully, boasts one of the best healthcare systems in the world and was reflected by Melbourne’s perfect 100 score in the liveability stakes. In 2015, Australia was ranked fourth by The Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that conducts independent research into the world’s healthcare systems. Just to give you an idea, Australia has one of the higher number of doctors per 1,000 people, and we benefit from Medicare and private health insurance. In the world of a vegan lifestyle, myriad studies are now emerging to underscore the benefits of a whole food plant-based; showing where illnesses are reversed or prevented. While it’s still widespread to go to a mainstream health professional, the rise in vegan health services is steadily increasing. A valuable resource for Melburnians seeking vegan and veg-friendly health professionals can be found at the Vegetarian Victoria website, ranging from naturopaths, to doctors and dentists, without forgetting veterinarians for our fur-babies. Another resource on the site is a list of vitamin and mineral health supplements for those of us seeking vegan alternatives.

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But what does this mean when we want to see mainstream acceptance of a vegan lifestyle? If we look at the United States of America for example, Kaiser Permanente is one the country’s largest managed care organisations. Publically, Kaiser Permanente promotes a plant-based diet as treatment to prevent and reverse disease. Kaiser Permanente provides nutritional updates via journal articles on plant-based diets to their physicians. Reported by the Forks Over Knives website in 2016, Kaiser Permanente recommends to over 17,000 physicians in its network the benefits of a plant-based diet. Prescribing a plant-based diet is ‘the most powerful, yet least-used prescription’ for patients. Hopefully, it’s not long before health insurance providers can start to re-enact similar health initiatives for their physicians and incentives for clients who observe a vegan diet – here in Melbourne, and Australia for that matter.  

Category 3:  Culture and Environment

If we investigate Google searches, as reported on PETA’s website last year, Australia is topping the charts in vegan searches. Australia has achieved a rapid trajectory in vegan searches over the last ten years. The search engine’s Top 8 list of countries searching the word ‘vegan’ is headed by Australia. Surprisingly, Melbourne was found only to be eighth on the list when Australia’s Top 10 cities were measured by their ‘vegan’ searches. This somehow doesn’t seem to reflect Melbourne’s food culture and seemingly insatiable appetite for vegan food and vegan products. For example, The Food Truck Park in Preston holds vegan and vegetarian food truck days a couple of times a year, wellness and organic stores are popping up across Melbourne with vegan supplies, not to mention The Cruelty Free Shop that stocks ‘over 2,500 vegan and cruelty-free products’. Melbourne hosted its first Big Vegan Market, attracting about 20,000 people (as quoted by event organisers).

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Melbourne is also home to Shakahari Restaurant – the oldest exclusively vegetarian restaurant (with vegan options), established in 1972. As a fun side-note: the word ‘shakahari’ is Hindi for vegetarian. You can type in ‘Melbourne, Australia’ into Happy Cow’s search tool where you can yield a staggering 429 results (vegan, vegetarian and veg friendly included). Then do the same for Sydney, Australia’s largest capital city: a mere 249 results emerge. Additionally, this may be indicative of a lack of options available beyond Melbourne. Globally, the vegan/vegetarian category scored the highest in a list of observed global trends in health and eating; measured by Euromonitor International in 2013 (in excess of 50% compared to other categories, actually).

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Melbourne’s city grid is nestled within the city’s many national parks when getting back to nature is needed. Melbourne has been known widely as a garden city, and the amount of parklands, botanical gardens and native bushlands are alive across Melbourne and suburban outskirts. The best part is that you don’t have to pay an entry fee to much of these; it’s free to experience Melbourne’s native flora. All of these aesthetics not only allow for easy exploration, they provide a practical landscape for protests and rallies to take place. One recent rally, the March to Close All Slaughterhouses, attracted in excess of 800 participants. This democratic ability and freedom to stand up for our beliefs, and the injustices in our world, is a key element of Australian culture. Melbourne’s population affords the numbers required to deliver and emphasise such strong messages to the decision-makers from street level. The activism doesn’t stop there – a regular roll of documentary screenings at independent cinemas, fundraising evenings, one-off lectures given by prolific local and international vegan activists are constant. Venturing tothe outskirts of town to volunteer at places like Edgar’s Mission or even staying at a vegan B&B are within driving reach, too. There’s a true sense of speaking up and living your beliefs through a vegan lifestyle that underpins Melbourne veganism.         

Category 4: Education

Around 2014, the Victorian State Government changed the slogan on Victorian license plates to read Victoria – The Education State. Furthermore, the government’s aim is to build ‘an education system that produces excellence and reduces the impact of disadvantage’. Melbourne helps to achieve this by being home to some of the most esteemed universities in the country and the world. Melbourne’s vegan community can strive to learn and can thrive in the opportunities available – from tertiary education, short courses and one day-classes. Education facilities throughout Melbourne are available to host such courses and opportunities to learn. The University of Melbourne’s Animal Protection Society hosted We Animals, a free lecture delivered by award-winning photographer and animal advocate Jo-Anne McArthur. Dr Melanie Joy graced The State Library of Victoria stage in conversation on the topic of Carnism; The Hidden Belief System we’ve all been Fed’. A two-day workshop was available to local vegans in March this year on effective vegan advocacy, hosted by Animals Australia.

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There’s no end to the many documentary screenings happening around Melbourne, and the city’s independent cinemas like the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in the CBD, Cinema Nova in Carlton, Cameo Cinemas in Belgrave, not to mention authorised screenings hosted by Melbourne-based vegan meet-up groups around town, champion the communication of knowledge through film.  At a culinary level, vegans in Melbourne have a platter of vegan cooking classes available to them, from raw food cooking classes run by some of Melbourne’s well known raw vegan kitchens (the website Eating Vibrantly has an extensive directory of classes for raw foodies), cooking courses taught by the Centre for Adult Education, to even a Melbourne vegan and vegetarian cooking class that can be purchased through Redballoon.  

Category 5: Infrastructure

What makes a liveable city geographically interconnected? One obvious way is its public transport system. Public transport is a key factor that makes Melbourne run efficiently. Melbourne has had its fair share of network upgrades in recent years and the disruptions experienced by the community are kept as minimal as possible, for example buses replacing affected train services. As Public Transport Victoria’s website claims: ‘Every bit of construction gets us closer to a better train network’. Though, populations are rising so Melbourne is experiencing a correlation in packed trains along its network lines during peak times. Such ‘construction’ is perceived to be a necessity. Still, train travel is one of Melbourne’s most relied upon services, especially for those who prefer a more environmentally sound way to travel. Melbourne’s iconic tram system is an identifiable trait in Melbourne’s inner city landscape; another reliable and preferred mode of public transport. The majority of Melbourne’s suburbs are covered by public transport and regional areas are connected to Melbourne via its V-Line regional services.

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For shorter trips Melbourne’s Bike Share system is another way to get around through the inner city at a nominal fee. According to the Bicycle Network, ‘Victoria continues to lead the way with people travelling by bike’ and men dominate in numbers when riding to work is concerned (73% of commuters!). This then emphasises that Melbourne has an extensive bike-riding system complete with pathways, allowances on the road and external bike racks being installed on buses across four routes around town as part of a 12 month trial started last year by Public Transport Victoria. Keen bike-riders can download bicycle maps from the VicRoads website, whether they ride for work or wellbeing. An interconnected system such as this in Melbourne makes it easier for Melbourne vegans who may not have a car to get to work, attend rallies and vigils, go to restaurants and meet up with friends and family. If you do find yourself driving along one of Melbourne’s many motorways, you can take a pit-stop at one of Victoria’s ten locations for Oliver’s Real Food, the world’s first certified organic fast food chain offering vegan options; the most in any state in Australia.     

I do hope you can travel to Melbourne as a vegan and enjoy its liveability. If you're already here exploring, I'd love to hear about some of the vegan secrets you've uncovered for yourself.

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You can now get a copy of the June 2017 issue of Vegan Life Magazine if you need some vegan inspiration! Subscription and subscription packages can be purchased, too.

Disclaimer: I was supplied with a free digital copy of Issue 27 of Vegan Life Magazine.