It was a subdued day in Melbourne last Tuesday. As grey clouds gathered in the sky, all I could think about was the many horses who would be racing at nearby Flemington Racecourse for Melbourne Cup Day; all in the name of the “race that stops a nation”. Horses who are, in my eyes, exploited and pushed to their physical limits (some are severely hurt, maimed or killed) just for the purpose of gambling. Those spectators who participate in the Melbourne Cup generally participate in getting dressed up to spend the day excessively drinking and partying.
As a Melburnian, days like the Melbourne Cup are when I’m desperately scouring the city in search of an alternative that brings some good to the world. Sometimes, it’s alongside those who are demonstrating against such a gut-wrenching way to exploit beautiful beings. It’s always beneficial to find the positives in the day and try to participate in some form of activism to motion the anti-Cup movement forward.
Melbourne Cup Day is also a public holiday in Melbourne. While it’s almost impossible to avoid the racing vibe of the day, it’s best to find something to do that involves the city’s increasingly call to arms to reject horse-racing and the cruelty involved. Earlier in the week, the city holds a Melbourne Cup parade through the city. It was promising to see up to 100 anti-race protesters for the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses holding up their placards, in full view of media, to communicate to the world that “horseracing kills” . During this year’s Cup ‘carnival’, the Coalition made it known that one racehorse dies on Australian horseracing tracks every 2.6 days.
Near Flemington Racecourse, the annual ‘Nup to the Cup’ protest was in full swing, complete with all-vegan picnic protest and a ‘Farshans on the Field’ event (that’s a tongue-in-cheek protest to the Melbourne Cup Fashions on the Field competition). Local vegan businesses were also getting behind the anti-horseracing movement by declaring Nup to the Cup and remaining open on the public holiday then donating a portion of their takings from the day to the Coalition. With the help of these donations, The Coalition then works towards setting up retirement plans for horses who are deemed too old or unsuitable to race; a way to reduce the unnecessary killing of racehorses. One such business that remained open was Handsome Her in Melbourne’s inner-city suburb of Brunswick.
Handsome Her is a 100% vegan café that serves up incredible food, a business that’s all run, owned and founded by women. It’s a getaway from the Cup madness that encourages creativity, activism and independent thought. Handsome Her is built on the four pillars of social justice, feminism, community development and environmental responsibility. Hence, Handsome Her decided to host its first Nup to the Cup Day. Filling burgers, among other fine choices, drinks, desserts and snacks roll across the menu pages here, and said burgers are all named after prolific women throughout history. I couldn’t go past choosing the Rosa Parks, aptly named after the American civil rights activist. Served on a brioche bun (or gluten-free bun for GF diners like me), there are rich layers sautéed mushrooms, grilled pumpkin slices, vegan béchamel and mozzarella, pea puree and a crumble aside grilled cherry tomato and almond feta salad with edible blooms from the garden.
Each dish suggests an alcoholic beverage to pair it with, though (in the spirit of Nup to the Cup) I decided to stick to non-alcoholic beverages. The meal was started in the quaint and quiet courtyard out the back, yet the drizzly weather decided to brew as last mouthfuls were swallowed. Given many other Melburnians decided to come here, it was a short wait inside for a table; a wait that was met with admiration for the many diners who came out to support Nup to the Cup. Yet, I couldn’t help but think about the horses who were being forced to race in unpredictable weather conditions.
Once seated in the warm space inside, filled with retro furniture, local artwork and a glorious shelf of cups customers can use instead of disposable coffee cups, dessert was then selected from the cake cabinet. A devilishly sweet square of peanut butter and jam slice – a mix of sweet and salty layers of peanut butter and raspberry jam all sitting cosily on a chocolate brownie base. To side it, a soy latte was in order for keeping the chill from outside at bay. Two raffle tickets were also purchased to support Handsome Her’s fundraising for the Coalition. It didn’t matter if a prize was won or not because I knew the racehorses needed to win; win their battle in an industry that inflicts such cruelty onto them. I took moments throughout the afternoon to admire a gorgeous street art piece on Handsome Her’s white-washed walls, and it became clear that I had made the right choice in coming here on Melbourne Cup Day. Handsome Her hosted a sombre space in which to retreat from the Cup Day madness outside in the city.
This is one way that a day dedicated to animal cruelty can be spent, in a way that all of us can spend in a service of greater good. We can all help to support the groups that are campaigning so passionately for the welfare of animals, and activate on an individual level to help change the perception of horseracing in our communities. Many travel to Melbourne for the Melbourne Cup from within Australia and overseas. However, attendance numbers were reported lower this year when compared to previous years. Travellers should, really, spend their hard-earned dollars on ethical travel so animals are not exploited or abused. Finding events and locations where this can be achieved is the key. When travellers return home, they should then be spreading the world about these ways and the travel secrets they uncover.
I’m in no way advocating that people should not travel to Melbourne, but what I am advocating is for travellers to choose when they travel to destinations and what they decide to do when they arrive here. Demand thus drops and the animals will then suffer less, just through the simple act of travellers saying no; in this case nup to the cup. Saying no starts to change hearts and minds about long-held traditions which should not be held onto anymore.
If you want to experience Handsome Her for yourself then head to 206 Sydney Road, Brunswick 3056, Victoria Australia. Phone: 03 8383 7360.
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 9.00am to 3.30pm (closed Mondays)
This blog post is in memory of Regal Monarch, the racehorse who was euthanised a day after sustaining injuries from his horror fall during a race at the Melbourne Cup.