“Jess turned vegetarian in mid-2014 while we were both planning a fundraising trip to Borneo with the WWF. Someone questioned me as to why I wanted to save a certain species but would happily eat another. Having never thought of it that way, it truly made me think more about my food choices.”
The decision to become vegan is as individual as the person deciding to take the journey. Questions are posed, seeds are planted and a new – vegan – life is eventually born. Those who become vegan then venture down a path of action, fuelled by their personal mission to help save animals. Animal activism or fundraising are just a couple of ways to enact this personal action. Some even start fully-fledged vegan businesses. Dan Pinne and Jess Ivers reflect on how their vegan journey began, leading the couple to start their own vegan tour company, Melbourne Vegan Tours.
“Dan turned vegetarian overnight after watching Cowspiracy. We’d actually had a barbecue with friends the day before and he couldn’t bear to eat any of the leftovers!” Jess adds. “It was a decision made instantly. At the beginning of 2016, we decided it was time to go one step further and cut out all animal products. Dan said he would only do it if we could set up a website and do a podcast about it. We did a six-week challenge, or trial of veganism to see whether we could survive. We did and never looked back.”
Dan and Jess, both with backgrounds in social media and digital marketing, initially documented their change to a vegan lifestyle through their blog The Reluctant Vegan. The blog (and podcast) was a useful platform where the couple could decipher their vegan journey, while inspiring followers to consider a vegan lifestyle. “Dan, officially is, ‘The Reluctant Vegan’”, the pair confirms. “It was Jess who really wanted to go vegan first of all so we used the blog and podcast with this name as a way of describing how we felt initially about transitioning to veganism.”
While the decision to become vegan was evolutionary for Dan and Jess, maintaining their commitment to a vegan lifestyle was key. Support is thus vital for the success of this life change. “Doing the podcast together really helped with getting things off our chest and talk through any issues we had faced throughout our day or with friends or family. This was another reason we wanted to start the vegan tours. We know having support when transitioning to veganism is really important, and these tours give people an opportunity to talk to others and make new vegan friends.”
Dan and Jess’ rescue cats, Pudding and Blue, have also provided unexpected support; confirmation that becoming vegan was the right choice. “Our two little fur babies mean everything to us,” Dan reveals. “Pudding was one of the other reasons Jess decided to stop eating animals. She couldn’t look at her and decide my tastebuds were more important than an animal’s life. The cats remind us every day that we can help save animals’ lives. They are both rescue cats and we can provide them a happy and safe home. While it’s not possible to do that with every animal on earth, we can do the easy thing by just stop eating them.”
Dan and Jess are fortunate to live in Melbourne, a city known as one of the most liveable cities in the world. In recent years, Melbourne was named by Happy Cow as, globally, one of the most vegan-friendly cities. This is evident whenever Dan and Jess embark on their own travels overseas. “We’ve been lucky to travel a fair bit, especially over the past couple of years and it’s definitely had its challenges but with planning and research, we’ve made it work.” Starting a vegan tour company in Melbourne seemed like the natural decision when Dan and Jess arrived home after a recent trip to Paris. Their trip also underscored the need for veganism to be as accessible and easy as possible for travellers. “Earlier in 2018 we were traveling overseas and planning our days around where we were going to eat in between sight-seeing. When we were in Paris, we found a vegan food tour that visited some new vegan eateries and stores – and it was wonderful!
“We did some research on whether there was anything like it in Melbourne and there wasn’t. We gauged the interest within the vegan community and the response was overwhelmingly positive so we knew we were onto something. Looking at the statistics on how Melbourne has really been a hub of the vegan movement, we knew that the vegan community of this city would really support an idea like this.”
Melbourne is clearly a city of choice for vegan travellers or those wanting to become vegan, even for Dan and Jess who are originally from Merimbula in New South Wales and south-western Sydney respectively. Fitzroy in Melbourne’s inner-city suburbs is the city’s premier vegan destination – particularly for new vegans and vegan-curious – lending itself as the landscape for Melbourne Vegan Tours’ first walking tour. “We are local to Fitzroy and have eaten at so many of the great places along there, and it truly is the hub of great vegan food in Melbourne. Vegie Bar has been there for 30 years, The Cruelty Free Shop started in Melbourne on Brunswick Street and it feels like every second store or eatery has an ethical focus so it’s been a great place to start.
“So far, most of our customers have been from the outer suburbs of Melbourne and are very new to veganism. They’ve switched to veganism within the last 12 months or so and are looking to meet new people, find new places to eat and get recipe ideas to cook at home. It’s been a mix of genders but mostly women at this stage, and guys have come along with their friends or girlfriends.”
Dan and Jess seem to have found their vegan purpose by setting up Melbourne Vegan Tours, a decision that’s bringing out the best of their natural talents. This decision is complementing their blogging/podcasting efforts in a way that reaches those who are thinking about becoming vegan. They’ve discovered that food is the first way to educate and connect people to veganism. “Tour-guiding is definitely new to us!” Jess admits. “But we love being around people. We’re both very social beings and enjoy meeting new people, especially people with similar interests.”
So what can guests expect when they book with Melbourne Vegan Tours? “Great food, first and foremost! We have handpicked the locations we go to and made sure to set up a really personalised experience with every place we go. We want everyone on the tour to feel like they are just hanging out with friends, but also get treated like VIPs. You’ll get information about the history of Fitzroy, the vegan eateries and talk about the vegan movement of Melbourne, plus get a little goodie bag of vegan info. Good food and good company is so simple and that’s what people are really enjoying about the tours.
“All dietary requirements can be catered for and that’s what makes Fitzroy so great – there are so many options so no tour will be exactly like the last. We can alter our route depending on what you would like to eat and if there are certain dietary requirements to cater for. We speak directly with the managers of each place to talk through the requests and let them know in advance so it’s all taken care of. Depending on whether you are vegan or not, it’s a day out of eating ridiculously good food that most of the time you wouldn’t think about it being vegan specific food. It’s a day for your tastebuds to enjoy!”
Melbourne Vegan Tours are now extending to Melbourne’s central business district and Collingwood. Dan and Jess are also hosting a ‘Nup to the Cup’ tour on the day of Australia’s biggest horse-racing event, the Melbourne Cup. Dan and Jess have future plans to expand to other areas around Melbourne’s outskirts. “We want to plan tours around regional Victoria, the outer suburbs of Melbourne and host themed tours for those looking for corporate or celebratory events. We don’t want vegans to miss out on having an epic hen’s party due to some wineries not catering for them, so we are working with places to make special daytrip tours a possibility. We are in the works to host daytrip tours down to the Mornington Peninsula”
As for the rest of the world, Dan and Jess believe that veganism (in particular, vegan travel) is becoming more accessible. “We truly believe vegan travel will get easier and easier. The vegan community are so supportive and if they find somewhere that they can eat and genuinely enjoy, they will tell all of their friends about it and let everyone know.
“Word of mouth in the vegan community is a real asset and we really want to get behind businesses that are making a change for the better. There are a bunch of vegan food tours popping up around cities like Paris, Lisbon, Berlin, Krakow, Las Vegas and Seattle. The movement is catching on and it’s a really exciting time to be a part of it all.”
To learn more about Melbourne Vegan Tours, visit their website or click here to book a tour. Keep up to date with all of Melbourne Vegan Tours’ happenings by visiting their Facebook and Instagram pages. You can contact Melbourne Vegan Tours by email, completing the online form or by calling +61 459 921 369.