Café Culture: The Grassroots of Mainstream Veganism in Australia

The number of cafes across Australia has expanded dramatically in recent years. According to IBISWorld, the success of cafés in Australia is the result of “strong consumer demand for high-quality and convenient food and drinks”.  Specifically, the number of cafés in Australia rose by 1.5% between 2015 and 2020.

What is special about the café culture in Australia is that it’s driven by a small business ethic. Unique independent businesses are thriving rather than bigger cookie-cutter players like Starbucks, for example. The Australian café landscape should be proud that there are “no major players with a market share of greater than 5%”.

A soy flat white at The Vegan Club in Carlton

Much of this growth may be the result of an increased popularity in coffee. Or, in the last 12 months, it’s quite possible that demand in vegan options has also driven the rise in cafés nationwide.

So, what is it about café culture that fits in with veganism so well? Why could cafés be seen as the grassroots playing field for the rise of veganism in the Australian mainstream?

Offering vegan options just makes perfect business sense…

As a vegan who goes out regularly, I enjoy having vegan options on the menu. This is especially important when I go out for brunch or lunch with friends and family members who are not vegan. In a report by Vegan Australia for example, 78.52% of vegans eat in non-vegan restaurants. This means that a vegan in a non-vegan party is going to be a deciding factor when a group chooses where to eat. Personally, I am grateful if a non-café chooses to incorporate vegan options on their menu and they’re profiting in the process. Likewise, it proves to the business there is a healthy demand for vegan options. Being independent and having the freedom to change a menu is a big advantage, too.

The Carrot ‘Salmon’ Bagel as a GF option with salad at The Vegan Club in Carlton
If you want to make global change, you have to think local…

A level of local connection exists when you visit a local café. You can smell it as soon as you walk in the door (not to mention a freshly brewed espresso!). If I go to a non-vegan café with vegan options, it means that the business sees me and values my patronage. I feel included. This is particularly important for local, grassroots cafés.

Having vegan options means that local vegans have a choice. The local café is therefore acting compassionately, while being of service to their immediate community.  Imagine the flow-on effect if all cafés in Australia – and beyond – followed suit? Australia is the third fastest-growing vegan market in the world. So as a country, Australia has a big role to play when bringing veganism to the masses via the mainstream.  Australia really does lead the way in café culture, particularly here in Melbourne (the third most vegan-friendly city in the world).

The Hash Stack at Mamma Says in Fairfield
Non-vegans can choose the vegan option, too!

Veganism has come a long way in recent decades and, with the help of cafés, the stigma around veganism is starting to decrease. As popularity in veganism rises, cafés will be more motived to get creative and cook enticing and tasty short-order vegan meals. Therefore, breaking the mould doesn’t seem as daunting as it might’ve been twenty years ago.

As much as vegans love to have a vegan option, non-vegans have the power to choose the vegan option as well. Is there a family member or friend who is a little curious about veganism? If so, then a visit to the local café and ordering the vegan option doesn’t seem as daunting as requesting the vegan option at a bigger restaurant or family event.

What we eat is a big part of who we are and how we interact and connect with our world. According to La Trobe University, societal and cultural norms play a big role in our decision-making around food as well as affordability.

The Shakshuka at Mamma Says in Fairfield
Vegan ‘safety’ is therefore needed…

The café environment is where we can truly see the power of veganism in action. A vegan ‘safety’ exists which is vital when someone decides to explore their curiosity for veganism. By visiting a small café with a small group of friends and other vegans, a non-vegan can feel empowered and safe. They can choose the vegan option without being ridiculed or singled out by the larger group. A small-scale setting like a café can offer a non-vegan the chance to explore a vegan option without forking over huge amounts of cash, either. This is the same for hot beverages. There is a staggering array of plant-based milks available now so a non-vegan can choose to try plant-based milk with their coffee without hurting their wallet too much.

If you want to explore many of Australia’s cafés and try their vegan options, then check out my Aussie Vegan Directory.

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