In a country of 30 million sheep, 10 million cows and only 4.5 million people, you would expect nothing but steak and lamb chops on the menu but a recent poll showed that approx. 14% of 14 – 34 year olds in New Zealand are vegetarian or vegan and this is definitely reflected in the café and restaurant menus right across the country, where even the most conservative hang outs have GF, DF and Vs appropriately placed on their blackboards. And numbers are on the rise, already up from 11 % in 2011 with the biggest increase being amongst young males. With increasing numbers of vegetarians and special dietary needs, cafes are not only adding more ingredient conscious items but are getting brilliantly creative. Last weekend I went to a local café here in Queenstown (Bespoke) to have a cuppa with a former student of ours, here on an MBA program and watched enviously as she and her friends dug into ‘vegan orange spiced pancakes with raspberry chia jam, grilled banana, maple almonds and whipped coconut cream’ – YUM!!
Of course if you are vegan, gluten free and can’t eat night shade vegetables like a student here last semester, the café choices become more restricted. But the good news is that supermarkets have whole sections devoted to GF, DF and vegan food and students tell me the products are on the whole pretty tasty.
Rachel Oldham, a Belmont student studying at Otago last semester, chose to be placed in a vegetarian flat and when I asked her how hard it was being vegan in New Zealand she responded: I too was nervous heading to New Zealand on a vegan diet, but I found it was even easier to be plant based in New Zealand than in the States. New World is an awesome grocery store that has tons of essential vegan ingredients (chickpea flour, nutritional yeast, etc) and the Asian influence means you can find things like miso paste and lemongrass as well. There's also a store next to Uni called Veggie Boys that always has cheap and fresh produce, and even better there's a small produce stand right on campus! From a distance, people think New Zealand is all about its lamb and seafood, but I've found a huge vegetarian/vegan community that stems from how much kiwis care about their beautiful country. The majorly of people I meet strive to at least eat locally and organic.
My best piece of advice is to take this semester abroad as a chance to improve your cooking skills. Restaurants are expensive and although there are a couple of great vegan friendly cafes, you just can't sustain eating there all the time. Veggies are cheap and cooking is fun!