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Taiwan’s Vegetarian Awakening—A Gathering Trend

Working with volunteers, Chelsea Chang (third from left) aims to communicate the emotional impact of eating vegetarian food.

Working with volunteers, Chelsea Chang (third from left) aims to communicate the emotional impact of eating vegetarian food.
 

This is a social movement without tensions and clamor. In place of accusations and criticism, you find mirth and a sense of duty. Instead of preaching and protesting, you get your message across through the watchwords “Health, Environment, and Sustain­ability.” This is the vegetarian movement, and it is a global trend.

 

In recent years, vegetarianism has been promoted in Taiwan in a series of events put together by organizations and individuals, such as the Good Food Festival (held by Leezen, the country’s largest organic food company, together with the Tse-Xin Organic Agriculture Foundation and Green Media), Taiwan Vegan Frenzy, and No Meat—vege­tarian fairs where customers don’t mind queuing in front of popular stalls. Their promotion of reduced or even zero consumption of meat has started a trend whose ultimate aim is to improve our lives and protect the environment.

For health and for the planet

“The Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 has accentuated the crucial importance of vegetarianism, which ties in with environmental sustainability and animal welfare.” Charlene Yeh, marketing and promotion manager at the Tse-Xin Organic Agriculture Foundation, reminds us that the disease may have originated in human consumption of wild animals. From a public health perspective, therefore, consuming less meat is a way to protect ourselves, and choosing a vegetarian diet can significantly reduce the risk of zoonotic diseases.

Tse-Xin started to promote vegetarianism as early as 2004. Its founder, Master Jih-Chang, maintained that abstain­ing from meat could help reduce killing and protect life, something that every Buddhist strives to do every day. Influenced by John Robbins’s Diet For a New America, Jih-Chang thought that not only Buddhists but also everyone else could achieve better health, protect animals, and care for the planet by consuming less meat. He thus founded Tse-Xin with a view to creating harmony between humanity and nature through ­organic farming, and promoting vegetarianism has been one of the foundation’s missions.

To advocate vegetarianism, Bliss and Wisdom Young Adults has been organizing “vegetarian weeks” at 41 colleges, where they give away free vegetarian meals. In 2019 more than 2000 students participated. In 2020 they launched “Veggie Possible” on social media to encourage more young people to go vegetarian. This initiative includes a “veggie relay” where team members take turns adhering to a vegetarian diet over the course of a month.

Thanks to the efforts of Buddha’s Light International Association, more than 330,000 people worldwide have endorsed “Vege Plan A,” which promotes the view that vegetarianism, rather than being confined to those who are religious or health conscious, is in fact vital for mitigating food crises and combating global warming. According to the Bliss and Wisdom Buddhism Foundation’s statistics for this plan, more than 10,000 people have signed up in 2020, consuming 6,870,000 vegetarian meals—equivalent to 1,030,000 fewer trees being felled, 1032 fewer tons of carbon di­oxide being emitted, 550,000 cubic meters of water being saved, or 3,770,000 fewer tons of food being wasted.

Not only have the aims of these vegetarian initiatives become more far-reaching, but their promotional strat­egies have also changed from moralistic preaching and censure to more open-minded, tolerant approaches. In 2018 the Tse-Xin Organic Agriculture Foundation, Vegan 30 (now renamed Kindness to Animals), and other like-minded groups invited the internationally renowned Center for Effective Vegan Advo­cacy to share practical and effective ways of promoting vegetarianism. Subsequently, in 2020, Tse-Xin published a “Vegetarian How-To in Seven Steps.” Rather than strictly banning things like garlic, onions, eggs, and milk, they adopt a more relaxed way to advocate vegetarianism, allowing occa­sional consumption of meat. They believe that this practice will eventually be internalized and will change people’s attitudes toward life and living.

Veganism can be cool

In order to protect animal rights, vegans go for a more strictly plant-based diet than lacto-ovo vege­tarians. They are often erroneously seen as extreme activ­ists among vegetarians. Battling this mis­conception, Sidney Hsu, an English language teacher and translator nicknamed Herbi­vore by her friends, has been promoting veganism in a stylish, fashionable way.

In 2015 Hsu organized the first edition of Taiwan Vegan Frenzy in a historic house on Taipei’s Dihua Street. Over the past six years, there have been 14 Vegan Frenzy fairs. They promote veganism through concerts, talks, adoptions of stray cats, and stalls selling an assortment of daily goods and foods. Taiwan Vegan Frenzy has attracted more than 20,000 online followers and has persuaded countless people to convert to vegetarianism. As many as 70-80 vegan-friendly brands participated in the fair held at Christmas 2018. During those three days, they welcomed more than 10,000 visitors, some of whom came from as far afield as Japan and Hong Kong.

Hsu, who started to teach English upon graduating from senior high school, says with a laugh: “Since I was a child, I’ve always liked to teach.” She insists that veganism is not the same as religious or other forms of vegetarian­ism. Rather, we can protect the environment and animals if we stop eating and using animal products, such as eggs, milk, foie gras, honey, fur, and silk, and if we refrain from activities that might harm animals either directly or indirectly, such as visiting zoos and watching animal performances.

Taiwan Vegan Frenzy has rallied many sympathizers, from popular vegetarian stalls to designers of purely plant-based products (such as “organic” lipsticks using only natural mineral powders and vegetable oils rather than artificial dyes) and of environmentally friendly shoes made from recycled materials such as old shoes and PET bottles, instead of leather. They wish not only to put recycling into practice but also to put an end to animal suffering. Veganism is attractive precisely because it teaches us to cherish every moment of a healthy and refreshing life, to work for social justice, and to curb global warming.

No Meat

In the past two years, the six No Meat fairs held across the island have entertained huge throngs of visitors. Though sometimes situated in more out-of-the-way places like Nantou’s Caotun Township and Hsinchu’s General Village, No Meat has attracted many visitors traveling from Taipei and Kaohsiung. Most of the visitors are in fact non-vegetarians.

Held on August 30, 2020 in New Taipei City’s Banqiao District, No Meat 3.0 hosted more than 100 vegetarian brands. This enorm­ous vegan fair was on a scale rarely seen, boasting all the foods and desserts you can think of. An estimated 40,000-plus people crowded into the Banqiao Stadium that day. Kaohsiung-based Wheels of Fortune sold vegetarian wheel cakes of marvelous flavors, including “three-cup chicken” and tapioca balls with custard. Tainan’s Papa Vegan X Tsasan Café sold their vegetarian “small sausages in large sausages,” while Tree Nest (now run by its second-generation owner) supplied their toon-flavored pancakes. Shan­liang­ma­wan was also there selling their “meatballs” wrapped in translucent dough, drizzled with a traditional rice sauce. All of them attracted long queues.

Chelsea Chang, who has masterminded No Meat, is a full-time mother. It wasn’t for religious or business reasons that she launched the fair. She simply wants her daughter ­Evelyn to live in a better world.

Sharing the love of vegetarianism

Dismayed at the amount of packaging waste generated by the first No Meat event, Chang decided to dedicate No Meat 2.0, which was held in Hsinchu’s General Village, to packaging-free shopping. She publicized the event on social media, raising its profile by organizing prize draws for food vouchers and “no queuing” tickets on the No Meat Facebook page, and arranged for tableware hire and dishwashing facilities at the venue. Chang says: “We didn’t foresee how successful our first zero-­packaging attempt would be. More than 7000 people turned up that day, and no one complained about the inconvenience. By making an extra effort, you help reduce the burden on the planet.” Some visitors even came with suitcases full of tableware and meal boxes, planning to support every stall.

“I hope that the vendors who take part will clearly communicate to the public the emotional impact of eating vegetarian food. Through exposure to delicious vegetarian food, more and more people will like this diet and feel the benefits of going veggie, thus easing the load we put on the planet,” says Chang passionately. “Many people who have almost never tried vege­tarian food come to No Meat, where they can feel the power of love. The contagious influence of love and conviction can forge new friendships, further disseminating the ‘No Meat’ culture.”

Chang, who believes that “to give unconditionally is to receive perfect happiness,” plans to organize a No Meat music festival and a marathon in 2021, in order to share the benefits of vegetarianism even more widely. As Will Tuttle, a pioneer of the international vegetarian movement, observes: each of our daily meals helps us rethink our relationship with the outside world; each meal is a ritual, and what we engage with is not merely food but also a ritual whereby we choose either to connect or to disconnect with other beings. At the beginning of this new year, why not go for a meal, or a day, with no meat—for our own good and also for the planet?