When it comes to reducing the ecological impact of the food we consume, plant-based diets have clearly stood out as the best options. While vegan food is found in every supermarket, eating out and dining socially can still come with perceived challenges.
Vegan restaurants and cafes help to ease people into plant-based diets by removing some of the perceived barriers. Ability to cook, knowledge of ingredients, social barriers like being self-conscious and feeling monitored, lessen among like-minded people enjoying meals in a vegan restaurant. Someone can feel part of a community effort of changing dietary habits from meat and dairy to sustainable diets. Sure, eating vegan when out won’t resolve the Climate Crisis, food justice or liberate animals by itself but the experience of eating out among community and friends can be seen as a important part towards these. Vegan restaurants can be a welcoming and necessary temporary sanctuary from the conventional use of animals.
When we think of these restaurants and cafes as places for people to enjoy new concepts, it’s interesting to note that plant-based restaurants have been used this way in Dublin for over 100 years.
Feminist and Animal Rights historian Evelyn Suttle says, “(Jennie) Wyse Power (1858-1941) was a suffragist and the first president of Cumann na mBan (‘the Women’s Council’), a militant Irish women’s republican organisation. Wyse Power’s restaurant was considered the ‘go-to’ rendezvous for rebels, a landmark in the Irish revolution, a key location for vegetarian food, and suggested as a place for suffragettes to shop.
Other vegetarian restaurants, such as the one beside college green in Dublin, were noted as central points for revolutionary rendezvous, places of propaganda and idealist discussions. Though not all patrons of these establishments were associated with feminist animal rights activism, it is interesting to note that they attracted radical thinkers and activists for other causes as a hub or safe space.”
RUN THE (VEGAN) WORLD. We spoke with two women who run restaurants in Dublin, Dairíne McCafferty, Cornucopia restaurant, and Rebeca Feely, Kale & Coco, about how they are coping with the challenges of the cost-of-living crisis.
Women are about twice as likely as men to say they’re eating less meat. It’s been estimated that 80% of vegans in the U.S. are women—that seems to transfer to Europe, meaning four out of five plant-based people you meet will be women. According to the World Economic Forum women are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the cost of living crisis right now.
“More young women come in. Our pop-up cafes in Trinity College have been overwhelmingly enjoyed by women. It is important to run your business not just with purse strings but also with the heart. Relationships between the restaurant team, supplier and customers are important and everyone needs a good experience,” says Dairíne McCafferty, the managing director of Cornucopia restaurant.
“Work real hard to make a dime
If you got beef, your problem, not mine
Leave all that BS outside”
Family Affair by Mary J Blige.
Dairíne has been working at the restaurant since the age of 14, her mother Deirdre started it all with her husband in the mid-eighties. Cornucopia is renowned and loved for its fresh offerings of whole food menus, in house vegan bakery and for publishing the award winning vegan, Green Cook Book . It’s location, about as central as you can get in Dublin city is within two Georgian heritage buildings on Wicklow street. An authentic vernacular red brick home where customers and staff know the worn wooden stairs well. “We make the most of the location. The building wasn’t designed for business, so adapting is something Cornucopia has had to be familiar with from early on.”
Adapting has been relied upon recently during the Covid pandemic when business in the town centre was closed for a long duration. Now, Dairíne says that a Dublin Town commissioned report on footfall figures for the city centre since all pandemic precautions have been lifted show it is down by around 20%. “Our customers are teenagers, young people, students, older people, visitors to the town and mixed people walking in the door. We rely on the tourist trade now, it’s key to our business.”
Dairíne is concerned with the soulless corporate takeover of the city streets, “What makes a city is its small independent business and restaurants. You can visit a McDonalds anywhere in the world, but Cornucopia and other restaurants are unique to Dublin. It’s depressing to go up Grafton Street and see multi nationals everywhere. Landlords don’t mind where their rent comes from. Multinationals can pay the rent increases and squeeze out small businesses. Unique small businesses need to be protected rather than focusing on multinationals.”
Within the last year several much loved vegan food businesses in Dublin have closed, citing the prices of energy and food ingredients as largely contributing to the decision. The much loved Buttercream Dream Bakery run by Lauren Redmond, announced on Instagram last month that it too would succumb to the financial pressures of rising costs of essentials like energy and ingredient. There is a lack of support or relief from the state too. This is in contrast to the enormous subsidies animal exploiting businesses get each year. €100 million was given to beef farmers as a Brexit support and the horse racing and greyhound industries are gifted huge sums of public money each budget of up to €68 million.
When asked how the cost-of-living crisis has impacted the running of Cornucopia, Dairíne said, “It’s been really hard, to be honest. The increase in VAT rate affected us. Restaurant profit margins are very tight. People can have an expectation that things should be cheap. I think this is because so much of the products they buy have been outsourced. When you pay for restaurant food in Dublin, you are paying for the staff who have to rent in Dublin.”
Dairíne is aware that raised prices can look speculative to the customer, who may understandably not appreciate the costs involved in running a restaurant. “If a utility bill doubles or staff look for an increase to be able to pay increased rent, the only way to make this is by raising the price. You still have to offer good value and good deals. But with the reduced footfall there has been no option but to raise prices.”
Inside Cornucopia there is a letter on the wall to their customers explaining this and outlining the circumstances that caused it. It’s an attempt to be transparent and respectful toward their patrons. Dairíne hopes customers will appreciate it.
“People want to know their jobs are secure, so we manage everything very tightly. We are being the most efficient we can, saving food waste and managing rosters. It’s been a big learning curve to understand everything about the business and get us to a place where we can absorb these prices.”
Beef and dairy, contributes 37% to Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions and is the single largest contributor to loss of biodiversity and land use. In the absence of government efforts to educate and encourage consumers to shift to vegan plant-based diets for environmental reasons, it is left to volunteer organisations and the independent small food enterprises to generate positive attitudes toward vegan foods. “We use sentient beings as a commodity. It’s so cruel and unsustainable! It would be amazing if plant-based eating was encouraged more,” says Dairíne McCafferty. Dairíne and the Cornucopia team are working with Trinity College, Dublin to introduce vegan menu options to students and staff at the university. “Trinity college has been collaborating with Cornucopia in their attempts to be a climate first campus. We started with pop-ups, but our goal is to have Cornucopia signature dishes, developed by our head chef Tony Keogh, within the University.”
“Well, they’re the people that you meet. When you’re walking down the street. They’re the people that you meet each day.” The People in Your Neighbourhood by Sesame Street.
Neighbourhood cafes and coffee shops have been described as ‘third places’ in urban lives separate from the work and home, providing places for people to meet, relax and develop connections. Their presence in the urban landscape has meant that they increasingly take on a wider range of roles, becoming spaces of both leisure and work but also providing spaces of sociality in which people can develop connections, and potentially communities.
Kale and Coco is situated in the neighbourhood of Stoneybatter on Dublin’s Northside, D7. Rebecca Feely opened the doors to the café in 2019, after a couple of years of pop-up locations, catering for business, markets, and events. “Being in Stoneybatter has been a positive experience,” Rebecca says. “We have been welcomed with open arms and quickly became a neighbourhood hub, where locals come to take time out of their day to meet friends and enjoy the cosy surroundings and food.”
We asked Rebecca how they are affected by the challenges of the cost-of-living crisis. “It’s had a huge impact on small businesses… I feel like this year is even tougher than getting through Covid 19 because there was support from the government then. People were very understanding around that time. There was definitely a bit more of a sense that we were all in this together. Now there’s very little support from the government. Raw materials and ingredients have gone up.”
Power to the People Over the last year small local businesses have taken to social media to share photos of electricity bills that have tripled in cost within a month for the same or even less usage. Like 100’s of thousands of households they too are angry at the energy companies, who they see as involved in price gouging. The ESB made profits of €847 million in 2022. Despite the company being 97% owned by the people of Ireland, there hasn’t been any talk of reducing electricity costs for households or small businesses. “The cost of electricity has been damaging to small businesses. We don’t have an option of turning off fridges and freezers or not using our electrical equipment. I think that small businesses are not in the position that large businesses might be to absorb that impact,” says Rebecca.
“You buy me things
I love it
You bring me food
I need it ”
Rent. – Pet Shop Boys.
Dublin has the third highest rents in the EU. For hundreds of thousands of people, rent is the single thing that takes the most money out of their pockets each week. The rent and housing crisis puts pressure on small local vegan businesses. “I’ve had staff that have left the city for a while and wanted to come back and work with us again, but they can’t find anywhere to live affordably in Dublin. A lot of them have found they can’t afford anywhere,” reveals Rebecca.
It’s been estimated that the majority of self-employed people work up to 45 hours a week. With so much at stake it can be hard for vegan business owners to switch off from work. Rebecca says she knows she’s spread too thin across responsibilities in the café. “I have all these great ideas but if someone gets sick, I will get sucked in.” “Small business, A lot of them are one or two-person teams doing many tasks and you don’t have the time or energy to put into other important areas like marketing”. Rebecca says they do feel lucky to be part of a local women owned business network who support one another regularly.
Both Rebecca and Dairíne say they will continue to row against the tide of the cost-of-living increases. They’ll do everything they can to keep their restaurants open to be a third space, a safe welcoming meeting place or community hub. They love what they do and their motivation for running their business is based on more than a profit. There are easier ways to make a living after all. It can’t be overlooked though that the current cost-of-living crisis is causing significant challenges for our emerging local vegan food economy. Follow and visit KALE & Coco and Cornucopia
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