Tue, Feb 13, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Why Taipei is Asia’s top destination for vegans

A long tradition of Buddhism and a vegan wave from the West have created an abundance of plant-based restaurants and cafes in the nation’s capital, as well as vegan events and clothing brands

By Jasmin Oertel  /  Contributing reporter

PETA dubbed Taipei Asia’s most vegan-friendly city in December 2016, and one look at Ooh Cha Cha’s vegan donut and you can see why.

Photo courtesy of Mai Bach

In order to honor plant-based eating worldwide, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) nominated Taipei as Asia’s most vegan-friendly city in December 2016. A long tradition of Buddhism and a new vegan wave from the West have created an abundance of restaurants and cafes serving plant-based fare, vegan events and clothing brands.

A little more than a year ago, an expert panel of PETA staffers traveled throughout the continent and sampled vegan restaurants and street-food, judging cities on the number of vegan restaurants based on population, the variety of options available at non-vegan restaurants, the range of cuisines offered and the visibility of the local vegan movement. Since then, Taipei’s vegan scene has only been growing.

“Taipei’s vegan scene is the most dynamic in Asia, thanks to numerous restaurants that offer cutting-edge vegan meals and a powerful community of animal advocates,” Jason Baker, vice president of International Campaigns at PETA, said.

Shi Hue-shou (釋慧守), a Buddhist monk from Austria who has been living at Kaohsiung’s Fo Guang Shan Monastery (佛光山) for 18 years, isn’t surprised Taipei won the award.

“Even here in Southern Taiwan you drive five minutes and will find a vegetarian canteen right around the next corner,” Shi said.

BUDDHISM

Taiwan’s large Buddhist population is considered one of the main reasons why Taiwanese avoid meat.

“To be exact, there is no true law in Buddhism that says you cannot eat meat. But people believe that by eating less of it, you can become more compassionate and improve your karma,” Shi said.

Buddhism certainly plays a role when it comes to the abundance of vegetarian restaurants that Taiwan has to offer. Vegetarian hole-in-the-wall noodle shops and vegetarian buffets can be found in every population center, large or small.

Health reasons, food allergies and skepticism toward the safety of food due to past food scandals are other reasons to go vegan.

VEGAN VS VEGETARIAN

There remains some confusion over the differences between vegan and vegetarian diets said Mayo Lai (賴孟君) a vegan actress, zero-waster and animal rights activist in Taipei.

“It’s hard for people in Taiwan to understand the term vegan because we don’t really have an equal word for it,” Lai said.

Lai said that su (素) is the Chinese for vegetarian, which means dairy products and egg may be found in the meal. However, she added, over the past two years it has become so much easier to be a vegan in Taiwan.

“Slowly people are learning about this trend, that is actually a Western thing coming to Taiwan.”

According to HappyCow, which is a crowd-sourced review portal for vegans and vegetarians (www.happycow.net), there are more than 600 vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Taiwan. Taipei offers 57 restaurants that are completely plant-based and put a strong emphasis on health. Considering this number, Taipei can definitely compete with other Asian capitals, who have been praised for their vegan friendliness, such as Singapore,which offers 46 vegan restaurants, placing second in PETA’s ranking.

Taipei’s first plant-based restaurant, Ooh Cha Cha, celebrated its four-year anniversary in November last year and just recently opened a second store near the Technology Building in the city’s Daan District (大安). They get their vegetables and greens freshly delivered from a Taiwanese organic farmer.

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