The Taiwan Vegan Frenzy fairs demonstrate that for many in the island, veganism is connected with a sustainable lifestyle rather than with religion.
Veganism in Taiwan has been almost inseparable from Buddhism. ‘Wǒ chī quán sù’ (我吃全素) or ‘I eat entirely pure’ is the phrase used to explain that you are vegan in Mandarin Chinese. This terminology stems from the religious belief that by avoiding meat and animal products, one keeps a pure mind, becomes more compassionate, and betters their karma.
‘Eating entirely pure’ means that a person not only refrains from eating animal products but also avoids ingredients that are considered to affect their consciousness according to Buddhist belief. Avoidance includes pungent vegetables and tubers such as ginger, garlic, onions, spring onions, leeks, and alcohol.
Due to a traditional system of ancestral worship, approximately 14% of Taiwan’s population follows a plant-based menu on several days of the month. This is partly why almost all restaurants will have a vegan option on their menu, in the case that today is your plant-based day. Another reason for the abundance of plant-based alternatives is the government’s endorsement of what we know as Meatless Monday.
However, in recent years there has been a shift in the reasons that bring people to stick to a plant-based diet; health-conscious, secular veganism is slowly seeping into the dietary mainstream, ditching greasy veggies and mock meat behind. This new veganism abandons religious prohibition to avoid pungent plants and introduces a new kind of veganism that emphasises the use of fresh produce.
This is an important transition, because it helps rebrand veganism amongst the local young generation as a diet that individuals can adopt to address climate change and support physical and mental health, rather than a diet associated with a set of religious rules and restrictions.
If, once upon a time, vegan tourists in Taiwan had to spot the left-facing swastika or lotus flower — the two most common symbols for strictly vegan Buddhist restaurants and buffets — today, the possibilities for fine plant-based dining are endless.
Taiwanese “secular” veganism has been successful in distinguishing itself from local religions by focusing more on social and environmental values and less on theological nuances. The heralds of change are young activists who are concerned with animal-rights and the ecological impact of the meat industry.
The new, young vegans of Taiwan use different terminology and branding for a plant-based diet, and here is where Taiwan Vegan Frenzy (TVF) comes into the picture.
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TVF is Taiwan’s largest consumer fair for the vegan lifestyle. Exhibitors show their newest products and services; visitors get to try, buy, and get detailed information about a large variety of vegan food and non-food-products. The event includes interactive panels and speakers who convey the latest insights and trends in the fields of vegan products and lifestyle. TVF is led by Sidney Hsu and a group of animal-rights activists who made it their mission to introduce and connect local vegan businesses to the public through monthly fairs.
These fairs are, without a doubt, the best party in town and a platform for vegan collaborations. Bringing together thousands of vegan foodies, activists, families, and curious bystanders, the TVF fairs come to demonstrate that for many, plant-based has become a lifestyle that is not just about religious restrictions but focuses on fostering a more sustainable lifestyle.
TVF’s fairs have got it all: ethically-sourced and PETA-approved vegan fashion, cosmetics, soaps, coffee, tea and food from all around the world. Vegan talks and indie music sessions are also on the agenda. Both local and expat communities take part in these fairs, which is why you will be able to find everything from Taiwanese noodles and Japanese ramen to burgers, curries, Mexican tacos, European sourdough bread, chocolate, ice cream, and whatnot.
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Joining the party are also local vegan fashion brands, including Hsu’s brand Vnicorn, and many other young designers and crafts-makers, all selling purely vegan merchandise. Visitors at TVF have the opportunity to get in touch with local vegan business owners and sellers, and other vegan contacts.
It is worth following the vegan movement in Taiwan, a culinary trendsetter, and watch it evolve into a unique one that combines tradition and innovation, and religion and secularism — all for the benefit of the earth and all its living creatures.