The Big Vegan Market returns with their massive sophomore instalment

“I know there’s some super vegan-friendly cities around the world but I still think that Melbourne is just about the vegan capital of the world.”

Anne Brunsdon and Tim Slingsby are self-proclaimed vegan “food nerds”. They used to spend their Saturday nights out at gigs together, forgoing the pub banter of their friends to discuss between them the best way to “veganise” mac and cheese, and which cafes have the best vegan meals.
“We don’t have cooking backgrounds, but we would just talk cooking whenever we would hang out at shows on the weekend,” Slingsby says. “We’re very passionate home cooks. Even as kids we both liked taking recipes and manipulating them.”
Slingsby took the plunge to join the vegan ranks after first becoming a vegetarian in his early twenties. He’s entering his thirties now. The more he learnt about where his food came from, the more interested he was in the vegan lifestyle.
“It was a continued education process, I was really quite removed from everything,” he explains. “People were telling me that cheese isn’t actually vegetarian because it still contains parts from a cow and things like that. It really led me on a path to how animals were mistreated.”
Brunsdon grew up on a dairy farm, and saw first hand the process of getting milk from cow to supermarket. It’s been 19 years since her conversion to veganism and she hasn’t looked back since. After so many of their vegan related pub chats, the pair decided enough was enough. They mulled over starting a food business together, before settling on running vegan events, taking advantage of Brunsdon’s popular following as the brains behind Melbourne Vegan Eats on Instagram.
“I didn’t want to put food photos on my personal Instagram and wanted to start a food account. I’d eat around Melbourne and show people which businesses had really great vegan options,” she says. “In the last two years, it’s really exploded with vegan options around Melbourne. Having travelled quite a bit, I know there’s some super vegan-friendly cities around the world but I still think that Melbourne is just about the vegan capital of the world.”
Melbourne Vegan Eats has since morphed into a legitimate two-person business, with Brunsdon and Slingsby about to launch their biggest event yet: the second annual Big Vegan Market.
“Last year the market was so overwhelmingly popular. This year we’re using the whole ground floor of the ExhibitionBuilding, and going over the whole weekend,” Brunsdon says.
The Melbourne vegan community has proven to be so active that the event is expanding this year from one day to two and the duo have worked around their 9-to-5 day jobs to pull together an impressive 220 vegan stallholders. 13,000 vegans crossed the threshold last year, and Brunsdon estimates over 20,000 will attend this year. It’s not just for vegans though, and the team are very clear about that. They’re aware that there’s a stigma surrounding veganism, but the pair don’t really buy into it. Slingsby is adamant that the market will try to be a positive experience for all.
“We’re really psyched to be doing something in a way that is how we want to transmit the vegan way,” he says. “We want to do it in a really gentle and approachable way, make it something that members of the public aren’t guilt-tripped into.
“It’s something that is done with love, but also done with a great look and great appeal so people want to go and check it out and maybe see the advantages of being vegan instead of being exposed to all the negativity around it.”
Brunsdon is just as welcoming to those who are on the fence about joining the vegan world. “We actually had a lot of non-vegans attend last year,” she says. “It’s putting on display how easy it is to swap out one product or one meal a day, instead of just pushing the message of ‘you must go vegan’. I always have the approach of something is better than nothing.
“You won’t find graphic images, it’s basically a big market that just happens to be vegan.”

The 2018 Big Vegan Market will return to the Royal Exhibition Building on Saturday May 12 and Sunday May 13. You can find a full list of vendors at their website.