For the last five years, food blog Where's the beef? has chronicled Cindy and Michael’s fabulous meat-free exploits, inside and out of their Melbourne home. Reading their blog, you’ll likely learn about their city's best not-dogs, discover a recipe for vegan Cherry Ripe cupcakes, or find that broccoli on pizza really works.
We chat to the bloggers about the pros of being vego in Melbourne, what inspired them to ditch meat, and why the decision has been far more liberating than limiting.
How did you decide on the blog name?
Michael: Like almost everything we said in 2006 (the year we started the blog), it’s a Simpsons reference. It was between “Where’s the beef?” and “You don’t win friends with salad”.
What made you become vegetarians?
Michael: It’s more [a question of] what was stopping us. For years, I felt like I should give up meat (for a mixture of health, ethical and environmental reasons), but having always eaten fairly straightforward meals, I had just decided it would be boring and hard.
The key to the switch was living with a vegetarian couple who cooked up varied, easy and wonderfully tasty meals, night after night. Once we saw how simple it was, we decided to stick with it. It’s now easier than ever – Melbourne has a thriving veg community.
Which Melbourne suburb do you think is the best for food and why?
Michael: Melbourne has so many great food suburbs. We haven’t done justice to many of them outside the inner north, though we’ve enjoyed exploring Footscray, Dandenong and Balaclava.
Our favourite suburbs are our local suburbs, though. A big triangle covering Brunswick, Fitzroy and Collingwood captures almost everything that’s great about eating in Melbourne: loads of brilliant cafes, veg-friendly pubs, insanely cheap and delicious fast food, the highest density of great vegetarian-specific places in Australia, high-end restaurants and so much more. All within a flat, bike-friendly few kilometres.
We love your idea of taking readers on a 12-hour foodie journey through north Melbourne. If you could do the same for any city in the world, where would you go?
Cindy: We’re both hankering for an excuse to revisit New York City (our first visit occurred just weeks before we went vegetarian). It’s a city with a great diversity of foods and lots of specialty vegetarian venues. Given a longer time frame, we might prefer to plan a tempeh tour through Indonesia.
What’s your food philosophy?
Cindy: We like to keep it fun and fresh. While vegetarianism often seems like a restriction, we’ve never eaten such a wide variety of foods. Seven years after cutting meat from our diet, we’re still trying new recipes and new restaurants every week.
What health changes did you notice when you first became vegetarians (positive or negative)?
Michael: I lost a bit of weight I think, but nothing really major. It’s not like vegetarians can’t eat ice-cream, chocolate and deep-fried things.
How do you decide who writes a particular post?
Cindy: We take it in turns, depending who did the cooking, who ordered the most interesting dish, or who had the strongest opinion. Since we share almost all of the meals we blog about, we can’t resist discussing what we’ve eaten. Drafts of the blog are read by both of us before they’re published. Each of our perspectives sneak into every post, even if there’s only one named author.
What do you love about the Melbourne food scene?
Cindy: I love that there’s a restaurant or grocer to represent the food of almost any culture in the world; that there’s something satisfying to be had for any budget between $1.50 and $150; and that so many restaurant kitchens are open well beyond 9pm!
What’s a restaurant meal you now regularly make at home?
Cindy: After holidays in Malaysia in 2010, and eating incredibly well, the foods have found their way into our kitchen. Char kway teow and nasi lemak are now on regular rotation, and when Michael has the energy to grind up a spice paste, we have a go at laksa or Indonesian gado-gado, too.
Which cuisine do you never tire of?
Michael: We tend to mix things up fairly regularly. I could eat Thai or Indian food every night of the week, but I think Cindy would get sick of it pretty quickly. The combination of the wonderful Latin American cookbook Viva Vegan and nearby Hispanic grocer Casa Iberica has meant that lately we (like all of Melbourne, it seems) are falling back on tortilla-wrapped meals more and more.
What would your blog followers be surprised to learn about you?
Michael: Observant readers will have noticed that our restaurant explorations stick pretty close to tram lines – neither of us have ever held a driver’s licence.
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