Plant-based food is popping up all over Bangkok at a time more people are realizing that eating meat is worse for the planet than driving cars or generating power.
As habits nudge toward sustainable, creating a market for more restaurants and suppliers, two people pushing hard on the needle are husband-and-wife team Max Hellier and Joanna Hellier, the two enthusiastic founders of plant-based blog and sustainability platform Root the Future.
In the past year, they’ve drawn large crowds to a series of sustainability markets, called attention to the booming scene and demystified the lifestyle in a steady flow of videos they host. We got in touch to ask them where Bangkok’s plant-based movement is at, and what its prospects are in meat-addicted Thailand.
Do you think it’s hard for Thai people — most of whom are avid meat lovers — to give plant-based food a serious shot?
Yes. The main reason is that plant-based protein isn’t seen as “real” protein. This is another misconception we often debunk on our channels. Another reason is the taste. Some people are reluctant to try plant-based meat with the thought that it won’t taste the same. But Thailand has some amazing plant-based meats that taste literally no different and have very similar protein content to meat. Some are so close that they’re difficult for some vegans to eat because they taste too real.
What are your thoughts on Bangkok’s plant-based scene at the moment?
Last year we saw the plant-based industry absolutely boom, and it has been the same this year. For vegan fine dining, there are [now] quite a few options in Bangkok, including Haoma, the Mandarin Oriental, Sindhorn Kempinski, and Bo.lan. We visited Igniv at the St. Regis a couple of months ago and the food was wonderful. But our favorite places always tend to be the ones that aren’t fine dining, like Bonita Social Club, Khun Churn, Vistro, Bangkok City Diner, Barefood and Golden State.
What are some of the most commonly asked questions you receive from fans?
“How can I eat enough protein on a plant-based diet?” and “Where can I find cheap plant-based food?”
Protein deficiency [in the plant-based diet] is pretty much unheard of. The only time this occurs is when there is a calorie deficit, and this would be the case with any diet that is calorie deficient. The second question is a little less easy to answer. Beans, rice, legumes, fruit and veggies are the cheapest foods you can buy… the cheapest plant protein (soy beans) is 20 times cheaper than the cheapest beef per gram of protein.
However, Thailand has a street food culture, and most people tend to dine out rather than cook at home.
What are you trying to achieve?
Many people are unaware just how huge the impact our food has on the environment. We try to include educational information about plant-based food and why it will help save the world. We [also] want to make plant-based food as accessible as possible so it’s easy for people to try and switch to if they want to. Finally, we use entertainment to approach the subject of sustainability. Food choices can be a hard subject to address, especially when we are talking about how food affects the future of our planet. Using entertainment helps us to raise this subject in a way that doesn’t attack anyone or anyone’s choices.
How did Root The Future begin?
Before Root The Future, we were developing a sustainable, solar-powered, luxury plant-based hotel concept, and then Covid hit. It just wasn’t the right time for any type of tourism, so we took a step back and thought that this is the perfect time to spread the message about the climate crisis and how we can all … reevaluate the way in which we are treating our planet.
What are some things everyone can do to reduce their impact on the environment?
The one thing we can’t stress enough is how much of an impact your food choices have on the environment and essentially the future of our home. Oxford University released a study in 2019 that found that switching to a plant-based diet is the single biggest act you can take to reduce your environmental impact.
Food waste is also a big one. It’s estimated that if food waste was a country, it would be the third biggest emitter in the world after the US and China, so make sure you eat your leftovers.
Another thing to consider is composting, whether that means buying a little composter for your peelings and off-cuts or rallying your condo juristic office to work towards implementing one somewhere in the condo. When food scraps go to landfills with non-organic trash, they can’t decompose and instead release methane. Methane is approximately 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Highs and lows from your Root The Future festival?
This was the first time we’ve ever organized such a huge event. I can remember a few occasions where we were both in tears at about 4am trying to get everything done and thinking, “Why the hell are we doing this again?”
The day before the festival [held in On Nut in October last year], the site got flooded due to heavy rain, and we had to bring in a big machine to pump it out. On the day of the festival, it was also raining. The protests were happening, the BTS was closed, and we thought all the effort had been for nothing. But, soon after, we opened and thousands of passionate people came flocking in with their reusables, umbrellas, and excitement. It was so amazing to see that so many people are not just ready for a sustainability movement, but they’re hungry for it.
What’s your message for people who are new to plant-based cuisine?
There are three key things you have to remember when switching to a plant-based lifestyle. One: It’s not a diet. Yes, it’s better for your health and great for weight loss. But if you restrict calories you will feel horrible (the same for any diet), and you will go back to eating calorie-dense, high-fat animal foods in no time. Two: Eat everything you love, but just make it plant-based. As the vegan saying goes, “Anything you can eat, I can eat vegan.” Three: Remember why you are doing it. Whether you’re eating plant-based food for environmental, health, or ethical reasons, always remind yourself why.
Subscribe to The Coconuts Podcast for top trending news and pop culture from Southeast Asia and Hong Kong every Friday!