24 Oct Tammy Fry
In 1981, when Tammy Fry was born, plant-derived meats weren’t ‘a thing’, let alone even an idea or concept. Tammy was born on a working goat farm in South Africa, to a meat eater father and vegetarian mother. She was born and raised vegetarian, and later in life became vegan.
Living on the farm, Tammy would see her beloved goats being sent to slaughter and inherently knew it was wrong. So, she forged an alliance with her mum, convincing their father to evolve the family business to an ethical, plant-based food company and in the process, converting him to veganism, too. Fry Family Food Company was born in 1991 and was at the grassroots of the plant-based meat substitute revolution we are enjoying today.
Tammy is now International Marketing Manager for the family business, which offers a range of over 35 plant-based products sold in 40,000 stores, restaurants and venues in 28 countries across the world, including Coles, Woolworths, IGA, COSTCO and several independent retailers in Australia (look for them in the freezer section). Of all their achievements, she is most proud of the shift in consciousness that her family has helped to bring about.
It’s not simply animals they are helping, but of course our fragile planet and the myriad people the business employs. The Fry Family Food Factory in Durban, South Africa, employs over 400 staff, and produces over 35 tonnes of vegan food daily. There’s another contract manufacturer in Cornwall in the UK that produces a further five tonnes daily. In terms of animal lives saved, that’s an awful lot. In fact, they regularly keep count, and the numbers are both heartening and astounding.
“Every year, we look at turnover and put up a chart to show how many animal lives would be saved if someone had chosen a Fry’s Product instead of a meat product,” explains Tammy. “Last year that number was 647,737, 11,354 cows, 10,055 pigs and three million prawns.”
Driven by ethics, purpose and passion over profit, Fry’s Family Foods supports various charities and non-profits. These include animal sanctuaries, Veganuary and Sea Shepherd. Fry’s also initiated Meat Free Mondays in Australia and South Africa.
Now a mum of two young boys, Tammy is teaching her own family the values of ethical, compassionate eating and the wonderful versatility of plant-based cooking. She counts high profile vegan activists like James Aspey among her friends and colleagues and is passionate about spreading the word on compassionate living, veganism and its health benefits. She’s also an avid Crossfitter and a Fifth Dan Black Belt for Karate, proving that vegans can be just as strong as anyone, if not stronger.
Gently Vegan’s Lifestyle Editor Shonagh Walker spoke with her about her family’s incredible journey and business success.
Shonagh Walker: Your family has been creating plant-based food products since 1991. Were you raised as a vegan?
Tammy Fry: I was born in South Africa in 1981, to a goat farmer Dad and schoolteacher Mum. I saw day after day as the goats would be shipped off for slaughter. I think this prompted my passion for saving animals and not eating them! My dad was a typical South African meat-eater, but Mum shared my philosophy on plant-based eating. We made a formidable team and eventually convinced my dad to follow suit.
SW: Back then, veganism or plant -based eating wasn’t really ‘a thing’. Did you friends think it was weird or was it warmly embraced?
TF: It definitely wasn’t a thing! I was the only girl at a school of over 1000 girls that was vegetarian. I was around 14 years old when I arrived at our Christian studies class and all my classmates surrounded me and placed their hands on me. The teacher proceeded to pray for my sins to be forgiven – apparently herbivorous diets went against the teachings of the Bible? It was only when I won the Junior Karate World Championships in 1998 that things took a turn for me, and people started asking questions about my diet!
SW: Do you think that back in 1991, your family ever could have imaged that plant-based eating would have come so far and be so universally embraced?
TF: No, definitely not. Wally and Debbie set out to make nutritious, tasty, high protein replacements that we could eat at home and at social occasions. It was never intended to be a commercial enterprise. It is incredible and exciting to see the growth of plant-based eating worldwide!
SW: Fry’s Family Foods really was the first to create plant-based ‘meats’. Now that this is such a huge movement, do you guys feel proud for paving the way?
TF: When we have a chance to just sit back and look how far we have come (which is seldom!), we are, of course, very proud of what we have achieved as a family in the last 30 years.
SW: You have such an extensive range of plant-based foods, which even includes pizza. Do you use vegan substitutes for dairy products too? Where do you source them?
TF: We use a vegan cheese replacement (AKA Gary) on our pizza only. We do not use dairy alternatives in any of our other products. SW: Your new Fishless Fillets are so delicious! Why was it so important for Fry’s Family Food to create a substitute for fish?
TF: With the alarming statistics on the degradation of the ocean and the plight of the ocean, we as a family wanted to offer alternatives to eating fish. Seahorses, which are ocean bottom-dwellers, are now endangered, as prawns are caught using drag nets, that drag along the bottom of the ocean. Prawn fishing has decimated the sea horse population. Hence, the development of our Battered Prawn-Style Pieces.
SW: Lots of vegans struggle with getting adequate Omega 3s. Do Fry’s Fishless Fillets help with this?
TF: Yes, the Fishless Fillets contain Omega 3’s as we use flaxseed oil in the recipe.
SW: What is your favourite Fry’s product and why?
TF: I love the new Fishless Fillets and have been inspired to make meals that I have never eaten – Fish curries, Fish Tacos and good old, Fish and chips.
SW: What tips would you give a meat and/or fish eater on transitioning to a plant-based diet and lifestyle?
TF: Remember, this is a journey so take one step at a time. Be kind to yourself and celebrate your transition. Find blogs and cookbooks to keep you inspired. Find new friends that share your values and may be on the same journey as you. Plan ahead for the week and try to avoid too many highly processed carbs in your meals. This is not a diet, it’s a way of life. So, if you are feeling deprived, you need to head out to your nearest plant-based restaurant and order some goodness off their menu! Stay in touch with your ‘why’. If you lose the ‘why’, you may also lose the determination to continue on your journey, so watch documentaries and read books that reinforce your decision to go plant based.
SW: Why should we all try to take fish and meat off our plates?
TF: Going plant-based is a decision to side with Mother Earth, a decision to make food choices that align with your values and desire to see compassion in the world. It’s a decision to honour your body with what serves it well. We are currently seeing the greatest destruction of the Earth and the Oceans in the history of mankind and at the same time are seeing an explosion of non-communicable disease (lifestyle disease or preventable disease). We need to take responsibility as guardians of the planet and make changes to the status quo. Plant-based diets are on the rise because people are starting to make the more conscious choices, a choice for longevity and health, a choice for the animals and a choice for the Earth and Oceans.
Lifestyle Editor Shonagh Walker