Serotonin in Burnley
In my experience, and increasingly in that of many other Melburnians and travellers, it is the name of a complex, in the Burnley area, which includes a restaurant, gym and wellness centre and all the creation of a remarkable young woman, Emillie Hazell, 26.
When you walk into the restaurant, Serotonin, you are greeted by any one of the staff and if you are lucky taken to a table. The first time I went I thought the staff were impossibly friendly and nice but over time I realised that it is genuine because the people who work there are proud of what they do and confident of their product, the food and the environment.
The menu, in typical Emillie fashion, is not only by and large vegan it is also local, organic and complex. So no white flours, white sugars or processed foods. The food is tested in-house before ever being served to paying customers and Serotonin has scientific advisers who have an input to the final product.
Stevie Scott, a one of the Serotonin Originals, has always been welcoming and sunny but yesterday she was at university at her course and someone I had never met waited on our table and was warm, friendly and helpful. So no coincidence but a pattern.
Serotonin is also, of course, a complex neurotransmitter found in human and animal bodies and the amount of it in any particular individual is thought to be a marker of that person's feelings of well being on the one hand or depression on the other. It is not the whole story of depression as the Prozac boosters believed when they first went to that drug first went to market. A lot of people were prescribed Prozac and other Serotonin re-uptake inhibiting medications. Books were written about the new magic in combatting depression.
Emillie in her own words had “mood funks” when she was fourteen. Not unusual for a teenage girl. When she was twenty and now diagnosed by her GP as depressed she was told that the treatment she would now start on was medication followed by psychotherapy. Emillie said “no thanks”. She had been doing her own research and decided that she could defeat the problem with a plant based organic whole food diet, exercise and meditation.
By the time she was 24 she had a business plan and a way forward but she was no longer depressed or in need of chemical help. In the short time since the businesses have grown to such an extent that the gym behind the restaurant has been moved to Camberwell and that space converted to a function centre for larger table bookings and events. The restaurant will soon be open for evening meals as well. It already does Uber Eats which will deliver you a great meal - I availed myself of one the other night.
aHer partner of seven years, Daniel Dundas, glows with pride as he talks about Emilies achievements. “You have been there from the beginning of this journey”, I comment. “yes, but all the planning and design came from her”, he says. Not many men will admit thus much in their need to be top dog.
Have a look around the Serotonin site and click on the various options. It will be rewarding but definitely go there and have a great meal.
Disclaimer – I have no shares or financial interest in this business.
I have had an interest in depression and other forms of mental problems for quite a while. My father had clinical manic-depression and the family saw him go through the stages of mood changes, major depressive episodes, hospitalisation and finally dementia.
His case was complicated by his personal history – he was in six slave labour camps during the second world war and he never really got over the murder of his mother, grandmother and younger brother. How could you?
Over the years I had proposed an observational documentary series for tv that would go in depth with three or four individuals coping (or not) with different problems. I had wonderful input from my school days friend, George Szmukler, who was then the Head of Psychiatry at Kings College, London and David Copolov, the founder of the Mental Health Research Institute in Melbourne.
They in turn put me in touch with other professionals and then with clients. It was an intense period but the tv networks were doing their own things with the ABC and Andrew Denton and the BBC with Stephen Fry. In the end I never got to make this series but I was glad that the issues were raised and I certainly got a lot from doing the research and probably got a better understanding of my dad's issues.
Finally back to Serotonin the cafe, I was there again this morning with my grandson who loved the pancakes.
Emillie has created something wonderful for a growing community,
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The path to becoming a vegan was reasonably straightforward but like much else in life all sorts of issues arose that weren't exactly obvious at the time or were in the background and became more important as I began the practice and went from exploring the new shopping, growing and cooking regime to thinking about the impacts personally, locally and globally.
From a personal point of view it started after my treatment for cancer in 1997 and the effects of the toxic radiation I had every day for eight weeks. During that time it was almost impossible to swallow food and I began to lose weight rapidly to the point that the medicos were saying if I kept up the weight loss rate I would be fed through a nasal tube. Sounds disgusting but with the laceration of my throat from the effects of the radiation I can see why they thought it might be necessary. In the end I didn't have to go through the force feeding. I ended up losing fifty five pounds in three months.
During the recovery phase when I was able to swallow solids again I just couldn't stand the smell or taste of meat. I had not had dairy since being weaned anyway but did have the odd milk chocolate or dairy based ice-cream. I didn't put the weight on again and took up gym and cycling. I started to get quite fit.
Then after having a near death experience on a bike in 2003 and spending five months in hospital I got back to a vigorous routine of swimming and gym on a regular basis. One day my gym instructor mentioned a book, The China Study reviewed below. It was very persuasive and written scientifically with masses of data and analysis of that data. I questioned some medicos I knew including the surgeon who had treated my cancer and they all said they knew and agreed with the analysis BUT could not get people to go along or even do it themselves.
I saw the film Forks Over Knives which took the argument even further with the author of the China Study and a surgeon he didn't know coming to the san conclusion from different points of view. One in the operating theatre and the other in the lab. The other persuasive thing about the film was seeing actual patients being treated for a range of health issues with diet and exercise. It was inspiring and I have shown that film to thirty or more people in the last three years.
My doctor does a blood test annually to keep an eye on my vital statistics. Cholesterol down. Blood sugar down. In fact all the indicators have gone to the lower end of the healthy range. My blood pressure sits at around 110 over 65. So far so good.
At the same time I started to think about the greenhouse effects of the food I ate. Organic food might cost a little more but when you stop shopping to fill the fridge and cupboards and eat before stocking up again it is actually cheaper to eat an organic plant based diet than it is to eat meat and dairy. The amount of food wasted in the rich Western countries is really shocking.
That economy of eating organic is on a household basis but when you start to question the food miles in what you buy and buy locally produced food there is another huge economic effect that is planet wide in its reach, namely the carbon cost of not doing it this way. As Mark Bittman, the food writer for the NY Times graphically explains in a TED talk if you laid out the farm animals slaughtered for food in the US annually head to tail they would form a line stretching to the moon and back. The environmental costs are vast not to mention the food equity issues. Replace the existing farm land with organic plant crops and we could feed the whole planet as well as revegetate vast amounts of land. Our earth is a limited resource but we are spending it like it isn't.
After a while I started to think about the ethical questions in relation to the animals too. Who or what gives us the right to farm, kill and eat other living things? Why not your neighbour or a boat person? Sound ridiculous? Think about it from the slaughtered point of view rather than the killer's for a moment. I don't want to get into emotive arguments although it is easy to see parallels in my own family history. Let's just leave it at think about it and maybe cut your meat and dairy to two to three meals a week and see how you feel.
I keep getting asked when the subject comes up "but don't you miss not having ..." I can honestly say I have never missed or felt regret about not eating animal products and I can now not imagine wanting to.
And where to go
Following my post on becoming vegan here is a practical tip whether you can commit to being vegan or if you just want a great night out.
Smith and Daughters is on Brunswick St Fitzroy and in the words of a non-vegan friend who went with me last night, "this is fine dining at its best".
Their info sheet can be seen here.
Chef Shannon Martinez came from cooking on the Sea Shepard and although not a vegan has brought considerable skills to this enterprise. Her partner, Mo Wyse is both a vegan and like all the people at their tw establishments, Smith and Deli on Moor St, genuinely friendly and helpful. We got there for a 6:30 booking and the place was full by the time our first course arrived. There is none of the virtuous feel of brown rice and dry beans about the food and if you are not motivated by the knock on effects of the meals you eat but just interested in taste and the good feeling you have after a satisfying and nutritious meal this is top of my list.
Las Vegan on Smith St, Loving Hut on Victoria St and Vegelicious on Carlyle St are also very good as are the two Shakahari locations and Monk Bhodi Dharma.
Eat well and enjoy. You don't have to give up taste, variety or fine dining to be vegan.
Some important data
"Did you know that it takes two calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of energy from soya beans? That doesn’t sound like a very good deal until you learn that it takes fifty-four calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of energy from beef." Healthy Eating Healthy World J Morris Hicks
That's before you package it, transport it, refrigerate it, buy it and take it home. It isn't cooked yet.