Sabrina Muscat didn't expect to become an Instagram star.
She joined the photo network in 2013 to find support as she went vegan. But now she has nearly 75,000 followers on Instagram (you can find her at @rawspirations). She shares colourful pictures and recipes for vegan triple chocolate mint slice, acai breakfast smoothies and gluten-free pizzas, taking photos in the garden of her south Canberra home.
She has a website, rawspirations.com, where she puts up her recipes and is working on an electronic cookbook. And on April 9 she will host a vegan high tea at Double Shot in Deakin with Therese Kerr, who runs organic cosmetics outfit The Divine Company, and is mother of supermodel Miranda.
It's quite a turn for someone who self-deprecatingly describes her pictures as "not that great" and reckons she probably needs a new camera and styling props (she often runs out to the herb garden to take a pic). Muscat says she originally started out on Instagram to find other vegan bloggers and look up recipes. "It started out with a few followers and I did not think it would grow to this. It wasn't the reason why I was doing it," she says.
It all began when Muscat and her husband Omar, the restaurateur who owns Double Shot, Urban Pantry and Locale, had been trying for a baby and weren't having any luck. A trip to the doctor to check everything was okay resulted in a diagnosis of stage four endometriosis, she says. The treatment was a six month course of drugs which she says she was reluctant to undergo because of the risks. "I was weighing up the pros and cons about that and the cons outweighed the pros," she says.
Muscat decided to give herself six months to improve her health and diet first. She threw out everything in her pantry and switched over to veganism. "That's when I started not only doing that but I started my Instagram page as well. I wanted to document what I was eating and connect with people in a similar boat," she says. "After six months I fell pregnant. And then my Instagram started growing. And I was getting contacted by different women across the world."
She describes her two-year-old son Levi - a plump cheeked, active little fellow with dark hair and eyes - as a miracle baby. But she doesn't discount science. "This is just my story. I'm sharing it, I never will preach on it. It's such a controversial topic," she says. One thing she says she won't do is tell people what to do with their bodies or diet. "I couldn't give advice, because I'm not a qualified [health] practitioner," she says. "I'm not a preacher. It worked for me, it might not work for someone else." What did her doctors say? "They're like, look it probably wasn't your diet, it was probably just coincidence."
Going vegan was a drastic step, particularly from someone married to a restaurateur. "It was overwhelming at the beginning because it is a big transition to go from eating meat to cutting all that out," she says. "It takes a few weeks, if not months, but it becomes second nature. If you cut out salt and sugar for a few weeks you acquire a new taste and that becomes your new norm. It's a lifestyle change."
Husband Omar wasn't hugely receptive at first. "He thought vegan food was so disgusting but now he absolutely loves it," she says with a laugh. And she's converted other people in their lives. "A lot of people who came into my house and knew that a dish was vegan, such as a cake or a curry, they were like, "Oh, I don't know....' But they tried it and not one person has left my house without contacting me within 24 hours to get the recipe. It's quite funny."
She started putting together recipes and the cookbook basically to show that it could be done. "You can substitute pretty much anything these days. I don't have soy, a lot of the vegan meat based substitutes are soy based. I don't miss meat. It's to show that you can have any cake, any biscuits, any meal without meat [or dairy]."
Muscat flips through normal cookbooks for inspiration and when she comes across a dish that she likes, she'll set about creating her own recipe, removing any meat, and using vegan or vegetarian ingredients. Although she eats a predominantly vegan diet, she does occasionally have egg ("it's in a lot of things") and always includes both vegetarian and vegan options in her recipes. Some of her vegan cakes have gone into Double Shot's cake cabinet and have proved popular.
The high tea with Therese Kerr came about after Muscat attended one of Kerr's talks, hosted by a naturopath who was also a friend. Muscat stayed behind to help clean up and then got to talking with Kerr and told her story. Kerr asked for her number, she says, and then contacted her afterwards. Soon there were plans afoot for the high tea.
Muscat is doing all the catering for the tea, so she's busy developing and testing more recipes, putting together a menu to feed 150 people, as well as tending to her Instagram audience and uploading recipes to the blog. She takes her own photos or enlists a photographer, Margit Selg, to help, and uploads the recipes and photos to her blog in between caring for her son. "It is time consuming, particularly at the moment. Having to make the cake, take the photo, type up the recipes, or put it up on the blog. It can take two hours. But I love doing it."
The vegan high tea with Therese Kerr will be held at Double Shot in Deakin on Saturday, April 9. See rawspirations.com