A hand emerges from a hatch at the Bernard Shaw’s Eatyard in Glasnevin.
It’s holding a nacho covered in thick yellow cheese like a piece of bait at the end of a fisherman’s rod.
“I’m going to hold this ’til you try some,” says Wayne Dunlea, staff member of My Goodness, offering a nacho to a hesitant customer.
The man wavers, unsure of whether to take it, before another gesture by Dunlea convinces him to make a grab for it.
“It’s lovely,” he says, after gobbling up the nacho.
“That cheese is made from potatoes, carrots, jalapenos …” says Dunlea, listing out the ingredients.
Both the tortilla chips and the cheese are vegan and gluten free, he says, later. Not what you’d expect from fast-food fodder.
People can be sceptical at first tasting vegan cheese, says Dunlea. “Then they taste it and they’re like that’s weird that it’s nice.”
People are more open to eating different foods now, says Virginia O’Gara, one of the founders of My Goodness, a vegan market stall which recently made Dublin its second home.
People want the feeling of comfort from eating junk food, but without the junk, she says.
That experimentation with sustainable alternatives to mainstays hints at My Goodness’ wider ethical approach to both food and business – from the consideration that goes into the food it produces and sells, to their choice of suppliers and zero-waste policies.
O’Gara is huddled in a fleecy jacket with a badge bearing the name of local Dublin punk outfit Extravision, hands are cupped around a cup of coffee.
A disco edit of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” plays on the speakers at an exposed yard at the rear of the relocated Bernard Shaw pub.
Dunlea rolls his eyes at the music. “The music today has been crap.”
It’s the first Saturday of the new year and there seems to be a pensive atmosphere among the few customers passing through the yard. The perfect air for O’Gara to reflect on My Goodness’ past and her hopes for its future.
Founded with her husband Donal in Cork, the company made its name selling fermented products such as water kefir and kombucha – all made from rainwater harvested weekly from the roofs of their warehouse in Cork.
“All the things that people usually hate in Ireland, like rainwater and cabbage, we base our entire business on,” says O’Gara, with a laugh.
Using the rainwater – which is triple-filtered – was laughed at initially, says O’Gara, but it aligns with her interest in making the most of local natural resources and developing My Goodness as a sustainable business.
Where the Waste Goes
The business has evolved to sell vegan and gluten-free products but always with an agenda, to test solutions to problems that the team identifies in the food-production business.
“It’s very much an experiment,” says O’Gara, of My Goodness. “We’re constantly learning and we’ll never have the perfect way.”
Firstly, says O’Gara, My Goodness operates as a co-operative. All members of the team feed into the decisions that guide the operations of the business.
Reaching a consensus can be gruelling, says O’Gara. But “combining everyone’s ideas you can come up with something that is better than what any individual can come up with in the first place”.
“It’s still very experimental to try to find ways to work as an ethical business within the capitalist system,” says O’Gara.
“That goes beyond the decisions we make within our business and the way we treat each other, but goes to what kind of food we buy, who we are supporting that is producing our food,” she says.
One chief objective currently is to make My Goodness a zero-waste company.
Setting up in Dublin has allowed the company to begin supplying shops with their products, which are all packaged in multi-use containers.
Before, there was no distributor willing to bring them up to Dublin. Now they can just distribute themselves, says O’Gara.
“It’s not that this is a super novel concept. People still have living memory of having deposits on milk bottles,” she says.
“It’s just we just have to make it super DIY for it to work for us because there isn’t a large-scale distribution system that’s based around that,” says O’Gara.
O’Gara is excited right now about the Cork Urban Soil Project (CUSP), she says. My Goodness is a part of that, and they share a warehouse.
All the waste from the My Goodness’ stall in Glasnevin is ferried back to their Cork warehouse, decomposed, and reused as soil once it has been put through a biodigester.
“All of our food waste here is compostable,” says O’Gara. They encourage customers to bring the waste back, so they can take it back with them.
“It’s valuable nutrients and we can take them all back with us,” says O’Gara.
Back to Nachos
So why vegan nachos? The inspiration for the nachos came from O’Gara’s upbringing in Texas, she says.
Her brother was a footballer, says O’Gara. “I was a cheerleader and we spent a lot of time going to football games a lot and eating the crappiest food like the nachos.”
“They’d have this bright orange – that I’m sure was 90 percent plastic – American-style cheese,” says O’Gara. “Even though you knew it was disgusting, it was so good.”
This desire to replicate the comforting, salty but satisfying experience of half-time junk food as vegan and gluten-free resulted in the dish served at My Goodness in Glasnevin.
Rather than dairy, the tangy salty yellow cheese that’s slathered on the nachos is instead made from potatoes, carrots, jalapeños, tomato paste, soy milk, nutritional yeast and salt – and that’s it, says Dunlea.
It’s served in a brown compostable container, swimming with thick yellow cheese, and accompanied with a side of black-bean chipotle tempeh chilli, and bright purple kimchi, chips, and topped with greens.
The chilli is light and mildly spicy, and the kimchi adds a perfectly peppery bite. The nachos are a feast of colours.
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