Veganism. You’re either cringing at the sight of the word right now or eager to read on.

It’s the plant-based trend which often divides the foodie community. But despite the fluctuating views on this somewhat controversial topic, it’s no secret that there’s an uprising of cruelty-free and health-conscious eating around the globe, particularly on the Sunshine Coast.

And it’s not just these hipster herbivore eateries that are igniting enthusiasm across our region – we now boast Queensland’s first raw, gluten-free and vegan wedding venue.

Based on a sprawling green acreage at Maleny, and featuring its own vineyard, micro-brewery, and a backdrop showcasing the spectacular Glass House Mountains, Boutique Weddings Maleny is a vegan gastronome’s wonderland.

The venue’s master cuisine artisan and owner, Andy Pether, is responsible for the sumptuous and colourful cakes, desserts and savoury gourmet fare that have been made famous by his Live Foods Cafe.

Andy moved the popular cafe, which has been running for four years, down the road to its new site at the iconic Big Barrel (formerly Maleny Mountain Wines), which is also home to the MacLeod Brewing Company, so he could incorporate the vineyard and handcrafted beers into his niche weddings.

And yep, there are even vegan wines and beers available to round out the perfect wedding for those who love a tipple.

This world-class venue, with its breathtaking panoramic views, is Andy’s labour of love. He opened the coeliac-endorsed cafe after suffering a heart-attack at just 39 years of age, forcing him into a lifetime of nutritionally conscious living.

“I realised that by trying to explain to people what plant-based was, they just weren’t getting it, so I thought I’d put health on a plate. It’s a way of teaching people. I’m like a pharmaceutical company, only I’m spiking your food with all the good stuff,” Andy says. “I really love doing this for people.”

The 51-year-old was considered morbidly obese when his health took a nosedive but he soon dropped 50 kilos by adopting his new healthy lifestyle.

“I switched to veganism four years later after I worked out that I needed to do something about my health, otherwise I would end up dying.

“My dad died at 45 and I went into panic mode when I turned 45. I thought ‘I’m going to end up dead as well’. I was worried about my two boys (now aged 13 and 17) not having a father and I didn’t want to leave them fatherless.”

A former self-confessed huge meat eater and drinker, Andy says he lived 24 years in a corporate lifestyle regularly splashing out hundreds of dollars on boozy work lunches at steakhouses. “I didn’t care about anything but me and my bank account,” he says.

Andy would even roll his eyes at vegans, and says his life-long friends and family still cannot believe the transformation he has made to his health. “A good friend of mine who had been a vegan for several years, I used to spike his food with chicken. I feel really bad about that now,” he says, laughing.

Heart disease is Australia’s number one killer with 22 per cent of people living in the greater Sunshine Coast region suffering from cardiovascular disease. Andy says studies show that eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables and other healthy vegan foods can stop and even reverse heart disease, also reducing cholesterol levels.

“The pancreas doesn’t have the enzymes to break down meat. It’s like sitting in the car in neutral and revving the engine until it eventually blows up.

“Cooked food is seen by the body as a toxin and that’s called digestive leukocytosis. When the body is in this state it over-produces white blood cells and that is not good if you have cancer. Cancer loves white blood cells.

“I am living proof that this way of eating works. I even have a lot of terminally ill customers who have been coming into the cafe and are now reaping the benefits.”

Andy says other health benefits include increased energy, longevity, reduced body odour and rejuvenated hair, skin and nails.

“There is also a huge benefit to disease prevention such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular, colon, breast and prostate cancer. It’s also proven to help those with irritable bowel symptoms, Chron’s and osteoporosis.”

And while Andy is all for being anti-animal cruelty, he admits to choosing this lifestyle for his health first and foremost. “I am vegan for health, and by default I cause no harm. It’s a win-win solution from my view. A vegan lifestyle is all about doing no harm.”

The wedding venue accommodates up to 120 people and is also available for conventional non-vegan weddings, plus welcomes same-sex marriages.

Full vegan buffets are available, with optional warm foods such as pasta and rice, plus wine, beer, cakes and desserts. Packages also include unlimited bar service, a marriage celebrant and local accommodation.

Boutique Weddings Maleny and Live Foods Cafe are at 787 Landsborough Maleny Road, Maleny.