Yesterday it was Vegfest UK day 1, and I went along to this very-big gathering of Vegans and fellow travellers. I don’t normally go to organised vegan events because I’m a stubborn Marxist (of the comedy variety) when it comes to clubs which want me to a member. This, however, was a lovely busy do.
Most reports I’ve read have focused on the busyness. It was certainly busy. There were two-for-one offers agogo and some general Twitter excitement about this being the land of Vegan plenty we’d be praying to Seitan to give us so it’s not surprising lots of people came.
There were lots of people especially at The Mighty Fork‘s stall where hotdogs ran out in about 3 hours, and any stall with free samples of fake meats and cheeses. Less busy were the campaigning stalls downstairs and some of the more hocus-pocus elements of Veganism upstairs in what was labelled the Raw Food and Wellbeing area, but seemed to be more like the Ghetto of the Extreme for the rogue elements of Vegan culture who the organisers wanted to sweep under the respectable carpet.
This was a Vegan festival dedicated primarily to the food, clothes and beauty products we can buy as people who don’t want animals to be hurt or exploited in their making. Music writer and maker, John Robb, who I saw speak during the day commented that the Manchester Vegan festival he’d spoken at recently was a more punky affair whereas this London gathering was more mainstream. Too true – the Vx stall (which was typically chaotic and brilliant) and the new CakesnTreats cafe stall stood out as a splurge of black goods, gothicism and spikey fonts surrounded by dozens of other stalls demonstrating their shades of cream, pink and green.
Having not been to a proper Vegan fair before, I found the intersection between the selling and the ethics very interesting. Any Vegan business walks that line, not to mention any small business of any kind which sets itself as a DIY way to consume as opposed to the jackboot of the chain. The Vegan Shoe People seemed especially keen on oneupmanship against one another on their ethical credentials with the man from the hilariously literally-named Eco Vegan Shoes asking a customer of another shoe firm “Ah but where did they say they were made? Did they tell you where they ship from really?” and the charming fellow from the new kid on the block Will’s Shoes being at pains to tell customers that sweatshops didn’t exist in Portugal because it was in the EU and Portuguese sweatshops had never been in the news (Portugal does have a better record than the UK on factory standards but like all parts of the EU – including the UK – it’s not an idyll). Good on them for having an eye on human animal welfare as well as non-human happiness.
Speaking of shoes, Will was telling the world about the Brecknock Road Vegan Festival which I wasn’t aware of – a day when the Vegans take over a whole road, an amazing demonstration of the collective confidence of our ‘scene’. Central to that day will of course be The Third Estate who were also at Vegfest and who my Vegan Companion (henceforth VC) and I decided won our spontaneous awards for Top Vegan of The Festival, Best Presented Stall and Best Balance of Ethics and Consumption. Congratulations!
I’m intrigued as to how the various campaigning stalls did in this maelstrom of tasting, trying-on and people-watching, but I was particularly impressed by the Animal Welfare Party and their plans for the European Elections.
Political parties don’t consider animal rights much anymore, let alone the environment, plus it’s time for more minority parties to flourish, so good on these people.
But now to the food – there was an abundance of joyous things – my top picks were:
1. This Pear Tartlet made by Four Girls and a Cupcake, based in Bedford, with its lovely melty crust
2. Basically everything from Pudology which you may have all heard of, but me and the VC hadn’t despite it being stocked in some branches of Sainsbury’s and the poshest tax avoiding foie gras sellers in town, Fortnum and Mason. Their banoffee puddings are quite an experience.
3. Just about everything on the Wheaty stall, whose standard of meat alternatives is way ahead of the pack. We bought the Rosemary Roulade – unavailable in the UK I think – which was a spectacular bit of salty chewy roly-poly wheat protein. Nice to get a leaflet with more info about these Clever Germans too including this excellent picture of their founder Klaus.
The main things to take from the day were that Vegan makers and Vegans generally are booming. The standard of cake, cheese and meat alternative is higher than it’s ever been and judging by the people at the event, Vegans exist in all shapes and sizes. These are good time, and Vegfest was a nice way to celebrate.