What’s the wurst that could happen?

I travel lots for my work and for each trip I’ll plan out where I might be able to get some vegan food, usually by checking the brilliant Happy Cow website and app, which is an essential traveler’s tool for crowdsourced vegan options.

I do this primarily because it’s fun to explore the vegan culture of new places I’m visiting just as much as I’m doing it because it’s the only way I’ll get to eat – in fact, it’s rare that I need the vegan/vegetarian places to survive. It’s often the case with work that there are organised dinners at which I’ll negotiate with waiting staff to get something vegan, and the vegan establishments are often an added bonus I’ll explore for fun.

The subheading in the Charlie Bit My Tofu masthead plays with the frequent statement I get when traveling that it must be hard to get vegan food – well, I have few problems even in the most unexpected places, whether that’s working with non-veg restaurants to be helpful, or finding hidden vegan options in the backstreets. You just have to speak up and look out and you’ll find delicious vegan food haunts in places you’d been told were vegan wastelands, like Raw Garden in Riga or Dream House in Sofia. Remember that most non-vegans aren’t aware of them so they’ll dismiss the possibility of their existence unless you go looking.

I was just in Leipzig, Germany, and had a typically great brush with unexpected great vegan food. Admittedly, Germany seems to have boomed in prominence for vegan goods recently (especially fake measts), so it shouldn’t be too surprising. However, I really didn’t expect an innocuous fast-food sausage place to be so vegan friendly. Step forward  Curry und Co, where I had some delightful experiences with currywurst

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Curry und Co has the usual range of meaty German sausages but also a very good vegan range, including two different types of vegan sausage and lots of vegan sauces on offer.

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Leckeren indeed – I went there every day to have some chopped sausages in curry sauce with chips. Not the most healthy diet, but who cares, just look how nice it is!

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Now I’m back home I miss my lunch of vegan sausage in sauce, and I wish I’d tried more of their vegan options because what I did have was so good. Disappointing too that because of time I never made it to Vleischerei – Leipzig’s vegan kebab joint. If you find yourself out there, please visit and let me know how it is.

The lesson of today is – there are vegans everywhere and they want to give you food. Never forget that.

Of pizzas, waffles and cats

The last week has been a good one for fun vegan food in London.

PART ONE – The Pizza

On hearing that Dalston whirlpool of pizza-based hipsterdom Voodoo Ray’s always had a Vegan option, I picked up the Vegan Companion (VC) from a shift at The Rio Cinema (which you should go get some vegan cake from by the way because it’s struggling a bit) and we went to explore their wares.

They had a delightful Thai Green Curry Pizza on offer which sounds weird but was a massive slice of spicy loveliness for not too much money. Well done Ray’s, I love an accommodating non-vegan place. Now we can all stay out late and eat pizza with the people in 90s clothing regardless of whether we eat animals or not

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A photo of a thai green curry pizza slice, not taken by me

Dalston is becoming a right old nexus for Vegans, rivalling Camden and Bethnal Green for prominence. You can eat pizza at Voodoo Ray’s, sandwiches and cakes at Harvest, cake and samosas at the Rio, various items at MSET Of Love (though consider my review first), and there’s apparently a new contender with vegan goods on Sandringham Road somewhere though details are sketchy. Plus all amazing Turkish restaurants are vegan-friendly by nature of their cuisine, with the Aubergine dish at Mangal 2 especially good – they frequently use their Twitter account to make fun of Vegans but whatever, we get the last laugh by eating their vegan food.

As a Pizza Coda, whilst looking fruitlessly for a gif of a Vegan pizza with a silly face to use for this blog (surprisingly hard to find) I came across a blog devoted to vegan pizza pictures which will make your mouth water lots.

PART TWO – WAFFLES AT (not really) DAWN

All the Vegans are doing it – going for the new breakfast waffles at London’s best vegan cafe, Gallery Cafe. Finally got there and ate them last week – a proper treat

Waffles at the Gallery Cafe

ROFL at the Waffle

Just look at them! Wow. They had run our of Facon so I had sausages which was even better than Facon would have been I think.

If I could eat these every day, I would never get bored. I love The Gallery Cafe.

PART THREE –  BLACK CAT

As you probably know, Hackney’s Pogo Cafe has closed and been replaced with a new coop-run vegan cafe, The Black Cat. I don’t know the story behind this, but Pogo always seemed to be in the midst of a crisis and the food was variable in its quality, as is to be expected when there are different chefs every day. I was very fond of Pogo – its ethos, its politics and its food – and had some great times there including a birthday party where we filled it with smoke due to too many people lighting sparklers indoors. It was also one of the first cafes I went to after becoming Vegan and its heritage deserves respect.

The Black Cat is a smarter replacement, as the photo below shows – new furniture, a lot less clutter, and big windows rather than misty metal grills. There’s still a rack of Anarchist and Free-Thinking books but the presence of radical politics is less prominent than in Pogo. The cafe feels more like one which non-Vegans, non-Anarchists and generally a wider clientele would visit, partly because you can actually see into it from the street now and see that the Vegan Eaters inside aren’t scary.

A quiet day at the Black Cat

A quiet day at the Black Cat

I’m delighted that there’s still a Vegan cafe on site – Pogo opened in 2004 and prior to that there was another vegetarian restaurant, so we would have had a real loss to London’s vegan scene if it had closed. It’s inevitable that any new tenant would need to spruce up the joint to get new people in and I’m pleased the Black Cat crew have done so. But let’s not insult the ethos of Pogo, as I know some commenters will – it’s no coincidence that Vegan food eating often comes with Anarchist politics, with both being natural bedfellows in a worldview which challenges mindlessly following accepted authority. The Black Cat might not wear its wild political side so shamelessly, but it’s good that its cooperative status shows it’s still a radical offer for us all.

And the food? They only had breakfast on offer today – I’m not sure why – but it was delicious. Plus it was exactly the same as the breakfasts you used to get in Pogo, with homemade baked beans and small squares of herbed potatoes. So it’s still the same place we loved in some ways at least.

Looking forward to trying the full menu another time.

Heavens, it’s a vegan sandwich in a train station

I travel lots for work, usually by train, and I entertain my fellow travellers with my complete knowledge of the sandwich and salad cabinets of the chains which inhabit our nation’s rail stations. If you travel lots too, you’ll know the pickings are slim for us vegans.

Most sandwiches spoil their vegan credentials by an inexplicable addition of cheese to an otherwise-content chap like a falafel and humous wrap. Some sandwiches seem to be vegan on the outside but the allergy warnings tell a mysterious story of dairy being present somewhere in their hearts – possibly butter used as spread, who can say?

There are some particularly disappointing offenders like Marks and Spencers, who I write to periodically with a moan about their lack of vegan sandwiches and some statistics about the numbers of vegan customers they probably have. I’m sure they take my letters very seriously.

Where there are rare chain train stores with vegan sandwiches or a vegan salad, they’re never the freshest by any means, such as the Fresh! Bugsy sandwich which used to be sold at Boots and Whistlestop and, despite its name, always tasted to me like it was made weeks ago. And anyway, I may be vegan but I do like a proper meal, and I’d rather have a more substantial sandwich than a thin layer of humous and some carrot shavings, thanks very much.

Usually I end up getting crisps and a pot of humous which is tasty but if you do it all the time (and I do do it all the time) you feel dirty.

So, thanks to Pret A Manger for putting their Super Greens sarnie on their permanent menu. With kale, avocado, peppers and almonds, it’s a tasty one too.

I'm keen on green

I’m keen on green

Of course I don’t go into Pret as a matter of course, preferring to support indie cafes where I can see it made in front of me, but if you’ve been to any train station – or any transport hub in fact – in the UK recently you’ll know that you rarely have that option. So in the land of chains which we roam whilst waiting to go places, I’m very excited that Pret have broken ranks and realised there’s a Vegan market to please, just like any other ‘specialist’ eaters.

This is a real breakthrough! Ten years ago you wouldn’t have assumed a vegetarian or gluten-free option in any chain cafe, now let’s hope it’ll be the same for us Vegans in a few years.

VegFest – Gathering of the Vegans

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.

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All the vegans

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.

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Vote Vegan!

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:

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A tartlet, yesterday

1. This Pear Tartlet made by Four Girls and a Cupcake, based in Bedford, with its lovely melty crust

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A man in front of some pudding info

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.

A woman and her fake meat info

A woman and her meat alternative info

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.

The best vegan place in Britain and other queries

This seems to be a hot subject – PETA announced a “best city for vegans” list which The Guardian reported on and VegFest has an award for best vegan place in its hilarious nominations list (which distant celebrity is the best veggie? Live Calves Vs Swine Flu? Who will win!). There’s also been some talk about which bit of London is the best, which is always an impossible argument because everything is so spread about here (see previous, and no doubt many future, blogs).

These discussions are fun to have, and I’m glad Glasgow ‘won’ the PETA award because it has some brilliant vegan eating places and that’s one of the many reasons I love going there.  It’s an independent place and it’s the fierce and feisty towns and cities that tend to be most receptive to vegans.

But let’s not fixate on the places where the star vegan eateries all flock together – the comments section of the article (which has the usual ‘aren’t vegans CRAZY?’ standpoint, but let’s leave that for now) shows there are individual cafes in strange and special places which are treasured especially more because they’re the only vegan game in town. Conversely, there are some cities where there might a lot of vegan-friendly joints but the quality and imagination isn’t always there (afraid to say that Brighton, you’re guilty as charged).

To avoid getting bogged down in totting up mere quantities of vegan eats, I suggest three questions which you should ask of your local vegan scene, whether that means one cafe or loads of them:

1. Can you get a cooked vegan breakfast, and can you get it before 9am?

2. Can you get good vegan pizza which has more than vegetables and tomato sauce and nothing else?

3. Can you eat vegan after 10pm?

4. Can you get fresh homemade vegan cake every day and not just on special occasions, and is it still available to you in the evening?

5. Can you get homemade hummous which isn’t San Amvrosia or Delphi masquerading as an original make?

Any place that can answer yes to these is a top vegan city in my mind.

Here’s two things I experienced this week in London which means it answers yes to at least one of those:

1. Made the pilgrimage to Village Pizza for my girlfriend’s birthday which, despite its preposterous location in far West London, has the most incredible range of vegan pizza – we went for the Hickory BBQ-Slathered vegan chicken wonder and the Spicy Jalapeno fake-Pepperoni hot hot hot tastiness. There were three other options we could have had – proper vegan pizza options. It’ll remain a very-occasional treat when we can hike to the magic kingdom of Twickers, but in the meantime, Basilico and Papa Johns (for which I’m inexplicably obsessed by the franchising model)  do a fine job of vegan cheesey pizzas

2. Ate one of the new-ish pots from Inspirial, in which their rich and fine raw puddings live. They crowdfunded for new packaging recently as part of a wider expansion and now their pots o’pudding are whizzing across the land. Go seek them out at a friendly store. We had a chocolatey one and a berry one.

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In the Jackets

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In The Pots

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Nearly eaten

The Fork IS Mighty

In recent weeks within this small world of London Veganry, there’s been a right old kerfuffle about The Mighty Fork launching its gourmet vegan dogs. I’ve been jealously reading about FGV’s excitable trip to their kitchen and the tweets from those who tried their goods at a market in Clapham and were taken on an ecstatic trip to taste nirvana, but obviously I wasn’t going to go to Clapham for any reason – even delicious vegan hotdocs – so I’ve been waiting for their yellow tent to come a little closer.

And yesterday it did, to Cabbages and Frocks in Marylebone – still not very close to my house, and still in a well-to-do neighbourhood in which I get scared of being identified as an oikish infiltrator, but close enough within my arbitrary and childish region of areas in London in which I’ll go to things.

Well, we went, and it was amazing. This is a great leap forward to the clouds in vegan street food.

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Unbelievably good vegan hotdog with a bite taken out

This is one of their 5 plant-based hotdog options, The Brewdog, made with a Portuguese Beer Sauce (the Mighty Forkers are from Portugal), Jalapenos, sauteed onions and loads of sauce – everything slathered on, ready to make a mess over your face and clothes. The dog itself is a big tasty tofu wiener and the whole package is a treat experience served in a jaunty yellow tray

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The fork isn’t really necessary but it makes for good branding, huh?

There are some “fake meat”- based meals and new products which vegans get excited about and which disappoint me when I try them – they’re too meaty in taste, or they’re stringy, or they’re plasticky, they’re packaged like medical products, or they’re just darn trying too hard to look and feel like ‘real’ meat. But the hot dogs from Mighty Fork are an original culinary experience all of themselves, with feet in the concept of a ‘proper’ hot dog but something going far beyond those confines.

The best new vegan tastes are coming from a place where chefs are thinking round the whole idea of a new kind of plant-based cuisine as opposed to traditional vegan food. It’s more than a labeling question, though I also think it’s notable that companies like The Mighty Fork often use the term ‘plant-based’ alongside/instead of vegan now. This is the real revolution we’re seeing around us, linked I’d suggest to the increasing number of vegans and vegan options around – an excitement about trying to create new meals and products around plants that all people can eat who want fresh and natural food. A new sustainable high-quality cuisine that’s exciting to play with. Lots of people like me will revel in it as vegans motivated by an ethical choice based around animal dignity, but you could equally take pride in eating food like The Mighty Fork if your food choices are more motivated by fresh, authentic and environmentally-friendly reasons.

I can’t wait to try their other flavours and to see how this company, apparently staffed by lovely people too, develops. They’re promising more quality vegan fast food to come and I love it that they speak of themselves as fast food lovers – I very much welcome more vegan food makers who come down on the side of treaty-trashy joy food than guilt-free sensible healthy food (though I love that, obviously). I bet most other vegans feel that way too in their true hearts.

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Reader, I ate it all

I want everyone to try these hot dogs, they are truly a new joyous addition to our food scene in this town. So, going back to my tiresome whine about location, I hope TMF move over to a more vibrant market where more kinds of Londoners can try their amazing creations – Cabbages and Frocks is a strange little quiet thing catering to tourists and Marylebone Conran-buyers and though the Forkers appear to have a captive audience there as the only food truck, I’m not sure it’s their posse. I’d suggest a move to somewhere younger and more fun.

Wherever they go next, hope to see them elsewhere soon…and even if it’s out of my self-assigned geographical niche, I’ll still travel far for these new star dogs. You have to try them!

A strange basement

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A basement with objects d’art in

My bit of town, Stoke Newington and surrounding areas, is known as being one full of lily-livered liberals, eating sandals made of tofu and old copies of The Guardian.

It is not, however, very good for getting decent vegan food when out and about – a situation that has bemused me in my 11 years here. If there’s a part of town where the vegans roam the streets in large packs, it’s N16 and E8. We have a big Whole Foods for getting ingredients for making vegan food at home, the incomparable Rio Cinema has Manna cakes for eating during the movies, and Harvest has some good cake to take away. But for a nice place to while away the hours with vegan cake (and maybe savouries too), it’s not the paradise it could be.

So you can imagine my joy when Mandelbrot Set of Love opened on Stoke Newington Road last year, advertising vegan tea and cake alongside healing and ‘curiosities’. Except I’ve been there a few times now, and it’s not the vegan dream I thought it would be. Though it may be vegan, it’s not a place you’d while away the hours, and that makes my vegan heart sad.

It’s a basement – that’s a surmountable issue if you light it well, don’t overcrowd it, and don’t make it feel like a dungeon. Unfortunately, the small space is crowded with handmade and vintage dolls, piles of cloth, cabinets of menagerie items, and a couple of old sofas. There’s not much space to sit in, and where you do sit, it feels like you’re intruding on a crazy old woman’s living room – a woman who’ll come out and berate you for looking at her life-size knitted doll any moment.

This sounds cool, right? Very Dalston. It would be if there was ever anyone else there – the absence of actual customers makes it feel like an eerie pentangular relationship between you, the dolls, the staff, the healing machines, and the people on the videos.

The videos. Let me tell you about the videos. Let me tell you why I think there’s never been other customers in there on all my visits – because one wall of this small basement is taken up with bizarre videos of men telling you about how to heal yourself and your children. Nightmarish pseudo-scientific informational films about wild theories on health. I’m not begrudging anyone believing in this hocus-pocus – whatever makes you feel fulfilled is fine by me if it doesn’t hurt anyone – but if you project old videos of it on almost the entire public space of a cafe and play the audio so loud that it’s the thing you hear when you enter and all you can hear during your entire stay there, you’re going to alienate a lot of visitors. Especially if you actually pay attention to the videos and try and follow their strange conspiracy-theory logic.

I want to say again that I have nothing personal against people into healing and alternative therapies but it’s an intrusive presence when you’re wanting to eat some cake and it’s not somewhere I could ever suggest meeting someone. The atmosphere in there feels gloomy and oppressive, despite the staff being friendly enough when you address them directly, if also entirely standoffish about your entry into their den of healing.

As for the food…well, it’s pretty good. The food is all homemade and very good value. You get massive slices of cake and big pots of tea served in pretty mismatched crockery. That side of things is great, but it’s completely wasted in a venue that obviously wants to be a healing and alternative spirituality centre for the converted to congregate rather than a public space for all to eat vegan food at leisure.

No-one seems to write about “MSET of Love” despite all vegan establishments in London normally getting a whole lot of press thanks to their small number. Perhaps it’s better to say nothing than to be critical, but I’d rather be honest that this is a missed opportunity to create a welcoming and cosy vegan food joint in London’s main hipster and alt-thinking strip.

You can go to a Hare Krishna restaurant and enjoy your food and the atmosphere without feeling you have to be a follower. You can go to Pogo without being an anarchist or a squatter. Mandlebrot needs to turn off the videos, turn up the lights and shout about its good food rather than shoving it in with a wooly spiritual agenda which suffocates customers.

Bobby Jo’s in Southend

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Spot the special thing on the menu

Spot the special thing on the menu

Southend doesn’t have the glamour of other chi-chi seaside resorts like your Whitstables and your Southwolds, but I take to it more, with its massive theme park “Adventure Island“, absurdly long pier ending in a lifeboat station and great views, and lots of arcades.

It’s not fancy, it’s about good salty seaside fun with enough confidence in its old-world charms to attract beach fans. It’s an hour from London and the journey is a good one too, out into the Thames Estuary past the RSPB reserve at Purfleet and via the mysterious world of Canvey Island. Wild places leading to this rough jewel on the coast.

Much as I love Southend, it’s never served us well as vegans…or so I thought until I discovered Bobby Jo’s, a diner with a menu including a full suite of dedicated vegan options.

Well-used and full menu

Well-used and full menu

Bobby Jo’s is a lovely retro place where each booth is named after a 50s icon and the colour scheme is baby blue and pink. It rises above the glut of London’s faux-vintage diners by being staffed by boys who look like they actually come from the 50s, and a seaside setting just down from the legendary Kursaal where it’s easy to imagine greasers putting a coin in the jukebox, tapping their fingers on chrome, and readying for a parade along the sea roads. It opened just a few years back but it feels like true vintage.

Your author, over-excited in the vegan-friendly diner

Your author, over-excited in the vegan-friendly diner

What really lifts above the diner norm, however, is the vegan menu of burgers, hotdogs, chilli, “chicken” burger and full breakfast, to be followed (if stomach space permits) by sundaes made with fresh fruit and Swedish glace. Should you desire, vegan milkshakes are on offer too.

I don’t know of any other 50s-style diner in the UK which offers as extensive a vegan range as this. I’m not sure why so improbable a location would be the one to do it but I won’t question is too deeply. All restaurants should have vegan options advertised and I wish it wasn’t exceptional when they do. I’m excited when I’m at a vegan-exclusive restaurant and can eat anything, but I’d prefer veganism was mainstream and understandable, as it is across lots of the USA. So we should celebrate and encourage a “normal” place like Bobby Jo’s that’s made the choice to be vegan-friendly as a matter of course even though it also caters to meat-eaters.

A full plate of diner food

A full plate of diner food

So how was it? Well I love the aesthetic of 50s diners and I was in dreamland that for once I could actually eat something in one that I knew was vegan, and act like the Vegan Fonz, clicking my fingers to make someone with a quiff bring me a sundae. The food itself was pretty good – a burger that was 99% definitely from a Fry’s packet with a slice of “cheese” on too, in a small sesame bun, accompanied by curly fries, and accessorised by one’s own choice of ketchup and mustard.

I won’t pretend it was a leap forward on vegan cuisine, being something you could whip up for dinner quickly yourself, but I don’t care. It was great trashy fast food in a place where you’d never normally expect to be able to participate in the vintage milieu.

Having said that, the Raspberry Sundae for pudding WAS different class, tasty berries topped with lots of glace. Sundaes can go wrong a surprisingly large numbers of times but this was a simple delight with every mouthful. Plus, just being able to have a good pudding in a place that’s not 100% vegan is an irregular delight to me.

So good I couldn't wait to take a photo before starting

So good I couldn’t wait to take a photo before starting

Bobby Jo’s is good value, tasty, and very friendly. We need to fill this nation with Bobby Jo’s, so vegans, get yourself to Southend and into a booth.

Thanks for a great time, Bobby Jo

Thanks for a great time, Bobby Jo

London’s ace vegan beer festival

Yesterday was the London Vegan Beer Fest in Bethnal Green. It was hot and it was lovely.

Temperatures of over 30 degrees combined with tasty craft beer and vegan BBQ can’t go wrong you’d think, but it wasn’t just about that – the organiser and guru of London Veganism, Sean/Fat Gay Vegan, had created a relaxed community feel, making us all feel like we’d come together for something special. It was a fine choice to do it in the garden of London’s cutest vegan cafe, The Gallery Cafe, on its lawn out back, which you can’t normally go onto (never been sure why)

When sitting on the lawn, it looked like this

When sitting on the lawn, it looked like this

A small selection of top-class breweries were there, all defying the old-timer law that real ale has to made with isinglass – don’t let anyone tell you it does, it’s either laziness on the part of breweries to not use available alternatives, or fear of drinkers not being able to cope with a slightly-cloudy pint. This is strange to me – shouldn’t old school ale supporters like CAMRA support the most natural pint possible?

Meeting the breweries in Bethnal Green gives me real hope that we might get more vegan beer options in pubs everywhere – I love real ale, and I don’t want to have to drink lager, or miserably order a gin and tonic when I’m not in the headspace of a suburban Mother. Sometimes (most times) you want to drink a real beer in a deserted pub with some old people and a newspaper, and it’s a sad feeling to be denied that thanks to a very-old recipe for refining beer so you can prove you look after it.

I’m a regular user of the Barnivore iPhone app – which, if you don’t have it, will sort of make your life easier, but also mean you spend 5 minutes at a bar searching for every bit of booze in the database – fun, but embarrassing and a little stressful too. So meeting the vegan-friendly beer people eye-to-eye and remembering who make the good stuff is a treat.

My favourites of the breweries fighting back were:

–  Five Points Brewing, local to me in Hackney, who had a tasty pale ale on tap. They’re going to be big very soon, already doing some fine targeted marketing at the local hipsters.

Nice beer and well-organised botles

Nice beer and well-organised bottles too

Brass Castle in Pocklington, Yorkshire, who had an excellent ginger-flavoured treat called Fireship, and a golden smooth one, called Cliffhanger. They seemed like very nice people indeed, which they would being from England’s best county (can you guess where I’m from?). I also love a website with a Cliparty gif of a pint of beer, and any clothing with a bear on, so I’m fully behind this team.

Pulling a ginger pint

Pulling a ginger pint

– The Hastings Brewery who had a delicious golden beer, probably my favourite of the day. And they have an excellent lion as their logo too, and stock in a few places in London.

An excellent lion who makes vegan beer

An excellent lion who makes vegan beer

Also present were Pitfield and Redchurch Breweries, who are two local-ish breweries who are well-known for their vegan range, and are reasonably well-stocked across London pubs and shops. I know them very well and wanted to try other beers but as the widest-available vegan breweries in town, it’s good for anyone unaware of their vegan status to know about and support them.

There was karakoe for charity (the wild-at-heart Sea Shepherds, who are the less-cuddly Greenpeace) which was cute. I wasn’t sure who was doing the BBQ, but they had a superb tofu burger, and I hope they’re going into business making those burgers because they were ace. The seitan kebab looked incredible too.

This was an excellent celebratory event showing that being vegan is so much about getting treats not self-denial, but more importantly also a new way of doing business and making food and drink as a craft on a small scale. I was there with 3 people who weren’t vegan and one person who was, and I’d like to think that the gathered beer-drinkers and tofu/seitan-munchers, regardless of their usual ethical food and drink choices, were there to try handcrafted delicious goods, and revel in the point where veganism and handmade fresh local refreshment come together. They often do, you know.

Me and Veganism – Hello

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This is what I eat

Hello. This isn’t the obligatory “How I became vegan” first post – the kind of thing a vampire blogger would write about how they were created. But it seemed strange to just launch into a post without some kind of brief intro. 

I’m Charlie, and this will be a blog predominantly about writing about being vegan in the UK. There aren’t many vegan UK bloggers out there, but I appreciate the tips from those who are visible. I thought it fair and pleasant to contribute my own tips so others can perhaps find them helpful too. Especially if you’re not vegan and you think it’s hard, because it’s not.

So maybe that’s the reason for being here – I don’t mind being asked “But isn’t that really hard being vegan?” because I like answering this, and the other classic questions and addressing the excellent annoyances.

Now, I do have much to say on the subject of how to be vegan in an easy and non-tedious way, and I’ll intersperse the food and drink reviews with some chat on that, but to make my shtick clear, here’s what I liked about the vegan characters in the book Pop Co which was to a large extent my vampire-esque “creator” – but more of that in a later post…

–       That it was fun and coolthe secret group of PopCo ‘activists’ in the book (sorry for the spoiler) are people you aspire to becoming. They’re fun, they’re talented, they’re sexy, they’re friendly, they’re open.

–       Being vegan is part of the rest of their life – they’re not defined by being vegan, though it’s a big part of who they are. They have other interests as well…like changing the toys that girls play with so that they grow up more intelligent

–       They have good reasonsSome reviews have criticised the book’s author, Scarlett Thomas, for putting pro-vegan arguments so openly into the mouths of her characters, but I loved it. Each of the (now familiar) arguments for becoming vegan are clearly and logically stated by people of my age who I empathise with. I agreed with what they were saying, it was entirely logical that I should also be a vegan.

–       They’re politicised – being vegan is part of a general stance of opposition to commercialism and advertising. In fact, it’s an obvious part of their overall system of (light) anti-Capitalism that you also oppose a food system that treats animals as routes to profit.

–       …but they’re also inconsistent – The PopCo group make it clear that sometimes you’ll do or say things that contradict your system of beliefs, or generally lapse for a bit, and that’s OK. For example, the justification of continuing to smoke after becoming vegan. You’re doing this generally in the name of a good cause, and life is hard to be consistent at, so don’t stress yourself if you do contradictory things to the overall path of Veganism. The book itself is flawed in places, but that’s part of its genius, whether intentional or not – the characters are only human and so is Scarlett Thomas (she’s not entirely vegan now, but that just proves the point that it’s OK to be inconsistent). But they’re doing what they do with total passion and joy, so it’s OK if the edges are frayed.

–       They make it sound easy – The book showed that you could just become vegan without a big hoo-hah. You didn’t need to announce it at a press conference, you could be non-vegan one day and then vegan the next. You just do it, and then you learn as you go along. The main character, Alice, makes a big change in her life, and just decides to do it at a minute’s notice. It’s no big deal.

–       It makes their lives better – Once the main character, Alice, joins their ‘club’, her life is more fun and meaningful and she feels better about herself. She also has some great cake, which there’s a recipe for at the end of the book. This isn’t a facetious point – vegan cake is the best propaganda tool for the cause, and one that we often use now.

–       It’s quite trashy rather than worthyEating cake and other snacks is a big part of their veganism, as it is Scarlett Thomas’ subsequent writing on being Vegan – for example her joy that a pint of lager and a packet of crisps in a pub can be a vegan staple.

–       That though it worked for us, it didn’t tell you to become vegan – we reacted to PopCo because we were in the perfect place to hear the vegan arguments. Most people wouldn’t be, and they wouldn’t read it as a call to arms. They might read it as a call to resist advertising, or create better toys for girls, or learn cryptology. Or they might just enjoy reading a good yarn and not make a change in their life. PopCo embeds vegan characters in a bigger narrative – it’s normal that they’re vegan and they’re clearly marked as vegan, but this is part of their overall well-drawn characterisation, lives and beliefs. Unless you’re looking for preaching, you’re not being preached to. 

Hope you enjoy reading…