It was with curiosity that we headed to VegFest 2015 at Olympia Stadium in London this weekend. As we walked through the corporate interior to the exhibition space at the largest vegan gathering in the UK, we had no idea what to expect.
VegFest seems to have embraced the snowball effect that food trends and celebrity advocates are having on the vegan movement. The first floor was a sea of stalls selling delicious vegan produce: falafels, dairy-free cheese pizza, cream ‘sheese’, meat-free hot dogs, and delicious vegetarian dosas. In the name of writing a well-rounded review, we tried the samples of vegan cakes, ice creams, chocolate, and popcorn several times over. All of it mouth wateringly good, in particular Moo Free Chocolates who have somehow managed to create a dairy-free chocolate that still hits the sweet, junk-food spot that fancy chilli-infused dark vegan chocolate just can’t fill.
The best vegan food came from stalls that weren’t trying to be meat, whilst meat-free ‘steaks’ and tofurkey left us swilling our mouths out with water, falafel wraps bursting with vegetables and home-made sauces made us all believe the stand’s slogan: being vegan isn’t a sacrifice, it’s a joy.
And joy is what the event was all about. Whilst food stalls and cooking demonstrations celebrated vegan cuisine (and probably won a lot of new converts), pirates ran the kids’ event and instructed them to make swashbuckling swords out of fruit, and some of the hottest names in vegan activism debated issues such as ‘Beyoncé vs Rocky Gervais: Do celebrities dilute the vegan message?’ There was comedy, music, and entertainment: all in all, a very upbeat show. Talks by the arguable headliner of the event, Professor Gary Francione, added some substance to the event as he articulately argued for an abolitionist approach to animal rights, rather than the current popular approach which focuses on one issue at a time such as fur or hunting.
The older, intimidating face of militant veganism seemed to be lost in a sea of chickpeas, kale, and brightly coloured juice bars presenting the idea that vegan is beautiful. Tucked away in the corner of the third floor lurked the more militant heart of the movement. Away from the happier, family-friendly activities, animal rights activist groups displayed slogans such as “are you a vegan, or an animal grave-yard?” whilst we comforted a sobbing woman through the harrowing footage of the critically acclaimed ‘Earthlings.’
All in all a fantastic event, with everyone working there friendly and inclusive to hardcore and softer-core vegans alike. It’s difficult, however, to marry the celebrity-chic and positive rebrand of veganism with its ‘if slaughter houses had glass walls’ roots. It seems to be an effective method, however; following the ‘Earthlings’ viewing, it was hard enough to fancy a cruelty-free vegan cupcake let alone its eggy, dairy-laden equivalent, and the event was a testament to the inclusive, give-it-a-go nature of the new vegan movement.
Fancy giving it a try? Animal Aid challenge the public to go vegan for 30 days during November, whereas another organisation called ‘Veganuary’ is trying to rebrand January from the booze-free month to an animal-free zone.