Where on earth do I start with Bristol Vegfest?
Over the weekend of 23rd/24th May this year, over 14,000 people passed though the Amphitheatre venue in the Harbourside area of the city to experience, celebrate and discuss all aspects of the vegan lifestyle.
The emphasis this year was on the environment, to coincide with Bristol being the European Green Capital, as we all know what a devastating effect animal agriculture has on our environment.
In addition to promoting a vegan lifestyle to combat this, the Vegfest also had countless recycling bins for waste and measures in place for a festival that was low in environmental impact. Everything from the posters and flyers to the generators and marquee build and breakdown was sustainable – even the loos were environmentally friendly!
The number and range of stalls was certainly impressive. This is the biggest vegan festival in the country after all. Walking in at opening time on Saturday, it was easy to feel overwhelmed by choice. It was a hot day and perfect for the outdoor venue, but I did feel for those stallholders in the marquees, as they chugged down water and wiped their brows.
Many major and also some lesser known animal and environmental charities were represented. Amnesty International was there, as well as Greenpeace and Population Matters. There were vegan lifestyle stalls that sold everything from shoes to perfume, make-up and clothes. However, the sheer range of food stalls and catering options on site was enough to turn one’s head. I mean, in the ‘real world’ as a vegan I’m not normally given much choice. It’s normally a case of ‘Can I have that but without the cheese?’ or ‘What, not even your bread is vegan?’ but here, well, as George Takei might say ‘Oh my…’
So, I began with the animal charities, as I’m a sucker for a good cause and it also makes me feel virtuous about spending money. Cruelty Free International were there, having now merged with the BUAV to become one large anti-vivisection charity.
Among the well known charities represented were Viva! who are one of my favourites. You could sign up for membership at the stall, as well as obtain all sorts of useful literature. I got a leaflet on going dairy free for my friend who is doing just that at the moment following medical advice. Their leader Juliet Gellatley gave a few of talks on why you don’t need dairy, how a vegan diet can help with menopause symptoms and the one I attended, how to become a school speaker. Their food and cookery co-ordinator Jane Easton also gave a talk and cookery demonstration – she is the author of the Viva! cookbook, which I can thoroughly recommend.
Animal Aid were also a presence, not only doing talks, but they also had a stand with loads of goodies on it (I may have spent a bit too much, but a lot of it was on presents…) Have a look at their gift range here. An additional stall was present on behalf of their education department, so it seems school speaking is a real growth area for these charities. Get them while they’re young.
It was lovely to see several smaller charities do talks and have stalls, among them Wood Green Animal Sanctuary. Wood Green has four centres in England, which re-home every type of animal, from dogs and cats to farm animals. Their particular focus at the moment is on unwanted pets and the importance of rescue over buying. They are particularly concerned with puppy farms which supply pet shops, and irresponsible sellers on websites such as Gumtree and those who sell dogs in newspaper ads or even down the pub. Lisa Mitchinson gave an insightful talk on this in the Campaigns and Lifestyle tent. It’s a great issue to be highlighting and I support them fully.
Another charity I noticed who was working on this issue was Protect a Pup, who work on free microchipping, low cost and free neutering and doggie food banks.
An exciting area was the Vervet Monkey Foundation, who were trying to recruit volunteers to help in the care and rehabilitation of rescued monkeys in South Africa. As long as you have the means to get to them, they supply vegan food and accommodation for a small fee and you’d get the pleasure of feeding baby monkeys. Seems like the dream job to me.
The Dean Farm Trust are a relatively young charity that I urge you to look up. I thought Fin Fighters was a fabulous idea, working specifically to end the use of shark fin. Marine conservation was very much in evidence with groups such as Sea Shepherd and The Black Fish both having stalls.
By far the cutest stall (and I don’t mean to be patronising, only wildly complimentary) was that of Fleecehaven, the sheep sanctuary. They rescue sheep for all sorts of reasons and give them a loving home for life. Sponsor a sheep here.
Of course we have to remember that plenty of non-vegans visit VegFest so there were plenty of stalls to show them how great the lifestyle can be. Veganuary are a great organisation who challenge people to go vegan for the month of January each year and it’s amazing how many who take part choose to remain vegan. The Vegan Lifestyle Association also supports those who wish to test the waters, as well as supporting more established vegans. The Vegan Society was of course present, being the oldest charity to provide vegan outreach, existing since the term was coined by their founder, Donald Watson, in 1947. I attended a great talk on activism by Dorset Vegan Lizzi Shaw, who has shown that if vegans don’t have much outreach in their own area, they can always create some for themselves! She is truly inspirational.
There was also an opportunity to see how vegan shoes (courtesy of Wills and Bella Storia) can be just as smart as leather ones, so you can look good with none of the cruelty. All my shoes now are non-leather ones and I enjoy the look of surprise when friends find out that you don’t need to kill a cow to get something waterproof and breathable on your feet.
Bohemian Chic Minerals have a fantastic range of make-up that’s not only cruelty free and vegan, but very suitable for even the most sensitive skin. This was great for me, as eczema has come and gone my whole life and this is the gentlest make-up I’ve ever felt.
Eden perfumes give you a list of famous brand perfumes and list an equivalent they have made without any of the harsh chemicals. Their stand was very busy during the show with lots of wrist sniffing going on.
Mount Purious have a range of skincare using various oils that I was very impressed with, as I tried some and my skin felt nicer instantly.
Clothing was everywhere too. Many of the charities sold t-shirts and so on, but there were also specialist designers, such as Hempish and Viva la Vegan, both of whom had apparel that was lovely and softly wearable.
Harsher in style, if not necessarily fabric was Vegan Cross, who are normally located near Kings cross in London. They were popular for their merchandise declaring legends such as ‘I Love Vegan Junk Food’ and also the vegan cheese and ham toasties they produced at the side of their stall. This was perfect for light hearted fun, in common with Vegan Sidekick’s satirical comics which you can view online, although of course it all does have a serious point to make.
The array of caterers and food stalls was, as I have said, phenomenal. It would take forever to list them all (but if you’re interested, the list of all the stalls is available here) so I’ll simply highlight a few. By far the prettiest stall belonged to Paradise Unbakery, a purveyor of raw cakes and other delights.
There were many free samples by Life Food, Nectar Foods, Pulsin, Aduna, Sheese, Ananda Foods, Nakd, Koko, Beech’s and countless others. Needless to say, I partook of a fair few vegan cheeses and chocolates, but also foods which I’d never heard of before and was pleasantly surprised by.
The caterers were flawless and on the Saturday it was so hot that it came as no surprise to find the Pimms tent and the Ice Cold Lemonade stall had healthy queues all day. The vegan ice cream and ice lollies disappeared as well and personally, I headed for the beer tent.
Pitfields had a rather groovy set up with a record player – dare I say, rather a hipster vibe. Being in Bristol, there was also a healthy amount of cider provided by the bars.
Of course I’m not one to drink on an empty stomach (no ‘eating’s cheating’ for me) so I was forced to choose from the many and varied caterers onsite. Well, my first choice was a good ‘un as the pizza, baked before your eyes in a wood-fired oven, provided by Pandemania Wood Fired Pizza was sublime. Although not a vegan company, all their ingredients are fresh and veganising their superb product is easy.
I also managed to fit in some macaroni cheese from The Spotless Leopard van which was fab. Before the weekend was over I managed to sample some of Bangwok’s glorious Pad Thai, which was heaven in a cardboard container.
There were of course plenty I didn’t have time, or indeed room in my stomach, to try. Everything from paella, sushi and subs to curry, churros, kebabs and seitan sandwiches was available and certainly appreciated by the stream of hungry vegans (and non-vegans) who populated the festival on both days.
On the main stage, a variety of acts performed during the day, and after many of the stalls had shut down around 5pm the music kept going till 9pm, creating a real party atmosphere. I must admit I felt the funnest act was The Captain’s Beard on Sunday, who had the crowd in the palm of their hand from their rendition of Whisky in the Jar to the ever popular (and appropriate, given their pirate costumes) What Shall we do with the Drunken Sailor?
Kids and adults alike were up dancing and as the day wore on and I sipped on my can of Red Stripe, I couldn’t help but reflect on what a friendly, positive and hopeful vibe had been created. Looking out at all the people having fun and not feeling restricted at all by their choice of lifestyle was a happy sight indeed.
If you’ve never been to a vegan festival then chances are you might be worried it might be populated by terribly worthy people having intense discussions over a bowl of kale and some herbal tea, but nothing could be further from the truth. We like food, we like booze, we like fun. Living the cruelty free life shouldn’t make you miserable, it should give you joy. Vive le Vegfest!
(Apologies for the quality of some photos. There was a mark on my camera sensor which I didn’t discover until it was too late. Hope you enjoy them anyway.)