Happily, not even Storm Desmond seemed to dampen the spirits of the plucky attendees for the inaugural VegFest Scotland. December weather here is not known for its clemency, but the harshness of the wind and rain on the opening day, Saturday, was unusual even in these parts. Still, the stallholders, organisers, stewards, performers and volunteers battled on to welcome an enthusiastic, if bedraggled, crowd. The warmth inside the venue was welcome.
Walking into the Glasgow SECC, I queued up to get some cash out (oh boy, what a gloriously wallet-emptying experience VegFest can be) and noticed an ad for a pantomime show starring David Hasselhoff and the Krankies. This venue is nothing if not eclectic.
Once I’d entered Hall 3, I could look around me with a sense of great joy and satisfaction. Finally, the biggest vegan festival in Britain was having an event in Scotland. All over the place I saw people delightedly sampling food from both UK wide and local businesses (such as Real Foods, an Edinburgh health food store). It is often commented on in vegan circles how, at a vegan festival, you can have anything you want! You don’t have to ask people if their food, or indeed clothing, is vegan friendly, because all of it is! Oh, the relaxation and sense of indulgence.
I pottered around, sampling from all over the place. I enjoyed a secret sausage (well, quite) which is a lovely product designed to slip vegetables, undetected, onto children’s plates. They tasted so good and I could see how they would appeal to adults and children alike.
There was chocolate too, sooooo much chocolate. It can be a bit of a struggle to give an indulgent box of chocolates as a gift, knowing they are cruelty free, but thanks to Pana Chocolate and the ever-reliable Considerit Chocolate, that need never be a problem again.
The array of cakes too, was an absolute delight, with local business Missy’s Vegan Cupcakes proving popular. I also sampled some lovely, fudgy chocolate peanut butter-type gorgeousness from Red Rosa’s Specialist Cakery, who were new to me. I won’t forget them in a hurry though, as their cakes were amazing.
The cheeses too were a revelation. Although I’d tried Sheese from Bute Island Foods (who had some great looking ‘melty’ pizzas on offer) and Vegusto (I had one of their hotdogs for lunch on the Sunday) before, a couple of newcomers caught my eye.
Tyne Chease from, unsurprisingly, the north of England, tasted great. I was also particularly pleased to see a local firm from Glasgow itself, called the Nutcrafter Creamery. If you miss soft cheese especially as a vegan, you have to try their stuff, it was really scrumptious.
After all this eating it was time for a sit down, and where better to place myself than at a talk by Tony Wardle from Viva! on saving the world with you knife and fork. Tony used to be a journalist for the Guardian and during his time there he realised that although world leaders knew well that animal agriculture is the main cause of all the environmental problems we have today, none of them wanted to admit it for fear of making themselves unpopular. I mean, would you want to be the politician who tells their constituents to go veggie? Also, many of our representatives in Westminster are in the pocket of the animal agriculture industry and so continue to suppress any progress for fear of losing their money. It was an illuminating and entertaining talk, even although poor Tony had to compete with one of the louder stage performers of the day. He also has a book out, Pod, which is an environmental thriller. I bought a copy and can’t wait to read it.
The next talk in the Campaigns and Lifestyle area was by Vegan Lass, a prominent vegan blogger. She has a big following and the talk was full. She was keen to present the case for an abolitionist approach to activism. I found it very interesting and agreed that sexist campaigns and steering people towards ‘ethical meat’ (let’s face it, there’s no such thing), can do more harm than good. I do however, still find it helpful to ask people to cut down on animal products, rather than eschew them altogether overnight, as once people have done a little to help animals, they find it easier to go on and help a lot by becoming vegan. I am wary of alienating non-vegans, but still understand her point of view that veganism is a moral imperative. The discussion continues…
I grabbed a quick drink from the Fentimans bar (superlative ginger beer) and headed over to the Viva! Health Summit. Jane Easton (who wrote the brilliant Viva! Cookbook) and her colleague Justin Kerswell talked about all the free resources there are out there for both new and existing vegans. They are very much, as I am, about making veganism mainstream, and have a worldwide database of vegan-friendly places to eat. They hope to be able to compile it so as to make things easier for the travelling vegan. They also have great little cards which you can leave with your bill payment at a restaurant that say ‘Thank You! I ate here because you offer vegan food.’ What a brilliant idea! It’s not all about eating lentils from a clog, as Jane says!
With so many beautiful caterers to choose from, it was tricky to pick just one for lunch. The queue at World Food was massive, as usual, but somehow I’d managed to sneak in at a quiet bit. They serve the most delicious lentil patties in different flavours, with an incredibly varied salad, all wrapped up in a fluffy, warm tortilla. What could be better?
Performances over the weekend ranged from musicians, to performance poets, to comedians and I was lucky enough to catch most of Andrew O’Neil‘s set late on Saturday.
It was so refreshing to hear him lampoon some of the ignorant comments that vegans can come across every day. I won’t go into details, as it’s the way you tell ’em, but let’s just say I have a few amusing retorts to the question ‘Where do you get your protein?’ stashed up my sleeve…
The whole place was buzzing over both days, with juicing and spiralizer demonstrations making me feel like I was at a market. It’s not all about food though of course. Honestly! There were so many other treats to check out.
The wonderful ladies from Bohemian Chic Minerals were there, with their array of cruelty free make-up especially made for those (like me) who have sensitive skin. They’d come all the way from Slough.
I met the lovely couple from Humane Wildlife Solutions, who take care of your ‘pest’ problems kindly and effectively. What a brilliant business!
Let’s also not forget the many charities represented. The woman on the Hugletts Wood Farm Animal Sanctuary stall was lovely, and keen to tell of the life-saving work they do there.
I bought a T-shirt from the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade and again, I’m so impressed with the work they’re doing.
On the Sunday I went to a cookery demonstration that Jane Easton was doing and even got to try some of the delicious barley risotto that she made (recipe here.) I even went up for seconds. Yum! Barley is commonly used in soup in Scotland, but it was a refreshing change to see it used like this.
The Scottish theme continued with some gorgeous-looking macaroni pies from Cool Jerk. If only I hadn’t been too full to try them. You can’t try everything…
The best talk of the whole weekend was definitely Dr. Melanie Joy on Understanding the Psychology of Meat for Effective Vegan Advocacy. I am an admirer of hers, but this is the first time I’ve attended one of her talks, having seem a fair few on YouTube. She is the author of Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows. Her understanding of not only the subject of veganism, but also what she refers to as carnism (the meat-eating ideology) is impressive. Being a social psychologist, she detailed effective ways of communicating with people, along with ways to avoid burnout and I took copious notes.
I must also tell you about the quite inspiring children of Sunnyside Primary School. They are doing a project on how cruel it is to capture dolphins and whales from the wild and make them perform in places like the much derided Sea World. Two of the very well informed children gave me a little tour of their display. They were selling badges to raise money for their cause and of course I bought some. They’ve been endorsed and commended by Sea Shepherd no less and you can follow them on twitter here.
Goodness, I ate a lot of food. Well, if only I’d managed to get on the stationary smoothie-bike, where as you peddle you blend your own smoothie, so you get both exercise and fruit. I think it was mainly for the kids though. I also ran out of time and didn’t get a henna tattoo. Next time…
If you would like information about your nearest vegan festival, Animal Aid have a pretty comprehensive list here. Do go and support them and take non-vegan friends and family to introduce them to the joys of a vegan lifestyle!