I’ve been to vegan festivals all over the UK, from Brighton to Bristol, Newcastle to Edinburgh. They become more numerous every year and it would certainly be a challenge to attend them all. Being a Scot, there was something really heartening to see how much Vegfest Scotland, held in Glasgow’s SECC, has grown and developed since its first event last year. Aberdeen and Dundee now have their own vegan festivals and with each event doing so much to spread awareness of veganism, I can only predict that this wonderful trend of expansion will continue.
It’s not every day I have dumplings for breakfast, but to be honest, many exceptions are made for Vegfest. I simply couldn’t resist the Holy Cow stand, with its massively elaborate-looking burgers, fabulously attractive cake selection and the aforementioned dumplings. I knew I had to pace myself, so settled on just the Italian style dumplings. (I had Polish style ones the next day, which were equally nice. This dumplings-for-breakfast thing could become a habit…) Holy Cow is a brand new Edinburgh based fully vegan cafe. You can find them near the bus station in Elder Street. I cannot wait to go there for a meal. It’s great to have another one hundred percent vegan place in Edinburgh!
My first day at Vegfest was mainly taken up with buying things. Yes, I could use the excuse that, being December, I was doing some Christmas shopping, but that would (mostly) be a lie. I mean, I did get a few gifts for loved ones, but mainly I was on a totally selfish vegan shopping binge. I bought a fair amount of food of course – that goes without saying really – but there was so much to purchase besides grub.
Firstly I have to admit that I caved and bought a tofu press. It shouldn’t really be a guilty admission, but until now I’ve been pressing tofu punk-style by wrapping it in tea towels and shoving a bunch of heavy cookbooks on top of it, so it seems like a bit of a sell out. However, the handy device I purchased not only acts as a neat press, but also doubles as a perfectly sized marinating tray. See, I’ve always struggled with getting a bowl big enough but shallow enough to marinate tofu efficiently and effectively, so I think this is where it may come into its own. I look forward to using it.
So many charities made an appearance this year, including many smaller causes that I hadn’t heard of before. I’d met the folk from The Scottish Animal Behaviour and Rescue Centre at Edinburgh’s Vegan Festival in August (they do amazing work) but new to me were the Underheugh Ark, an adoption and fostering organisation that aims to save dogs from England’s cruel ‘seven day rule’ which sees them put to sleep after that time if not claimed. Another that caught my eye was the Maggie Fleming Animal Hospice who provides care for terminally ill abandoned animals. Could there be any more touching charity? There was also an organisation called Give a Dog a Bone, who assist older dog rescuers meet the costs of having a canine companion.
I was lucky enough to have a chat with one of the members of Save Movement Scotland at their stall and attend one of their talks later. She showed me video footage of animals that they’d filmed here in Scotland, arriving at their final destination by truck, looking confused, frightened and uncomprehending. It was utterly heartbreaking. For our own sanity, it is easy to imagine that local farms are not as cruel as those further away, but here I was, confronted by images from my own back yard. The bravery of those who confront not only the truck drivers, but those who open the gates of the slaughter houses, astounds me. Many would see the save movements – which started in Toronto, Canada I think- as an exercise in futility. I mean, what is the point of upsetting yourself by bearing witness to the suffering of animals which you don’t have a hope of saving?
Later on at the Save Movement Scotland talk, I found out that the peaceful protesters confront passersby with what is happening and let them know why it’s wrong. They also chip away at the consciences of the drivers and abattoir workers and security guards. These people may not acknowledge that it’s cruel and unnecessary to use animals in this way in front of the protestors, but what grains of doubt are planted in their minds? What conversations do they have with their family when they get home from work? It is a subtle and heartrending form of outreach and hopefully one day, I’ll feel emotionally strong enough to join them.
On a lighter note, the array of t-shirts on display this year was truly fab, especially by the charities. I bought one from the League Against Cruel Sports and one from the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade, both noble causes. Clothing in general was top notch, especially on the Viva La Vegan stand. They even had bags that celebrated the vegan cheese/gary debate!
Cosmetics in general are well represented at Vegfest and I had a lovely chat with the owners of Iuvo Skincare at their stand. Their handmade soaps smelled and looked amazing, and their skin cream felt brilliantly smooth. They also had a selection of fragrant oils which I enjoyed sampling. In the end I bought a mixed box containing all these items. Well, it’d be rude not to.
On my second day at Vegfest I attended a brilliant talk by Vegan Geezer himself. If you’re not familiar with his work, check him out on youtube. In fact, that was what his talk was about – utilising youtube for activism. It was fascinating and I took lots of notes. The reach you can achieve is phenomenal and for anyone who wanted to take the vegan message to a greater number of people, there were loads of tips.
Talking of interesting outreach, Animal Equality were there with their virtual reality headsets. If you’re not familiar with these, they put you right onto the kill floor with British pigs. Participants put on the VR headsets and headphones and it’s as close as most people would ever want to get to the reality for these factory farmed animals. I witnessed a few individuals with tears in their eyes as they finished their experience. It’s no wonder really. I must admit to being surprised how many people were willing to try it – they were busy all day on both days. I’m sure it’ll help many people become vegan.
I’m conscience that I haven’t said too much about the food at Vegfest so far. Believe me, while chatting to folk or browsing I was invariably munching on something scrummy. I’ve mentioned Holy Cow, but Brownins Vegan Carribean Food deserve a mention just for their dumplings (I know, I know, but they were a different kind of dumpling.) They also did magnificently massive jerk soya wraps, which I simply didn’t have room for, but saw others devour joyfully.
Cool Jerk Pies had some festive offerings, with a vegan version of pigs in blankets as a topping. Cakes were everywhere of course, including my two favourite purveyors, Missy’s Vegan Cupcakes and Pitxu’s Cakes and Bakes. The macaron display was impressive as usual and well, basically the food was fab all round. A slice of pizza from the Bute Island Foods stand was heavenly.
The last talk I attended was one from Go Vegan Scotland, a relatively newly formed group who spread awareness of veganism up and down the country. I first noticed them when they produced a poster asking where people drew the line between animals who were ‘meant for food’ and those who were not. It went up at various locations throughout Scotland and I thought it was a brilliant way to jolt people from their cocoons of casual carnism (as you might say.)
I also noticed them when I attended the monthly vegan quarter at the Leith Market in Edinburgh and it was great to hear the story of how they’d formed and what their approach was. They brave all elements to man stands in areas of heavy footfall in both Edinburgh and Glasgow and say they’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response. I’m sure if you’re a vegan you’ve had some sort of flack online (I know I have!!!) but it seems that people are less likely to insult you in person. Most people are curious and want to know more, which is why Go Vegan Scotland are there.
I think it’s opened many people’s eyes and it’s great to have an information stall in busy city centres calmly giving out information and advice. Of course one of the main reasons I loved their talk was because I managed to win a hamper in their raffle which was drawn by a man dressed as a cow. I love Vegfest.