Edinburgh is a beautiful city. It hosts the biggest arts festival on the planet (The Edinburgh Fringe) as well as the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Comedy Festival, Jazz Festival, Film Festival, Storytelling Festival, Food Festival, The Edinburgh International Festival (or ‘the grown up festival’ as it’s known in my house) as well as many other smaller festivals, so it’s no wonder really that Edinburgh is known as The Festival City. Why then, has it taken so long for Edinburgh to host a Vegan Festival? Well, I’m not sure to be honest, as all the elements to ensure its success are here. Edinburgh has a cosmopolitan population who enjoy food and drink (Edinburgh has more restaurants and bars per square metre than anywhere else in Europe) and who have the open, artistic outlook that makes all the other festivals such a hit.
And so it proved, as when as I entered the inaugural Edinburgh Vegan Festival at the Roxburghe Hotel located in the West end of the city, they were debating whether to let anyone else in as the place was full to bursting. I’d wandered down there about an hour after opening and was lucky to gain admittance. The room I entered was crammed with people, all eager to sample the wares of the stockholders and generally have a good nose around.
The first items that caught my eye were a very handsome display of vegan sporrans, by Freerangers. Being Scottish, I have been at many a function where I’ve been quite repulsed and saddened by the amount of leather and seal skin on display. Once I even came across what appeared to be a fox’s flattened face as a sporran, so it was delightful to see stylish, lightweight sporrans which weren’t leather. There was even a big furry one (oo-er) and several kilt belts.
There’s always plenty to eat at these events, although in the crush it was a bit tricky to find something savoury. If I’d wanted cupcakes for lunch I would’ve been fine. I’m not complaining you understand, but surely a wrap or something must come first before the cake tasting begins in earnest.
It was a lovely day outside and I know for a fact that the supplies of vegan ice cream were exhausted long before closing. Every stall holder I met kept mopping their brow and declaring that they didn’t realise how busy it would be.
Animals Asia were happy to chat about their work to end Bear Bile farming and protecting cats and dogs from the cruel meat industry. The League Against Cruel Sports had a stall, rightly focused on the welfare of foxes.
Population Matters is an ever increasing presence at these events and their creatively packaged birth control display had me chuckling. It’s a serious issue, but I’m glad they always seem to be smiling.
Several local businesses seemed to be well represented which was nice to see. Henderson’s was here (an Edinburgh vegetarian institution and owners of the only all vegan restaurant in the city) as well as the Bread Street Brasserie, who do a vegan evening once a month.
The Happy Pumpkin bakery seemed to be able to work magic, as not only were all their wares vegan of course, but many were sugar free, gluten free and most importantly, yummy! Their colourful stand was a real hit and particularly suitable for children.
Nic’s Vegan Kitchen were selling boxed cupcakes and are due to open a nineteen fifties style diner very soon, which I can’t wait to visit. Missy’s Vegan Cupcakes, a regular at farmer’s markets locally, had her delectable and imaginative cakes snapped up by many an enthusiastic punter.
The real drama however, was in the more open area towards the back, where pulled jackfruit resided, courtesy of local eatery the Bluebird Cafe.
Now, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with pulled jackfruit, but it basically imitates pulled pork (although I’m sure it’s much nicer, plus no-one, y’know, has to die) and the promise of having it lovingly toasted in a wrap along with some melty Violife cheese (currently my favourite vegan cheese) was simply too much to resist. There was, however, a problem.
The offerings of a Quesadilla, Wrap or Nachos had proved just too good. Coming up to lunchtime and they’d run out of jackfruit, the demand was so high.
An anxious queue formed as a sign was hastily made ‘Jackfruit Sold Out – Back at 1pm’. Not to worry, a courier was sent to their premises in Cannonmills and although it seemed like forever, in less than 45 minutes all was well, the toaster press was fired up and production began again.
As I sat on the ground (there was no room anywhere else) sipping my organic lemonade and tucking into my quesadilla, I looked around at the huge range of people milling about, eating, talking, laughing and my heart lifted. Here were people who were embracing veganism. Every talk and workshop was full; every sample was sampled and confectioners especially were simply cleaned out.
I really hope that many attendees were non-vegans who came to experience for themselves just how diverse, delicious and delightful the vegan life can be. There were purveyors of ethical make up and skincare, support for older vegetarians, local restaurants who want to cater to us, charities who look out for our interests and those of the causes we hold dear, ethical jewellery and remedies.
The representation of something for almost every aspect of the vegan’s life at the Edinburgh Vegan Festival gave me hope for the future and I’ll be honest, made me feel a bit fuzzy inside. But perhaps I’m being too maudlin. Perhaps the warm feeling in my stomach was simply the organic ginger beer and the cake that followed my savoury treat, but I don’t think so.