I have recently visited VegFest in London Olympia with my friend Hannah who blogs at She Writes, She Fights. We both have a keen interest in vegan lifestyle and we both have gone through shorter periods of following a vegan diet, so this event seemed to be the perfect opportunity to indulge our ‘veg-curiosity’ (a new word we learnt at the event!)
In the UK, veganism is one of the fastest growing lifestyle movements, with some 542,000 people– more than one per cent of the population – who have adopted a plant-based diet, up from 150,000 in 2006. This means that the number of vegans in Britain has risen by more than 360 per cent over the past decade! Another interesting fact it that this movement is driven by the young – close to half of all vegans are aged 15-34 (42%), this could be down to the influence of social media on this population.
There are many reasons that an increasing number of people choose plant-based diets:-
- Ethical – nonviolence: people’s ethical beliefs may include a commitment to nonviolence — both towards the animal killed for food and the human responsible for killing.
- Ethical – food production: many vegans have strong concerns about animal treatment within industrial food production systems and they want to contribute as little as possible to the death and suffering of animals.
- Environmental: Evidence suggests that raising livestock and industrial fishing has ecological impacts.
- Religious: Some world religions (such as Buddhism) forbid meat consumption and/or limit certain animal products (such as abstaining from pork and shellfish to keep kosher in Judaism).
- Health: Evidence suggests that a diet high in plant products can help us get and stay healthier.
- Economic: For many people, animal products are too expensive to afford; plant-based protein sources are often cheaper.
Over the past few years, I have also noticed veganism becoming more main-stream. For example, I always see at least one person sporting a Vegan Runners club T-shirt at races and my company is planning to do vegan specials in the staff canteen during the month of November. In case you didn’t know, November is World Vegan Month, where vegans and veganism is celebrated in workplaces, shops, restaurants and in homes all over the world.
Back to the event… After grabbing a cup of coffee, Hannah and I both arrived at the scene as soon as the doors were ready to open – it was good timing as the crowd of people trying to get in grew bigger and bigger by the minute (apparently, about quarter of the vegans in the UK live in the capital so I expected this to be a very popular event!) As soon as we got inside the building, we barely knew where to turn. There were hundreds of different vegan stalls waiting to be explored, cookery demos, a living raw zone, a cinema showing vegan themed documentaries; a comedy corner; taste-bud tantalising pop-up eateries and countless interesting workshops and talks were striking a perfect balance between food, shopping, education and entertainment. Clearly, spending just one day at the event was only enough to get a foretaste.
There is something for everyone at this event, to keep you informed, enlightened and entertained! Oh, and have I forgotten to mention is that you don’t have to be a vegan to be allowed in? (But mind you, do leave your leather shoes at home and leave your pork pie outside the door if you are not a vegan.)
Given that Hannah’s main interests lie in animal welfare, activism, ethical clothing and mine in vegan fitness, sports nutrition and health, we went our separate ways a few times so that we could attend the talks that were most relevant to our blogs.
My favourite talks included ‘Diet Tips and Tricks for Active Vegans‘ by international professional cyclist Christine Vardaros, ‘The Importance of Optimum Gut Health‘ by Amanda Hamilton who is one of the UK’s most established nutritionists; ‘How to Optimise a Vegan Diet – The Medical Evidence‘ by Canadian Dr Tushar Mehta; and finally, ‘Having the Mindset of a Champion‘ by Nimai Delgado who is a natural, vegan IFBB professional bodybuilder and fitness coach. There were so many useful and interesting take-aways from each of these workshops that I decided to dedicate a separate, bite-sized blog post to each of them to make it easier to digest them – keep an eye out for these over the coming week.
When we were not attending workshops, Hannah and I scouted out the building and ended up sampling some of the exhibitors’ products – from beauty products to chocolate, from plant based protein powders to vegan vitamins there were plenty of things to discover. Unfortunately, I did not have cash on me and I can’t withdraw money from cash machines any more due to an issue with my bank card (long story…), and 99% of the exhibitors and food stalls only accepted cash. This was a major frustration for me as I would have loved to try some interesting looking vegan food for lunch, but ended up eating the snacks I brought with me instead.
I was quite impressed by the wide array of different vegan products that exist nowadays. No cheese, no meat, no dairy? No problem! Tofurkey, Quorn and Sheese are just a few examples for the new food products that have started cropping up in response to increasing customer demand for plant based alternatives. Veganism was once seen as extreme, but attitudes are clearly changing and it is now becoming a much easier and accessible lifestyle. Many supermarkets now stock vegan products and an increasing number of high street restaurants and cafes now offer vegan options. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to be a vegan before our times!
So where do I stand regarding veganism? Even though I am not a vegan (yet), I do see the benefits of living a more plant based life and I’m taking steps towards going more plant-based in my diet and the beauty products I buy. I think many of the arguments for veganism come from our modern day practices around industrial animal farming and food production practices; a lot of the environmental, sustainability, ethical and health issues we face today simply did not exist before the agricultural revolution. Whenever I am faced with a dilemma, I always turn to the Bible for guidance and this is no different when it comes to veganism. From the Bible we know that Jesus himself ate meat, moreover, he even performed a miracle whereby he fed thousands of people with bread and fish coming from one basket. If Jesus ate meat, and fed meat to people, the act of eating meat and dairy can’t be morally and biologically wrong per se. However, as I alluded to it earlier, it is the treatment of animals, as well as the practices around getting meat and dairy on our tables that are most concerning to me. The main question for me is ‘how selfish are we, collectively, as human beings, if we put our own convenience above the health of the planet and welfare of the farm animals?’ The problem is that we look at the final product and not the process. No doubt, if more people adopted a more plant-based diet or considered consuming meat, dairy, and eggs from animals that are treated humanely and fed optimal diets, it could send out an even louder message to the big farms and food companies to change their practices. Anyways, these are only my views on this topic and I appreciate that there might be people who see things differently.
At the festival I fell in love with some really amazing vegan brands that I had no idea existed before going to this event. So here is some shout-out to my favourites, some of which I have purchased after the festival and started using already!
ViVoLife offer cutting edge plant based products to active people, such as protein powders, matcha tea, BCAA enriched coconut water and may more.
Optiat make natural scrubs for your body and face from used Arabica coffee grounds – pure heaven!
SugaVida Turmeric Lattes are naturally sweet and delicately spiced drinks; the perfect accompaniment to cold winter nights by the fireplace.
Tideford Organics whose organic pestos, sauces and misos are going to add some magic to those thick winter soups and slow cooker dishes, warming the cockles of your heart.
Vegan Food and Living Magazine – Britain’s bestselling vegan magazine dedicated to celebrating the delicious side of ethical eating, with 75 recipes in each issue. Headlines from recent issues include ‘Make the most of matcha’, ‘Make your own nut butter’, ‘Powered by Plants – meet the sports stars who credit their success to a vegan diet’, ‘Back to basics – 9 essential nutritional needs to consider when going vegan’ and many more interesting topics for vegans and veg-curious people alike.
All in all, I had a very scruptious and uplifting time at my first VegFest and it was a great opportunity to learn more about the benefits of living a more plant based life and find out how this could potentially help improve my health and my sports performance. Some of my views on nutrition have been challenged, too, especially around how much protein we really need; the fact that all plant sources contain all of the essential amino acids (albeit in differing quantities) so they are ‘complete’ protein sources; and the superior qualities of plant proteins versus animal proteins. I like to be challenged in my thinking and I am always thirsty to learn more – can’t wait for the next VegFest! And in the meantime, I am looking forward to doing Veganuary to try vegan in January.
Are you a vegan or considering going vegan? What are your favourite vegan resources/events?
Photo credits: VegFest Facebook page.