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Easy being green at VegFest UK

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Over the bank holiday weekend, hordes of vegetarians, vegans and carnivores alike, gathered at the Harbourside for the annual VegFest UK, Bristol. Set to be a culinary treat for all, organisers anticipated in the region of 25,000 visitors through the gates. ELLEN TWENEY was one of them...

Firmly established on the local foodie calendar and coinciding with National Vegetarian Week (20-26 May), VegFest UK has the accolade of being the biggest vegan event of its kind in Europe. This year’s 2013 festival celebrated the 10th anniversary and was bigger and better than ever.

During the past decade, the show has grown with more entertainment, cookery demonstrations, talks, children’s activities and even a cinema. The main marquee was the place to try and buy from 125 stalls selling a whole range of food, cosmetics and clothing from both big brands and small independent suppliers. Bute Island’s Sheese, the 100% dairy-free, award-winning cheese alternative had a constant crowd of people jostling to sample some of their many products. ‘Meat’ was available from the Fry’s and Redwoodstalls, who produce everything from kebab meat to bratwurst and schnitzel ­– perfect for a vegan BBQ. They were cooking up a storm and samples were flying off the plates. 

Chocoholics also needn’t fear, there was a wonderful selection of treats and cakes to satisfy even the sweetest tooth. My favourite had to be Ms Cupcakes, with her self-titled ‘naughtiest vegan cupcakes in town’; her creations looked wickedly delicious and tasted just as good. Ms Cupcakes runs a vegan café in London and definitely proves that vegan baking doesn’t mean dull and bland. Her cupcakes, brownies and giant cookies are as far from dry, tasteless and healthy-looking as you can get. By early Saturday afternoon the stall had sold out the most popular flavours including Oreo, the ‘Ambassado’ (Ferrero Rocher) and rhubarb and custard. I would love to see more Ms Cupcakes characters emerge in the future, to help quash the out-dated vegan stereotype.

If you weren’t full from all the samples on offer and wanted a substantial meal, you were spoilt for choice from dozens of stalls preparing an array of fresh food from around the world. The heady mix of smells from the Middle Eastern stalls included oven-baked pizzas, paella and falafel vans. While the Caribbean stalls certainly whet my appetite with plenty of dishes being made, which are not ordinarily vegan-friendly. This is the beauty of VegFest, all food is 100% vegan and much is gluten free, so you don’t need to spend ages hunting for something suitable – the problem, if anything, is too much choice! For many visitors, the highlight and reason they return, year after year, is for the vast selection of food, not normally available when eating out.

The glorious sunshine definitely brought people out and added to the happy vibe. It was almost impossible to find a spot to sit down, with the amphitheatre packed with people eating, drinking and enjoying live music.

Throughout the two days there were lifestyle and nutrition talks and demonstrations on topics as diverse as the benefits of raw food, how to replace animal products in your baking and even soul-wellness and wellbeing. Children were well catered for in the kid’s zone with craft activities, kitchen chemistry fun and crazy golf.

After the main show closed each evening, entertainment and live music continued into the night with comedy performances and music on the main stage. Headliners on the Saturday were the Happy Mondays.

I hope VegFest opened the eyes of some devout carnivores and sceptics and showed that being a vegetarian or vegan needn’t mean weird, bland and unappetising. After the recent horsemeat scandal, vegetarianism or at least reducing our meat consumption is now seen as a viable alternative.

A newly coined term ‘flexitarian’, describes part-time vegetarians who can’t bear to give up their Sunday roast or bacon butty, but are eating meat less often and are even incorporating meat-free days into their diet. Whether you’re a veggie or not, there are numerous health and financial benefits from reducing your meat consumption. Following a vegan diet needn’t be as challenging or restrictive as many might think, thanks to the wide range of good-quality and tasty alternatives. 

By Ellen Tweney

"I hope VegFest opened the eyes of some devout carnivores and sceptics and showed that being a vegetarian of vegan needn’t mean weird, bland and unappetising. After the recent horsemeat scandal, vegetarianism or at least reducing our meat consumption is now seen as viable alternative."

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