Despite the Brighton Half Marathon causing road closures around the city centre for little under half of the festival, VegFest 2016 still welcomed over 10,000 people through the doors of the Brighton Centre over the weekend. Though, with the organisers predicting that 55% of us in the UK will be eating a plant based diet by 2020, maybe this isn’t so surprising.
Despite Brighton losing its title as vegan capital of the UK to Glasgow a few years ago it remains an apt place to celebrate an alternative lifestyle that is slowly becoming the norm. As you enter the festival the first thing you notice is the smell, the scent of miscellaneous herbs and spices competing with each other for your attention. With 200 stalls dotted around the venue (most of them dishing out free samples of their animal-free food) and a number of caterers on hand to help the hungry, you’re best to embark on an empty stomach.
That’s right, meat eaters, the food is fantastic. After munching through more than my fair share of raw chocolate, natural lollipops and vegan sausages, I can confirm that much for you. You can dispel any images you may have had of people with dreadlocks and loose-fitting hemp clothing praising their all-lentil diet, what with the abundant variety of food on offer. There truly is all sorts, from Caribbean cuisine to doner kebabs, all meat free, and the satisfied looks that can be seen around the venue tell their own story.
That’s not to say you won’t find some characters of the more ‘militant’ persuasion nodding along emphatically to a talk about the merits of medicinal marijuana, or about the plans to sabotage hunting parties. You are just as likely to find someone stood next to them shaking their head with disdain though, and the freedom for respectful debate is echoed around the site, creating a welcome atmosphere in which people considering Veganism can experiment and inform themselves. There are teenagers sampling Japanese cuisine and there are children eagerly chowing down on Ice ‘Cream’. VegFest provides a platform from which people can sample a variety of nutritious food, be taught how to prepare it at one of the cooking demonstrations, and even determine what benefits changing their diet may have on the environment and their own health.
Though most interest may be on the delicious freebies that you’re never far away from at VegFest, its meaning is much more poignant than that. Whilst being welcoming, it is evidently clear that many of those responsible for organising what has been described as the UK’s prime vegan festival have spent a number of years striving to combine their lifestyle and diet in a way that allows them the same opportunities as other people. The emotional tribute during the Vegan Bodybuilding on Sunday afternoon, to one of their members who had recently passed, exemplified the attitude that resonates throughout the festival. Even though he may have decided to eat a diet that many frowned upon only a few decades ago, he was still able to ‘crush’ his meat eating competition. It’s this willingness to challenge and provide new alternatives to what has for so long been considered the norm that makes VegFest such a vibrant and important event. You can forget your preconceptions about veganism, with all the in-your-face caricatures that go alongside it, when you see thousands of normal people eating delicious food, it’s clear that this isn’t something to be scoffed at.
By Lennon Craig