Bristol's 15th Vegfest provides a plethora of experiences, and an inclusive attitude, writes Imogen Smith
I have to admit to initially being a little dismissive of the idea of a vegan festival. I had imagined an intimate gathering of die-hard vegans, with little room for those new to the concept.
My preconceptions were certainly proved wrong over the course of the festival. Located at the amphitheatre, along the harbourside, I was struck by the sheer scale of the event.
There were over 180 stalls, spread across three marquees, along with live music from two stages and an array of vegan caterers. It could have been easy to feel overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells, had it not been for the festival’s incredibly inclusive atmosphere. Despite the usual festival crowds and intermittent showers, the celebratory spirit could not be dampened. This was an opportunity for the festival organisers to thank the vegan community for their commitment and dedication to a cruelty-free lifestyle and for leading by example. Yet, it was also a chance to encourage new followers by presenting the facts and a host of new possibilities.
The diversity of the stall offerings was testament to the variety and availability of vegan products. Like many vegetarians (including myself), cheese and eggs are often the main prohibitors for transitioning to a fully vegan diet. Admittedly, the idea of substituting ‘real’ cheese for a nut alternative, or using ground flaxseed as an egg replacement, filled me with dread. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to discover Creamy Sheese, made from coconut oil and soy, and a dead-ringer for dairy cheese spread. I’m still a little on the fence about ‘Vegan Egg’, the fresh-water algae powder you add to cold water to create a scrambled egg alternative, but nonetheless, it’s still proof of a progressive mentality.
It’s no surprise that Bristol has been the host of VegfestUK for the past 10 years. Its liberalist ethos provides the perfect landscape for fledgling businesses to thrive, as well as supplying the demand for something out of the ordinary. Cindy, a qualified medical herbalist, moved to Bristol six months ago. From blending teas at her kitchen table in a bid to relieve everyday ailments, to 11 Great Taste Awards, Cindy’s Teas look set for big things. You can see more of Cindy’s products at www.cindystea.love.
For those looking for more than just samples, an array of live cookery demos was on offer, led by a selection of some of the best vegan chefs. From restaurant-level plant-based cooking tips to healthy vegan puddings, there was something for every palate, including the staunchest of meat-eaters. VegfestUK went further in its exploration of a plant-based philosophy than I had anticipated, offering a range of talks on the themes of easy veganism, light veganism and deep veganism.
Topics ranged from ways to live a vegan life on a budget and the health benefits of raw living, through to a deeper exploration of animal welfare, activism and vegan representation. I confess to shying away from the grittier topics, but the choice was there. No vegan festival would be complete without a visit to Nakd, the healthy fruit and nut bars that have revolutionised snacking. I spoke to Roger, who’s worked for Nakd for 10 years and has been coming to VegfestUK Bristol for nine of those. For him, it’s "the best weekend you’ll ever have." I might not go that far, but it was certainly one to remember, and for all the right reasons.