Get it straight
An article by Rosamund Urwin for the Evening Standard titled ‘Green is the new black: how veganism became sexy in London‘ is problematic for many reasons (for starters, stop reducing compassionate people and decisions to sexiness), but one glaring omission stands out above the rest of the article’s faults.
I feel Urwin has invisibilised the real, everyday people who have helped drag veganism into the London mainstream.
Urwin attempts to unpack the reasons behind the explosion of plant-based food options in London and comes up with what I view as the typical and shallow reasoning of ‘it’s now sexy’ and ‘ because Beyonce’. She has omitted to name some of the groundbreaking people and events that have massively contributed to the widespread acceptance of veganism in London and the UK.
These people are not pushing plant food choices as a sexualised commodity (most of the time!). They are instead working themselves to the bone to put compassion front and centre. These people are a huge part of the reason why vegansim is a force to be reckoned with in the UK.
I present to you my list of people and organisations I feel were erroneously left out of the Evening Standard article.
Green is the new black: how hardworking vegans are being forgotten in the reporting of vegan expansion
Ms. Cupcake – nobody is responsible for revolutionising the London vegan food scene the way Mellissa Morgan is responsible. Nobody. Her relentless dedication to creating a vision for a 100% plant-based cake empire that would serve all Londoners is unparalleled. Ms. Cupcake is known all over the planet and I rarely meet a Londoner who hasn’t heard of the decadent vegan cake shop in Brixton. Mellissa Morgan is the reason why London became a city worthy of vegan attention.
London Vegan Meetup – this group is always unreported by people claiming to know the secret behind the success of veganism in the capital. You know why? Because ordinary people have built a valuable support community and ordinary people aren’t ‘sexy’ enough for reporters. These people help each other enjoy their vegan choices through social events such as dinner nights, day trips and occasional holidays. With more than 3500 members, this London-based group reaches more people than the mainstream press care to tell us. Robb Masters, Julie Rosenfield, Helen Wright and Jessica Stella Fox (just to name a few) spend countless hours hosting events in order to create opportunities for people to revel in their plant-based reality.
Street food vendors – I couldn’t possibly list every business I should mention in this section. These people are on the front line, taking sneers and sometimes abuse from meat-addicted, lunchtime customers but still they get back up in the dark and go out there again to sell 100% vegan cuisine from a London market stall. Notable street food stands responsible for shaking up the scene and putting veganism front and centre are The Mighty Fork (sadly closed) and Club Mexicana. These two businesses show the capital how to enjoy vegan street food that is tasty, thoughtfully produced and presented professionally.
Vx – five years of being unapologetically vegan in zone 1. Vx is the portal for all that is cool about veganism including branded clothing, junk food, cakes, activism, counter culture and vegan cheese (it is crucial). Rudy Penando crafted London’s first vegan boutique and junk food emporium back in 2010, making it a must-see destination for people from all over the planet and he remains one of the capital’s finest advocates for compassionate living.
Manna – not everyone adores the Primrose Hill institution, but those who do will work their hardest to make sure you understand why it is their favourite place to eat. Manna is a rare creature in London, being one of our only 100% vegan restaurants and probably the first to make the switch from vegetarian to plant-based. They do float a bit under the radar due to their location, but Manna needs to be congratulated for putting their money where their ethics are and for trailblazing totally vegan cuisine in London at a time when other vegans were probably telling them it couldn’t be done.
Animal rights groups – no article investigating the rise of veganism in London can be taken seriously without the inclusion of activist groups. Animal Aid have been relentless for decades with their vegan festivals, school outreach work, investigations and lobbying. Animal Equality have served vegan food to thousands of non-vegans during high street actions and campaigning. Even though I am highly critical of some of their approaches, PeTA can be recognised for the cultural impact achieved through their fight for improving outcomes for animals. Viva! Campaigns have reached countless people with their effective tactic of gaining mainstream press in order to highlight animal wellbeing (or lack of).
Tim Barford – I’m sure Tim wouldn’t mind me saying he has known his share of detractors (I’ve not seen eye to eye on a few occasions), but I couldn’t possibly overstate what his incredible efforts have done to promote veganism in London and beyond. Even though the Evening Standard article mentions Tim’s VegfestUK Brighton event coming up this month, it fails to highlight how this person has dedicated over a decade of his life to creating mainstream-friendly vegan events that are unrivalled in this country. Who made veganism front page news in London? Maybe it was Tim, his dedicated support team and his 10 000 VegfestUK London visitors at Olympia (set to return for a third year in a row in 2015).
The Third Estate – this north London boutique isn’t just a place for vegans to buy hard-to-find footwear, it is a world leader in showing how what we wear and our ethics are inextricably linked. Owners Angela Corcoran and James Beal have worked tirelessly to make this store one of the finest on the planet for compassionate shoppers, giving London a truly unique intersection of compassion for animals, humans and the environment. The Third Estate is pushing Londoners to make choices about fairly-sourced clothing while concurrently considering animals and the planet.
Fat Gay Vegan – fuck it! I wanna sing my own praises. Since I returned to the UK in 2010, I have dedicated myself to improving outcomes for animals through supporting vegans in their compassionate actions. I have met thousands of vegans and vegan-curious people through my events such as London Vegan Potluck and London Vegan Drinks (both now coming up to their fourth anniversary), as well as the newly-established Queer Vegan Disco. I now blog every single day without fail, spreading news of fundraisers, events, new products, restaurants and social justice issues. London Vegan Beer Fest is returning for its third year, moving to a venue in zone 1 with the potential to welcome 1000 guests.
The people listed above are just the tip of the iceberg lettuce when it comes to the influencers who have built vegan London. They are part of the reason why vegan food is now on the plates of non-vegan restaurants and the lips of non-vegan food writers. These people are what marketing experts call influencers. These people are enacting change.
The list is of course informed by my queer white male perspective and revolves heavily around my own experiences and the privilege of having disposable income.
The list is in no way exhaustive and I’m certain I am guilty of forgetting/leaving out many people. I especially would like to apologise to those who I overlooked due to my recent arrival to the UK. I understand vegan London has been shaped by dedicated individuals and groups over many decades, but I feel unable to speak with authority on this as I did not experience it firsthand. Please expand on what I can’t via the comments section.
I am mindful that my view of vegan London is not the view for everyone, so I welcome your comments below detailing who you know to be a pivotal force in the advancement of veganism in the capital. Let FGV readers know who we should celebrate as compassionate trailblazers.