A monumental shift in thinking
Yesterday felt like one of the most significant days of my life.
I hosted City Vegan Lunch Market on Guildhall Yard in the City of London. The City of London is also known as the square mile and is the financial, trading, and banking heart of the UK capital.
I was nervous ahead of this event, but not in the usual way.
Every event I put on takes a lot of hard work and I often find myself nervous about every aspect running smoothly.
This City event had me fearing something else. What if nobody came? What if a fully vegan lunch time market in an area known for extreme wealth and steak lunches just wasn’t ready for what we had lined up?
My fears weren’t just based on my own own feelings being hurt.
A failed event in the City would see all of our traders losing money. It would feel like veganism just wasn’t at the level we thought it was. And it would have made me feel like I wasn’t able to pull it off for the animals.
But you wanna know something incredible?
People did come to this market and they came in huge numbers.
A large number of our traders sold out of food completely and all of them had an incredible trading day.
This is the part of the blog post where I get a bit sappy.
During the height of the market yesterday, when there were hundreds of City workers scrambling for vegan lunch, I had to take myself around the corner and have a little cry. I was deeply and profoundly overwhelmed by emotion.
I spend almost every waking hour consumed by the job of promoting veganism as a fun and accessible lifestyle that can make a difference and redress the immense suffering we inflect on non-human animals. This job is not your typical job and it can be gruelling.
Like a lot of old school vegan activists and organisers, I have lived through many years (decades in my case) of seeing tiny advances being battled for and won. We have put every ounce of energy we have left into saving animals and it takes its toll on us physically, financially and emotionally.
We used to journey across London to support local health food stores that just happened to have some vegan products. We have petitioned mainstream markets for decades to increase their vegan offerings. We have put together grassroots events in towns, cities and villages all over the UK to support each other. When they was nowhere else to socialise, we opened our dining rooms and back gardens to each other for informal gatherings.
Along with Josh, I ran London Vegan Potluck every month for four years just so vegans and vegan-friendly people could have a space to meet on a regular basis. There was very little else. This was all before vegan markets and parties had taken over London.
We also ran London Vegan Drinks (which is still going!) every month for four years. VegFestUK has been with us for much longer than a decade. Animal Aid, The Vegan Society, and Viva! Campaigns have done immeasurably crucial work to plant the seeds of compassion that we are now watching blossom in 2018. Veggies Catering have traveled all over the UK to feed people food, knowledge, and understanding.
During some of these years it did feel like we were making slow progress but that veganism would always be seen as a ‘weird’ thing outsiders did just to be different or difficult.
But I’m here to tell you that all of those years of blood, sweat, and tears have changed the consciousness of the UK public for the better and for good.
City Vegan Lunch Market was the most stark and startling example I have seen of how accepted veganism has become.
Hundreds and hundreds of office workers waited patiently in the scorching heat for vegan food when they had animal products waiting for them in shops, cafés, restaurants, and supermarkets all over the neighbourhood.
Hundreds and hundreds of office workers enthusiastically devoured pizza, burgers, curries, ice cream, salads, wraps, donuts, and ramen and all of it was vegan.
People could be heard raving about the food. People could be heard talking excitedly about the market. Dozens of people asked me if I could make this market a monthly or even weekly event.
After decades of working to improve the visibility and accessibility of veganism in order to help lessen animal suffering, there I was surrounded by more people than I could count who all were excited to buy vegan food in the middle of the City of London in a 100% vegan market.
My mind raced with the memory of the thousands of vegan activists and event goers I have met over the years. I thought about the years people have given up in the name of animal protection. I remembered all of the pioneers who put their own interests on the back burner in order to support vegans and protect animals.
And it all became to much for me. I walked behind a wall and the tears wouldn’t stop. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.
It is very rare to be somewhere when measurable change occurs, but I witnessed it yesterday with my own eyes. Even a few years ago I would have been laughed out of the City of London for suggesting such a market but there I was hosting a fully vegan lunch market on Guildhall Yard.
This market wasn’t just a fun event. It was a signpost. It was a signifier of how vegan activists have managed to shape the consciousness of an entire country of people. We have fought and struggled and this market was a victory.
It was a sign of just how far we have come and shows that our society has been irreversibly changed when it comes to thinking about veganism. I did not see one raised eyebrow. I did not hear one single snide remark. Bacon jokes? Nothing.
Listen. We still have a lot of work to do to make the world somewhere even close to completely compassionate, but this is a moment where we can give each other a hug and take some time to reflect on success.
Heck, maybe you wanna cry a few tears by thinking of all the dedicated people who have made this possible and all the animals they ave saved from suffering along the way.
Extra note: a victory like this means nothing without recognising the incredible contributions of minority vegans who help us everyday and who contend with multiple oppressions within our society but still work to improve outcomes for non-human animals. City Vegan Lunch Market was also an opportunity for us to celebrate businesses owned and run by people from marginalised groups including women of colour, LGBTQ+ community members, disabled people, and BME people. Extreme gratitude to these business owners who took part in our event.