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.

Tags: , ,
Written by fatgayvegan

  1. When I left London in 2000 it was a vegan desert – big kudos to everyone who has worked so hard for positive change 🙂

  2. This is a great response. I think it’s inevitable as it becomes more mainstream, it will also be depicted poorly and with the loss of its core values E.G people doing it in imitation of a celebrity or just because it’s “cool” now… This is going to be annoying for a lot of us, but I do think it’s important to remember that in respect of the important reasons for going vegan, it doesn’t matter WHY people choose to do it so long as they are – so long as fewer of them are being eaten, I don’t think the animals are going to care! :p

  3. It’s a tricky one….while all the lovely and tireless vegan campaigners you mentioned above have helped me greatly on my vegan journey, the reality is that veganism in London still hasn’t broken out of the “ghetto”… the ghetto got bigger since I rocked up in 2009, but it’s still a subculture that can’t even sustain a critical mass of decent all-vegan restaurants. I love Manna, I love the Gallery,I have recently discovered the Larder in Bethnal Green, I love street food, but I also love variety (there’s only so many falafels I want to eat) and the reality is that the current London vegan community seemingly can’t economically support a broad range of plant-based eateries…(yes, I’ve been to Nama (Saf did that in 2009!).

    While friends and colleagues have always been very accommodating nobody very few have shown any real interest in trying it themselves…until Deliciously Ella came along…I’m no fan of Ms Woodward but the number of people (colleagues, acquaintances ) who have sidled up to me and asked if I know her, what I make of her and that they are interested in trying plant-based food are astonishing. Must be her lovely long hair 🙂

    The article is predictable and slightly silly but as Shonalika said that it doesn’t matter WHY people choose to do it as long as they do and the more, the better…I’ve already noticed the “Ella” effect in my local supermarket which has massively stocked up on various wholefoods.

    The article is not about veganism by the way, so I think you are expecting too much….it’s the Evening Standard Magazine that is a lifestyle publication. It’s reporting on a current “fad” and will no doubt next week have a cover story about innards being the next big thing…I just really hope the fad sticks!

  4. Don’t forget Lenny and Mui with their fabulous Vantra vegan buffet restaurant on Oxford Street.

  5. Oops, just touchtyped my name without looking Sean, I’m not really Alex Viyrje. Great article!

    • Or even Akex, Alex…
      Alex Bourke deserves a mention (assuming you’re the guy who wrote the guides back in the day…!)

  6. I remember reading articles by Rosamund Irwin when I worked in the capital and being equally frustrated by her journalism which felt like it was written by someone incredibly capable but who prioritised pushing a story out before ensuring it was factually correct. She covered a number of very left wing subjects quite favourably but left you feeling slightly discredited by her partially researched half baked conclusions.

  7. Good piece. I wouldn’t worry too much about this sort of article, though. As ever (sorry for being boring), my comparison is with something in cycling, in this case the accelerating wave of articles about cycling that started at some point in the 2000s and that really helped to bring cycling closer to the mainstream (where, I know, it hasn’t quite arrived yet). From memory, the Evening Standard formally announced it was supporting cycling in 2007 (or it might have been the year before). Most of these articles were full of nonsense (and still are a lot of the time, good ones are hard to find), but that’s just generalist journalists tackling topics that are new to them and which they will probably touch only tangentially. Their output will never satisfy the experts and they’ll always get lots of things wrong.

    However, as long as the article isn’t vegan-bashing and is even positive rather than neutral, it can be about veganism being ‘sexy’ or any other tired, hackneyed, and potentially offensive angle you like–what remains in people’s memory isn’t much of the content, but a simple positive or negative feeling. It’s worked for cycling. We just need to keep ensuring that the message comes over positively and not as one of asceticism, moral superiority, grey-on-grey living, limited choice and what have you. I know it sounds a little simplistic, but articles just fade to the background so quickly, very little remains of any but this sediment of sentiment.

    And, interestingly enough, our experience in cycling has been that the more the campaigners themselves remain invisible, the more it will appear ‘normal’ to the general public and not pushed by a limited number of people with an agenda. So, for instance, people might see Ms Cupcake not necessarily as a campaigner or pioneer for veganism, but simply as someone who makes extremely nice baked goods, and with the other campaigners they might have no idea who they are. They’ll always get recognition from their own close community, and perhaps from posterity, but the cause itself is obviously very satisfying–and at the end of the day, all campaigners are really campaigning to remove the reasons for their campaigning.

    I like Alex’ new pseudonym. 🙂

  8. I reckon Inspiral deserve a mention! And to be fair, although NAMA in Westbourne Grove is fairly new, they were working hard at their 100% vegan restaurant in Queens Park for quite sometime before they became “sexy”

  9. Not forgetting Robin Lane and Alison Coe who organised the London Vegan Festival. Their first one was in 1998, and it was the first vegan festival in the UK.

  10. So interested to read this piece and all the comments, particularly as a non-London (and still fairly new) vegan.

    While I’m happy to celebrate veganism being seen an appealing and sexy light (feels shallow to write it after all your thoughtful comments, yet I’m primarily a beauty and wellness writer and know the difference such an effect has on my industry. And hell, I enjoy it myself!), I found myself frustrated by the fact the feature was about the diet rather than the wider ethical lifestyle.

    In fact, I was very much left feeling that veganism itself was still the ‘odd thing’. I’m interested that nobody has mentioned this side and wonder if I’m alone in feeling this? Perhaps there’s something I’ve missed!

    Anyway, if anyone fancies reading my thoughts, I’d love to hear more of yours:

    Meanwhile, I shall enjoy reading up on all the listed vegans. Great that you’re able to celebrate them here.

    Thank you!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.