From potluck parties to bake-offs and now a full-blown festival, the Northwest's vegan scene is prepping for revolution. We meet the people who are – ahem – rooting for change
If you think vegans are a batty bunch of tree-hugging, 'I Heart Tofu'-emblazoned t-shirt wearers, you can dust off that limp stereotype and get with it – because attitudes are changing. A vegan take-over seems to be brewing, and the Northwest is no exception: with everything from vegan wine tasting sessions to Latin American-themed potlucks popping up all over the place, Manchester and surrounds are a hive of activity.
If you're curious about veganism, attending Manchester's first ever massive vegan gathering, the Northern Vegan Festival, on 13 April at Sachas Hotel, would be a good place to start. A full day featuring 100 stalls representing everything vegan – food, animal charities, rescues, campaigns, societies – plus talks, children's activities, films, entertainment and cookery demonstrations, at £1 entry it promises to be a fascinating day.
“Everyone is welcome, whatever their diet,” says organiser Roddy Hanson, who, while it's hard to estimate turn-out, reckons on a hefty two or three thousand attending. “Non-vegans will enjoy stuffing themselves with the masses of free food, and with the vegan food they can buy: Indian, English, Turkish, chocolate, burgers, sweets, and cake. We might also have a vegan beer and wine stall in a café area.”
For the uninitiated, veganism is a lifestyle choice for those who don't accept that animals are ours to use, in any way. As well as omitting animal flesh from our diets, vegans do not consume animal secretions – milk, eggs, honey – nor wear animal skins or use animal-tested products. They neither visit zoos nor ride horses. Vegans attempt to live a life that is, as close as possible, free from exploiting other sentient beings.
Aside from refusing to be complicit in animal suffering, another benefit is good health. “Non-vegans who come to the festival will get the chance to learn about a diet which can improve their health and longevity,” Hanson says. “Vegans have much lower rates of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and some cancers, than meat-eaters. The vegan diet is cholesterol-free.”
With supermarket ranges for vegans expanding, and vegan businesses, eateries, menus and events sprouting up everywhere, the world – and particularly our little part of it – seems to be waking up to veganism.
New kid on the block is V Revolution (vrevolution.co.uk) in Manchester's Northern Quarter on Oldham Street. A café-cum-punk record shop, it's a 100% vegan space. As well as vinyl, V Revolution sells a range of groceries such as dairy-free cheese, fake meats, and chocolate – and the funky café serves fabulous soya or hemp milk lattes with the best cupcakes you'll taste, at excellent prices.
“We have a strict no hummus, no roasted vegetable policy here. You'll never get a risotto” – Dominic Moss
“When we set up V Revolution it was to show a different side to veganism than that which dominates public opinion,” says owner Dominic Moss. “Being vegan doesn't mean eating lentils and hummus – there is a whole world of delicious vegan junk food out there and I'd love to help people try it.
“We have a strict no hummus, no roasted vegetable policy here. You'll never get a risotto or any other dull 'go-to' vegetarian meal. Our food may be entirely plant-based, but that doesn't mean you can't have a grilled cheese, hotdog, or jerk beef and coleslaw sandwich.”
Moss adds: “Having both the records and food means we get a wider range of people in than might otherwise be expected. We have lots of non-vegan people with no interest in punk or metal, and then lots of punks and metalheads who aren't vegan. Happily, many people who come in for one thing end up asking questions about the other.”
Supplying the cupcakes is Jenny Gradwell of Cottage Cupcake Co. (cottagecupcakeco.com), who runs a vegan home-baking business from Didsbury (and is also holding a stall at the Northern Vegan Festival). She's responsible, too, for establishing the Manchester Vegan Potluck, held at V Revolution, where attendees each bring a vegan dish to share.
Having been vegan for more than seven years, Gradwell has witnessed the Manchester upsurge: “As well as V Revolution, I've seen two dedicated vegetarian/vegan bistros open,” she says, “which is amazing. Some brilliant social events have started up, getting vegans together over yummy food and cake. And Manchester University's VegSoc has been established, bringing a whole new generation of young veggies and vegans into Manchester.
“I'm also pleased to see the continued success of places like Earth Café and 8th Day. And more restaurants are offering labelled vegan options on their menus, such as Dough, Bakerie and Ning. These are all signs of veganism in the 21st Century.”
Manchester Vegan Society and Manchester Vegetarian and Vegan Group both hold monthly meet-ups, at Mod's Veggie & Vegan Café at The Thirsty Scholar (facebook.com/modsveggievegancafe) and at 8th Day (eighth-day.co.uk), respectively. The quirky Cake Liberation Front (cakeliberationfront.com) 'bake-off', meanwhile, has been running for two years and is a popular bi-monthly get-together on a Sunday afternoon – if you bake, the only stipulation is your goodies are vegan.
The next CLF is in May (date tbc, see their Facebook page for details). Founder Caroline Turner says: “I think it's been so successful because it is open to everyone whatever their dietary preferences. I did a questionnaire once and 50 per cent of attendees weren't actually vegan! They had friends or family who were, or had come along because they were interested in finding out more.”
The Bakerie Tasting Store, at The Hive off Lever Street, isn't part of the vegan scene as such, but offers a great selection of vegan wines, with over 100 listed – and wine buyer and vegan Dale Meakin hosts regular wine tasting events, many of which consist of vegan-only wines, even though they're not advertised that way.
“I like to let people try and enjoy a wine – then I let them know it's vegan,” he says. “Also for vegans, here they can make an informed choice about wines that are wines first, rather than wearing a badge of worthiness. It can be chosen for being a good wine, and it's a vegan wine. Some of my favourites include the Millton Clos St Anne Pinot Noir, Meinklang wines, and Jean Bousquet wines from Argentina.”
Manchester isn't the only city starting to carve a vegan pocket for itself – the Salford Arms (salfordarmshotel.co.uk) on Chapel Street, walking distance from Manchester centre, now boasts a vegan menu every Tuesday, with vegan pizzas being offered elsewhere in the week. The Tuesday menu is the brainchild of vegan Sophia Fox, who works at the pub and encouraged her bosses to start themed evenings based on a vegetable.
“My favourite dishes to stand out from these evenings have been the tempura broccoli with plum sauce, the mixed pea porridge, the sugar snap and courgette spring roll, and the salt and pepper tofu,” she says. “Everyone who has tried the food has been so surprised at the taste, vegans and non-vegans. We have weekly non-vegan customers who come in, and a few vegetarians.
“Demand has increased but we want more people to know about what we are doing,” Fox says – and, with the likes of the Northern Vegan Festival on the scene, they surely will.