We need to talk about vegans. The hemp-wearing, dreadlocked cliches of yore? Forget them. There's a new band of bright young things changing the face of a divisive movement, and what it means to be vegan in 2015
How does something long-associated with activism, eccentrics and the occasional eye roll make its way into mainstream diets? It starts, like a lot of things these days, with kale. More specifically, the KALE sweatshirt alumni clogging Instagram feeds with all things #wellness.
For many, this is a welcome shift from The Dirty Food Parade – invading eateries everywhere from Shoreditch to Southport – and offers a healthier option for those en route to self-improvement. What began with an aversion to gluten has morphed into an aversion to sugar, then meat, and finally dairy, until voila: we’re in full vegan territory.
International cuisine has played a major role, too. The influx of Nordic and Korean food – both heavy on vegetables and vegan mainstay tofu – and the influence of chefs like Ottolenghi have resulted in a more engaged, captive audience, ready to open their hearts (and mouths) to a different way of eating. Then there're the entrepreneurial types. Frustrated with the lack of vegan options on offer, brands and startups are dreaming up some of the most innovative foodstuffs since Micro Chips. Cheese, ice cream, and even pulled pork are no longer reserved for the chosen few and are available at the click of a mouse.
Vegan food in Manchester and Liverpool
Where the magic's really happening, though, is here in the Northwest. Unsurprising really, given its major vegetarian and vegan credentials. The Vegetarian Society was founded here in 1847, and Donald Watson, the man behind the Vegan Society, spent most of his life in Cumbria. Local institutions like Eighth Day Café, Unicorn and Earth have been serving vegan mouths for decades, but it’s the slew of newer spots that reflects just how quickly the movement is on the rise.
Cowherds Cafe, the health-food wagon on Salford’s Greengate Square, is a welcome addition to the street-food scene, while Bistro 1847 proves that veganism and fine dining can easily go hand-in-hand.
Keen to show that modern vegan food isn’t all about clean living, places like Manchester’s V Revolution and Liverpool’s The Old Hardware Shop offer up veganised versions of junk-food favourites; from fake bacon to dairy-free milkshakes. You only need to glance at the lineup of this year’s Giant Northern Vegan Festival to see the scale and variety of vegan food today.
It’s not just these specialty joints taking veganism to new heights. Some of the region’s most popular eateries have seen the light, too. The likes of Common, Trove and Soup Kitchen in Manchester, Il Forno in Liverpool and Bundobust in Leeds are all local favourites offering up vegan options like it’s no big deal.
Vegan Supper Club
Creating delicious food that’s accessible to all is something food blogger Ava Szajna-Hopgood, aka Guacandroll, has been championing too. Her 'zine, Cooking Vegan for People Who Don't (stocked in Soup Kitchen and compiled with creative collective Generic Greeting), was designed to convince non-converts just how damn easy and tasty a vegan diet can be.
The writer also decided to launch Good + Full, the supper club she set up with fellow vegan food fan Jenny Oakenfull, in Manchester rather than her native London. “People in Manchester are so much more receptive to vegan food,” she says. “In London, it’s very much a part of an elite lifestyle, reserved for the wellness crowd.” A food movement that started here instead of London or New York? I'd say that's something well worth celebrating.