As I’m writing this, I’m sat watching an episode of ‘Friends with Better Lives’: a new and truly terrible American sitcom about a group of 30-somethings, complete with canned laughter, forced jokes, and overly caricatured personalities. There’s one guy on the show that’s caught my attention (though not for the right reasons). Named Lowell, he’s Australian, not part of the ‘gang’, but engaged to one of the younger, more impressionable women who has yet to find her ‘thing’. Lowell owns a health food restaurant called ‘Namaste’, and is penned as one of those ‘free-spirited’, ‘yoga-loving’, ‘seed-eating’ animal activist weirdos that everyone humours but no one takes seriously. The gang react in various ways around him, but there’s particular focus on his fiancé, who in one of the early episodes continues to eat meat behind his back in an almost sexual manner because she can’t stand the limited diet she thinks he’s forcing on her, and believes he would no longer love her if he found out she doesn’t quite share the same values. The only reason I mention any of this is because I think Lowell represents the kind of caricature that most people have of vegans. Vegan Life Live, a huge two-day show held at Alexandra Palace in London this last weekend (7th and 8th January 2017) went some way to challenging those misconceptions.
The event brought together thousands of vegan veterans as well as those who wanted to find out more about the life-style, alongside hundreds of traders, food retailers, chefs, bloggers, and speakers. Whilst it housed its fair share of obscure nut butters, nutrient powders, and a whole host of products intended for ‘wellness’ from water to toothpaste, most promising was that the image of the stick-thin, tree-hugging, seed-eating vegan was almost non-existent. From young families to pensioners, it was incredibly heartening to see so many people, motivators, stories, body types, in one room.
There were hundreds of products on offer- think bamboo pillows to cruelty free jewellery-and vegan alternatives for just about every animal-based food-stuff on the market. Those that had the best impact, I think, were companies that had produced an alternative to things that everyone loves but that aren’t readily available in shops, or those that had perfected a recipe beyond those that can be bought across the country: cheeses, chocolates, fruit and nut bars, meat alternatives, there was almost too much to choose from! Most of all, though, I think it further proves that there’s more to vegan life than obscure seeds, picture-perfect food, and unobtainable body standards. It’s about finding a way to consume what we need (rather than what we think we want) without harming our home or the animals that have just as much right to share it with us!
Below are my highlights and top product picks:
We tried *a lot* of chocolate. And I mean a lot. After about an hour of wandering, I think I must have eaten the equivalent of a large bar in samples. It’s so pleasing to see so many dairy free alternatives on offer. There was one company that stuck out for me, though: Conscious, Organic raw chocolate.
After tasting basically every flavour (I think there were about 12!) they stuck in my head walking round the rest of the show, so I had to go back and buy a load! The alcohol varieties were honestly something else. These didn’t just provide an alternative to high-street chocolate, they offered a better, more luxurious treat, that is kinder to your insides and the environment.
In recent years, whole-food snack bars have become increasingly popular. At least a few varieties are now available in most UK supermarkets, with even more in health-food shops. Again, there were *a lot* of these available at Vegan Life Live. I tried most of them. They varied in taste and texture, from obviously healthy to deceivingly naughty (but still good for you!) My absolute favourites were Good. Full Stop.
Again I tried them reasonably early in the day, and I couldn’t get them out of my head as I walked around the rest of the show, so I went back and bought *a lot*. They had so many flavours from mint to coffee with everything in between, and the taste and texture is as good as a bar of chocolate. They’re made from 100% whole foods like dates and cashews, flavoured with dairy free dark chocolate (and there are chunks in most of the bars too!), low in calories and high in nutrients. They’re definitely better than most on the market, and available on the high street in Holland and Barrett.
Vegan Baileys! I don’t need to say much more, do I? A small company have developed this vegan alternative to Baileys (hallelujah!) with Brandy and Horchata. It has less sugar than Baileys, keeps longer, doesn’t split in black coffee, won’t curdle, and tastes *exactly* the same. Wait no. It tastes better. Besos de Oro: Kisses of Gold.
These donuts from Peanut Butter Bakery were phenomenal. I had a peanut butter pretzel donut, and it tasted as good as it looked.
Most importantly, however, it wasn’t lacking anything. I am quite confident that I could have given this donut to any non-vegan without telling them it was dairy- and egg-free, and they wouldn’t have questioned it. That’s what veganism is all about: finding cruelty-free alternatives that don’t take away from anyone’s experience. If you can make such deliciousness without harming animals, using dairy or eggs, then why wouldn’t you?
To give you another idea of what’s possible in vegan desserts: Elspeth’s Kitchen were serving up these tortes and other incredible sweet things. Again, if you can make these without dairy or eggs, why ever use them again?!
This event is the future of veganism: it shows how easy and accessible it is to be vegan, and how it really is for everyone, not just for the picture perfect people you see in magazines.