It’s not long ago that anyone describing themselves as vegan would be met with a raised eyebrow, if not downright suspicion.
How could you trust someone who wouldn’t eat a bacon sandwich? Veganism was once seen as the preserve of hardcore animal rights activists.
But with growing awareness of sustainable food practices and the ethics of mass farming – not to mention the huge improvements in the range and quality of vegan-friendly products available – it is now positively mainstream.
In 2016 The Vegan Society along with Vegan Life magazine commissioned research by Ipsos MORI, which drew them to conclude there are more than half-a-million vegans in the UK. The last time a similar survey was conducted a decade ago, the number was about 150,000.
Later this month, on Saturday, February 25, Portsmouth Guildhall is hosting Portsmouth Vegan Festival, where there are expected to be more than 100 stalls offering a staggering array of cooked and raw foods, pies, cakes, chocolates, sandwiches and salads, beauty and skincare products and much more.
Victoria Bryceson (pictured, right) founded Vegan Events UK three years ago with an event in Leeds and is now putting on 30 across the UK this year, including the one in Portsmouth. The 31-year-old decided at the age of nine that she wanted to be a vegan.
I didn’t feel I had any right to eat anything I couldn’t kill myself. There’s also good reasons from an environmental perspective, a health perspective and a farming perspectiveKelly Kemp, co-owner of Wild Thyme
‘My parents were completely fine with it because they thought it was just a phase. As time went on they realised it wasn’t a phase, but by this stage they were used to it anyway, and I think now they’re quite proud of it.’
While this is not the first vegan event in Portsmouth, it is the first Victoria has put on.
‘I’m really excited about it. I want to make it an annual event if it works, and build up interest in the area’
And she thinks veganism’s growing appeal is simply down to growing awareness.
‘Even a few years ago if I met another vegan it was quite a surprise, but now it’s pretty normal. And it seems now everybody knows somebody who’s vegan.
‘I think it’s grown so much because there’s awareness of animal welfare issues. But I think the bigger thing has been the health aspect of it, people are cutting down on meat and dairy because there’s been a lot in the media about how it’s unhealthy to eat too much meat and dairy.
‘A few years ago you’d go in the supermarket and there’d be one vegetarian option, now it’s a full section.
‘When it started to grow I think a lot of people did dismiss it as a fad, but it’s obviously not because it’s continued to grow and get more and more established.
‘I think it’s here to stay.’
In Portsmouth, vegan-friendly businesses have taken a hold too. Food wholesaler and juicebar Wild Thyme in Palmerston Road, Southsea, runs as a co-operative and veganism is central to its ethos.
Co-owner Kelly Kemp says: ‘The founding principle wasn’t necessarily about veganism – it was wholefood, and it’s from that that we have agreed a policy of veganism. We support Fair Trade and follow sustainable and ethical practices – veganism is just one branch of many things here.’
The instore juicebar has smoothies with names like Mean Green, Heart Beet and Purple Power, while on the food side they offer tikka with quinoa, minted pea and spinach soup, plus a number of cakes.
‘We change our menu daily,’ explains Kelly, ‘that’s part of our ethos of using what’s available.’
Kelly says she’s a vegan because ‘I didn’t feel I had any right to eat anything I couldn’t kill myself. There’s also good reasons from an environmental perspective, a health perspective and a farming perspective.’
The store also hosts vegan burger nights and a brunch club, which have proved popular.
The next thing Kelly would like to see is a dedicated vegan restaurant in the city.
‘There are places now that do some amazing vegan food, but people definitely want somewhere to go for dinner. There’s definitely a place for something like that in Southsea.’
Lianne Hickman runs Deep Roots yoga alongside her role as a co-owner at Wild Thyme. She had previously worked in the kitchen area of a coffee shop.
‘I needed a change but I wanted to do something in line with my aims. I couldn’t have gone back to somewhere that I had to put on a mask, and here I can do that, I can work with people who have similar beliefs to me.
‘If someone asks me why I’m a vegan, I’m happy to explain, but it’s not what defines me. It happened really naturally for me. I dropped wheat and dairy for health reasons and that led me to learn so much more about food. The more I learned, the less I could go back.’