Judging by the crowds of people who flocked to VegfestUK London at Olympia this past weekend, interest in vegetarian, vegan, raw, or simply just a less meat-filled lifestyle is at an all-time high.
It was my first time to this particular two-day foodie festival. Vegfest started in Bristol in 2003, set up by entrepreneur Tim Barford, expanded to the veggie mecca of Brighton in 2008, and it’s taken this long to spread its wings to the capital. They’d sold almost 10,000 tickets in advance of the first London event, and there certainly seemed to be a bumper turnout on the Saturday afternoon that I was there.
Individual food stalls and food product vendors obviously featured prominently, along with natural, cruelty-free beauty products and eco-clothing. There was also a huge range of entertainment laid on for show visitors – two cinemas with a good line-up of eco and health conscious films and documentaries (such as Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days), a large cookery demo area with lots of healthy, cheffy things going on, workshop areas, a kids play zone, a main performance stage, plus some live bands playing.
High profile comedians like Dave Spikey and Lucy Porter were there doing comedy hours, as well as some trendy natural food chefs like Chad Sarno (creator of raw restaurant Saf in London), who was giving demos and signing copies of his new co-authored book with Kris Carr (of Crazy, Sexy Cancer fame) entitled Crazy Sexy Kitchen.
There were plenty of other well-known names in the world of healthy living too, such as BBC presenter Janey Lee Grace, nutritionist Christine Bailey and Raw Food Coach, Karen Knowler, to name just a few.
Food sampling frenzy
Aside from this wide array of events put on by Vegfest, it seemed to me that one of the best forms of entertainment going on was the abundance of free food sampling. In fact, there was a frenzy of sampling going on – from vegan cupcakes to flavoured kale chips to nut-free satay sauce and raw chocolate bars.
It was easy to discover the really popular products, as there was usually a huge crowd gathered around a tiny stall, and I couldn’t get anywhere near it!
Nevertheless, I did manage to taste a fair few products during my afternoon there – and what struck me was the huge amount of small, conscious business talent there is out there.
Small companies, many of which have been started from the kitchen table or first launched at local farmers’ market, with products that taste amazing, and are also beautifully designed and packaged (I’m a sucker for gorgeous branding). There’s so much talent out there, and so many of these conscious companies deserve to grow bigger and take a prominent place in the natural food market.
Have you ever tried raw, handmade chocolate? Never? You really must try it. Make that your mission for this year’s Chocolate Week, which happens to be running all next week (October 14-20) with events all over the country.
Raw chocolate – best. thing. ever
But seriously, seek out the raw stuff. Cacao is actually an incredibly healthy and vital ingredient, full of vitamins and minerals, when it’s not broken down and mixed with junk.
Standout tastings at Vegfest for me were Conscious Chocolate. The products are organic, raw and handmade on a farm in Kent, with delectable flavours like Love Potion No 9 with maca and essential oil of rose. Ombar was another lovely raw chocolate product with some delectable flavours like Acai & Blueberry and Cranberry & Mandarin.
Pudology was offering a range of dairy free desserts. The branding was beautiful and the flavours looked good (who could resist the Chocolate Orange pud with chocolate and orange ganache and Brazilian orange oil?) Sadly, all the samples had gone by the time I passed by!
I’d heard about InSpiral’s legendary kale chips (they also do raw cracker snacks and raw cakes) but had never tried their brand. The stand was mobbed with people, but I did manage to sneak a hand in and sample their Raw Purple Corn Kale Chips which tasted truly amazing.
Kale chips are actually really easy to make at home. I sometimes do them in my dehydrator when I can get my hands on some good quality kale, preferably organic. You can do all kinds of wonderful sweet and savoury flavours. In fact, I think I’ll make it the subject of a future blog post on Life and Chai! Feel free to send me your favourite kale chip flavours for some inspiration.
The InSpiral brand started as a venue in 2007, and it’s still there right next to Camden Lock in North London, doing great business it seems. I’ve never been, but it looks like a great place to go for raw food, education and entertainment. There’s a daytime vegan eco café, and regular club nights and events. It’s been on my list of healthy places to visit for a while – maybe I’ll make it there in 2014.
Veggie watering holes
I also picked up a few other leaflets from veggie-vegan places in London. The first was 222 Veggie Vegan restaurant on the North End Road in West London. Actually this has been going since 2004 under vegan chef Ben Asamani – but it had never crossed my radar before. There’s also Nama Foods in Queen’s Park, which is a raw food café that also offers raw food classes and juice cleanses, and runs raw supper clubs. It looks like a fun place to visit, and I love the sound of their raw pistachio ice cream! For other veggie/vegan/raw food dining options, I recently reviewed the new Foodilic in Brighton and Tibits in London here on the blog.
If you’re vegan, or just want to find out more about this way of eating, there’s a brand new vegan magazine on the way, and it’s free to download! It’s launching soon, and you can visit veganfoodmagazine.com to find out more. In the first issue they have an interview with Isa Chandra Moskowitz of the Post Punk Kitchen (I own several of her vegan books) who I think is one of the most original, talented and exciting vegan chefs out there.
Even though I only spent the afternoon at Vegfest (I’d been attending the trade event CAM Expo in the morning as part of my research into natural beauty and food products) I really did get to see a wide range of products and services in a short space of time. I didn’t have time to sample or watch a lot of the interesting looking workshops and food demos, but Vegfest for me was still well worth a visit.
Before the show they were selling 2-for-1 tickets at £10, so with the handing fee, entry only worked out at £6 per adult (and a mere £2 for children under 16) which makes it an amazing value, fun day out for the family – with some great ‘edutainment’ on eco conscious, healthy living. I’ll certainly plan to be feasting again at VegFest next year!
The results of the VegfestUK awards 2013 were announced at the show by Dave Spikey, and you can view them here.
The next National Vegetarian Week in the UK will run from May 19-25, 2014.