So, reader, I went.
To VegFest London, the UK’s largest vegan fair.
And I’m left with mixed feelings.
All in all, it was a positive experience, not least because it was the first time in two years that I have been a dietary majority in a room. And for a whole two and a half hours.
The person I dragged with me was not so lucky, however. I’m sure there were a few other non-vegans lurking incognito in the crowds, but even so, I’m sure he felt outnumbered to say the least.
There’s no doubt that this fair is expanding year on year, both in terms of attendance and trade stands. We almost didn’t get in; the ticket office was shut just after lunchtime because they were so over-subscribed. 500 tickets on the door. Gone. Like hot cakes.
“Be warned,” said the guy who let us in, after some George-style gentle persuasion. “There are a lot of people in there.”
As the doors opened, the body heat and the babble of several hundred people hit you like a tidal wave brandishing a shovel.
I don’t do crowds. Oh dear.
Two and a bit hours was more than enough time spent in what felt like a room way too tiny for purpose. Hence the lack of photos. Sorry.
Clearly, the organisers had underestimated this event’s popularity. And then some.
But at some point leading up to it, they’d have had to have made a decision about which room at Olympia to hire, largely in terms of the number of people wanting trade stands and the number of tickets sold at that point, I would imagine.
As we lined up to buy our tickets to get in, I have never seen a queue quite like it. It just snaked on for eternity.
Equally, there’s something about the offer of free food which turns people into locusts with extremely sharp elbows. And given that most of the stands were offering food of some sort, it was oftentimes like a bun-fight in Revolutionary France, armed only with a cocktail stick for protection.
We went and watched a couple of food demos, purely to enjoy some space at the back of the hall, and for a sit-down (I must be getting old).
So, what did I buy? I bought exactly what I had intended to buy, because I was sure they would be there.
And they were. Tofurky sausages. And Tofurky “turkey” slices.
I’d brought a shopping bag in preparation, and I practically filled it to the brim. As I’ve mentioned in a recent post, these sausages are out of this world. The best vegan sausages ever to be tasted. But they’re only available in one outlet in Warwickshire and the chain of Planet Organics in London. So I had to fill my boots. Well, bag, but you get what I mean.
This brand only came over from the USA last month, and everyone is going nuts over them. They’re vacuum-packed, and they freeze, so, thanks to commandeering a shelf in my neighbour’s spare freezer, I am now fully loaded for the foreseeable.
The nation-wide scarcity of this manna from heaven got me thinking: sure, the main purpose of VegFest is to highlight the vegan lifestyle and to broaden the horizons of long-established vegans, but what about the food supply chain?
I really think these guys could be missing a trick here, particularly on behalf those who had stands there.
So I gave the organisers a call and made a few suggestions. And very helpful they were too. Here’s what I found out:
Q: Would they consider encouraging people to buy tickets in advance, while advertising the fact that there will only be a limited number of tickets available on the door.?
A: They did warn people about this issue on Facebook, although not on the main VegFest website. But people were reluctant to heed the buy-in-advance advice on suspicion that it was a tactic to sell more tickets.
Rest assured, it wasn’t!
Q: Get a larger room, maybe?!?!?
A: Rumour has it that there will be a second room next year, plus an extra 4,000 square metres in the main room).
Q: Why don’t you invite buyers from major supermarket chains to attend, giving them an exclusive 2-hour preview before the hordes (and elbows) descend?
A: Representatives from Waitrose and Sainsburys were in attendance, and even Tweeted about the event. Hurrah!
That last point is a biggie for me; what a difference this would make to those producing the food. Sure, it’s not a trade show, but these guys need all the publicity they can get. And apparently, there aren’t enough vegan food producers in the UK at present to warrant a VegFest trade show specifically.
But more importantly, if buyers from the major chains get an invite next year, it might mean that I don’t have to stockpile a month’s worth of sausages and lug them around London all day.
Better still, I might find something more imaginative in my local supermarket than tofu pieces and vegan mince before too long.
In a word: Utopia.