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Sasha Semple tells us why her experience at Bristol’s Vegan Food Festival gave her plenty of food for thought. 

The characteristic scent of sweaty ravers synonymous with Motion were replaced by tantalizing aromas of fragrant chickpea curries and freshly prepared spicy bean burgers at The South West Vegan Festival on Sunday 5th March.

Naively I presumed that each stall would humour the vegan cliché – the ‘quinoa and kale’ stereotype that eclipses Instagram feeds. Yet the reality was an amalgamation of diverse culinary masterminds, each presenting their own unique answer to those who believe that a restricted diet is boring and bland.

It was refreshing to see so many varied cuisines on offer, ranging from Mexican bean chilli topped with a cashew ‘sour cream’ relish to velvety slices of ‘Cheezecake’.

Whilst the event was categorized as a ‘Vegan’ festival, guaranteed to procure interest from fashionable foodies as well as the predictable backlash from vocal Facebook friends, the fair offered more than just that. Many of the companies revolved around dietary restrictions.

‘Gluten-free’ may currently be on the rise owing to the advice of social media health gurus, but for those who are Coeliac, not eating flour often inhibits their enjoyment of baked goods.

being a meat eater didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the festival

It was inspiring to meet stall holders whose passion was apparent in their company ethos. Emily from ‘Bath Farm Girls’ presented her alternative to the typically dry gluten-free flours that dominate the market – quinoa flour.

She let us into her secret: for those on a gluten free diet, try blending quinoa in a Nutribullet as an alternative to flour when baking. The result is an ingredient high in protein that, if the tasters are anything to go by, promises a lavish chocolate brownie.

Chocolate cake to die for!

Similarly, although we questioned his new pursuit of ‘topless tarts’, it was uplifting to hear the background to Clive’s lovingly handmade pies.
Whilst we may still be craving Solkiki’s gourmet chocolate, other stalls left us unconvinced. Unfortunately, ‘Lettices’ cheese and meat alternatives were unsuccessful replacements.

The ‘Smokey Bakon’ spread fell short of the original and ‘Better Fetter’ failed to live up to its name. Our verdict: sacrifice trying to recreate ‘Popperoni’ and focus on the tastes that are unique to a plant based diet.

We must learn to embrace Veganism rather than degrading it to a simple food fad.

The common consensus was that the most enjoyable cuisines were those which embraced the ingredients available to a vegan lifestyle in order to forge new and exciting flavours. In general, being a meat eater didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the festival or provoke a negative response from the majority of the stall holders. We must learn to embrace Veganism rather than degrading it to a simple food fad.

Vegan Burger- don’t tell me your mouth isn’t watering!

However, as with any cause inciting change, it can sometimes seem a little extreme. The questionable ‘make Veganism great again’ slogans plastered on caps as well as the controversial satanic Vegan t-shirts, did less to encourage compassion and more to harbour a cult like atmosphere.

Whilst it is important not to lose sight of the moral principles behind the kaleidoscope of freshly squeezed juices, the uncensored imagery can be construed as excessive. I couldn’t help but question the effectiveness of such shock tactics.

One innovative stall employed the help of VR to further their cause. Each headset forced the viewer to be virtually transported into an abattoir full of piglet carcasses. Such short exposure to the brutality was deeply disturbing. The film room showing equally distressing videos only strengthened my cynicism.

Make veganism great again?

I am not suggesting that we should shelter ourselves from clips of animal brutality: far from it. I believe the ideological principles are often lost under a barrage of avo-toast and acai bowls. Yet there was an element of self-justification arising from those watching the disturbing clips in an attempt, it seemed, to validate their vegan lifestyle.

Despite leaving weighed down by falafel, our wallets were noticeably lighter. For five struggling students it was difficult to financially justify many of the foods we had tried.

Even though ‘Moist’s’ mouth-watering carrot, roasted garlic and smoked paprika hummus did more than satisfy our middle class student cravings, at £3.50 a pot it was unwillingly left behind. That is, until we succumb to temptation at the next Whiteladies Road market.

Not sure about how popular these will be in topshop…

Regrettably we also left the ‘Hug me I’m Vegan’ t-shirts at the festival, but we did acquire a newfound appreciation for the broad range of recipes that are possible on a plant-based diet. The festival definitely encouraged us to lose our inhibitions, experiment more in the kitchen and not dismiss the potential of quinoa.

Keep your eyes peeled for more fantastic food festivals- and if you’re keen write a review for us about your experience. Get involved!

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