“New Year, new me” – this captivating idea seizes us every January. This is why it comes as no surprise when more than 115,000 people all over the world decided to start a new life and try vegan for the first month of 2018 supporting the charity Veganuary.
Trend-friendly Londoners promptly followed the buzz, creating a wide range of excellent vegan restaurants, numerous vegan pop-ups, huge vegan markets and organic vegan clothing shops. Forget about boring plain salad; veganism is becoming fashionable and sexy in London. So is vegan the new black?
So often veganism is associated with a tasteless green diet and pale sad faces in our minds – but not in London where it is a top food trend now. Veganuary came to the capital for the fourth time; however, 2018 turned out to be the most successful year around the globe, bringing 168,500 registered participants from 165 countries. Moreover, 62% of the respondents who were non-vegan before said that they are willing to remain vegan after January. What is the reason behind such a rise and why do some people still prefer to remain meat-eaters?
Vegans meet vegans
And so meet Thomas Micklewright, 29, a founder of London Vegan Societies (LVS). He set them up six years ago to tell people about his passion.
There are local groups in South East London and North London. For example, one was set up recently in Islington. Thomas says: “We also do meet-ups like food tastings and some campaigning so in the past we were working with schools and local pubs to encourage them to do meat-free Mondays.” London Vegan Societies are also involved in food promotion on social media and have some active Facebook groups where vegans chat and share local stories.
The LVS leader decided to become a vegan 10 years ago when he was looking into the environmental impact of the food. He explains: “When you’re vegan, you get the energy from vegetables much quicker. I also feel lighter and happier about the fact that I’m not contributing to killing animals.”
«It’s much easier to be vegan now»
Thomas thinks that veganism is going mainstream in London due to the rise in availability and diversity of vegan food like vegan cheeses and milks. “It’s much easier to be vegan now,” he says. “For example, Starbucks and Pret A Manger are doing vegan sandwiches and even McDonald’s is trying to create a vegan burger!”
He also adds: “As we run out of resources on our planet we can’t continue to eat meat in such a big amount like before. With the population rise, we may need to move to a plant-based diet.” This is why Thomas is sure: the vegan revolution is happening now and promising a bright future for veganism.
The numbers cannot be ignored. According to research made by The Vegan Society and Vegan Life magazine, 22% of British vegans live in London which is higher than in any other region.
Vegan food industry is obviously the largest one in London. Christos Theodorou, 22, a waiter at the Shoreditch-based vegan restaurant Redemption, says: “We see a lot of people who like this restaurant. There is a higher demand for this sort of food in our second cafe in Notting Hill, probably because wealthy people want to stay fit and healthy. Here it just happened to be a way of life – and we’re fitting in the picture beautifully.”
Christos has been working at Redemption for two months, but he personally finds its vegan menu exceptional, mentioning various syrups and plant-based sugars.
He went vegan two years ago for health reasons and never doubted his decision. “I’d never go back to eating meat because being vegan changed my life in many ways,” he says. “This journey cleared my conscience. I believe that everybody should go vegan, but you actually need to walk these steps, make sense out of it yourself and understand that this is the better option, this is the future. Once you do it, there’s no way back.”
«This journey cleared my conscience»
Christos realised that some basics that he used to learn in school have changed for him forever. He explains: “We’ve been taught things like a food chain. But were we actually made to eat meat? Yes, we have canines – only two teeth out of 32. We can’t rip into flesh and we can’t consume meat raw because it’s going to make us sick. We don’t have claws and we can’t run as fast as all these animals we’re trying to eat. So there are a lot of signs that say: we shouldn’t really do it.”
The young vegan believes that veganism is a must because a vegan diet is more beneficial for the human body. “Maybe veganism became mainstream because it has been kept away for so long that we’ve literally driven our human bodies into mass destruction,” he says. “We went so far to the edge and we needed something to change – veganism might as well be the start of this change.”
Nevertheless, the revolution took some time. Going green was not a popular choice two years ago and Christos had to look for vegan food himself. He also thinks that nowadays veganism has become largely commercial and this is why sometimes he does not even classify himself as a vegan. He adds: “It’s getting pretty easy for vegans to live in London with so many options available right now, but I still don’t think they are the best in London, except, maybe, Redemption because I do believe in this place.”
Kindness is always fashionable
However, veganism is not just a top food trend as vegan fashion has recently been gaining popularity too. Lucas Windhager, 31, set up his ALIVE Boutique in 2016 when he saw a massive gap in the market and realised that there is no such thing as a vegan fashion shop in London. This is how Lucas created the “aisle” for vegans “combining [his] passions like veganism and profession which is online advertising and e-commerce”.
He reports the highest demand for vegan shoes that are ethically made from the highest quality sustainable materials like PU leather which does not involve the use of animal skin. You can also find a vast range of stylish vegan bags, vegan cosmetics – and even vegan leather watches. However, Lucas admits: “Vegan fashion industry is behind organic food movement and we need something like that in fashion to define the standards about what actually is sustainable.”
Moreover, ALIVE supports Veganuary charity, thus providing its customers the opportunity to donate by purchasing fashion pieces. Lucas says: “It’s not just about food, they also talk about fashion, cosmetics and pollution. It makes you get up in the morning because you’re doing something good for the planet and animals.”
«Today if you don’t live organic, you’re the one who’s not cool!»
Lucas went vegan four years ago and has led a healthier and happier lifestyle since then. He finds veganism fashionable. “It probably helps to have some celebrities on our side,” Lucas laughs. “Just look what’s happening today! If you don’t live organic, you’re the one who’s not cool!”
Lucas thinks that London is a brilliant place for vegans to live as the city “definitely has stepped up in this game in the last two years”. He is also planning to expand his business and get more vegan and ethical brands in his shop. However, Lucas understands that, as the second largest polluting industry in the world, fashion uses many resources in the process. “But people are waking up and the vegan ethical argument is all about asking questions,” says Lucas. “Of course I like fashion, but we still need to ask ourselves how much we need.”
Tastes still differ
However, despite such a rise of veganism this year, some people still prefer to remain meat-eaters. Zhangir Marabayev, 18, is a student who came to London from a predominantly meat consuming country – Kazakhstan. “I can’t imagine living without meat and other products avoided by vegans,” he says. “However, I do respect their willpower because abstaining from all animal related food takes nerves of steel.”
Zhangir thinks that meat is as an essential part of his diet which provides the human body with nutrients for growth and muscle repair. “I’d consider substituting cow milk for almond or rice milk, but I’d be lying if I said that I could give up meat, eggs or proper ice cream!” He also feels that veganism is unnatural for humans who evolved to be omnivores and goes against the natural order in terms of competition for food.
As a psychology student, Zhangir explains the mainstream movement in psychological terms such as conformity and peer pressure. He also refers to social identity theory and the snowball effect: “Vegans have formed their own societies which allow them to socialise within their comfortable in-groups. This creates a snowball effect as more and more people adopt a plant-based diet.”
“I support veganism as an idea to prevent cruelty to animals,” he says, “however, I believe it should be a personal choice.” In his opinion, there should not be such an intense debate between vegans and meat-eaters.
“I believe that veganism should be a personal choice”
Nowadays, being vegan means being on-trend rather than following a monotonous green diet. Vegans in London seem to enjoy all the opportunities that city creates every day: they can have a delicious meal in vegan restaurants, dress with style in vegan fashion boutiques and meet other vegans joining vegan societies. Some people still choose meat, however, this is what truly adds to a great diversity of opinion in London – and there is a huge area for improvement.
Join London Vegan Societies here and meet Thomas here: http://londonvegansocieties.com/
Check out delicious Redemption menu and meet Christos here: https://www.redemptionbar.co.uk/
Buy something ethically beautiful at ALIVE and meet Lucas here: https://www.alive.boutique/