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Great Yorkshire Vegan Festival 2017 review

Great Yorkshire Vegan Festival 2017 review

| by Alan Lee

A bit of time has passed since I last set foot on Yorkshire soil for the Great Yorkshire Vegan Festival on June 17th 2017, and from sifting through a myriad of thoughts and beautiful memories from the event here’s my little blog post on a gorgeous Saturday spent at this fabulous volunteer-led vegan festival.


I was so grateful to have been invited to cover and review the event by the meticulous and hardworking organiser and passionate animal lover Victoria Bryceson, who continues to tirelessly put on festival after festival in order to promote veganism far and wide and to raise funds for her own animal charity Miracle’s Mission. In brief, Miracle’s Mission was founded in honour of one of Victoria’s 4 rescue dogs Miracle, who had been rescued from the streets of Borneo when only 2 weeks old in sickness and struggling to hold onto life. One of the core aims of Miracle’s Mission is to prevent further similar stories from unfolding, by implementing a neutering and spaying service to prevent further abandoned offsprings from coming into existence. The charity also has its own animal shelter to provide the necessary care for numerous unwanted animals in Borneo to heal and to thrive afterwards.


One of the unique features of this year’s event, which enters its 4th year of existence and has attracted a core following in Yorkshire since its inception, is its move from the Leeds Town Hall to the bigger First Direct Arena to accommodate an ever-increasing fanbase and provide them with an even better visitors experience. Judging by the queues from previous editions, the move into the Arena was a welcome one in my personal opinion, with the vast and spacious Main Hall for stalls providing the space for visitors to move about comfortably and explore their favourite stalls for extended periods with hardly any pushing and shoving needed. Credit again to Victoria for building the event over the years up to such an extent as to necessitate an upgrade in venue. With every new venue there are logistical challenges involved, not least of which were the venue’s extensive list of prohibited items for visitors and the extra bag searches on arrival due to heightened security alert before the event. However, I hope many people will understand the reasons for these policies to be in place and appreciate the new facilities, as well as the additional costs involved in hiring a bigger venue, let alone all the planning and preparation involved in hosting big events such as this.


Time to move onto the highlights of the event of course! Needless to say, the food caterers are amongst the main attractions of almost every vegan festival these days and this one is no different, especially as I saved up space in my stomach beforehand specifically for the vegan buffet on offer at this event. Around 15 or so caterers were lined up against the back of the main hall of stalls and OMG once I got anywhere near them my saliva started flowing ferociously – imagine a child in a candy shop seeing the likes of Chinese stir-fries, “chicken” nuggets, double cheeseburger, seitan rib wraps, seitan “chicken" curry, Mexican nachos, sausage rolls, breads, energy balls, samosas, pies, mango lassis, spiralised courgette pasta, hot dogs, ice cream and much more, all craving to be devoured en masse... and ladies and gentlemen, this is how it feels to be vegan in 2017 – you can just let yourself loose on eating and there’s a vegan version for almost every single one of our traditional animal-based culinary favourites. 


A liberal amount of vegan cakes were in store for every sweet tooth – they were a godsend especially for those who had not been exposed to bakery free from the use of dairy and eggs before. It is delights such as these which had undoubtedly turned many heads to the wonders of veganism and buried the long-standing myths that vegan food is bland, unimaginative and tasteless. Credit to the innovation and dedication shown by a large number of businesses in catering to vegans as well as would-be vegans looking to eat more plant-based options – it’s not completely impossible to be vegan without the vegan meats, cheeses and milks on offer today but one would imagine it’d take a lot more dedication and commitment without these niceties that are readily available nowadays.


There was also a table packed full of free samples of Bute Island Foods’ Sheese brand of vegan cheese, with nachos and crisps for spreading the Sheese onto. Bute Island’s Sheese has come up leaps and bounds over the years ever since its inception with dozens of flavours gracing the shelves of supermarkets such as Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s, with even some of the biggest dairy cheese fans succumbing to the huge variety of vegan cheese on offer. It’s also great to see the company continuing to support grassroots vegan events such as this one with sponsorship and free samples for the public to try out.


Those living in the fast lane and looking for something nutritious on the go had also plenty of superfoods to indulge in. Superfoods are multifunctional and one can use them not only in smoothies but also on raw cakes, salads and they can be sprinkled onto cooked dishes too as an added nutritional boost.


Food and drinks were far from the by all and end all of the festival, though. Those looking for gift ideas for themselves and their special ones were not left disappointed, with the likes of T-shirts, ceramics, tote bags, wildlife photography, lipsticks, nail polishes, body scrubs, vegan candles, home fragrances, perfumes, footwear, clothing, jewellery, soaps, bath bombs and vegan food & lifestyle magazines showing off to thousands of visitors how fun and enjoyable it is to be vegan these days.


After all the eating and shopping, of course there’s plenty of time left for listening in to some of the talks and cookery demos which delved deeper into different subject matters related to veganism. This year at the new venue, there were altogether 6 different enclosed rooms used for these sessions, and from the looks of it they seemed to have been well received with most of them packed out. The multitude of rooms for talks also allowed the event’s educational sessions to diversify into different areas, with separate rooms for talks on health and nutrition, environment, animals, and topics for new vegans and students.


One of Europe’s leading vegan campaign groups Viva! were the special guests of the event as at many other previous vegan festivals. Not only do they continue to travel all across the UK sharing their expertise and experience on all things vegan with an ever-growing audience, they also run a number of successful vegan festivals themselves, in places ranging from Brighton, Bristol and London to the likes of Sheffield, Coventry, Cardiff, Liverpool and Nottingham.

Their FaceOff campaign, which has been running since early 2016, once again demonstrated to the general public what is actually happening to pigs 24/7 in factory farms, as opposed to the happy-clappy images of these animals that the meat industries like to portray to create a mirage of comfort for consumers of meat and other animal products.

Viva! had altogether 3 talks at this event. In particular, the sessions on why one does not need dairy and why politicians and the media continue to advertise heavily on animal products, once again planted numerous seeds in many’s heads on the impact of their dietary choices. Meanwhile, the session on soya seeks to reaffirm soya as a health food according to science rather than fiction, and it will no doubt provide consumers with plenty of confidence given the prevalence of the use of soya in plant-based products these days.


There was also a live music section at the festival which was located just where visitors came in – a good way to draw them in and offer peeps a chance to sit down and eat whilst listening to some easy-going music. Special mentions to Barbara Helen and the Leeds Fiddle Group for some special tunes and melodies capturing my attention on the day.


A thoroughly heartwarming section right by the musicians was a display of love messages written by visitors on sheets of coloured paper, reflecting how much a tightly knit community infused by love and support can achieve in this world of uncertainty.


There was a kids zone with watercolours, board games and craft for the little ones to get busy with too whilst their parents did their shopping and learning – these along with free entry for kids under 16 created a good incentive for whole families to attend.


There’s more space too for energising and fun hula hooping sessions for all. 


I got a bit leg and shoulder weary approaching the halfway point of the event and it was time to indulge in a wee bit of head and shoulder massage. Masseuse Shannen Li from Healing and Wellness came up trumps pressing deep into the tissues with an instant revitalising effect.


An increasing and welcome presence at the Yorkshire Vegan Festivals is the selection of yoga sessions which blended in really nicely with the lovely friendly approach to veganism demonstrated at these events. Visitors can relax and unwind and learn about the spiritual side of veganism as well as enjoying the vegan food treats and learning about the practicalities of the vegan lifestyle under one roof. This year one of the enclosed rooms was dedicated to yoga sessions, giving folks the chance to indulge in plenty of peace and quiet whilst stretching any hardened muscles from their daily routines.


There was also ample time for a light-hearted speed-dating session near the end of the festival, kindly hosted by Victoria’s sister Charlotte who has been connecting many hearts with similar sessions over the past year or so. With everyone in attendance passionate about the vegan cause or very interested in becoming 100% vegan themselves, conversations flew naturally from there onto more personal preferences and it’s not surprising that sessions such as this give people the social support that they need to remain vegan afterwards. As an afterthought, considering that human beings are social creatures, never underestimate the role that community support groups and meetup sessions plays in convincing someone to become vegan or in keeping someone from drifting back into non-veganism. 


All in all, this was a fantastic event, once again run voluntarily out of bags of passion and goodness from the heart, that I’d be more than happy to return next year. And I hope many will feel the same too and continue to support this most excellent grassroots volunteer-led vegan event and help it grow and thrive further into its future years. 


If you haven’t already, make sure to check out the next couple of vegan festivals held in the Leeds Town Hall in support of Miracle’s Mission, namely the Yorkshire Yoga, Health and Wellness Show on September 2nd, and the Leeds Winterfest Ethical Vegan Market on November 26th. And I look forward to hearing more about plans for the Great Yorkshire Vegan Festival in 2018 too :)

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