Vegfest at the Bristol Harbourside 28-29th May 2011
Following a week of fringe events around Bristol throughout the previous week, the main Vegfest event took place at the historic Harbourside in Bristol during the weekend of 28th and 29th May 2011.
Vegfest is Europe's biggest vegan lifestyle event and allows members of the public who are vegan, vegetarian or just curious about vegetarianism to pop along and sample new products and revisit old favourites as well as watch performers, listen to speakers, see cookery demonstrations and even check out films with an environmental slant.
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Vegfest was previously known for several years as The Vegan Fayre; the organisers however felt this name was too exclusive and cranky; so last year it was rebranded as the Bristol Eco Veggie Fayre and this year is now simply known as Vegfest. I think this works, especially when thought of in conjunction with Vegfest's support of Vegfam, a charity which has been feeding the hungry without animal exploitation for nearly 40 years. Another important change this year was that the daytime admission charge was abolished and only those who wished to watch the well known headline acts in the evening needed to pay. This meant that those who were just curious rather than committed were encouraged to come along, and judging by the amount of people cramming themselves into the main marquee throughout the weekend this has definitely paid off.
So what was in store for the visitors? Food of course, plenty of it with lots of free samples for the willing punters to try. Although all vegan, it doesn't take long to establish that the emphasis was definitely on meat and fish substitutes with plenty of things like burgers and sausages, a fish and chip stall selling mock fish and spam fritters, and even a kebab stand with a huge chunk of fake meat spinning round authentically. For me the most exciting new product was a fake cheese manufactured in Switzerland called Vegusto. Despite being a vegan for over 20 years I've yet to find a manufacturer that can rival the taste and texture of dairy cheese. This is by far the closest yet - the piquant one is fantastic, while the melting one really hit the spot on a pizza - and for added authenticity there was a cheesy aroma as you approached the stand, so I'm sure that when the product launches properly in the UK in July it will be a raging success!
Natural Balance were selling their Nakd raw fruit bars and were doing a roaring trade even though their products are readily available in supermarkets across the land; every time I passed their stall was permanently deluged, while Goodlife Foods showcasing a new (and moreish) vegan range next to the main stage were also a big hit. Naturally at an event like this information stands from the likes of BUAV, Animal Aid, Viva, Sea Shepherd and the Vegan Society were also doing well, while for veggie beer lovers there was a beer tent selling vegan Butcombe Gold Ale and Red Stripe lager.
Those with a sweet tooth were also more than adequately catered for with for example the delicious Moo Free Chocolate Company with "milk" chocolate bars, totally scrummy gelatine free jelly sweets courtesy of Goody Good Stuff and Booja Booja ice cream served from a splitscreen VW Camper by the Splitscreen Ice-cream Company (who else).
Of course vegetarianism is not just about diet and there were also stands selling clothing (Vegan Emporium), toiletries (Lush), Marketing and PR (Excellart), Television (Veggie Vision the UK's first internet based TV station) and green electricity company (Ecotricity) and natural hemp products (Yaoh).
In the campaign tents I listened to a fantastic (and frustratingly sad) deconstruction of Happy Eggs by Justin of Viva, an awe-inspiring film and talk by a couple of members of eco-activists Sea Shepherd and finally Kate Affleck's dissection of the dairy industry and the myths behind it.
Around and about outside I managed to catch a bit of Celestine's on the main stage as well as most of Luminous Frenzy's rocky set, while a few acts on the rolling stage which must rate as one of the smallest stages in the world were also quite interesting if not necessaril that polished.
Unfortunately I couldn't stay for the evening event, but it appears that it has already been reviewed here anyway: http://www.thisisbristol.co.uk/VegFest-stars-roots/story-12142935-detail/story.html
So there you have it. Vegfest is a friendly, cheerful event, not at all preachy and welcoming to everyone and anyone. The organisers put a lot of tremendously hard work into making sure it runs smoothly and pretty much everyone I spoke to was loving it. It's also great to see the people behind the products you buy and the charities you support.