Celebrating veganism in the Houses of Parliament

Friday, 26 January, 2018

Last week I visited the Houses of Parliament for the very first time. I spent a lot of time marveling at the architecture, contemplating the history that seemed to seep out of every brick and being on constant alert in case our prime minister happened to waltz past me in the cafeteria. But I wasn’t there to figure out how Theresa May takes her coffee, or to take selfies in front of Big Ben. I was there to talk to parliamentarians about vegan issues.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Vegetarianism and Veganism (or Veg APPG if you’re short on time) is a forum for stakeholders and parliamentarians to discuss issues relating to veganism and vegetarianism. The issues range from the environmental impact of livestock farming to institutional catering provisions for vegans. The Veg APPG is funded byand V for Life. As a fairly recent addition to the Vegan Society team, I was honoured to be asked to attend the first Veg APPG event of 2018.

This specific event was held as a celebration of the growth of veganism and that theme certainly seemed fitting after such a high profile year in 2017. Attendees milled around stalls highlighting the growth and accessibility of vegan products, and came over to hear about the campaigns and projects that we’ve been working on. As they snapped up freebies from the likes of Original Source and Bean and Pod, nibbled on pasties from Fry’s Family Food and washed it down with quirky cans of beer from Magic Rock Brewing Company, I reflected on the fact that to the attendees (many of whom were not vegan), none of these products were strange. They didn’t pick them up tentatively, slowly reading the ingredients of these alien vegan products to see if they were safe for consumption. They grabbed them enthusiastically, with obvious familiarity and nothing else but a little bit of smugness about bagging some cool freebies. Apparently the headlines are true; 2017 really was the year when vegan went mainstream.

The Chair of the Veg APPG, Christina Rees MP, kicked off the event with a moving story about her own vegan journey. As Christina spoke about the difficulty she used to have in sourcing plant based milks in her tiny Welsh town (she joinedso she could get soya milk delivered to her) you couldn’t help but note just how far we’ve come in such a short period. I personally felt a great deal of gratitude towards long-term vegans like Christina, who have had to battle to be recognised and catered for, paving the way for newer vegans like myself to wander into my local corner shop and choose from coconut, almond or soya milk.

It makes you wonder; how many people have been swayed to take the vegan leap thanks to the accessibility of vegan products? The Vegan Trademark can be spotted on thousands of mainstream brands and restaurants are releasing vegan products left, right and centre. Would we have seen such a huge surge in the interest in veganism if vegan products hadn’t gained such visibility?

As I pondered this, special guest Peter Egan took to the stage and told us how like so many, he was driven to go vegan after watching Earthlings and now describes being vegan as a “lifestyle choice that connects my head and my heart”.

Peter also spoke about the incredible innovations that are happening in the vegan food industry and the changing perceptions of vegans (goodbye dated stereotypes!). It certainly wasn’t a stretch for Peter to find things to celebrate and this sentiment was echoed by the other notable guests there on the day, including the Veg APPG officers; Kerry McCarthy MP, Baroness Jenny Jones and Darren Jones MP.

Of course we didn’t just stand around eating delicious vegan food (thanks Vantra) while patting ourselves on the back. There was a general understanding that while it feels like we’re on the cusp of a colossal turning point, it isn’t going to happen by itself and we need to continue to drive this change from all ends; encouraging policy changes, driving consumer awareness and challenging big businesses.  But the individual conversations I had on the day with the vegan-curious, long-term vegetarians, trying-but-failing to be vegans, and even with the determined meat eaters, were all encouraging in some way. I didn’t feel as though I had to ‘sell’ veganism at all, the attendees seemed interested and receptive to the vegan message, with some even signing up then and there to our 30-day Vegan Pledge.

With so much positivity and celebration flowing around, it was enough to inspire me to want to do more. It feels like we’re so close to a truly radical shift and I left determined to do my part in getting us there.

By Danielle Saunders

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