The Vegan Nomad: Vegan Towns
"In the beginning there was Brighton", proclaimed the elder vegan, shaking his dreads and gazing towards the horizon.
"Ah, Brighton!" sighed the other vegans, moodily examining their hummus.
"What is this Bry-Ton?", asked the Vegan Nomad, "for I am new to these shores and know not yet many places."
"Brighton", declared the elder, "is a town where vegans may walk without fear of ridicule."
"Where every coffee bar has non-dairy milk!" exclaimed the girl with many piercings, "where many a place has vegan options..."
"And not just 'Roasted Vegetables'", added the vegan with 'Hunt Sab' proudly displayed upon her t-shirt.
"Where cakes are not just oaty flapjacks" said the tattooed vegan excitedly.
"But surely, you jest with me", the Nomad Vegan asked warily. "For the town wherein I stay knows not what is a vegan. Why, only this past day did I ask "is this cake vegan?" and the waitress did reply "yes", whereupon I further asked "does it contain the egg or the milk?" to which she similarly said "yes, it's vegan." And, in great sorrow, I left."
"That would not happen in Brighton!" chorused the vegans together.
And so the Vegan Nomad there immediately declared his intention to visit this magical place they spoke of, climbed on his trusty steed, waved his farewells and cried "away, Giant, away!"
But, as Giant was a cycle, not a horse, his exit was rather less dramatic than he hoped.
Ye olde speech aside, this meeting does fairly reflect a conversation I had with a group of vegans in London, which at that time was still pretty much a vegan wasteland. (Apart from one upmarket place and another where you mostly ate standing because of the crowds.) And my first house-sit was in Brighton where I looked after twelve cats ranging from completely feral to completely housebound. And I did find it to be a magical place with that most precious of vegan things - choice! I mean, there was an almost vegan supermarket for goodness' sake. (Infinity Foods - still the best I have found.)
However, back to ye olden times...
"Where are ye next bound, Vegan Nomad?"
"To Nor-wich amongst the Nor-folk", I replied.
"You mean Norrich in Nawfek."
"I go where I am called."
"Ye'll not find many vegans there. For Nawfek is the only place stand-up comics still feel free to make fun out of... and vegans, of course."
But, contrary to all the gloomy warnings, the Vegan Nomad found Norwich to be that most wonderful of places... A Vegan Town! But what makes a vegan town? And why do some towns become such and others not? Brighton has for a long time been an "alternative" place and has still the only constituency returning a Green Party MP. But Norwich - birthplace of that arch Daily Mail man, Alan Partridge? Why should Norwich be a Vegan Town? Vegans have been starved of choice for so long that, when they are presented with it, they are very loyal to the place that offers it to them. When one establishment is shown to be profitable it encourages others to try too; from the "Pop Up Cupcake Stall" to an established deli to a full restaurant. Success breeds success. (I thought that a large student population might be an instigating factor but, for example, Oxford is a terrible town for vegans; although a new place has opened recently: Happy Friday Kitchen on the Cowley Road.)
Whatever the deciding factors are, Norwich is very much a "Vegan Town". It has the only "Tofurei" in the UK, which makes its own soysages, soy milk and the most delicious cakes too! In the market there is a vegan cake stall and a vegan diner (called "The Vegan Diner") and Norwich is the home of "One Planet" vegan pizza, whose products can now be found in many delis. As towns become more vegan friendly other establishments up their game too and start providing proper vegan choices. (This has now spread to major restaurant chains. Even McDonalds's now offers a vegan burger in Sweden and Finland, but personally I find the idea of eating in a place that is responsible for so much animal suffering, sickening.)
Until Veganism went mainstream, many vegans were seen as being "alternative" with whatever baggage that word carries, and would actively seek out and explore new places for vegan options. Two towns that have noticed this and used it as a marketing tool are Hastings and Sheffield. At the Tourist Information centre in Hastings you can pick up a pamphlet called "Vegan Hastings", which is very useful and helps expand a local clientele. (I recommend "1066 Cakes".) Sheffield now advertises its "Vegan Quarter". When I started being a Nomad, the North really was a bleak place for vegans, but it is now often more adventurous than the South. Sheffield's Vegan Quarter is centred on a stretch of the Chesterfield/Abbeydale roads and has two restaurants, an excellent deli, a cocktail bar, a dogs-n-burger diner and the incomparable "Steel City Cakes". So popular have vegan choices become that now all their cakes are vegan: they present a droolingly wide choice too, so I recommend you ask for a sample selection.
Next time I shall visit our Celtic cousins and see what strides vegans have made in Ireland, Scotland and Wales.