I arrived at Olympia around two, and at first sight my worst fears seemed to be realised – long queues of people, many wearing t shirts with vegan slogans, at a food stall selling meals out of mock meat. I had my own lunch with me, and it looked a lot nicer than most of the stuff other people were eating.
Looking at the list of exhibitors I was surprised to see a number of animal charities including Cats’ Protection and Mayhew, and very pleased to see Veggie Pets were there. Ever since I visited Edgar’s Mission in Australia last year I have been keen to find out how possible it is to feed a cat a healthy vegetarian diet. It turns out that taurine, something cats need to be well is now made synthetically and that meat and fish based cat foods use this man made product.
The stall had lots of products for dogs, not so many for cats. Just two types of biscuit. I bought samples for MasterB to try, knowing I would be back again on Sunday and could get a big bag if he liked them. It seems I can buy tinned food online. Well how about that?
The woman at Cats’ Protection said she’d been coming for years and how good it was to see how popular the whole thing has become. She was less enthusiastic about her next gig which is a half term special for children. At the Mayhew stall I was about to buy an emery board in the shape of a dachshund for my neighbour Cynthia who has a dachshund called Charli, when I looked on the back and saw it was made in China. I am not convinced about the Chinese Tiger, it may well be built on the back of exploitation; political prisoners and others working in slave conditions, so my neighbour received jam made at the organic farm in Reach instead.
As well as animal charities and food there were also stands selling ethical products. Body Shop was there, perhaps not terribly busy, but who hasn’t heard of Body Shop? I have any number of their products and shop there regularly. The stuff made from cork wowed me. Now I don’t need bags or purses right now (and if I’m honest probably not for a decade or two) but when I do, cork will be what I look for. There were even cork umbrellas; ridiculously light and horribly expensive even if you are not someone who loses umbrellas easily as I do. There were cork cushion covers too. What’s not to love as my neighbour Carol likes to say.
I was getting tired, I was getting hot and dehydrated. Time to leave, which I did once I eventually found the exit. I reckoned it would be a good move to get there shortly after it opened on Sunday, and I was right. Fewer people, a chance to talk to stall holders, a chance to try some of the ersatz cheese. As you may remember I am sceptical on several levels. I don’t eat meat because I don’t like it. Nothing about meat appeals to me; you might as well suggest I eat a member of my family. I find the taste, texture and the premise repulsive. Cheese is a different matter. I love cheese. Unfortunately cheese does not love me and I get a blocked nose and start sniffing almost immediately when I eat it. At one stall they were handing out samples of vegan cheese on toast. It was delicious. I tried all the samples they on offer and found most very oily, but invested in the cheese they had toasted, a vegan feta and a vegan red Leicester which all tasted good. Later I bought some tofu products which were sort of in the cheese spectrum, but delicious in a non fake cheese way. I was on a roll.
There was a stall selling sauces. It included mayonnaise. I’ve been using a dressing from tahini I bought from the Kurdish shop. It’s ok but rather vinegary, reminds me of salad dressing a bit. A shame as I love tahini. I had a chat with the woman at the stall. I wanted to know if this product mimicked mayonnaise. Not really, she said. It has the same sort of consistency, but a different taste. We call it mayonnaise so people know it’s good with salads. Sold.
I picked up cards from the Veganuary stall to leave in restaurants thanking them for providing vegan food; talked to a vegan woman in the Green Party about eggs from hens which are kept from pets and not slaughtered when they lay fewer eggs; ate fabulous samples of ethically produced chocolate; bought a bag of vegan cat biscuits. Because yes, MasterB, after an initial refusal has embraced his vegan side and gobbled up the biscuits. Hurrah.
What else did I buy? Well nothing really, just lunch. And that was a delicious curry. I was patronised by a smallholder who when I said I disliked mock meat told me it was often a problem for people who had just turned vegetarian. I told her I had been vegetarian for fifty years. And yes, it’s true. She looked slightly shocked and stared at me as though I were a dinosaur, which in veggie terms I suppose I am.
I did have a good time. It did make me think. And the thinking hasn’t stopped. Tonight I was at the theatre. Beforehand we went for a meal. I chose the vegan option. It had fake mozzarella. And you know what? My nose stayed unblocked. If I’d brought one of the Veganuary cards I’d have left it on the table.