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Report: London Vegan Festival 2014

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I went to the London Vegan Festival held at Kensington Town Hall on 17th August. I’d never been to Kensington Town Hall so I was surprised to find 70s brick civic centre rather than Victorian mock gothic. It did mean that everything was nicely accessible, but they need to get the air conditioning fixed – the rooms were very hot.

There were three main exhibition rooms with a good showing of the usual Three Cs – Chocolate, Cosmetics and Campaigns. I come at Veg*nism from a food perspective, so the food stalls are all par for the course for me, but I will admit to being a little startled at seeing hunt saboteurs stalls.

Stalls that stood out for me as I shuffled round in the crowds (it was very busy!) were:

Conscious Chocolate, who produce vegan raw chocolate bars. Their Mint Hint bar has a lovely truffle texture with a nice level of mint flavour.

I kept on my personal campaign to find a vegan ‘cheese’ that doesn’t taste of sick. Vegusto had a stall and I have to say their cheese isn’t bad. It tastes of processed cheese, which is a step up on most of the competition I’ve tried. I came away with a tube of their No-Moo Melty. This does go soft when heat is applied and tastes like processed cheese. I wouldn’t rush back to it, but if you’re desperate for something cheesy this might fit the bill.

In addition to the stalls there were talks on various subjects related to veganism and animal rights/welfare. I went along to one given by Paul Gravett on “How Special Branch spied on the Animal Rights Movement”. Paul gave a good talk (mercifully powepoint free!) about his experience of the members of Special Branch who infiltrated the animal rights movement in the 80s and 90s. It was interesting and a little chilling to find out just how plausible these infiltrators were and deep they were in the organisations they were spying on. They weren’t just sitting in meetings and taking notes, they were organising the meetings, running the mailing lists and driving people to demos and actions. As a side note, if you’re running any kind of movement, watch out for helpful men with vans – this was a common factor in several of the infiltrators.

One thing that struck me at the festival was not only how many people attended, I’m sure it must have been over a thousand, but the range of people. All ages, all classes (by the clothing) and all ethnicities. Any idea that veg*nism is a white, middle-class thing can be completely dispelled by standing outside and watching who goes in. This is a far more diverse movement than you might think from press coverage.

Report: Japanese Matsuri Festival

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The Japanese Matsuri festival was held in Trafalgar Square on Saturday 6 October 2012. After a rainy week I was afraid it would be washed out, but although it was cold when I set out, it was a beautiful day when I reached Trafalgar Square.

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I don’t know how many attendees the organisers were expecting, but I should think they’re pleased because it was heaving when I got there.

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The main stage was set up by the base of Nelson’s Column. The food stalls were along each side of the square, with non-food stalls set up in front of the National Gallery.

I went straight for the food stalls.

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There was plenty of sushi, unfortunately, from a veggie perspective, it was nearly all fish-based. I found a stall selling vegetarian sushi and grabbed some.

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I might complain about the number of veggie options on offer, but I can’t complain about the quality of the one I ate. That has to be some of the best sushi I’ve ever had. It was all about the rice, sticky but firm and incredibly fresh.

I also tried some soy doughnuts.

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Sweet, but solid is the best description. Three of them had a sweet, red bean filling which didn’t have much flavour beyond its sweetness.

A much more flavoursome dessert was the Macha Green Tea Ice-cream.

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At first you don’t get much taste beyond the sweet, cold creaminess but as you swallow the tannin of the tea kicks in. It goes much like this: sweet cold cream, sweet cold cream, sweet cold cream, TEA!!!!

I don’t want to think that I exhausted the savoury vegetarian food options with my sushi, but looking at the other stalls, vegetarian food choices were few and far between. The frustrating thing Japanese food is that fish and meat steals into otherwise veggie food, so you can’t assume that the miso soup is vegetarian just because it doesn’t have lumps of fish or meat in it. It was disheartening to smell the most wonderful savoury aromas only to see nothing you could eat when you reached the stall.

The most interesting food I saw there was okonomiyaki pancakes.

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They looked great, but the stall was swamped by customers and it was not the time to ask for a detailed breakdown on what was in the pancakes and the sauces. And as it turns out a typical ingredient is bonito flakes so they would have been off the menu anyway. Grrrr.

I had a great time at the festival despite the veggie options, and the best sushi I’ve eaten counts for a lot. As I was eating my sushi the main stage had performers demonstrating the ‘Radio Taiso’ exercises that all Japanese schoolchildren do every morning. I think I need to start doing them on the train platform while I’m waiting for my train in the morning!

Arvon Food Writing Course

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There’s something about having three weeks’ off that makes you want to organise something to do. When I finally went through the hoops that got me my sabbatical from work, I looked around for something to do in September. I’d booked on an Arvon Foundation writing course before, but had to cancel, so I had a look at what courses they were running in September. The one that caught my eye was a Food Writing course. Now, Sharon and I started this blog in April, so I thought here was a chance to learn how to improve the quality of the blog – particularly the recipes and restaurant reviews. Other than that, I had no real idea about what the course was going to be like.

The atmosphere was very much like a sci-fi convention for foodies. Here was a place where you were surrounded by people who loved food, thought about food, wrote about food and nobody thought you were weird or looked bored when you talked about it.

The writing side of it was much, much more professional than I had imagined. Our tutors were Lulu Grimes (Deputy Editor of olive magazine) and Lindsey Bareham, who has years of experience in writing recipe books and food journalism. They were obviously very serious and dedicated about food writing and expected us to be as well. I certainly felt I was being told kindly, but firmly, to ‘buck my ideas up’! I hope that doesn’t make them sound stern, because they were great fun and frequently had us howling with laughter.

We had lessons on writing recipes, articles and features for magazines and newspapers; writing a synopsis and a pitch for a recipe book; how to make your writing (and recipes) stand out; and the importance of being accurate (this is a form of journalism).

The location for this course was Totleigh Barton, near Sheepwash in Devon. It’s a beautiful, thatched house, with roots going back to before the Domesday Book. It’s set in lovely grounds, surrounded by fields. Idyllic, I think, comes to mind.

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It was almost a cliche of this kind of building. Higgledy-piggedly room layout, stone-flag floors and lots of beams. We ate at a refectory table that’s probably older than a lot of countries in the UN and cooked in an amazing kitchen.

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The staff, Oliver, Claire and Eliza, were extremely friendly and helpful and cooked amazing lunches as well as helping out cooking the evening meal. Speaking of that – it’s up to the residents to cook the evening meal for themselves. We were put into teams and you cooked one night and washed up on another. I wouldn’t say things got competitive, but this was foodies cooking for other foodies, so we were on our mettle shall we say. I have not eaten so well for a long time.

I don’t know if I struck it lucky, but all the residents got on. We ranged in age from 20’s to 60’s, we came from as far apart as Canada and Singapore with wider ranges of life and experience and I can’t think of the slightest hint of an argument. Maybe it was because we all were there because of food. I do want to give a special mention to Wil, who was not only the youngest, but the only man on the course. He survived, I think.

I went on the course to do better at writing the blog. I came away with the ambition to write about food professionally (if not full-time) and with the idea for a cookbook. Eeep!