Monday 30 March 2015

Brighton VegFest 2015

Saturday 28th March was a date in my diary that I have been looking forward to for sometime now - Brighton VegFest! After having visited the London VegFest last year and being so impressed by it I was keen to experience the show in other locations so I immediately took advantage of the 'buy one get one free' offer on advanced tickets for Brighton. At only £5 for two people it was a total bargain.

If you didn't already know, VegFest is basically like Christmas day for Vegans!

In my mind I had been picturing a gloriously sunny day and strolling along Brighton seafront taking lots of snaps of me and my husband enjoying the good old British seaside! Also having not visited Brighton for a number of years I was looking forward to mooching the shops after the show and exploring the famous Lanes. In reality it was unfortunately a very different story!.....

As we departed Essex and made our way down to the south coast the weather got progressively worse. Once we reached Brighton after our swift two hour drive it was wet, windy and misty. It stupidly hadn't even entered my head that it might be like this so to add to my woes I was also dressed pretty inappropriately in a light jacket and sandals! As we drove past the VegFest venue, the Brighton Centre, I had been expecting to see a queue of eager vegans securing their spots but there was no one to be seen an hour before opening so we decided to head off for some breakfast at local vegan restaurant VBites (my review of this place will be blogged later this week!).

After refuelling with a fine vegan fry up and OJ we headed back round to the Brighton Centre and could now see that a queue had formed but fortunately we wasn't too far from the entrance. Doors were due to open at 11:00am but at 11:15am we were still frustratingly waiting outside to get in. Let me just again remind you of the weather situation which by this point was getting worse and I really did feel for us and all the other freezing cold people tightly huddled together attempting to block out the bitterly cold wind and rain! There were a lot of moans and grumbles from all around us and unfortunately I could feel myself slipping into a slightly bad mood.... 

Not surprisingly after some journalists had turned up to photograph the lengthy queue of vegans, which by this point now stretched down the road and around the corner, the doors finally opened! 

Once we entered the Brighton Centre I immediately felt a bit lost.....Stalls and stands seemed to be scattered all over the place in all different directions and we really didn't know what way to go or how to tackle this so that we didn't miss out on anything. I was however immediately pleased to see a stall full to the brim with Jason products and we straight away picked ourselves up a gorgeous mango cruelty free and vegan body wash! 

We spent a good couple of hours wondering around the event trying to take everything in, whilst shopping, getting lost and sampling different products. Overall, my experience of this venue wasn't a very good one in comparison to London, but i'll elaborate more on that later! But for now i'll focus on the good points....

A big highlight for me, and I think a lot of other people, was the Ms Cupcake stand and the glorious Queen herself was there in the flesh! So great to see! The choice was ridiculous and we stood trying to decide what to buy for a good 10 minutes. In the end we opted for a huge chocolate chip cookie, a chocolate chip shortbread cookie, a red velvet brownie and a date & granola slice. It all looked so delicious! I'm already a big fan of Ms Cupcakes work, I have her book and recently visited her shop in Brixton so it was great to see them again at VegFest. She is a vegan baking inspiration!

Ms Cupcake also wasn't the only stand offering up some tasty vegan treats either. It was hard to not get carried away and buy one of everything but I knew it probably wasn't a wise idea whilst I am attempting to get myself in shape via Slimming World! So I had to limit down our selection somewhat but there was plenty to choose from..... 

These gorgeous 'Round Up' vegan wagon wheels by Ananda Foods were on my shopping list after having tried them in my Vegan Kind subscription box. They are seriously good! Slightly expensive at £2.50 each but great for an occasional treat.

I was pretty excited by the Ananda Foods stall! All the vegan marshmallows looked amazing so I picked up a bag of the coconut ones which I am yet to try as I am still suffering a bit of a VegFest food hangover! But they looked really good. I have found that vegan marshmallows can be hard to come across at times so its awesome to see Ananda working on this gap in the market. 

Along with all the sweet treats there was also some mouth watering savoury options to get stuck into. Everything and anything from vegan hot dogs, burgers, pies, pasties, pizzas, sushi .... And that's one of the best things about VegFest, it's the perfect opportunity to have a taste of some new foods and brands which you haven't tried before. And of course picking up some bargains along the way! 

One product that caught my eye was this organic pasta by 'Explore Asian Authentic Cuisine' which is purely made from edamame beans and water, making it really high in protein and fibre. We were fortunate enough to be walking past just as they had cooked up a fresh batch so we tried some and really liked it. I couldn't work out if it tasted more like noodles than pasta but either way it was tasty so we took some home with us!

Hoots had a fab offer of 4 bags for £1 on so we naturally picked up 8 bags! I first became aware of them at the London VegFest last year and was hooked. If you haven't tried them before they are a baked multigrain snack which remind me a little bit of breadsticks. The pickled onion flavour is my favourite. They are so damn good! 

The Ombar stand was particularly inviting with all their chocolates on display! I was keen to try out their new vegan chocolate buttons and I am glad I did as they were amazing.

So moving on from things you can eat.....there is actually a lot more to VegFest than just food you know! 

One of my favourite brands Lush were on board representing cruelty free and vegan cosmetics! I had recently picked myself up a few Easter treats from my local Lush shop so, as hard as it was, I needed to drag myself away from buying anything more!

It was great to see Vegan Life at the event selling their magazine for a bargain £1! I had been thinking about signing up for a subscription since buying my first copy last month but I wanted to wait until VegFest as I had heard there would be a good deal on and I was right! I put my name down for a years subscription and was given a free goody bag of treats worth £25! It was well worth the wait. 

As expected there were also a number of animal rights charities and organisations at VegFest promoting their various causes. We signed countless numbers of petitions as we walked about which felt great as each and every one of them was extremely worthwhile and working towards a more compassionate and cruelty free life for my main love in life, animals. 

Animals Asia were present encouraging people to think about their 'No Voice, No Choice' campaign and pledge to no longer watch animals as entertainment. BUAV were leading a campaign to end all animal testing. Animal Aid had a fab stall full of eye catching products. As did Sea Shepherd but by this point I had run out of cash! 

It was just so inspiring to see just so many amazing people all under one roof and all sharing the same common interest. 

I think it's fair to say that I picked myself up a pretty good haul from VegFest! My purse is a little lighter but i'm happy as I have some amazing new products to try out and my cupboards are now restocked full of vegan and cruelty free goodness! 

From scouring social media I have seen that there was also a lot I unfortunately missed out on Saturday like the Vegan stand up comedians and numerous informative nutritional talks by experts. I lightly touched on earlier that my overall experience of Brighton VegFest this weekend wasn't a great one and I guess I need to explain why.... 

I don't want this blog to sound in anyway negative about VegFest as you can probably already tell - I absolutely love VegFest and everything it represents! But at the same time I feel that it's important to be honest and say it how it is. A lot of bloggers these days tend to gush excitedly about everything and anything but in reality sometimes you don't have a great experience and I believe it's definitely worth speaking up when you don't so that hopefully somebody somewhere will be taking note and making improvements. 

In my opinion the Brighton Centre venue was not suitable for an event of this size. Ok it done the job in terms of hosting an event but I really don't think it done it very well. And why do I feel like this? Well mainly because after 2 hours of attempting to navigate myself around I was ready to leave. I didn't have any energy left to find where the talks were taking place or sit and take in some of the films. I felt like I was in a claustrophobic maze and I just needed to get out. 

As a blogger this was extremely frustrating as I do feel as though I left the event having missed out on a number of things. I had been looking forward to seeing all the food stands and sampling some new and exciting vegan products, however as soon as I saw the main food hall I just turned around and walked out as it was so stuffy and packed to the brim of people, most of whom were left with no other choice than to sit on the floor. I definitely didn't have the energy to attempt to navigate around this and even if we had have picked up some lunch there wasn't anywhere to sit and enjoy it anyway! 

I'd also quite like to point out that this was my experience relatively early on in the day and from what i've read on social media it became much more packed after I left. 

VegFest has clearly grown in size which is SO amazing and it's brilliant to see so many vegans and veg curious people at this event. However, I really think the organisers need to take note of this and think about the overall experience for visitors, particularly in Brighton.  I for one would be prepared to pay more for a ticket if it meant that I could actually take the time to enjoy the event fully and not feel so stressed out in the process! 

I travelled a 4 hour round trip to go to VegFest and spent well over £100 in the process whilst I was there which is a testament of how much I look forward to and love this event. I know from talking to others that I am not alone in my feelings about this and I just feel like we all deserve a little bit more back in return!

Being Vegan I know I will certainly be back to VegFest, but probably just the London one until improvements are made elsewhere. This experience hasn't put me off ever going again and despite how I feel I will maintain that VegFest is by far the best vegan and animal rights event I have been to. 

My only concern right now is how many people went this weekend who were veg curious or thinking about going Vegan but were left feeling a little dismayed and flustered by the whole thing!? VegFest is the PERFECT occasion to really promote a Vegan and cruelty free lifestyle to the mass, and it's a huge part of what I try to do on this blog, so I feel slightly let down that this amazing opportunity didn't live up to its full expectations and potential. 

All of that being said I did also read a lot of positive comments online by VegFest first timers who clearly revelled in the occasion. However, as first timers, they didn't have anything else to compare it to so I guess they were pretty happy to just be somewhere that caters so amazingly well for vegans!

I am really hoping that the organisers at VegFest will read this blog post so if you did go this weekend and would like to add to any of my comments above, or share your own experiences, then please comment below.  

For now I'm going to sit back with my nice cuppa and round up and look forward to London's VegFest in October. If you haven't been to a VegFest event before then I can really recommend visiting this one. I had a much better experience in London last year than I did at Brighton this weekend and I am sure it's going to be another fab event. For me the venue of London Olympia is much better suited to an event of this kind. The layout was easy, it was bright and airy, there was a decent amount of seating and I left feeling like I was not only able to see everything I wanted to, but I was also able to enjoy it!


1 comment

  1. Great post! Happy to see these great vegan businesses getting the publicity they deserve! I also had a very frustrating experience at the Brighton Vegfest and this has put me in a bit of a 'vegan business activist' mood (as you may have noticed Sarah)!
    I was there for the talks, especially in the area of vegan PR and activism (I work in the field). However, the relevant lecture halls were impossible to find - and I do mean impossible. People were running around stressed looking for the rooms - I actually witnessed one of the speakers being late for her own talk - this was 10/15 minutes after the start time so I wonder if she made it?! The centre stewards were having a really bad time, as they were the ones faced with a lot of lost customers and were unable to direct them anywhere. There was a serious lack of foresight in using the space (the queue outside was totally unnecessary) and even a few simple acts of consideration, like writing the room numbers on the talk posters(!) would have made a lot of difference. I left after an hour and didn't make it to meet many of the vegan businesses I was interested in on a B2B basis. Pausing at the entrance to make my suggestion about writing room numbers on the talk posters, I came face to face with the organiser himself who was rather rude and said "you should buy a program if you're unable to navigate". Now, this is a big events company making profit from a grass roots movement built on the principles of exchange and kindness. So, it angers me somewhat to see their lack of consideration for customers showing through in this way, when they are profiting from both entrance fees and exhibitor fees.
    Like you, Sarah, I don't believe in negativity - I believe in holding powerful companies to account and in promoting the ones we know to be ethical!
    For this reason I want to HIGHLY recommend the vegan festival at Kensington Town Hall (a non-profit) and the event organisers CALF - they've been running for quite a few years and it would be great to see an event in 2015.


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