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The Rise of Veganism and Vegetarianism

Sol Wilkinson marvels at the militant millennials who are turning Bristol vegan…

For the average Brit awakening from cryogenic sleep, the country must appear to have gone completely insane. There’s Brexit; a crumbling government; soaring temperatures exceeding those of Spain; Old Market’s becoming a nice place for a walk; and, on top of all this, people are giving up meat in favour of plants. Of course, the latter is an exaggerated generalisation but the Vegan society did confirm that Britain’s vegan population had risen from 150,000 in 2006 to over 542,000 in 2016 – an astounding 350% increase – and since these stats, the UK’s number of plant-based lifestyles has continued to grow like a big, beautiful aubergine. Additionally, the majority of these recent converts are young people, under the age of 34, and in 2018, Kellogg’s vegan poll highlighted that over half of all 16-24 year olds had at least tried a plant-based diet in the previous 12 months.

So what’s to account for this surge in herbivorous millennials? Whilst many lifestyle trends play the hare of the race, quickly seized up and squeezed dry for profit by marketing directors, vegetarianism and veganism have played the tortoise. Being a vegetarian since birth and occasional vegan, I can clarify that the journey from Sosmix and lentil soups to Pizza Hut’s vegan menu has been sluggish and laboured. I endured a childhood of being the only weird, pale veggie kid in my school, the mid-summer barbeques where my friend’s drunk dad would wave a greasy sausage in my face, ‘Just have a bite! No one’s gonna die if you eat a bit of MEAT!’, and eye-rolls from nearly everyone when asked to accommodate for my diet. It was an irritating culinary protest that eventually became accepted and has now reached an accelerating take-off in popularity.

Arguably, this is rooted in its sincere, progressive ethics that cannot be brushed off as a social fad. The plant-based diet has more in common with feminism and civil rights than it does with clean eating and spiralisers. It is a political expression railing against the prejudice and barbaric injustices inflicted upon animals. It seems only logical that in an age of #MeToo, Wokeness and LGBTQ, veganism would also stand with these cultural monoliths against the systematic persecution of minority groups.

And what of the backlash? The innovative work of Russian philosopher Sveltana Boym argues that ‘nostalgia has historically coincided with revolution’; the notion being that in times of imminent, seemingly subconscious social advancement, culture retreats into its shell, gazes longingly back to the past. The suggestion here is that we are either culturally or biologically frightened of change, or at least incapable of fully coping with change as it plays out in the present. This could explain why Donald Trump and MAGA exist, as well as the heights of the UKIP sentiment. It explains why confused young white males, who would have identified as hardcore liberals only a decade ago, are now manifesting their frustrated angst in the backwards politics of the alt-right. It also explains the technophobic resurgence of sales in vinyl and vintage clothes. But what does it have to do with veganism? I would argue that the ‘rare meat’ craze, which occurred in the early 2010s - hipsters feasting on the likes of kangaroos, zebras and crocodiles - harkened back to the decadent dining of exotic animals during the era of Colonial expansion a.k.a., the good ol’ days. The hope lies in the statistics that this is predominantly a practice of the youth, and not just the counter-culture either. Generally, humans feel more comfortable doing something if everybody else is already doing it, and this is maybe the simplest explanation for plant-based prevalence in the mainstream.

As well as this, the distribution of family-friendly animal rights documentaries through wide-reaching streaming platforms like Netflix, such as the immensely popular Cowspiracy, has helped ease the concept into our everyday lives. The aforementioned film has also contributed to a new factor driving the vegan switch: environmentalism.

‘The only ways you can effectively reduce your carbon footprint are to go vegan, stop driving to work and stop taking foreign holidays!’, my dad would angrily lecture his millennial co-workers, glaring at them, stood in his cycling shorts.
‘But I use energy-saving light bulbs’, one of the students feebly retorted.

I’ve been lucky to grow up as a vegetarian in Bristol. A pseudo-bohemian, artsy and anti-corporate vibe has always lingered in the city’s air - along with the smell of weed – that runs concurrent with this Jungian mass consciousness of left-leaning politics. Logically, this has led to it becoming the Petri dish of thriving veggie and vegan eateries that you can explore today.

Café Kino
108 Stokes Croft, BS1 3RU · Tel: 924 9200 · www.cafekino.coop

Reigns as the seminal Bristolian vegan café and for good reason. Always the most significant torch carrier of plant-based cuisine in Bristol, Kino materialises in my earliest memories of eating-out for vegan food. It used to be a cosy little living-room space on Nine Tree Hill where you could chat to the chef as they whipped you up a chickpea curry. It’s now the giant café-cum-community space at 108 Stokes Croft, permanently bustling and with more MacBooks on its tables than the Apple store. The all-vegan menu includes breakfasts, burgers, salads, soup, cakes, snacks and the most excellent Kino chips.

VX: Vegan Junk Food
123 East Street, BS3 4ER · Tel: 329 1610 · www.vxbristol.com

Vegans are often associated with frailty, clear skin and immaculate bowel movements. VX in Bedminster, a modern pioneer of vegan cuisine, provides the antithesis to this stereotype. Originating in London, VX came to Bristol with a plant-based artillery ranging from hotdogs and burritos to patisserie and milkshakes. I could only have imagined indulging in all these greasy, saturated meals as a kid. Truly revolutionary. And it’s all incredibly ‘aesthetic’ too, performing well for the Instagram generation. Don’t forget to check out the grocery and Secret Society of Vegan merchandise sections.

Pepenero
15, King St, Avon, Bristol BS1 4EF · Tel: 926 8057 · pepenero.co.uk

This family-owned pizzeria originally made a name for itself with its delicious range of vegan pizzas. For on-the-edge vegans, it can’t be stressed enough that Pepenero’s pizzas are the closest a vegan can get to the real deal, without sacrificing your moral ascendancy. They also serve a fantastic range of vegetarian pizzas, as well as authentic Italian starters and deserts, all prepared with the finest family recipes and organic ingredients. They recently relocated to one of King Street’s underground grottos, sharing a space with one of Bristol’s best craft beer spots, The Beer Emporium. Offering 32 beers on tap, numerous bottles and spirits, the pub is a must visit for beer geeks, who will get on with the staff of alcohol scholars and the ocean of obscure brews to explore.

Eat Your Greens
156 Wells Road, Totterdown, Bristol BS4 2AG · Tel: 239 8704

Sweet and breezy café that boasts an all vegan menu, evidencing the utter honesty in their humorously passive aggressive name. Renowned for their ‘Beasty Breakfast’, a vegan full-English that may sway devout meat-eaters to the herbivorous path.

Koocha Mezze Bar
10 Zetland Road, Bristol, BS6 7AD · Tel: 924 1301 · www.koochamezzebar.com/

Bringing the meat-centric flavours of Persia to a vegan audience, Koocha is a family-operated mezze and cocktail bar. Exhibits a chilled-out vibe whilst maintaining the amiable vibrancy that makes it ideal for a tipsy night-out with your plant-based buddies.

Miscellaneous

Luc’s/Xing Wang
21 Midland Road, Bristol, BS2 0JT · Tel: 955 7691 · www.lucschinesetakeaway.co.uk
17 Harrowdene Road, Bristol, BS4 2JL · Tel: 977 7881 · http://www.everymenu.co.uk/bristol/chinese/xing_wang-7803.htm

Amidst a menu of decent Chinese food, these two obscure takeaways also provide the most exquisite fried tofu; perfect for satiating late-night munchies. Ask Xing Wang for the ‘159 Deep Fried Beancurd with Salt & Chilli’ and Luc’s for the ‘Salt & Chilli Tofu’. And make sure you order a couple of pots because they are ridiculously moreish.

Shadin Indian Takeaway
70 Broad St, Bristol, BS16 5NL · Tel: 957 2786 · shadinbristol.co.uk
Relatively unknown outside its humble locality of the South-Glos-border-burbs, Shadin Indian Takeaway is a treasure trove of the tastiest vegetarian curries in Bristol. Eating Shadin curries is like having sex with God. Not much more can be elicited with mere words about this place; a legend in the making, you’ll have to experience it for yourself.

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