I’m the only vegan in my close group of London friends, and just a year ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of asking any of them if they wanted to go check out a new vegan place.
Yet now, thanks to veganism busting its way into the mainstream, my veggie-curious/omnivore friends often come to me first with a vegan suggestion, and I’ve noticed they often order the vegan option at places which serve meat.
Hell – one of my meat-eating pals even prefers Temple of Seitan to actual fried chicken.
However, not everyone is so lucky – bizarrely, there are (otherwise) perfectly nice people who still think bacon jokes are funny and who love you, but have no intention of darkening Mooshie’s door with you.
I used to think I didn’t care about none of my friends being vegan, until I realised it was stopping me from trying out new food. I’m perfectly capable of rolling into a restaurant and eating alone – I’ve had plenty of practice from work trips and solo travel – it’s just that I don’t enjoy it.
Going out for food, to me, is a hugely social thing. If I’m blowing £10 on my lunch, I want to savour it and turn it into an event, not sit by myself reading, and leaving as soon as I’m done. Don’t get me wrong, I love my own company, but I can do that (for much less money) at home.
So, what’s a girl to do?
Raymond Kellerher and Jordon Taylor are from Truman Markets – the company that puts on late night street food market Vegan Nights in Shoreditch, where you’ll find a great space to hang, with a DJ and all your vegan food faves like Club Mexicana, What the Pitta and Jake’s Vegan Steaks.
Kellerher and Taylor think it’s less about needing to socialise with other vegans and more about creating an exciting space that’s enticing for all, and just so happens to only sell vegan food.
‘This isn’t just about the food – it’s interaction, chilling out with friends, having drinks,’ explains Taylor to Metro.co.uk, at last November’s Vegan Nights.
‘We felt there was a space for a hangout for the vegan community that wasn’t there – there was nothing out there for them at night.
‘Mary McCartney was here from Linda McCartney Foods and said she walked in and got this festival vibe but for the first time didn’t have that horrible smell of burning sausages and animal fat.’
The team say they want veganism to be a normal thing, and for it to not be weird for omnivores to go to the event.
‘It’s about bringing veganism to the masses, it’s all inclusive, it’s not a niche thing,’ Kellerher tells us.
‘I don’t think it’s actually to do with vegans just wanting to hang round with vegans, it’s the excitement around veganism.
‘It once had a real dreary old image of plain chickpeas and tie dye, but people are doing such creative stuff with the food now, there’s so much talent about.
‘I dare say there as many non-vegans here as vegans.’
However, it was recently announced that you now have to pay £5 to get into Vegan Nights – which probably isn’t the biggest drawer to tempt non-vegans to go and try new food, so we’re not sure how that will affect the vegan/non-vegan ratio.
When questioned on Facebook why they’re now charging, organisers explained that they had to start ticketing the event due to its popularity.
However, people pointed out that it’s possible to ticket an event without charging, accusing them of cashing in.
Ticket prices aside, there’s no denying that markets like Vegan Nights are great places to hang with your pals – but if you are the only vegan in the village and you do want to hang out with people while gnawing on seitan, then they don’t seem to be the best places to go and find new friends.
Markets are often crazy busy, and you have to be a pretty confident person to roll up to a group of people chatting and ask to join in. (I know I wouldn’t.)
32-year-old Derek doesn’t know any other vegans, and has gone to Fat Gay Vegan’s Hackney Downs market a few times, to try and meet some fellow plant-based people.
‘Some of my friends seem to think they’re comedians when it comes to my diet, so going alone has become a better option,’ he tells Metro.co.uk.
‘I would like to meet people with similar dietary interests but since I’ve been sober I’ve found I’m not as confident socially as I once was, but I’m working on that.
‘I do miss the social aspect of eating out with friends though.’
So, whats a lonely vegan to do?
Enter London Vegan Meetup. It was set up by Cameron Green when he moved from Australia to London in 2007, and didn’t know any other vegans. It now has over 7,700 members, and is run by Robb Masters, who took over in 2011 when Cameron moved back to Oz.
The group arranges regular events like monthly drinks socials, board game afternoons and CULT (a trip to vegan restaurant Tibits on the last Tuesday of every month). Events happen every few days to give all members a chance to join in.
They also arrange meetups at vegan markets, which helps out with the above conundrum of not wanting to go to a market alone.
Organiser Robb says he’s made loads of friends through the group – some of whom are now close friends – and he stresses that non-vegans are welcome, too.
Interestingly, non-vegans actually make up half the group.
‘Our only requirement is that attendees don’t eat non-vegan food at our events,’ explains Robb to Metro.co.uk.
‘The last time I checked, about half of those joining the group were non-vegan – but either looking to go vegan, or there to learn more about veganism. Of course, a lot of the non-vegans do end up going vegan after they’ve been in the group for a while.
‘Even vegan attendees have said that the group has helped they to stay vegan.’
He has a good point – it’s a lot easier to stay vegan if you’ve got like-minded people backing you up. If you really can’t quit that halloumi (many of us have been there) a non-vegan might tell you that it doesn’t matter if you drunkenly eat some, but a fellow vegan is more likely to gently encourage you to step away from the fridge.
London Vegan Meetups is and always will be free, which Robb says is important.
‘We just want to create a welcoming environment where vegans won’t keep getting challenged about their choices; and where non-vegans can learn more about veganism, meet vegans from all walks of life, and enjoy some great vegan food,’ he explains.
‘So, we don’t want to impose a fee that would prevent non-vegans from finding out more, or prevent vegans on low incomes from meeting others.
‘To encourage the continued growth of veganism, we need to challenge the mainstream narrative that it’s a white, middle-class pursuit, and make it more accessible to those from marginalised groups and disadvantaged backgrounds.’
So, while it’s not necessary to have vegan friends, or pals who are happy to chow down on plant-based tucker with you, it undoubtedly can help.
The more vegan friends you’ve got, the less likely it is you’re going to end up eating brunch at some place where your only option is a pile of baked beans and some mushrooms that smell suspiciously like they’ve touched bacon grease. It’s no fun paying through the nose for substandard food.
Sticking to veganism is definitely a lot easier when you’ve got fellow plant-based pals backing you up and not tempting you with (what was once) delicious dairy – however it’s not the end of the world if you don’t.
You might not have any vegan mates, but you do have your own personal reasons for your new lifestyle, and they should be enough to see you through – even if it feels really freakin’ hard sometimes.
However, it is comforting to know that there are ways of making new vegan friends – if that’s what you’re after – and that there are cool events to attend with them.
And maybe one day in the not so distant future, you can bring some of your omnivore friends along too…?