Robb Masters, the organiser behind the London Vegan Meetup, talks to us about his work and his contributions to the vegan movement.
“People often ask me if London Vegan Meetup is my fulltime job. I’d love that, but it’s just something I work on in my spare time. A labour of love, I guess.”
For most people, co-ordinating the world’s largest social vegan group (with more than 6,500 members), would be an intimidating undertaking. But for long term vegan Robb Masters, it is just one of the many ways he contributes to the vegan movement. His involvement in the group, and presence at vegan festivals nationwide, make him a familiar face to herbivores up and down the country.
He tells Vegan Life: “I’m always looking at what more I can do for veganism. But earning a living in an unrelated field limits the time I can spend on vegan projects. So what I’d really like to do is breach that divide. So far, I’ve managed to do so by providing some discounted consultancy to The Vegan Society. And it’s been great to do more for the vegan movement than I can in my free time. But I want to do even more.”
He manages to pack in a fair amount into that free time though, with London Vegan Meetup, and political lobbying, as well as attending meetings of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Vegetarianism and Veganism. He heads up Mensa’s animal rights group and is the Brexit campaign manager for the International Vegan Rights Alliance, as well as the founder of Vegan Rights UK(UK), a campaign fighting for the rights of vulnerable vegans.
So how did he get involved with the vegan movement?
Robb, who has been vegan for over20 years, says: “One day I was cooking a chicken. It was almost baby-shaped, and I just thought ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’. I’m not sure I knew veganism was a thing at the time, so I went vegetarian. But I soon found lots of grey areas. ‘Can I eat this? Should I wear that?’ Having learnt more about veganism from The Vegetarian Society, I decided to go vegan to make things simpler! Of course, I soon learnt that veganism had its own grey areas too – with debates about things like palm oil, parent companies, and companion animals. But I’d also learnt about the horrors of dairy and egg production, so there was no going back.
“To start with, I didn’t feel the need to meet other vegans. But the only others I knew were an ex-girlfriend, and a former colleague who’d moved back to America. So eventually I decided to try meeting some other vegans. I looked online for local social groups and found London Vegan Meetup, which had been set up by a guy from Australia who’d come to London and was looking for like-minded friends. When he moved back home five years later, towards the end of 2011, he asked me to take over the group.”
At the time, the group had around 750 members. This has grown to over 6,500 members now. “There has definitely been some effort in terms of getting more people involved,” says Robb, “but I can’t take credit for all of that. Veganism as a whole has grown massively over the last five years, as has usage of the internet, of course. But yes, I wanted to create more of a ‘brand’ for the group, build its profile at vegan festivals, and do more with social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. And while I organise three or four meet-ups for the group each month, we now have about a dozen other members of the group who also organise events – and that has certainly helped contribute to its growth. When people look us up they can see something to go to in a few days’ time, rather than in a month or two.”
When it comes to the meetup, Robb is very inclusive in his approach. He says: “We did some analysis of the figures at the beginning of last year, and found about half of the people joining the group, were not vegan. It’s always been important to me that the group is open to everyone – as I want non-vegans to come along and discover how tasty the food is, and how normal vegans are; to learn more about veganism, and ideally adopt the lifestyle themselves. Worst case scenario: they eat one less meal that contains animal products. But obviously the goal is to help more people go, and stay, vegan.
“Because we want as many people as possible to come along and embrace veganism, we have a strict policy on inclusion, and try to ensure there are no barriers – using accessible venues as much as possible, and not charging for membership or events (so that we don’t exclude people on the basis of cost).
“People come out with various statistics about how many more vegan women there are than men, but there isn’t that massive a gender divide in the group. We also have people from all ages – from teenagers to those who have retired. But I’d say that the majority of members are in their 20s and 30s.”
Robb plans to continue his work with London Vegan Meetup, meeting more vegans and doing more outreach. What other future plans does he have when it comes to promoting the vegan message?
He says: “Having worked as a consultant for The Vegan Society for the past three years (and a volunteer for even longer) I’ve had a unique insight into some of the amazing work that staff do. But I haven’t really been in a position to address many of the challenges that they face, or the obstacles that can hold them back.
“So what I’d really like to do is use my management background to help an organisation like that become more efficient and more effective – and, in doing so, help to drive the vegan movement forwards.”