Independently Minded

Fat Gay Vegan on the importance of supporting independent vegan business


Vegan shoppers have never had it so good. If you had told me ten years ago that most major UK supermarkets would have entire fridges dedicated to plant-based dairy-free products, major stores in Australia housed entire sections to meat free food or that I could buy jumbo-sized jars of vegan mayonnaise in chain stores in Mexico, I wouldn’t have believed you.


I would have been hopeful for sure, but my thoughts were more likely to have been about you being overly optimistic.


In the good old days, before veganism was the biggest trend in retail and food service, those of us not wanting animal derived groceries in our baskets got used to exploring independently owned health food stores for our pantry and fridge staples.


I recall having to race into my local health food retailer called Apple Jacks on their delivery day in order to snap up the rare products before any of my neighbourhood vegans could beat me to it. It was a fierce competition!


Yes, we had to really hunt around for our shopping and certainly didn’t enjoy the ease with which customers access vegan groceries today. Flash forward in time and I’m writing this article at the end of 2017 when the proliferation of vegan groceries and options is almost unbelievable to behold.


If you have a major supermarket near your house in the UK, you will probably have access to an endless supply of vegan ice cream, bread, personal products, household cleaners, wine, beer, ready meals, cheese, sausages, burgers, and more items than I have space to list.


Jumbo discount grocery retailers across North America sell oversized boxes of vegan burgers and multipacks of cookies free of animal by-products.


We have seen a stunning and rapid growth in the availability of vegan products in our shops, stores and supermarkets and of course this is cause for celebration.


It signifies a massive upswing in the number of people choosing to live a vegan lifestyle as well as those willing to buy and consume vegan products more regularly. But as we get swept up by this corporate vegan love-in, are we are forgetting people and businesses that have been part of our social fabric for decades?


We are delighted to snap up all of the latest plant based alternatives from our local mega mart but as we do so, our local independent stores are seeing the bottom fall out of their livelihoods.
By throwing our vegan money and credit cards at the big players, we are funnelling funds out of our communities… funds that would normally be kept local.


I spoke with Angela Murphy who runs a family-owned vegan café and grocery outlet in west London called VeganHQ. I wanted to know what Angela thought of mainstream supermarkets stocking many more vegan options.


Angela told me: “It is a wonderful sign of how accepted veganism and animalfree foods have become. If the major players are investing in developing their own lines of vegan foods, the tide really has turned.”


I followed up by asking Angela to talk about any downside to this proliferation of vegan groceries.


“Our family run business doesn’t support animal cruelty nor do we put any of our profits back into industries or suppliers that do,” she told me.


“We fold our profits back into other local businesses by spending locally ourselves. We get our haircuts, fruit, vegetables, newspapers, bread and whatever else we can from local independent businesses.


“Money spent at big stores goes straight out of our local communities, whereas we prefer to see as much of our money as possible go to our neighbours. If people support our local independent business we can not only make a living doing something positive on our own terms, we can also support other independent businesses looking to do the same thing.”
It is certainly a topic to think about as you start planning your Christmas shopping list. The independent vegan grocery or health food store in your town will have everything you need for a festive feast including roasts, cheeses, plant-based milks, desserts, and often even vegan suitable wines.


If you can afford to do it and you have a local independent vegan store in your area, think about how vegan money can make a difference to your community.


Sean O’Callaghan, AKA Fat Gay Vegan, will be contributing a series of articles to Vegan Life giving his opinions on the vegan community, food fads, health and, of course, the ethics of veganism. Straight talking and refreshingly honest, Fat Gay Vegan is like the agony uncle you never knew you needed.


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The lifestyle magazine written by vegans for vegans.