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The unstoppable rise of vegan restaurants

There is no stopping the plant-based eatery and food revolution in the UK By Sean O'Callaghan

Do you remember the olden days when the only vegan option was a baked potato with houmous? Seriously. This was once the only thing I could eat during a stop at a café in the UK's Lake District just over seven years ago.

Baked potato might not have been the plant-based go-to in your town but I'm sure if you've been vegan for as long as I have, you will have similar hardship stories even though the food itself probably differed.

As pioneering vegans 10 and 20 years ago, we became overly familiar with baked beans, mushroom risotto, and salad with chips when dining out. There were few choices and even fewer vegan restaurants, food stalls, cafés or eateries.

A day trip out of your local area often meant you packed your own sandwiches because you were most definitely going to be left without a solid meal and you had no choice but to be an expert on the vegan friendliness of all major crisp brands.

These domestic tales of inconvenience were nothing when compared with heading overseas.

Eating out abroad

During my first trip to Mexico City in 2009, every single meat-free dish I could find contained cream or cheese. I was even turned away from a vegetarian restaurant which insisted that nothing on their menu could be veganised for me!

Of course, not all cities on Earth were as vegan-unfriendly two decades ago. I recall being nothing short of shocked by the vegan restaurants dotted around Los Angeles during my first visit to that city, while New York and San Francisco also impressed me with plant-based cuisine 20 years ago.

A few major mainland European capitals were also early to the vegan party, as were major hubs around southeast Asia. But the vegan scene outside these major cities was a completely different story.

It might feel unbelievable to modern day vegans, but even 10 years ago London was struggling to put itself on the plant-based culinary map.

Eating out abroad

When the Ms. Cupcake vegan bakery opened on April 1, 2011 in Brixton, London, it sent shockwaves around the country. People came from all over the country just to experience the store and the delicious food.

 

It almost doesn't feel like a real memory as I write this. Vegan eateries in the UK capital now number close to 100.

What had started as a glacial change in the UK was supercharged by the arrival of Ms. Cupcake, the annual VegFestUK consumer exhibition, and my very own Hackney Downs Vegan Market.

The city is now overwhelmed by change and additions of completely vegan restaurants and cafés are difficult to track because they arrive almost non-stop.

This rise in vegan dining options has not been confined to London or even other capital cities.

Of course, major hubs such as Brighton, Glasgow, and Manchester have been vegan-friendly destinations for many years, but 100 plant-based establishments are now springing up in places that might have seemed unbelievable even a few years ago.

Vegan restaurant revolution

Hebden Bridge is a town of approximately 4,500 people and two vegan cafés. That is a pretty decent ratio and similar situations can be found all around the UK.

Vegan eateries are popping up in remote villages, vegan food trucks are serving Cornish beachgoers, and vegan food markets number in their dozens.

It might have taken a few decades to really get kickstarted, but it is clear there is no stopping the vegan restaurant and food revolution in the UK.

Get eating!

Follow Sean's vegan adventures on Instagram @fatgayvegan

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VeganLife

The lifestyle magazine written by vegans for vegans.