Last year, to celebrate National Vegetarian Week, Inapub's Matt Eley went veggie. I've decided to take Matt's experience one step further and go vegan. Why? The better question would be: why not?
The standard joke is “how do you spot a vegan at a party? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.” Traditionally, veganism has been associated with alternative lifestyles and politics, and far from the mainstream British food culture in pubs and bars.
But times are changing. I was watching popular BBC comedy show Would I Lie to You? last week, featuring boxer David “The Hayemaker” Haye. “I follow a plant-based diet,” the toned boxer announced to raised eyebrows from the other contestants. He's certainly not the only one to be taking up a vegan diet though.
So, if one of the strongest and most athletic men on the planet can go vegan, can’t we all? So, what is stopping us – and pubs – taking on more options?
Well, nothing apparently - leave off veggie or vegan options from pub menus at your peril. Figures suggest 1.2 million to 5 million people are already vegetarian in the UK – with around half a million being vegan. Some less rigorous studies suggest up to 10 million could be following a flexitarian or pescatarian – fish only – lifestyle, regularly choosing meat-free options both when dining out and at home. More than 50 per cent of British people have eaten meat-free meals in the past year, with a similar number at least cutting back on the amount of meat they eat, according to research firm, Mintel.
So why don’t we go the whole (un)hog? One issue continues to be the taste and flavour of meat - but the eating out sector has responded. Dirty Bones in Shoreditch launched its vegan offer, Dirty Vegan, this month, and Rudy’s Dirty Vegan diner in Camden also recently opened. The menus of these venues certainly reflects the more traditional 'pub grub' that we all know and love - albeit in vegan form. Burgers, chips, hot dogs - the options are there. But is the taste there too? Customer reviews suggest so, but maybe this is where only in the eating is the believing.
Also this year, the first totally vegan pub opened at The Spread Eagle, Homerton, London, following in the Coach and Horses, Soho, London’s vegetarian footsteps.
The food offered in these pubs and restaurants is far from bland tofu. The Spread Eagle works with vegan street food firm Club Mexicana to deliver flavours using ingredients such as tomatillo salsa, pink onions, pickled chillies, and chimichurri. As its own website says: “If you’re looking for chickpeas and chia seeds, you’ve come to the wrong place!”
One dish at the Coach and Horses is its vegan chilli, including chick peas, peppers, garlic, lentils, chilli sauce, cashew sour cream & spring onions, served with chunky bread. It certainly sounds appealing.
Also, take a look at the growing online community. A quick search reveals a world of vegan and vegetarian blogs eager to share their advice, recipes, and where to eat out for tasty dishes. It is a well organised, passionate community. If you offer some tasty vegan dishes in your pub, chances are it will quickly spread – this is very much a word of mouth opportunity.
It reminds me of the early days of craft beer, when every time you entered a pub, a font showed off a brilliant new brewery, and people were sharing their experiences everywhere.
Flavour will always be the future…but could it be meat-free? Watch this space.