There's nothing quite like the feeling of being around several thousand vegans and vegan-curious people when you generally live in a non-vegan world. Throw in some fabulous music, a few comedy acts, cookery workshops, talks and a banquet of free vegan food in the form of samples (believe me, you can stuff your face on these!), and being vegan has never felt so normal. Which is how it should be. And there you have Bristol VegFest.
Even better, aside from Friday evening when poor old Caravan Palace, who were playing at the opening event, almost got blown and rained off stage, the weather was perfect heat and sunshine. Which is rare in Britain these days. So the festival atmosphere really got going from Saturday morning onwards. And it has been my most-loved weekend of the year so far.
Firstly - it's a vegan shopping and eating paradise. All your favourite vegan products and foods, under a couple of marquees, and then too much choice as far as filling your tummy throughout the festival goes! I mean, where to start?
It's quite overwhelming to go from having limited choice wherever you live, to having literally hundreds of delicious options of all kinds! From vegan woodfired pizzas, hotdogs, Indian food, noodles, pies, vegan doner kebab, cupcakes, gluten free goodies etc etc - you name it, it was here in vegan form!
I have to be honest though, I was so full on free samples of food that I could barely fit anything else in. But I did manage to squeeze in a Sunday Lunch Pie, because it would have been rude not to! It's not often scrumptious vegan pies are available, so I took the chance while I had it. And at £3 for a cold pie or £3.50 for a hot one, it wasn't going to break the bank.
One of the great things about the festivals is discovering what is new or just being launched. If you've recently become vegan, or are curious about veganism, Bristol VegFest is invaluable for finding out what vegan products are out there. Or any of the other festivals of course, although they don't all have the same brands and companies turning up.
I was overjoyed to find out Samuel Smith's produce so much vegan ale! In fact, they were the first brewery to regsiter with The Vegan Society and I have fallen in love with their Organic Chocolate Stout after tasting it at the festival. I was told by the very helpful people on the stall that Sinclairs Oyster Bar in Manchester sell their beers, so I think a vegan outing there is imminent. Their Organic Cherry and Organic Strawberry beers were incredible too.
Something else that was new to me is that Sheese have a new vegan smoked cheese out, and they also produce the 'Tesco Free From' cheeses and cheese spreads. I didn't used to like most of the Sheese products, but they really seem to have upped their game (I think with the competition from Vegusto, which is a fabulous brand).
Anyhow, I sampled quite a lot of their cream cheeses at the festival (yummy on crackers) and the smoked version too. I found them very tasty, so since I've come home, I've been and bought some of the new Soya Smoked from Tesco (now that I know Sheese actually make them for Tesco). And as well as being pretty damn good, the great thing is, it MELTS!
I couldn't come home from the VegFest though without a couple of packs of Vegusto No-Moo Melty, which is my pick of vegan cheeses. They are always on offer at the festivals, and I bought a twin pack for £6. This cheese alternative is one of the best for cheese on toast.
Of course, I couldn't come back without some vegan chocolate. That would be just silly. Though I also treated myself to some fabulous face cream from The Buddha Beauty Company, who are from Manchester! This moisteriser reminds me very much of a Decleor one I used to use, because I switched to vegan products, and it is total luxury without the price tag or the cruelty.
All this shopping and sampling and eating of course was dipped into among listening to the music, checking out the presentations, performers and cookery demos, and generally just hanging around with my friends in the glorious sunshine, soaking up the atmosphere.
The evenings were packed with quality entertainment from well-known bands. Friday, as mentioned, was Caravan Palace. But the iconic 'Madchester ' band the Happy Mondays played on Saturday night - brilliant! It was a real trip down memory lane for me, who first saw this band at a free gig in Platt Fields park in 1987, when they were just formed. And the crowd did roar when they performed Wrote for Luck for their encore.
And then we all piled to the after-party in a Bristol club, where Bez from the Mondays was hanging out. Again, quite funny to see him here as he is a bit of a 'local', and the last time I saw him was in the A&E department of a hospital near to me some months back! So we partied on until home time, which was around 3am in the early hours of Sunday. I did well, as 11pm bed-times are more the norm for me these days!
Sunday was fairly chilled, and unfortunately due to needing to drive home, we couldn't stay until the end of the day, But all in all - Bristol VegFest was a spectacular event, and already, I cannot wait until next year. Thousands and thousands of like-minded people having a wonderful time together, a celebration of all things vegan, wonderful music and entertainment, opportunities to learn more - what's not to like?
And if you missed it, or want more, there's always London VegFest in October 2013.