Veganuary saw thousands of people try a vegan diet for the first time.
As the number of people ditching meat and animal products grows, Hannah Richardson has spoken to a leading vegan activist and campaigner about spreading the word.
Veganism as a movement is becoming so popular.
So says the founder of a successful vegan festival in her home country who now hopes to organise a similar event in this country – and she’s keen to make contact with those who want to be involved.
Vegan activist Vente Viteikaite, 36, was born in Lithuania, where she lived for most of her life, before deciding to move abroad.
After periods living in Denmark, Spain and Turkey, she settled in the UK four years ago.
Formerly a health journalist for one of the main daily newspapers in Lithuania, she is now based in Bedfordshire and works as a freelance PR executive, mainly for vegan companies.
Vente herself became a vegan five years ago, following concerns about her health.
Finding herself low on energy and not sleeping well, her research convinced her of the benefits of a plant-based diet. She said: “I slowly started to remove meat and dairy from my diet and finally I became vegan when I was living in Turkey.
“It helped a lot because there was lots of fresh fruit and it was very cheap, so it was very easy to start.”
But she insists it’s also easy to be a vegan in the UK.
In fact, The Vegan Society was founded in the UK in 1944 by Donald Watson and five other non-dairy vegetarians, who coined the word “vegan”, containing the first three and last two letters of “vegetarian”.
In Watson’s words, it marked “the beginning and end of vegetarian”.
According to Vente, there is also a strong cultural tradition of raw food in Lithuania, where a large amount of fermented foods are also eaten, and the raw food movement was started in the USA by ex-pat Lithuanians Ann Wigmore and Viktoras Kulvinskas.
She added: “Veganism as a movement is becoming so popular.
“All over the world, it’s growing so fast.”
In 2015, after visiting the UK’s biggest vegan festival, VegfestUK London, Vente was inspired to organise a similar event in Lithuania’s capital city of Vilnius.
The one-day event, Vegfest LT, was a runaway success, attracting more than 5,000 visitors from as far afield as Latvia, Estonia and Poland and creating a lot of media attention.
Vente said: “I didn’t expect it to be so successful. In two to three hours, everything was sold out, so we had to close it early.”
With a small group of helpers, Vente now organises three events in her home country every year – the Vegfest LT summer festival and Vegfest LT Christmas fair in Vilnius, and the Vegfest LT autumn fair in Lithuania’s second-largest town of Kaunas.
Each festival attracts between 2,000 and 5,000 visitors, 80 per cent of whom are non-vegans curious to learn more. In January, Vente moved to Luton from Northampton, to be near the airport, due to her need to travel abroad so often.
She said: “I heard really bad things about Luton before moving here, but I actually like it. I love small towns, where you can walk or cycle everywhere and where people know each other.
“I love the Bury Park area and get my fruit and veggies from there.”
Vente has also found an active vegan community in Luton and she’s hoping to organise the town’s first vegan festival.
She is starting to look for venues and would love to hear from anyone who’s interested in getting involved or who wants to learn more about being vegan.
VEGAN EVENTS IN WEST YORKSHIRE INCLUDE:
Vegan Milkshake Tasting, The Shake Bar, Leeds. February 22 between 4-6pm
Belgrave Vegan Feast, Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen, Leeds. February 24, 11:00 til late.
Raw Vegan Valentines, The Happy Caterpillar and Carousel, Headingley.February 14, 6.30-9.30pm.
Vegan Beer Festival hosted by Wishbone Brewery, Keighley, February 10 between noon and 9pm.