Is the vegan trend sustainable? Is it compromising integrity to keep up or are personal lifestyle choices of the public driving restaurants?
Vegan food is hot right now – hotter than straight out of the oven – with most places choosing to offer it as readily as a vegetarian option as more people go meat, dairy, fish and anything animal free.
It will feature heavily in the programme for this year’s Leeds Indie Food Festival (May 10-28) but the ever-increasing movement also sparked debate at the event’s launch on Tuesday night at The Belgrave.
Whether to go vegan and the issue of sustainability was the theme at a discussion panel headed by figures from the city’s independent food and drink scene.
Jo Myers from The Greedy Pig and The Swine That Dines said they as a business had spent years trying to get the vegetarian/vegan options right – and at the risk of losing meat-loving customers.
She said: “We have had to work hard to produce dishes that fit with what we do and have our personality and that is where the problem has been.
“We feel we are getting there and have done this event for LIF but it took a good year of working on it to find out what has our personality on the plate because if you have your own business you put everything into it.”
She said that in order to create a non-animal based menu in their own way it meant it had to be just that.
Ms Myers added: “For three years we have done a completely vegetarian menu. People have turned up, turned around and walked away. It was so demoralising but we stuck with it because we believed in what we were doing and that is the same for our vegan menu.”
At the other end of the spectrum was Liz Cottam, a Masterchef runner up and now co-owner of HOME fine-dining restaurant responding to the question ‘did the population have the power to change a restaurant’s focus on food?
She said they had tried to incorporate a vegan menu but it didn’t work with the restaurant’s style of food and cooking.
Mrs Cottam said: “We do 10 to 14 courses and found it really hard and took a decision not to do a vegan menu.
“We tried and it was not representative of what we do.
“I did not really enjoy cooking that type of food. We are about the customer but also our creativity, our intention, our identity on a plate. This is not something I do naturally. I have tried and will again but not for the time being.”
The theory that veganism is a sustainable practice was also called into question.
Holly Bowman of North Star Coffee Roasters, a business started by ethics, said they had removed vegan options from the menu due to concerns about environmental impact after learning how much water was needed to grow avocados and the carbon footprint of importing them to the UK.
She said: “We expect to see vegan on the menu and gave it our best shot as it was representative of our approach.
“We did a dish that was like an Instagram dream, the visual element was incredible but we started to think about the hypocrisy of going down that route and following a trend.
“We took it off the menu for that reason, it was one of the best selling dishes but people ordered it for the picture rather than eating and enjoying it.”