|Article published in The Vegan Magazine - Summer 2007|
In 1984 Tom & Clare from Nottingham's animal rights group had the idea of presenting the manager of a local McDonalds with a huge veggie burger to represent an ethical alternative to the products of death and destruction sold there. This was such a success that the logical next step was to do the same thing for the public every day, first from a mobile food van, then from early 1985 from a daily market stall, literally on the next street to McNasty. Veggies has been a streetwise catering campaign ever since, reaching a highpoint with the 2006 Vegan Society Award as 'Best Vegan Caterer'.
Veggies can cater for anything from a dozen people at a vigil, such as at Harlan Labs near Loughborough, to the thousands at a Vegan Festival or in Glastonbury's Green Fields. The day may involve nipping out for an hour to deliver a buffet to a city council meeting through to spending ten days in a field helping to co-ordinate seven all-vegan kitchens feeding 500 - 2000 people, as with the G8 Protests or last year's Camp for Climate Action. Veggies continues to excite after all these years because every event is so different, but always with the nicest people in the best locations.
When we cater for a baby-naming celebration, a hunt sab's wedding or an 80th birthday party, most of the family guests may not be vegan, so it is important to lay on a buffet that will impress the guests, whilst allowing the hosts to show that vegan catering is the most normal part of their lives. It is encouraging that at street parties, social justice protests and other radical gatherings it is a common assumption that all the meals should be vegan, for the sake of people and the planet. Even at events like the East Midlands Vegan Festival, which we co-organise in Nottingham each December, many of the visitors are not vegan, but keen to find out more. After 22 years we have gone from being a small back-street operation to pioneers of a diet that is widely understood and respected, even if people are still seeking help in making the transition themselves.
Part of Veggies success is due to our location in a vegan oasis in Nottingham, (or is the local vegan community due to the existence of Veggies?).
We are based at Nottingham's Sumac Centre, where the all-vegan café enables volunteers to develop new recipes.
Just one street away is a veggie/vegan housing co-op which co-hosts gathering for all kinds of campaign groups, giving the opportunity to practice these recipes on up to 100 people over a weekend.
One street in the other direction is Screaming Carrot, an all-vegan bakery, supplying Veggies with our popular cakes and pasties at a moments notice. Also in the neighbourhood is an independent vegetable wholesaler and a family baker to provide locally baked vegan breads. We cater at so many events that we only plan one week ahead, but with such a network of suppliers, including Lembas Wholefoods in Sheffield, everything for any major event can be put together with just a few days notice.
Following a term running a weekly cookery class at a local primary school and another proving a vegan lunch option, Veggies ran the school kitchen for a 7 week period in June & July 2006. Just before the full contract began we were hit by newly published statutory nutritional standards for school meals, which insisted on the daily provision of dairy foods. As a vegan company we were not able to provide these and were unwilling to compromise the standards of our meals with ingredients high in saturated fats, pus & cholesterol. However, before handing the kitchen back to the school, we gained a great deal of experience in catering for 30-50 children (and some staff) on a daily basis, developing a 3-week school meals menu, costed and nutritionally analysed, which we hope will prove valuable in lobbying for the removal of the dairy (and fish & meat) requirement from the government guidelines.
We are so busy, for example catering at 43 events on 21 consecutive weekends from April to September, that future plans need to involve others. In addition to our team of valiant Veggie Volunteers, who can barely cope with existing commitments, we now have 3 (very) part time workers to look after the day-to-day running of the project, funded by 'commercial' work that can pay a 'proper' price. However we are determined not to loose touch with what we do best - catering (literally) on the street for campaigning events.
We are very keen to support anyone wishing to set up a similar project elsewhere - we compile a listing of other veggie/vegan caterers as part of Veggies Directory (a.k.a. the Animal Contacts Directory) on our website.
With due regard food standards, a group can be started with nothing more than a camping cooker and a packet of burger mix, catering at local vegan, animal rights or community events, reinvesting in more facilities as time goes by. There have been autonomous Veggies groups in Sheffield, Leeds, Norwich, Manchester and Wolverhampton, all of which have now moved on to other good things. A group based at a vegan woodland in Scarborough hopes to develop in this way, whilst a campaign catering group in London or the south west is badly needed. We even have a fully equiped catering trailer available to loan to potential new groups.
As part of what the Guardian once dubbed our 'vast and extensive Internet capability', we have a detailed diary of events at which we cater on our website at http://www.veggies.org.uk. This runs in parallel with the Animal Rights Calendar, which is compiled by Veggies to co-ordinate campaign events throughout the UK. Potential new volunteers are urged to check out our diary & pitch in!