Is Glasgow the vegan capital of the UK?

13 May 2019

What would the Duke think of all this ruddy veganism? Photograph: Calam Pengilly

The Sloth explores this claim below and tries to find the proof in the (vegan) pudding

It has been said that Glasgow is the vegan capital of the UK, but how true is this claim? Is it even possible to verify?

Last weekend saw another offering for vegans or those seeking to change up their dietary habits entering the Glasgow food festival circuit. The Glasgow Vegan Markets, hosted by BAaD and Generation Veg, is the latest addition to the burgeoning vegan scene in the city.

It seems that every week there’s another vegan pop-up kitchen, festival or market happening here in the land of Tennents and Tunnocks. The Glasgow Vegan Markets is showcasing all the culinary concoctions made here in Scotland that break the traditional expectations of our meat-loving nation.

Generation Veg is run by Nina Alexandra Rennie, 27 and Elisha Martin, 24, they said:

“The Glasgow vegan scene is thriving just now, and more and more small businesses are popping up all the time. We really want to support the existing sense of community in the Glasgow vegan circles, and encourage anyone interested in vegan or eco-friendly products to come along to see just how easy the vegan lifestyle can be. Our most recent event – My Big Fat Vegan Market – gained a lot of support online with over 5.4k people interested in the event on Facebook, with up to 1,000 attendees on the day. Generation Veg is all about supporting the future of veganism in Glasgow and helping it flourish as the interest in veganism grows!”

They’re not the only ones – this year has already seen Scotland’s largest vegan festival, the Scotland Vegan Festival, take place at Hampden in March and the The Glasgow Vegan Festival (Traders Hall) and My Big Fat Vegan Market (The Briggait) in April. Still to come are Vegan fest (Hillhead Bookclub) in June, Vegan Connections Festival (The Briggait) in July, and Glasgow Vegan Winter Festival (Trades Hall) in November.

These events seem to suggest that Glasgow’s vegans are well catered for, but is Glasgow the best city for vegans in the UK?

Rennie and Martin certainly think so: “We might be biased, but we think Glasgow has to be one of the best cities in the UK for vegans!”

Let’s look at the claims:

In 2013 PETA UK named Glasgow the most vegan-friendly city in the UK. They said, “Glaswegians should be proud that their hometown is on the cutting edge of healthy cuisine that is Earth- and animal-friendly… Glasgow also boasts numerous food stores and services that stress healthy meat-free eating.”

And in 2018, health food service Mindful Chef published their findings that claimed Glasgow was home to the most vegans in the UK. The company based their claim on the number of food boxes they distributed to customers requesting their vegan option.

Source: Twitter

Whilst Glasgow wouldn’t seem the obvious choice for such an accolade due to common misconceptions about the state of the Glaswegian diet – the city is more often famed for its battered goods. Deep-fried mars bars and the pizza crunch being just two examples, but alongside the fast-food eateries another trend has emerged.

Rennie and Martin noticed it too: “When both of us first went vegan, the landscape for vegan options was very different. In the past couple of years especially, the demand for vegan products has soared and businesses have definitely moved with the times. There are delicious vegan foods and cruelty-free essentials that we now have access to on our doorsteps,” they said.

One way to judge the vegan credentials of the city is to make a search on vegan and vegetarian restaurant finder Happy Cow, which reveals that there are 16 completely vegan restaurants in Glasgow, compared with just 5 in Birmingham, 11 in Edinburgh, 14 in Manchester, and 15 in Bristol.

Bristol is well-known for its counter-cultural populace. The Green Party has strong representation there with 11 councillors, totalling 15% of the council. Glasgow, however, is not typically associated with green movements. Memories of its industrial past still hover over the city. Despite this, Glasgow is home to more vegan restaurants than its greener cousin down south.

Meanwhile, in London, the number of vegan restaurants listed is a whopping 142, far beyond any other city in the UK, but if we pick apart that data we can see that this doesn’t tell the whole story. First of all, London is massive, almost 10 times the size of Glasgow, and it’s home to 8.8 million people according to recent estimates, over 10 times the population of Glasgow. Current data suggests there are 621,000 people living in the City of Glasgow area, which equates to one vegan restaurant per 38,000 people. Whilst in London there is one for every 61,000. So despite the larger number of animal friendly eateries in the English capital it wouldn’t be true to say vegans are better served there.

One city’s claim to the vegan throne is a little stronger though. Brighton and Hove, that bastion of bohemia on the south coast of England has 20 listings on Happy Cow – four more than Glasgow with 100,000 less people living in the city. Meaning that there is one vegan restaurant per 24,000 people. Brighton and Hove can certainly offer the most densely vegan city space in the UK, at half the size of Glasgow.

A rudimentary method of verifying the competing claims is to do a google maps search of vegan businesses in the cities vying for the crown. London, again comes out on top, but for the reasons already mentioned we can discount this pretender. The final battle is between Brighton and Hove and Glasgow. The former scored 256 vegan businesses on a Google search, Glasgow scored 400. Whilst this method is by no means perfect, evidenced by the fact that no two searches of the same terms revealed the exact same data, it is still useful in determining how vegan a city is.

Not every business listed in the search would be strictly animal product free, many are likely to be restaurants or cosmetic stores which offer vegan options and so whilst this is not ‘pure’ vegan it’s still an indication of the options available to those seeking a cruelty-free lifestyle. We have Tchai-Ovna for instance, the West End tea emporium, which offers vegan foods, but still offers cow’s milk with its beverages. For that reason it can’t be listed solely as a vegan establishment, despite the majority of items on its menu being suitable for vegans.

Vegan-friendly café, Tchai Ovna. Photograph: Calam Pengilly

All these caveats to the research demonstrate how difficult it is proving such a claim in the absence of a UK wide survey, in which participants state their dietary habits. But it’s all fun and games, you win nothing for being the vegan capital, except a few more tourists maybe.

The sentiment was echoed by Dominika Piasecka, spokeswoman for The Vegan Society, who said: “Defining the most vegan-friendly city is quite complex and it can be done in many different ways. We can confirm that Glasgow is certainly one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the UK, having experienced its offering ourselves.”

Veganism in general is on the up with more and more people opting to change their lifestyle in favour of the vegan way of life.

Piasecka said: “Our research last year found the number of vegans has quadrupled since 2014 which we attribute to the positive portrayal in the media, documentaries on the shocking realities of animal agriculture and peaceful activists are educating the public about veganism on the streets and in schools.

“We have also seen delicious vegan recipes multiplying online and on social media as society becomes increasingly health-conscious, as well as top vegan athletes proving that you can be fit and healthy on a plant based diet.”

The crowning of a vegan champion city might always be subjective, but Glasgow certainly has a lot going for it in this regard.

Kathi Kamleitner, a food and travel blogger, who runs Watch Me See and Glasgow Vegan Guide has been vegan for two years. She said:

“I definitely think veganism is becoming more popular in Glasgow and elsewhere. Plant-based food is very trendy, but I also think more people try to educate themselves more and make conscious choices about what they eat. I’ve travelled to a few other UK cities and must say Glasgow is very easy to travel to – lots of vegan restaurants, but also options at almost any omni-restaurant… I don’t think it’s possible to rank the cities, because it depends on so many factors – and it will be different for someone living in the city compared to someone who is visiting.”

The perception of veganism is often negative and those not on board with it can be ambivalent towards its benefits. The most recent example of this being when fast-food chain Greggs launched its vegan sausage roll in January of this year. The announcement was greeted with much contempt on Twitter, not least by TV host Piers Morgan, who after trying the vegan sausage roll live on Good Morning Britain said the below:

Source: Twitter

The stigma that comes with a vegan diet can be enough to put people off, but in Glasgow there appears to be far less anti-vegan sentiment than elsewhere. Venues such as Mono, Stereo, The Flying Duck, The 13th Note and The 78 Bar have helped colour veganism as cool and counter-cultural, no doubt helped by the eclectic events programme at these venues. You can find punk, psy-rock and spoken word on any given night at these venues.

Vegan hotspot The Flying Duck. Photograph: Calam Pengilly

And so, whilst we may never know for sure which city is the vegan capital of the UK, The number of vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants, cafes, and vendors of vegan cosmetics in Glasgow means that Glasgow’s vegan community is better served than most. More vegan restaurants per person than any other city, except Brighton and Hove. More businesses listed as vegan or vegan friendly on Google than any other city per person. An ever-growing event list catering to the vegan community and active cooperation amongst that community. Vegan capital or not, who cares, so long as the food is good.

Infographic: Calam Pengilly

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