As New Year’s resolutions go, the concept of ‘Veganuary’ might seem a little left field but, whether for ethical, animal welfare, health, taste, or environmental reasons, more and more Scots are choosing to enjoy a plant-based diet – and not only during one month of the year.
The UK market for meat-free foods was reportedly worth £572m in 2017, according to market researchers Mintel, up from £539m only two years earlier.
Interest in vegetarian and vegan products shows no sign of slowing down, as retail sales are expected to increase to £658m by 2021.
Roots of the movement
So, what is veganism, and where did it begin?
Donald Watson coined the term vegan in 1944 when he co-founded the Vegan Society in England. At first, he used it to mean "non-dairy vegetarian", but from 1951 the Society defined it as "the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals".
Back in the 1960s and 70s, the very concept of vegetarian, let along vegan food was thought a fairly ‘hippy-dippy’ idea. Mind you, that didn’t stop adventurous Glasgow diners beating a path to the city’s few vegetarian outposts, such as the Third Eye Arts Centre, to indulge in murky-looking lentil and mung bean concoctions.
Long-regarded as the radical wing of the veggie set, veganism is now mainstream, with animal charity PETA naming Glasgow – Scotland’s biggest city - the ‘vegan capital of the UK’.
Edinburgh, the country’s capital, isn’t far behind, claiming third spot in a global survey of internet searches for vegan options, recipes and meal ideas.
And where customer taste leads, the market follows, with a host of new vegan, and vegan-friendly suppliers, delis, cafes, and restaurants springing up to meet that growing demand.
Don’t tell Rabbie Burns, but Macsweens of Edinburgh even now sells vegan-friendly, vegetarian haggis!
Scotland’s vegan scene, it’s safe to say, has mushroomed!
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Figure it out
Last year, fresh food delivery company Mindful Chef reported that they sold more plant-based boxes in Glasgow than anywhere else in the UK, with the city accounting for 24 per cent of its vegan box sales, with Edinburgh making up 21 per cent and Brighton following at a close third, on 17 per cent.
This hasn’t happened overnight, but it does seem that Glasgow has now reached a tipping point, with vegan food critics, from the UK and across the world, all praising the quality, variety and imagination on show on the meat and dairy-free plates the city chefs are serving up.
The good news is, today, with Scottish chefs looking to both the ancient and modern menus and produce of the Middle, near and far east, where vegan dietary requirements have long been the norm, the food on offer is fresh, healthy, and zinging with palate-popping flavours.
Scotland, oddly enough, has a head start in the vegan food field; with the country’s ancient diet being very light in meat – then an expensive commodity - and heavy in iron-rich green vegetables, pulses, and grains.
Follow the leaders
So, if you want to taste the best vegan food Glasgow has to offer, where should you start?
Three of the city’s long-standing vegan outposts – The 78, Stereo, and Mono - can you see a theme there? - mix music with their munchies, serving up zingy fresh flavours to a background soundtrack of new and vintage sounds, live bands, and club nights.
Visit Mono, in King’s Court, and you can even bag some vinyl from their in-house record store, Monorail Music.
Architecture fans should note that Stereo, in Renfield Lane, is housed inside the former Daily Record newspaper offices, designed by Glasgow’s star architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Other vegan and vegan-friendly favourites include the 13th Note – just across the road from Mono, another music meats eats joint; the Flying Duck, a café cum club venue in a funky basement at the top of Renfield Street; and Indian eatery Usha’s, who use the centuries old kitchen know-how of the sub-continent to conjure up a whole host of tongue-tingling vegan delights.
From pub to posh
Vegan fare has also found its way on to the menus of many of the city’s top eateries, such as Red Onion, where Glasgow-born former Tina Turner, Bryan Adams, and Guns n’ Roses tour chef John Quigley offers a full vegan taster menu, complete with a selection of vegan-approved wines.
Whether its tofu, tempeh, or seitan-based dishes you’re after, Glasgow has them in abundance.
The real change in the city’s vegan scene has grown out of pop-up events, food fares, and the ever-expanding street food scene, which has allowed vegan chefs and food entrepreneurs to take their product to market without the need to invest in bricks and mortar premises.
One such pop-up, Platform, at the Arches, beneath Glasgow’s Central Station, has turned the former subterranean clubbing mecca into a regular hive of vegan-friendly street food, all fuelled and washed down with Scottish brewed craft beers.
The concept – buy your food from your chosen van, wagon, or stand, before a grabbing a pew at one of the big communal tables – is proving very popular, with the place regularly mobbed on weekend evenings.
Buoyed by great reviews, and repeat custom, many of the pop-up pioneers have now taken the big step of opening their own premises, serving up sensational lunchtime bites and evening meals to vegan- hungry Glaswegians and visitors alike.
Savour it city-wide
From the Southside to the East End, city centre to the West End, new pins are constantly popping up on Glasgow’s vegan food map.
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Hungry on the hoof, and want a vegan takeaway treat? Try the Glasvegan, in St Enoch Square. Want a lazy lunch/brunch, unbuckle your belt and tuck into the vegan delights on offer at the Southside’s Mala Carne, or the award-winning Café Strange Brew - winner, three years in a row, of Glasgow’s ‘best breakfast’ gong in The Skinny magazine’s annual food awards.
It’s big business
Veganism is also helping to create new businesses and jobs in the city. Glasgow-based Daring Foods has just signed a major distribution deal, which will see its vegan products available at 300 Scottish outlets within the first quarter of this year. Its ambitious plans could see it supplying 1,000 locations by the end of 2019.
The home dining market is also expanding, with the Vegan Kind,a Glasgow-based online vegan supermarket, recently moving into a new distribution warehouse in the city’s Maryhill area. Launched in 2013, the company financed their expansion via a crowd-funding scheme.
Even some old favourites have gone back to their roots, with the old Third Eye Centre, now renamed the CCA, serving up sensational vegan-friendly food in their Saramago café bar.
A hit with football fans
Veganism has even scored at the home of Scottish football. Not only is Hampden serving up meat-free fodder to football fans, but the stadium will also play host to March’s Scottish Vegan Festival.
What’s happening in Glasgow is mirrored across Scotland, in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee, and almost every other town and village. It seems once folk get a taste of good vegan food, they just can’t get enough.
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While Veganuary only lasts a month, the fresh tastes, flavours, health and environmental benefits of going meat and dairy-free are a moveable feast, and one that is here to stay.
Don’t just take our word for it. Like any good restaurant recommendation, the best tips come from satisfied customers. Click here to read some of the amazing reviews!