Living the veggie life in Islington mg_6388 - A vegetarian dish at The Gate on St John Street Full view

Living the veggie life in Islington

In recent years, vegetarian and vegan diets have experienced a huge boost in popularity.  SJS asks local veggies and vegans about this trend

Tony Smetham is looking at his plate full of colourful food: green, yellow and even dark purple from his beetroot salad. The walls around him are covered with posters promoting a vegetarian lifestyle. Their claims: “Veg Diet Key to Live Longer” and even “Research suggests vegetarian food can be orgasmic”.

Tony Smetham, 53 and a proud vegetarian
Tony Smetham, 53 and a proud vegetarian

“I was a vegetarian for many  years, since I dropped out of veterinary college after seeing all the suffering animals went through,” says Smetham, 53, who lives on a boat with his cat. “Being vegan is uncomfortable. It’s not only about food but also about clothes.”

The BBC reported a rise in part-time veganism in 2013 compared to 2012. Not everyone is ready to turn vegan for life, as Tony did, but 40% more people committed to a vegan diet for seven or 30 days  in January 2013 than the year before, according to the Vegan Society.

It also reports there are around 150,000 full-time vegans in the UK – about one in 400. The ratio goes up to roughly one in 150 in the US, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group, which puts the total figure of vegans at two million. Like vegetarians, they don’t eat meat, poultry, fish or by-products of slaughter, although vegans don’t eat eggs or dairy products either.

Smetham, for example, also buys boots made of leather substitute in charity shops or vegan clothes stores, such as Vegan Cross.

LANGPODCAST: Click below to listen to the views of a vegetarian and a non-vegetarian chef on veggie restaurants, and Professor Tim Lang on the healthiness of a vegeterian diet:

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Veggie restaurants in Islington

The Indian Veg is one of a handful of vegetarian restaurants in Islington. The motto of the restaurant is, as the owner Mohammed Safa puts it: “What you eat is what you are.”

Located by Chapel Market, Indian Veg is one of Islington’s eight vegetarian restaurants and is actually almost vegan. Most of the food is exactly how Smetham likes it, plant-based, no dairy, no eggs, but the restaurant offers a few vegetarian exceptions, such as dairy ice-cream. The perfect place to celebrate his fourth anniversary as a vegan, Smetham thinks.

A vegetarian dish at The Gate on St John Street
A vegetarian dish at The Gate on St John Street

Another veggie option nearby is The Gate on St John Street, which is a bit more pricy than Indian Veg. “The Gate is more a restaurant without meat than a vegetarian restaurant'” says Michael Daniel, the owner.

There is a solid selection of devoted restaurants by now, but where do vegetarians or vegans buy their food if they don’t eat out? Local vegetarians admit that they go to local supermarkets like Tesco and Sainsbury’s because it’s usually cheaper than in vegetarian and organic shops.

Carrie MacKinnon, 50, an illustrator and a vegan, says: “I don’t like the way these ‘healthy’ shops rip-off people who are trying to start eating healthily.” She sometimes buys food at the Chapel Market but only for local and seasonal vegetables. “I don’t like the fact that you can’t see what country the produce has come from,” she explains.

Veggie views

Jeannot Freitag, 20, a sociology student and a vegan, says that Islington does not have enough vegetarian or vegan alternatives. He says that, apart from students who commute to City University London, there is no real demand for such restaurants in Islington. He says: “There are many council flats and super expensive flats. In both cases, people who live in those are not the ones who are likely to follow a vegetarian lifestyle.”

Leah Jones, 27, a historian and a vegetarian for eight years, says that being a vegetarian is easy in Britain because most restaurants have veggie options and British society is very accepting of the lifestyle. She shops at Waitrose and likes to visit Mediterranean/Turkish restaurants in the area, such as Perra, Gallipoli, Pasha and Chez Le Boulanger.

Victoria Adie, 30, a nurse and a vegetarian for 22 years, also tends to shop in local supermarkets. Her favourite cafes are Mem and Laz, Cafe La Divina, Thai Square, Parveen and The Blue Legume. She finds it difficult to eat only in gastropubs. “The veggie option is usually just an overpriced risotto, which I’d prefer to have at an Italian restaurant,” she says.

Meat sales in the UK are falling and it seems that more people are following a meat-free diet, even if it’s not permanent. MacKinnon says she is a vegan partly because of rainforests being cleared to raise cattle for McDonald’s. “It’s not sentimental,” she says. “If I or my family was starving, I would kill an animal to survive. But we don’t live in that situation anymore and I have a choice.”

  • Watch the video below for people’s reactions to a vegetarian club sandwich

For a critical view of veganism, also read: Vegan culture in Islington and beyond

Written by Kristina Kashtanova

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