Interview with VegFest’s Tim Barford
Did you go to this year’s Brighton VegFest? We’ve got some insider info so you can get to know the brains behind the largest vegan festival in Europe, Tim Barford, to talk about the rising interest in veganism.
Tim Barford founded VegFest UK in 2003 and since then it has come on in leaps and bounds. As a previous member of the Free Festival Movement and the Party Movement in the 80s, it’s no wonder Tim is all about communication, breaking down barriers and making people feel welcome. His enthusiasm is infectious. And before you can say ‘hippy’, it’s undoubtedly VegFest that can take much of the credit for the revolutionised vegan scene that has happened over the last decade, helping a new generation of foodies eat ethically, healthily and consciously.
What is VegFest all about?
It’s an entirely vegan festival that showcases plant-based cuisine and offers plenty of information, events and products that are part of a vegan lifestyle – but ultimately the festival is all about fun, food, laughter and entertainment. In fact, with everything that is going on, all the activities, performances and music, some don’t even really notice that it’s a festival for vegan food – that is until they try the food! Then they are astounded when they find out that it’s entirely free from animal products.
Vegan food is more often than not of an exceptional quality and flavour, simply because it has to stand out and compete in a fierce food market and often has to win over sceptics. That vegan burger has been created with a lot more thought and care than your normal meat burger – and that’s why it tastes so good.
VegFest has grown enormously over the years, why do you think it appeals to so many people?
Not long ago, to utter the word ‘vegan’ conjured images of an intolerant community; of evangelical preachers who could cast an accusing glare even at vegetarians. However, attitudes on both sides have developed, there is far more understanding and open-mindedness that has led to exploration and encouragement. The atmosphere at VegFest is very open and welcoming – Bristol’s a great place to hold it as the general Bristol vibe is so laid-back and welcoming. No one is there to judge, and it’s a wonderful chance for people to explore new ways of eating and trial ideas.
There are those who attend who have been vegans for many years but there are just as many people who are there to pick up some ideas for healthier lunchtime snacks and just enjoy the weekend, the music and the food. I think this is because more and more people are getting interested in food, how healthy it is for themselves and the planet, and, most importantly, where it comes from, especially after the horse-meat scandal. The ‘fear factor’ after the scandal has no doubt made people more food-conscious and we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of flexi-tarians at VegFest, as well as more people taking on and exploring a plant-based diet.
As much as it’s welcoming to those who are looking to dabble in vegan and vegetarianism, and those new to certain ideas and food, it’s an equally fantastic event for those already vegan and vegetarian. VegFest is a chilled-out event where everyone can relax and enjoy the atmosphere and not have to worry about asking about where food is from, as it’s a guarantee that everything is ethical and 100% vegan. The whole weekend caters to everyone: your youngest might be engrossed in the various kid’s activities, your ethical teenager will find plenty of talks to attend and clothes to buy; mum can pick up some tips as to what to cook her fussy teenager and dad can chill out with a hotdog and a beer and let the music wash over him.
So which stalls will you be frequenting? Who should we have our eyes peeled for?
I’ll definitely be lurking near Bubble& who serve up gourmet bubble and squeak – you’ve got to try it! Vegusto Hotdogs are so meaty that even hardened carnivores can’t tell the difference, so I’d recommend them to anyone looking to dip their toes into vegan food. For those looking for variety, you’ll certainly get it here; there is so much to try that it’s easy to spend the whole day sampling all the different cuisines. There are authentic curries, wood-fired pizzas, ice cream, chocolate, street food and vegan paella (which was huge hit last year). You have to try the crepes filled with gorgeously decadent vegan cream – my mouth is watering already.
VegFest takes place in London and Brighton as well as Bristol, do you see it moving up North too?
No, that’s not on the cards, but there are some really exciting fairs and festivals already springing up further North, such as the Yorkshire Vegan Festival, some of which we have a hand in. The great thing is that now we are in a position to help these new start-up fairs and festivals, if they need guidance, advice or promotion, for example. It’s a nurturing community and we want to make sure no one gets left behind. What we have is a huge network of like-minded people, who are able to help each other without being competitive. Our website has all the details for all the veggie festivals across the UK. We want to have them easily viewable, all in one place so that we can promote them all, as that’s what we’re all about: sharing ideas and connecting with people.
What is your favourite food?
I’m a hemp man. I love the stuff, so that’s definitely my favourite, but I also love to eat raw. It’s energising and light, especially raw vegan sushi, which is also (coincidently) great festival food as it’s packed full of nutrients to keep you dancing into the night, and it’s bitesize. I’m also a big fan of the Redland Curry Delivery Co. For authentic North Indian dishes, you can’t beat it.
You have inspired many people to rethink and change their attitude to food; who has been your greatest inspiration?
I’m a firm believer that people respond well to role models and food facts. We don’t what to be told what to do, we want to have something to aspire to. Neil Robinson is a legend and an inspirational role model. He is an Everton football player and completely vegan and a huge success. He was the first football player to show the world that you could be the fittest and achieve great sporting success as a vegan. It’s a great pleasure to work with him. He’ll be at VegFest. Roberto Martinez is also someone I look up to. He is an Everton manager and a veggie – can you tell I’m Everton Fan?
Tim’s top places for vegan chow in Bristol:
Pepe Nero on Bond Street – great for vegan pizzas and pasta dishes.
Cafe Maitreya on St Mark’s Road in Easton – booking is advisable, as this vegetarian eatery is popular with vegetarians and their meat-eating friends alike.
Cafe Kino in Stokes Croft – Cafe Kino offers a mouth-watering menu of vegan, local and organic dishes.
Hari Krishnan’s Kitchen on Zetland Road – this place serves a fantastic selection of authentic South Indian vegetarian dishes.