One day for a better world: Croydon marks World Vegan Day

By - Tuesday 28th October, 2014

Vegans? In Croydon? As World Vegan Day approaches, local vegan Tracey Hague sheds some light

Vegan cakes.
Photo author’s own.

During half term week anyone passing Croydon Visitor Centre will get a treat – a window display with a difference. Instead of promoting local hotels, Christmas shopping offers and the town centre regeneration, the window will sport a display to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Vegan Society, on Saturday 1st November.

Most might not associate Croydon with vegetarianism and veganism, but Croydon Vegan and Vegetarian Society is one of the oldest in the country. In 1944 Donald Watson coined the term vegan from the first and last few letters of the word vegetarian and founded the Vegan Society. By the late 1940s Croydon medical worker and mother Serena Coles had joined the Society. She served as President of the Society and went on to promote the vegan diet and lifestyle around the world. Her pinnacle was in 1976 when she starred in the BBC TV series Open Door. You can watch the programme here.

So what does vegan mean? Vegans seek to avoid the use of all animal products and by-products. Animals don’t willingly give their honey, silk, fleece, etc. willingly for our use. What right do we have to take and use it? While most Brits go vegan for moral/ethical reasons, increasingly people are choosing this cruelty-free lifestyle for health or environmental reasons, and there is plenty of help available.

World Vegan Day is also Gandhi’s birthday – another vegan

In 2004 the Vegan Society celebrated its diamond (60th) jubilee, and to celebrate locally I organized six vegan meals at six different local restaurants, raising money for Croydon Animal Aid and Vegans. In 2002 we had the chance to try a vegan cake stall in the Queen’s Gardens and our vegan cake stall became a regular fixture at Carshalton Environment Fair. Since 2011 I’ve baked vegan cakes for Croydon and Sutton Green Party’s café and cake stall; many are nut- or gluten-free and we’re getting a reputation for good quality, reasonably-priced, speciality cakes.

Morgan with oranges.
Photo author’s own.

Back in 2009 we celebrated World Vegan Day with a vegan festival in Croydon. We took over the whole of the Fairfield Halls and staged talks, competitions, exhibitions, art installations, and I made my cookery demonstration debut with chocolate mousse. VegFest London has since become a major annual event at Olympia.

World Vegan Day (November 1st) is also Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday – another vegan. The day has been a global event since 1994 and now forms the centrepiece of Vegan Month (November), when vegans all around the world celebrate ways of living which avoid the use of animals in any way – not just food. Drink is often overlooked, particularly when considering alcohol. Finings (processing aids) can be non-vegan and are rarely labelled, but the Co-op is good and others such as Sainsbury’s are slowly coming round. I don’t know about you, but I prefer my drinks without blood, bonemeal, chitin (shellfish), albumen (egg) or gelatine (you don’t want to know which animal body parts this comes from!). Yet some mainstream beers, lagers and spirits are vegan – Holsten Pils, London Pride, vodka, gin and many others. I just wish that more restaurateurs and publicans were aware of this.

Vegan food is halal and kosher/parveh and suitable for Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians

I take opportunities to share vegan ideas and recipes wherever I can locally, even volunteering for food-related events at my son’s school. In my son’s reception class, I provided soya milk, sultanas, molasses and cinnamon, and helped the children make their own porridge. They loved this as well as trying the different ingredients, many of which were new to them. The Muslim and Hindu children were especially grateful to have something suitable for them. Vegan food is halal and kosher/parveh and suitable for Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians and can be nut- and gluten-free too.

When Croydon Council held the borough-wide catering contract for schools, it stipulated that all vegetarian dishes had to contain dairy products. School caterers are now contracted directly to schools so should be more flexible. However, one school caterer (Harrison) doesn’t use soya as it is an allergen. Thus they can’t (won’t?) switch butter in desserts for vegan margarine which invariably contains soya. So while all the other children are tucking into tasty desserts, my son is given fruit – just plain fruit day after day.

Vegan mayonnaise is a revelation!

But instead of being negative, I try to turn things into positives. Each year I provide two sample lunch boxes at my son’s school’s healthy lunch event (fully costed and using ingredients available in most supermarkets). I also provide a few vegan salads for their buffet – vegan mayonnaise is a revelation to most people!

World Vegan Day is a chance to carry out this kind of outreach work, overcoming misconceptions or sometimes just introducing the concept of veganism to those who may be unfamiliar with it. Latest figures show that 88% of people don’t get their five portions of fruit and vegetables each day, and government advice is now to eat seven portions daily. Obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancers and infertility are on the rise and diet has a big role to play in all these, as well as with climate change… but that’s an article for another day!

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Tracey Hague

Tracey Hague

Croydon born and bred, Tracey went vegetarian aged 14 and vegan at 27. She ran Croydon Animal Aid and Vegans for seven years and is a longstanding blood donor. Now Co-leader of the local Green Party, she is involved with various community organisations and continues to promote veganism.

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  • Richard Molyneux

    Croydon VegSoc’s weekly Saturday lunch, at The Grill@12 (, will be celebrating World Vegan Day (1st November)… look out for vegan (cup)cakes :-)