What is Belfast like for vegans? 5 things a food blogger learned

A food blogger from London explains the vegan scene in Belfast.

Across the U.K, veganism is officially going mainstream. For me, this is GREAT considering the enormous benefits of this diet and lifestyle demonstrated in research.

Main examples being environmental ethics and sustainability, animal ethics and health benefits.

We’re seeing big brands like Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer’s jump on the bandwagon to offer their range of vegan products. We’re seeing more strictly-vegan eateries pop-up and more restaurants offering vegan-friendly options.

This open-mindedness is helping more people embrace plant-based nutrition, and introducing others to the idea of living life without meat and dairy.

What about Belfast? How is it comparing to other U.K cities when it comes to veganism?

Belfast is a brilliant city, steeped in history and culture. It boasts a vibrant nightlife, bustling high streets and some of the most friendly people. After all, the Irish are well-known for their hospitality and welcoming nature.

Ireland is also renowned for its farming lands and agriculture, so it’s been fascinating for me to see the different attitudes between England and here when it comes to vegan food.

It’s clear that there are a few things which set Belfast apart from other big U.K cities. Not just in terms of their vegan food but their food scene as a whole. It’s got a little work to do to catch up, but I have every faith it will.

Vegan Options Aren’t as Innovative

A Vegan “Steak” Sub I tried in London by Jake’s Vegan Steaks

I’ve noticed vegan options (where offered) aren’t as innovative as what you’d find in other U.K cities like Leeds and London.

There are some lovely choices for vegetarians, with many restaurants offering meat-free menus. Though I feel Belfast is yet to reach the same level for vegans.

I’ve only come across one or two places that passionately embrace the wonders of plant-based protein. It’s more common to see an over-use of vegetables, and the city definitely doesn’t lack in options for hummus and falafel. However, it would be great to see more places get more creative with plant-based nutrition.

In contrast, London sees restaurants use seitan, soya and tempeh in creative ways that even satisfy the biggest meat-eaters, from teriyaki ‘chicken’ to the most ‘meaty’ veggie burgers and subs you’ve seen. Not exactly healthy, but entirely plant-based, the above photo is of a “Steak” Sub I tried at one of London’s biggest vegan foodie events.

London spoils you for choice, so perhaps it’s unfair to compare Northern Ireland to the U. K’s ultimate hub. However, the innovation you see in London makes its food scene incredibly exciting. I would LOVE to see more of that food buzz here.

Behind the Times

Ireland is renowned for its agriculture and farming history which means that numerous restaurants boast fab choices for everyday meat-eaters.

However, I feel the traditional ‘one-meat-two-veg’ meal hasn’t helped encourage Ireland’s openness to new foods. Which means the offering of vegetarian food (let alone vegan food) outside the major hubs of Dublin, Belfast and Galway City can be hard to come by; and vegan food, in general, is quite niche.

I have personally found Belfast’s approach to embracing new cuisines (let alone vegan food) is quite slow. Is that due to people’s taste or is it down to lack of variation offered here? I couldn’t say but either way, there’s definitely a gap to fill.

If more people took advantage of this and bought brand new cuisines and trends to the market, I believe everyone would love it. Done well, vegan food is amazing for vegans and non-vegans alike; and it would certainly help boost the health of Belfast’s population.

New diet guides are now being showcased after research realises our current diets are no longer sustainable. From the U.K’s new Planet Diet advocating far less meat, to Canada recommending their nation to “choose proteins that come from plants— not animals — more often”. It’s now paramount that Belfast embraces vegetarianism and veganism with more enthusiasm.

At the end of the day, everything that works well in mainland U.K. will do well here – so we need more people taking action. I’m sure many Belfast locals will be pleasantly surprised by how delicious a meat-free diet can be.

Low Demand for Vegan Food

Crispy “Chicken” Vegatsu served in Wagamama on the mainland; Instagram: @wagamama_uk

Whether it’s down to personal taste or simply not knowing the benefits of going vegan, there seems to be a lower demand for vegan food in comparison to other U.K cities.

FSA stats show less of the population are vegan here in comparison to other U.K cities. Perhaps this is why there are less strictly vegan eat-outs.

Alternatively, could the demand for vegan food be there, but not many people are creating enticing options? Who knows!

I’ve only come across a VERY small handful of strictly-vegan eateries in the whole city so far – how mad is that?

This low-demand also means a lot of high street vegan options you see on the U. K’s mainland don’t roll out here for ages. For example, Wagamama’s infamous ‘chicken’ vegatsu isn’t offered here in Northern Ireland (cry!) Then Gregg’s new vegan sausage roll can only be found in limited numbers in one or two chains across the city (double cry!)

Shock Horror: “YES, I’m Vegan.”

In comparison to England, it seems following a vegan diet isn’t as accepted as part of the norm here in Belfast (and Northern Ireland as a whole).

When I’ve told people I’m vegan, I’m met with surprise and very confused faces. Followed by typical concern and questions like “but where do you get your protein from?” or simply “WHY?!”

Once I explain more about my reasons, the same individuals respond with more open-ended questions, and the conversation becomes a positive discussion.

So, perhaps Belfast (like other U.K cities) needs a little dose of food education and awareness of veganism and its benefits?

Last but not least, Guinness is Vegan

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YES! Ireland’s infamous pint is VEGAN (wahoo!)

A lot of alcohol uses animal products such as Isinglass (fish bladders) to remove extra yeast in the filtering process (I know – eww!)

In recent years, Guinness announced they removed the use of isinglass in their production process so now Guinness is suitable for vegans worldwide – Sláinte!

Safe to say, I’ve been fascinated by the food scene in Belfast (and in Northern Ireland as a whole), along with people’s attitudes towards vegan foods.

I suppose I’ve been spoilt for choice in London, but I would love to see the popular food trends there come here. More encouragement, positive awareness and education around the benefits of healthy food and veganism is needed for Belfast to embrace such foods.

Now, these observations aren’t meant to dim this city’s spark. There’s no doubt that Belfast is an up and coming city with so much to offer its visitors. From the eclectic city to the beautiful countryside and mountains not far away – it’s fab!

I’m looking forward to seeing Belfast’s food scene diversify and become more innovative and I hope to be a part of that change.

Written by: Georgia from Life Without Meat

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