I’m going to fess up straight away and admit I attended the UK Vegan Campout 2021 in absolute decadence. Hiring a six-person campervan for two of us meant we avoided the epic queues to fulfil the basic human needs of eating and toileting at a festival of 12,000 hungry vegans at Newark Showgrounds in Nottinghamshire.
Coming during a pandemic, the organisers had had only seven weeks to finalise a lot of the practical issues – like food stalls and toilets, for example – so the queues for these facilities snaked back for up to an hour. It didn’t help that 15 food vendors and one toilet block company pulled out at the last minute.
We were set back a little from the main site, and walking across in the late morning as people began crawling bleary-eyed out from an endless variety of tents, I was struck by the seemingly stationary queues for the toilets and the solitary lengthy queue for the one tea and coffee stand at the site.
But equally striking was the mood. From beginning to end, the festival-goers, whether waiting to relieve themselves or to fill their growling bellies, were chatting, smiling and making new acquaintances. I heard a couple of people comment on this, and speculate that perhaps this is in the nature of the targeted clientele, but I wouldn’t be smug enough to comment on that here.
This relatively new festival began in 2016, with no stalls, no talks and just 400 attendees, and was cancelled last year because of the pandemic. So for the vast majority of us, it was the first time we’d been out in such crowds for more than 18 months. In fact, there was very little apparent in the way of nods to Covid and I saw no more than ten people or so wearing masks. That said, for most of the time we were outdoors, and the weather was relatively kind to us.
As well as a large yoga and wellness tent, there were three dedicated hall buildings: a main stage, where big-name speakers such as Russell Brand appeared; a music area; and an activism tent – my favourite – with talks from different campaigners, as well as discussions on animal agriculture, the conservation and protection of marine wildlife, and animal rights issues in general.
Sitting in there, as I did for many hours, I heard a lot that made me think. It was speaking to Animal Rebellion activist Claudia Penna Rojas that convinced me to go on the National Animal Rights March through London the following weekend.
I also had no idea about the extent to which beagles are still used for experimentation. There was an incredibly moving moment when activist John Curtin, speaking about this issue, asked if any audience members present had ever joined the “Camp Beagle” protest outside MBR Acres in Huntingdon to demand the release of some 2,000 beagle puppies being reared there for testing. When he invited them to come to the front, around 100 people went up to the stage and several then shared their own experiences.
Other speakers included Dina Aherne reflecting on how to compassionately raise awareness among the Hindu community about the atrocities committed by the modern dairy industry while remaining respectful of their beliefs and traditions. Advocates for Animals’ co-founder Edie Bowles provided an overview of useful legal tools that can be used to help animals. There was a lot more food for thought from a number of activists and charities fighting for the rights of our fellow earthlings.
I’d love to have spent more time in the music tent, but a definite highlight was Benjamin Zephania (above) and the Revolutionary Minds, who played on the first night. There was a beautiful moment when he announced he was going to pose a question he always puts to his audiences, only to be frequently underwhelmed by the response, and then asked if there were any vegans there that night. Hell yeah!
Big names in the Main Stage hall included Henry Firth and Ian Theasby, the vegan cookbook writers behind BOSH!, and environmental presenter Chris Packham. There were also names known primarily within the vegan community such as campaigner Lex Rigby and the inspiring plant-powered German strongman Patrik Baboumian (see clip above). The latter, having missed his flight, appeared via Zoom.
There was a screening of Hogwood: A Modern Horror Story, presented by Game of Thrones star Jerome Flynn (see trailer below). This film was made by the animal charity Viva! to highlight atrocities in the pig farming industry after it was alerted by hunters alarmed by the large number of rotting pig carcasses they were finding in the woods around Hogwood farm.
This farm was a major supplier of pig meat to the Tesco supermarket chain, and the documentary finally convinced them to drop Hogwood. The horror is doubtless reflected in many similar farms throughout the country. There’s no such thing as humane slaughter.
As I mentioned earlier, I missed out on most of the waiting and queuing, and only waded into the toilet blocks on a couple of occasions; my camping days, if they ever existed, are most definitely behind me. Hence I’m aware that I possibly viewed this entire festival through the luxury of my campervan goggles, but I absolutely loved it.
I loved the people, the atmosphere, and the speakers, and I loved the food stalls, which offered everything from ice cream to pizzas and curries, with heaps and heaps of plant-based fast food available. It felt good to be in that rare situation where there was no need to ask anything… it was all suitable for vegans.