THERE was a time when taking the pledge meant agreeing to give up the swally and join a Temperance movement – or maybe even a political outfit such as the Scottish Prohibition Party, which fought and won the Dundee constituency at the 1922 General Election beating a certain Winston Churchill into fourth place.

These days taking the pledge means something a little different. Starting your day with a bowl of cardamom and peach quinoa porridge instead of a bacon roll, or ending it with a curried tofu wrap in place of mince and tatties and cheesy beans.

That’s because these days – and in particular this time of year – the pledge involves abstaining from meat, fish, dairy and eggs, and buying into a movement gaining fast in popularity: Veganuary, the month in which everyone from unabashed carnivores to pescatarians, vegetarians and reducetarians (more on them later) are asked to try going vegan. For a whole 31 days. Or 93 meals if you want it in terms your stomach can understand.

Founded by Jane Land and Matthew Glover in 2013, Veganuary launched in 2014 with 3300 pledgers and that number has at least doubled every year. Last year 168,000 people took part and to date there have been a quarter of a million participants in 193 countries. Pointing to a poll by IPSOS Mori about actual take-up, the organisers have also identified what they call “the Veganuary Effect”, which suggests that around 10 times that number take part without signing the pledge.

The core principles turn on animal welfare and always have. As well as campaigning against killing animals and fish, vegan organisations, pressure groups and activists have long fought to shine a light on the more unsavoury practices of the dairy and egg-production industries.

Those issues remain valid but increasingly veganism is becoming an attractive proposition for those concerned with other subjects, from the environment and ecological sustainability to allergies, food additives and gut microbes. It’s that which in large part is accounting for the rise in veganism. Moreover, while discussions of veganism have always taken in theology, philosophy and politics there’s now a feminist angle (it essentially argues that a challenge to a culinary orthodoxy is a challenge to the patriarchy) and pop culture is coming around, too. Alert vegans enjoying Oscar-nominated superhero blockbuster Black Panther won’t have missed the line about how the Jabari tribe are vegetarian – but those who did because they were too busy looking at the phones probably already know that mega-influencers Ellie Goulding, Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande, who have a cool 239 million Instagram followers between them, are vegan.

Figures for the number of pledgers singing up to the 2019 Veganuary campaign were announced last week and reveal that 250,000 people signed up, making it the most popular ever. Adjusted for the Veganuary Effect that means a cool two and a half million people around the world may have tried veganism for the first time last month.

Kay Steven was one of them. A part-time student who lives in Edinburgh and runs a consultancy business, she took the Veganuary pledge. “It took two friends signing up to Veganuary to give me the push to do it. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how easy I’ve found it and how much support I’ve had from friends and family.”

For Rich Hardy, Veganuary’s Head of Campaigns, that sort of testimony shows that veganism has shaken off its reputation as a sort of culinary counter-culture and gone mainstream.

“‘Vegan’ is now a word we see and hear everywhere – in shops and restaurants, in people’s conversations on the streets, and in newspapers and magazines,” he says. “It’s not hype or a short-term trend. Any movement has to reach critical mass to succeed. We think veganism has reached that point and is firmly on its way to the mainstream.”

Social media and smartphones have helped spread the message, he adds. “All of us can view footage of an undercover animal rights exposé if we so choose. With material like that so available, it’s helped get more people questioning what’s been hidden from them.”

The mainstream has certainly taken notice. Last month restaurant chain TGI Fridays launched its “bleeding” vegan burger. Not in the best taste, perhaps, but the oozing blood came from the addition of beetroot and the rest of the burger was formed from a mixture of coconut oil, mushrooms, herbs and spices. Last week, pizza chain Papa John’s launched three new pizzas featuring Sheese, a vegan cheese manufactured by Rothesay's Bute Island Foods. And even McDonalds has muscled in with a Spicy Veggie Patty and a vegan-friendly Happy Meal.

There’s no doubting the pace of change. Research by The Vegan Society in 2016 found that just over half a million Britons described themselves as vegan and research two years later found the number had surged to three and a half million. In Scotland, according to 2018 figures, there are 350,000 vegans, about twice the population of Dundee.

No doubt some of them even live there, but it’s Edinburgh and Glasgow that are at the centre of the scene here. Edinburgh punches well above its weight. A list of the most vegan-friendly cities in Europe by pressure group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) put the capital third after Amsterdam and Berlin, well ahead of London.

Scan a UK list such as the one published by magazine Vegan Life in 2017 and you find Glasgow and Edinburgh safely in the top five.

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Glasgow has had popular vegan café-bars for over 15 years, notably city institutions such as Mono and its offshoot Stereo. A relative newcomer at just four years of age is The Hug And Pint on Great Western Road, and like those two it offers a vegan menu and doubles as a gig venue. With three other new vegan cafes operating just a couple of minutes’ walk from the Hug, as it’s known, co-owner and co-founder Colin Campbell is in no doubt the city’s vegan scene is thriving. It’s doing so in part because there are more vegans, but also because there are more non-vegans who are happy to eat vegan food – especially if also includes live music.

“You can look at reviews online and actually a great number of our reviews start with ‘I’m not vegan but …’ and they’re five star reviews,” he says. “[So] we have a lot of people coming in who aren’t vegan”.

As proof of that growing popularity and acceptance, Campbell and his head chef Jake Martell have launched a three-month residency at Glad Café in Glasgow’s Southside. They already run a brunch service there but now evening diners can enjoy dishes such as Jackfruit Curry or Sweet Soy and Coconut Tempeh. They’re also in the process of writing a Hug And Pint vegan cook book.

Leaving aside the issue of morality and animal welfare, one complaint against veganism is that the palette of available foodstuffs is necessarily limited. But Campbell flips that idea on its head. To him, those aren’t limitations at all. The beauty of vegan fare, he thinks, is that “it’s food that’s suitable for everyone. It’s the widest, most accessible menu we can do. If you’re a meat eater you can eat it, if you’re vegetarian you can eat it, if you’re vegan you can eat it.”

So why does he think the popularity of veganism is on the rise? “I think it’s linked into a wider discussion,” he says. “It’s about things like the environment, that’s a big thing for me and a big thing for people who aren’t maybe fully vegan or fully vegetarian but who are reducetarian”.

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Remember that word. Championed by the US-based Reducetarian Foundation, it promotes eating less meat, dairy and eggs but values pragmatism over an all-or-nothing approach. In other words you can still have full fat milk in your tea and, yes, the occasional bacon roll or plate of mince and tatties. The Foundation hosts at annual Reducetarian Summit (it’s in Washington DC this year), publishes a cookbook and like Veganuary asks potential converts to take a pledge. Options ranging from going meat-free on Mondays to becoming vegetarian for a month.

Edinburgh has a less vibrant vegan café-bar scene than Glasgow, but it does have two of Scotland’s oldest and most venerable vegetarian eateries in Hendersons, established in 1962, and David Bann, founded in the mid-1990s.

David Bann started out with a baked potato shop in the early 1990s and his eponymous restaurant has been in St Mary’s Street in the Old Town since 2002. Veganism “does seem to have gone mainstream,” he says. “We get a lot more enquiries for it than we used to. We’ve always had vegan options on our menu but recently we’ve been getting a lot more enquiries from vegan customers, so we’re putting a little bit more emphasis on that. Desserts are difficult to make vegan, but we’ve managed to get a couple of good desserts on.”

His tofu chocolate ice cream has proved popular. But, he adds, “I don’t like to put food on that only vegans will like. It’s important to me that everyone will enjoy it.” The important thing is for the food to have mainstream appeal. “People who would normally eat meat have to enjoy what they have here and it’s exactly the same with vegan food.”

Bann is vegetarian and has been serving vegetarian and vegan food to Edinburghers for a quarter of a century. But even he thinks it’s too early to say if the rise in veganism and the increased awareness around environmental sustainability, animal welfare and food production are a short-live trend or show a cultural and societal shift.

“The recent upsurge might be a fad, but I would like to think it’s a direction of travel,” he says. “I think it would be a healthy way to go. A lot of people are not going totally vegan but they’re looking for more vegan options. Most of our customers are not even vegetarian but they’re eating less meat and they want to try different things. And I think the same thing is happening with vegan food: people are more open to it.”

Bann’s restaurant manager, Ruben Iglesias, came to Scotland from Spain 12 years ago and became vegan two years after arriving. He has seen veganism move from the fringes to commonplace lifestyle choice. He agrees that social media and the internet has much to do with the increase in and acceptance of veganism, and like Bann he has seen the proof of it in the number of vegans coming into the restaurant.

When Iglesias started at the restaurant in 2012, vegan customers were uncommon. “You might get two or three an evening,” he says. “Now I’d say at least 25 per cent of our customers are vegan. We’ve always been able to adapt the menu to be vegan but at some points last year 75 per cent of our menu was vegan, or we could adapt it to be vegan.”

Here's the big question, though: how many of those who sign up to Veganuary will still be off meat, fish, eggs and dairy come Shrove Tuesday which, as the pancake lovers among you will know, falls on March 5 this year?

“We’ll need a few years’ more data to get a better feel about the longer term conversion rates of people taking the pledge and remaining vegan,” says Simon Winch, Veganuary’s CEO. “But the signs are very encouraging that the campaign is really effective at helping people stay vegan for the long term.”

For her part, Kay Steven is aiming to at least make it to Pancake Day. “It feels lovely to have made the leap and I’m planning on keeping going for at least another few months, but to be honest I can’t imagine going back. I’m definitely feeling healthier and not deprived in the slightest.”

So is the future vegan – or will it only look like it every time Veganuary rolls around?

“I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s the future,” says David Bann. “But I think it is another cuisine that is opening people’s minds a little bit to what is available, and it just gives people another option so they can steer away from meat for a while. I’ve never had the idea of changing the world, I just want to give people the option of something different from what they were brought up with or what they’re used to. So I don’t know if it’s a whole new world – but it’s to be welcomed, I think, and not to be feared or dismissed.”

The Hug And Pint’s Mushroom Cashew Curry

Cashew nuts blitzed with water and oil into a smooth ‘butter’ are the key to the richness of this dish which can stand up to any curry rich with ghee, cream, or animal fat. The comforting creaminess of cashews is countered with sharp and fiery sambal oelek and balanced with the freshness of peas and coriander. Inspired by classic Indo-British cuisine, this curry has widespread appeal and is one of our most enduring and popular dishes, appearing fairly consistently on our rotating menu.

Serves 4

Serve with: rice and/or flatbread


200g cashew nuts (unsalted)

300g button mushrooms

4 dried shiitake mushrooms

100ml vegetable oil

150g frozen peas

A small handful coriander leaves (chopped)

1 medium brown onion (peeled & roughly chopped)

2 green chillies (stalks removed)

6 cloves of garlic (peeled)

1 thumb of ginger (peeled)

1 tablespoon of palm sugar or brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cumin

A pinch of ground cardamom

A pinch of ground fenugreek

1 tablespoon of salt

5 fresh curry leaves (frozen is ok but avoid dried)

1 tablespoon sambal oelek (a kind of Indonesian chilli sauce)

The juice of 1 lime


In a bowl, cover the dried shiitake in 200ml of hot water and leave to soak for one hour. Meanwhile, in a food processor or a large pestle and mortar, blitz the onions, garlic, chillies and ginger, adding a little of the oil to achieve a thick paste consistency. Heat the majority of the rest of the oil in a large saucepan. When hot but not smoking, add the paste and cook, stirring often, for 30 minutes until it softens and gets some colour. In a frying pan or wok, heat a glug of oil and fry the button mushrooms in two batches until each batch is well coloured all over. It helps to keep the mushrooms a similar size, so cut any larger ones in half, keeping the smaller ones whole. When the mushrooms are cooked, using the same pan cook half of the cashews over a medium heat until brown, being careful not to burn them. In a food processor blitz the remaining uncooked cashews with 100ml of water and 50ml of vegetable oil into a smooth, white butter and set aside. Add the spices, sugar and salt to the onion/garlic paste and cook for another 20 minutes, adding oil if it seems dry. Remove the shiitake from the soaking water and reserve the liquid. Remove stalks and discard, roughly chop caps and add to the cooking paste. Add the soaking water, cashew butter and sambal oelek to the cooking paste and stir. Allow the curry to simmer for half an hour (or continue to simmer for a few hours which will only result in deeper flavour) then remove from the heat and stir in the peas, coriander and lime juice. Check seasoning and serve with rice or flatbread.