As one of the media partners of VegFestUK Brighton, taking place at Brighton Centre on March 28th and 29th, we are doing one special series of interviews with celebrities and special guests that will be speaking or performing during the event.
Juliet Gellatley is the founder of Viva!, one of the biggest vegan groups in Europe and I’ve been following her amazing work – and the group work – since I’ve moved here and had the opportunity to ask her a few questions as she will be speaking at VegFestUK Brighton, happening this weekend.
What has inspired you to go vegan and launch Viva! Back in 1994?
I became vegetarian at 15 because of a look.
I visited a pig farm. As soon as I walked through the door of an ugly, industrial building, a nagging unease gnawed at me. There were no cosy sties, no wallowing contentment, just row upon row of individual concrete stalls, each pig separated from its neighbours, unable to touch them despite being only centimetres away.
These pigs were the breeding stock, the pregnant sows who would provide piglets just to be torn away and killed for meat.
In the same shed was a huge boar, his huge head hanging low towards the barren floor. He dragged himself towards me on lame legs. He looked straight at me. I saw in those sad, intelligent, penetrating eyes a plea, a question to which I had no answer: ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ I kept repeating: ‘I’m sorry, so sorry.’ At that moment, I went vegetarian (and later vegan).
I didn’t know it at the time but it was that moment that led to me eventually forming Viva!.
When was Viva! founded and how?
I founded Viva! in 1994 in my garage in a little village called Church Minshull, Cheshire with almost no money but a lot of help from those close to me, especially Tony Wardle.
I’m a campaigner at heart. Within two years we relocated to Brighton and then Bristol in 2003.
Your talk in Brighton will be “Why You Don’t Need Dairy”. Do you agree that dropping dairy is still a hard change for most of the people trying to go vegan?
I speak on lots of topics – Why you don’t need dairy is the most popular, so I’m delighted to be invited to give this talk at VegFest Brighton. Viva! has put 20 years of hard graft into making it easier to go vegan and last year we produced three new guides, including Everyone’s going dairy-free and the L-Plate Vegan, and our first cookery book, the Viva! Cookbook We also launched the free site 30 Day Vegan and have countless delicious vegan recipes on Vegan Recipe Club. Hopefully they show that it’s much easier to drop dairy than some people imagine. There is so much choice now! Everything you once thought of as being from a dairy source has vegan versions. A sure sign of change is when the big guns get in on the act! For example, Tesco has just launched vegan strawberry and vanilla cones (cornettos to you and I!). Every national coffee chain has soya (and some, almond) milks. There are many vegan cheeses, ice creams, chocolates, creams, custards and so on just waiting to be enjoyed. If anyone reading this is having difficulty changing or just wants friendly advice, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org we love helping people go dairy-free!
Viva! campaigns seem to be focus on helping people to reduce their meat and dairy consumption. How reducing this consumption helps the animals? Do you see a reduction as a step to drop all consumption?
Viva! clearly campaigns against cruelty to animals and shows that going vegan is the answer. We also vigorously campaign to expose the damage done to the nation’s health by meat, eggs, fish and dairy and again show why veganism is the way forward for good health. And we expose how eating animals is destroying the world – and, guess what? – veganism is the solution!
We have helped hundreds of thousands of people over the years change their diet, and influenced millions. It’s no surprise that most people go vegetarian before vegan, or give up red meat then white. For many, a Viva! campaign is their first or most poignant eye opener, a stepping stone to further change. For example, our campaign against the factory farming of ducks reached millions through TV coverage, resulting in people giving up meat and about four million fewer ducks being killed within four years of the campaign launch. Viva! then talks to those people and helpfully nudges them towards going vegan!
Veganism has never looked so good in the mainstream media before. Do you see all this attention to the diet aspect of it positive?
Yes, very positive. It sweeps away the old stereotypes of a vegan – we are not one type of person. Veganism embodies everyone and is for everyone.
What’s your favourite aspect of VegFestUK?
I love the way VegFest celebrates veganism. There is always a tangible positive and fun vibe. Tim and Alan put an extraordinary amount of effort into making each show different and exciting. Comedy festival, speed dating, debates, films, speakers, cookery demos and donuts… what more can anyone ask?