Sean Fat Gay Vegan

Do You Need to Eat Meat to Be A Man? An Interview with Fat Gay Vegan

In the first episode of our series highlighting London's changing vegan scene, we interview Sean, otherwise known as Fat Gay Vegan, who has made great strides in making London a vegan-friendly place.

Sean (Fat Gay Vegan) was at the forefront of spearheading the vegan movement in London. Being the founder of the first vegan market in London (Hackney Downs Vegan Market), he witnessed change as it happened, and can tell stories of what it was like being vegan “back in the old days”.

I caught up with Sean on a sunny afternoon in a coffee shop near Venn Street Market. Sean runs and curates the Fat Gay Vegan (FGV) section in Venn Street Market, which has around 10 vegan vendors. He provides them with a space to do business, meet people, and promote their vegan products. Hearing him speak was incredibly inspiring, I learned so much about the history of veganism in London and how it is changing. In this age of constant bad news, it’s always a relief to hear positive news about how the world is heading in a more compassionate direction.

Sean Fat Gay Vegan

Sean @fatgayvegan talking to the owner of Temaki Roll

When I arrived to Venn Street Market, Sean was busy chatting away, so I had an opportunity to check out two of the vegan vendors nearby. The first was London Feel Good, run by a lovely couple who were selling beautiful desserts and hot vegan sausage rolls. Next to them was Hôria Vegan, run by a kind woman called Mira. She gave me a little sample of her brownies and I immediately bought two, and also ended up getting a sausage roll for lunch from London Feel Good. Sean and I ducked out of the market to a quiet coffee shop and started chatting.

First off, I love your name. I really admire how you own your identity, I think it’s something a lot of people struggle with, to fully put themselves out there. Can you tell me a little bit about how you came up with your name?

I was joking with a friend and I said, “Well I’m fat, I’m gay, I’m vegan.” That was so funny when I said it, we fell over laughing. They’re things that have maybe been used in the past to tease me, and I wanted to turn them upside down – sort of appropriate them for good.

 

 

A lot of people told me, “Oh don’t use that name, people will think you’re making fun of yourself – people will take it the wrong way.” And I was like, “No I want to use it – it’s really positive.” So now, when people come up to me and say “Oh, are you fat gay vegan?” I say, “Yeah!” It’s always a really happy thing. It’s a celebration.

 

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When did you first become vegan? Was there any specific that prompted the change?

I’ve been vegan for 20 years, and a few years before that I was vegetarian. I really was brought to vegetarianism from wanting to not hurt animals. I didn’t want my personal consumer choices to hurt animals. And then I started to read about the cruelty of the dairy and egg industry and thought well you know what? If I’m vegetarian for animal welfare, I should be vegan for animal welfare. And so I changed.

Are you from London?

I’m from Australia, from a city that is not only racist and homophobic but also very meat-centric and meat-obsessed. If you didn’t have grilled meat at a meal, people felt like they weren’t eating. So you know, I have more trouble there than I do in London. I suppose you could pick most towns on the planet and you’ll find that people are meat-obsessed – very much rooted in the tradition of eating meat as part of their culture.

The relationship between toxic masculinity and meat-eating is a very big problem in Australia

But in Australia, meat-eating is also tied to masculinity and I struggle with that a lot. Not only do they question why you wouldn’t want to eat meat, but sometimes they might suggest, for men, that you’re less of a man if you don’t eat meat. The relationship between toxic masculinity and meat-eating is a very big problem in Australia.

 

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When you became vegan was that in Australia or London?

I was living in London, and it was an overnight thing. One day I was vegetarian, the next day I was vegan, and it was a really steep learning curve. Learning about how all these different products use animal byproducts. Yeah, you just don’t think about it. It was a completely different world 20 years ago to what it is now. I mean, where we are sitting here there’s multiple vegan options in this high street chain. 20 years ago that was not the case.

 

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Wow. In what ways has veganism become more accessible?

If you can afford to buy groceries in the UK than you can afford to be vegan. It didn’t used to be the case. It used to be specialty products that were quite expensive and hard to find. Now, there are everywhere from discount frozen food retailers selling vegan burgers for a pound to high street bakeries selling vegan sausage rolls. It’s affordable in a way that it has never been before, and with that comes a change in people’s misconceptions about being vegan. So people are starting to see vegans as regular people now, where as five years ago even, we were seen as quite extreme – or malnourished, or difficult, or militant. Now it’s like, “Oh, you eat sausage rolls? Oh you’re normal.”

 

Venn Market

 

How did you end up opening the Fat Gay Vegan section at Venn Street?

Venn Street is an iconic market in this area, it’s been going for a very long time. They had seen the popularity of Hackney Downs vegan market, so they approached me to run and curate the vegan section within their market. A similar thing has happened with the Sunday Social in Walthamstow starting on March 3rd. They had seen that having a vegan section in their market brings people down that they wouldn’t otherwise get. That seems to be the way to go forward and to take independent vegan businesses to the streets of London still. It’s to include them in the regular market. It’s tough to run just a vegan event now because vegan stuff is everywhere.

What was the inspiration for launching London Vegan Drinks and London Vegan Potluck?

I launched that many years ago, and I ran it every month for four years. It was back in the dark days before there were lots of things for vegans to do. I really wanted to create a social space for people to come together and feel celebrated in their choice to go vegan, and to give people a support network to stay vegan. So we started London Vegan Potluck, where people share food and also London Vegan drinks. Somebody else runs it now, but they’re still going strong – so if people want to go along and socialize with other vegans in a nice setting, it’s out there – google it. Those sorts of events happen all over the planet. They’re not as crucial as they used to be, because of how prolific vegan choices are now, but they really played an important part giving people a safe space to socialize and feel supported.

It’s almost like a form of outreach or activism, that we are showing non-vegan market goers that they can make a vegan choice

I also run London Vegan Beer Fest every year in Coventry, Sheffield, and Glasgow, and I think it’s coming into it’s sixth or seventh year now. They’re wonderful events because so many people who come along aren’t vegan, but it gives them an opportunity to access veganism for the day in an environment that doesn’t feel threatening. You know, it’s a fun beer fest. We have street food traders, karaoke, and beers from all over the UK. It’s wonderful to let people see that if they chose to live a vegan lifestyle – they wouldn’t have to miss out on having a good time.

How did people like you, or other activists, manage to push veganism to the mainstream and what was it like to see that change in London?

Well if you stand any Saturday between 10am and 4pm in the vegan section of Venn Street market, most of the people who make their way to the vegan food traders do so by accident. They’re just walking through the market. It’s almost like a form of outreach or activism, that we are showing non-vegan market goers that they can make a vegan choice. These people would have never made the effort to go to Hackney Downs market but now we’re in their local area.

 

 

One of the main ways, as activists, that we’ve changed how veganism is perceived in the mainstream, is by voting with how we spend our money. We have changed businesses who have changed their entire business model to cater for vegans. There’s a brand of meat alternatives called Quorn which has been around for a few decades in the UK. They’ve now announced that they’re making plans to turn their entire brand vegan. They’re not just doing that to be nice people – they’re doing that to respond to consumer demand.

 

It’s been very inspiring hearing about the positive direction that veganism is going in, and how much has changed just over the last few years. London has a lot to thank Sean for, he has created so many wonderful events and places for both vegans and non-vegans to go.

 

You can follow Sean on his instagram and support his Patreon for more updates on accessible vegan food and culture in London.

Michelle Ku is a Chinese Canadian writer, illustrator, and animator living in London.
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