The Smiths’ Meat Is Murder might seem the perfect soundtrack for a vegan festival, but it’s not hard to see why the DJ replaces it halfway through with something more upbeat. Morrissey’s accusatory vocals don’t fit the ambience of a sunny day on Spain’s laidback east coast.
Although we’re at an old cigarette factory in a slightly rundown suburb of Alicante, the atmosphere is more like a village fete than a radical meeting. In front of where they used to make the cigarettes (now a trendy art gallery ) there are stalls selling chutney, muffins and smoothies. On stage, they’ve just finished packing away the props left by the children’s entertainers and, inside, more than 200 people have just crammed themselves into a soap-making workshop.
Visitors, best described as v-curious rather than vegan or vegetarian, are cooing in surprised delight at the quality of some of the food on sale. The muffins are particularly good. Made with local carob pods they have the faint bitterness of dark chocolate but with a richness that leaves you scooping up the crumbs in the paper cups. Is the fact that more than 5,000 people made it here to try these and other delights, on a bakingly hot late summer Saturday, another sign that vegetarianism is making inroads into what was once one of Europe’s most determinedly carnivorous countries?
Lonely Planet’s World Food Guide to Spain, published in 2000, advised vegetarian visitors to the country to pack “a small stash of vitamins and a big sense of humour”, and said that many Spaniards “consider a dead pig to be a vegetable”. Things, however, are changing. In 2011, the Happy Cow vegetarian website listed 353 vegetarian or vegan restaurants in the country. This year’s figure is 686, an increase of 94%. Over the same period the number of such restaurants in the UK has increased by 60%, from 842 to 1344.