London, as well as Prague, is a city replete with feasting events in the run up to Christmas. The shiny and glittering shop windows in Oxford Street entice their customers, like the other London streets, with illuminated Christmas decorations, enticing everybody to sit in one of the traditional English pubs. The picturesque London Hornton Street near Kensington Palace attracted a different type of visitor, because it hosted an unusual pre-Christmas event on 6th December. Remarkable for bringing together countless people who share one common thing: they are not indifferent to the lives and suffering of animals – both farm animals and wild animals.
The all-day event called the Christmas Fayre and it was organized by a leading British organization, Animal Aid, which rejects any use of animals and many of the successful campaigns for animal rights could be attributed to them. These, among others, include the tightening of rules of horse races, which is very popular for English people. Moreover Animal Aid set about installing CCTV cameras into slaughterhouses of the UK´s largest suppliers of meat after a great investigative affair to prevent violence to livestock. Overall this organization popularizes and promotes a vegan lifestyle. So, the Christmas Fayre was a great Christmas event celebrating life without cruelty. Thanks to the vastness of Kensington Town Hall, where this event took place, the visitor could get acquainted with other major organizations which focus on the protection and rights of various animals, and also purchase a variety of vegan products. Since it was a charity program, there was a symbolic fee (£ 2) and it ran from 10 am until 5 pm.
Right at the entrance, the visitor found themselves in a huge space with dozens of tables and chairs where people were sitting and enthusiastically discussing with friends, sipping their vegan drinks or just feasting on the vegan meals that were sold by the individual stalls. Finding a free place to sit was as challenging as the crush through the crowd to stand with food and refreshments.
In this hall, the visitor can stop at the stand of Animal Aid, which offered beautiful Christmas cards with illustrations of foxes, hares and other animals. By buying the Christmas wishes everyone could support this organization or directly throw a few pennies, which they had in their pocket, into the jar. The newsstand also provided a number of books devoted to the protection of animal rights, the phenomenon of Animal Sanctuary vegan recipes, which was, at pre-Christmas time, a great interest.
Animal Aid also had another stall, which sold Cruelty Free cosmetics, ie. Cosmetics that hold the HCS (Humane Cosmetics Standard) certification with the Leaping Bunny logo. This logo ensures that the final cosmetic product, or its sub-components supplied by other suppliers, has not been tested on animals behind the closed doors of a cruel laboratory. Every consumer may find this Leaping Bunny logo on decorative and body cosmetics, as well as on household cleaning products. However, the HCS certificate was not the only plus point of these cosmetics, as the volunteers from Animal Aid also offered products without the infamous palm oil. (The logo of the Vegan Flower was commonplace.)
As the visitor moves around the venue, the Cruelty free cosmetic are replaced by Shambhu’s Vegan Catering. The ladies who were selling vegan meals were sympathetic and enthusiastic in serving their customers who were indecisive about the food they should choose. The Vegan catering offered not only a main dish, but also sweet desserts.
Shambhu’s Vegan Catering was not the only one food stall, and so I decided to go for lunch in the afternoon at Fairfoods of Devon. This vegan catering offered many more types of food and the customer got so much food, for only 6 pounds (a bargain for London), that it was impossible to finish the whole serving. The lady with shorter black hair cut and a red T-shirt laughed over my indecision very much and she seemed to be really enjoying the Christmas Fayre. In the long line of waiting people, I also witnessed how the first pan of Vegan pasta disappeared at lightning speed, which was immediately registered by another woman who came out from the kitchen carrying the next one.
Nevertheless, the only minor drawback of this catering is that it has a rather liberal approach to the palm oil issue, which I learned later from their website. On the other hand they led an open debate on Facebook page with their customers as to whether palm oil is completely avoidable or not and also offer an extensive menu without palm oil – as opposed to the mainstream vegetarian frozen meals in Britain, where the vast majority contain palm oil. What really impressed me was another stand with organic vegan beer from Pitfield Brewery, which has offered their products for 30 years in the UK market. Here the visitor could buy a gift pack of beer, for example, for your friends or family members.
Furthermore, in this hall full of people the organization of Animal Aid among others carry warnings on their banners about cruelty towards animals in scientific laboratories. Therefore the organization chose a photograph of a beagle on one panel because it is one of the most abused dog races in this horrific research. In the past and still now, Cambridge and Oxford University were on the sharp end of public criticism for constantly ongoing laboratory experiments conducted mostly on primates.
In a smaller hall, near to the elevator on the way to the lecture hall, everyone could stop at the next booth of Animal Aid, offering flyers to draw attention to topics related to the rights of farm and wild animals. Moreover, one could also send a ´Christmas greetings´ to his MP (Member of Parliament), with a request to install more CCTV cameras in the slaughterhouses and focus attention on the monstrosities that the employees of this sector subject farm animals to. Many British took advantage of this and Christmas greetings were dispatched to their elected representatives.
In the great hall were large-scale stands from all the relevant organizations, which were literally surrounded by swarming people. So there I could not really take photographs, otherwise one would block the other people behind them and be pushed in one direction. On the other hand, the fact that this event is such a popular pre-Christmas event left me pleasantly surprised. The only one normal picture I managed to take in front of Sea Shepherd UK – the registered British organization for the protection of seas and wildlife around the UK coast. It was quite a shame that I did not try to shoot more, because in this Great Hall (the Cruelty Free Fair), everyone could purchase cruelty free shoes at Vegetarian Shoes, get acquainted with the Vegan Society, The Humane Society International, Greek Animal Rescue, Cruelty Free International, Badgers Dairy Free, Animal Welfare Party, Animals Asia, Essential Vegan and many other organizations. In other areas of the building could be seen the world-renowned David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which cares for orphaned baby elephants, because poachers killed their parents. The organization has successfully returned many adult elephants into the wild African nature.
The overall impression of this event was unforgettable. With my own eyes I was convinced that a huge number of people are not indifferent to the fate of animals, who advocate the rights of all animals in every way. Meeting this large number of people acted as a balm for the soul – after all the sleepless nights when one tries to displace the shocking footage that often confronts us. Clearly the biggest advantage of this was that I met all sorts of kind people, which confirmed that veganism and the overall protection of animals is a broad church and cannot be put into a box. Quite the contrary, the vegan lifestyle in the UK is a uniquely varied life philosophy, attracting diverse subcultures and human characters. I saw a mother breastfeeding her baby at the front of the lecture hall, entire families with children, a little boy who was running around the crowd of people in a hooded sweatshirt from Sea Shepherd, lunching grandmothers and grandfathers, young punks, tattooed tough guys, fat bodybuilders, hipsters, hippies, students in London and typical Englishmen and women. Finally, I also took a number of interesting leaflets – only in case I would forget why I am a vegan in the New Year of 2016.