IN CONVERSATION: LAURA CALLAN, THE BRIGHT STORE LONDON.
LONDON : I'M ALWAYS IMPRESSED BY INDIVIDUALS WHO WALK THEIR TALK, AND TAKE AN ETHICAL STANCE FOR THOSE WHO CAN'T SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES - IN THIS CASE, ANIMALS.
Laura Callan is one such person. Having followed a plant based diet for 11 years, Laura launched the jam packed, beautifully edited, Bright Zine 3 years ago + this May, opened The Bright Store London, a welcoming haven in Hackney, with vegan pastries, fabulous coffee, a selection of Vegan Queen pieces (all made locally + ethically) - and thought provoking conversations with every visit.
I talked with Laura at length about her experiences being vegan, her passion for supporting other vegan businesses + her plans to renovate the lower level of the store to create a club / co-working / gathering space for animal loving, plant eating, like minded people.
SB: What's the vegan scene like in London + how do you go about connecting with other vegan businesses?
LC: At the beginning of The Bright Zine, we went to every vegan event we could find, talking to people who were running businesses + making an impact in the scene. We decided to produce stickers, with the message of 'support your local vegan business' which we feel is a good shout out to the community, encouraging buyers to buy local + support vegan businesses. I do feel that the scene in London is still quite new - when I was in New York recently, I was so impressed with how developed the vegan message was there, I loved it. Restaurants + cafes are so amazing - from the street food to the high end.
SB: What was your path to plants, away from animals?
LC: I became vegetarian when I was 11, when I realised chicken was actually made from chickens. I thought that was enough for years - being vegetarian - but then years later when I went to uni, I read Peter Singers' Animal Liberation which I didn't finish as it was so harrowing, yet I read enough to shift my thinking. I've watched many documentaries like Earthlings, read a lot about vivisection, then about the dairy industry - and just thought 'that's it'. I went vegan for a week, and never went back to animal products in my diet after that. That was 11 years ago, and I found it a lot more difficult back then to find good vegan food; thankfully the food on offer has developed enormously since then.
SB: What do you think about people saying, 'but it's so hard to go vegan' + 'mmmmm.....but what about cheese??"
LC: I really think you need to meet people where they are, at a particular point in their diet choices. If they feel they can't live without cheese, then I encourage them to go vegan up to that point, and then work towards moving the cheese out of their diet too.
SB: But, we're not going to die if we don't have cheese?
LC: No....but I guess people see it as a restriction, like they're losing something.
SB: A lot of people feel there's a lot of judgement attached to 'living a vegan life' - what are your thoughts on this?
LC: I think there are different types of vegan - of course. When you first start learning about animal exploitation + environmental degradation, you feel like you've discovered this secret that the rest of world just doesn't see yet - so you feel angry + somewhat indignant - "how can we walk around in this world, allowing these things to happen??" I've been that angry person in the past - and I'm still angry about things that go on with animal exploitation - but I recognise that we live in a vegan / non-vegan world, and it's impossible to be 100% vegan as animal products and/or animal tested products are everywhere. But being open to learning about what goes on, educating yourself + changing your approach to consumption is the way forward. It's why we do our Bright Zine mag - we want people to read, challenge their thinking + hopefully learn. I don't think that just because you're vegan, you're necessarily a great person - or that you're perfect. People are sometimes looking to trip you up once you say you've adopted a vegan diet - trying to find the holes in your argument.
SB: So the judgement vibe goes both ways then! I was talking to a cab driver on the way here today, and we discussed veganism. He told me a friend of his had become 'a vegan' + then proceeded to let me know that he'd caught her out because she has leather seats in her car. I couldn't help but think the point of her diet change had been missed.
LC: Yes, clearly we can't all go out + buy new cars / furniture etc. I think there is a constant drive to debunk veganism - and it's growing, as more people are adopting plant based diets + factory farming is threatened. There's a lot of misinformation out there about being vegan - and equally some powerful marketing supporting the animal exploitation industries.
SB: Couldn't agree more, sometimes it feels like an uphill battle - but worth it. What's your vision for the Bright Store?
LC: I always wanted to have a store + coffee shop - I didn't think it would happen through the Bright Zine, but opportunity knocked with this great space in Hackney being available. It's miniature - like the Zine, style wise - which just worked for us. My aim is not to go out there + start making a whole range of products - I want us to support other small businesses who are experts in their field. Just as we do with the Bright Zine - we aim to shine a spotlight on people doing awesome things. Locally made kombucha, breakfast pots, pastries, books, beauty products + more products to come. We've also got a downstairs space which we're currently renovating to be a members only Vegan Club.
SB: Thank you for the chat Laura. And fabulous oat milk latte + vegan croissant too....!
A FEW PLANT BASED FOOD DESTINATIONS BELOW - IT (SADLY) WASN'T A CULINARY TOUR, SO WHILST I'D HAVE LIKED TO MAKE THE TIME TO ENJOY THE VEGAN FOOD EXPERIENCE 3 TIMES A DAY IN EACH CITY, TIME DIDN'T ALLOW. HERE ARE SOME SPOTS I ENJOYED.
LONDON Mildreds was excellent for an inexpensive, high quality + very tasty dinner.
PARIS - Whilst in Paris I had a weekend brunch at the amazing Abattoir Vegetal in the 8th arrondissement. Plants hang from the ceiling, food was fresh + tasty, and the small team running the completely packed cafe were friendly + warm. And, the name, well, that's just perfect.
I also had a takeaway burger from Burger Theory in the 3rd arr. Again, super friendly women running this show + whilst burgers aren't my daily go-to, it was a tasty treat to take back to the Airbnb for a night in watching Game of Thrones.... I asked the team if vegan food was popular in Paris...'not really' was the response, but they were hopeful things were changing.
Aujourd'hui Demain is also in the 3rd + has a range of food options to enjoy eating in the sit down cafe, as well as plenty of ingredients to buy for home cooking. They also stock some bags + accessories in this total vegan concept store.
AMSTERDAM: The city of canals, Rembrandt, frietjes, bicycles, tall good looking folk + the rather frequent, pungent smell of marijuana - provided a beautifully inspiring two days on this trip.
Vegan Junk Food Bar was a fun + totally indulgent brunch that meant no more food was to be consumed until aperol-o'clock later in day.
Yerba provided a much more elevated experience with superb food + cocktails. Cosy, friendly + tasty.
One final note - many longer term plant based folk know about the Happy Cow app, but if you don't + you're in a new city seeking vegan options, it's a saviour.