Sean O’Callaghan better known as the Fat Gay Vegan is a true example of someone who has followed their dreams. He ditched his old job as a primary school teacher to become a successful vegan blogger and event’s organiser. In his six years of blogging he has grown a substantial following in the vegan community, with his honest and open take on veganism. He is the founder of the UK Vegan Beer Festival, initially starting in London with this year branching out to Glasgow and Manchester. We sat down with Sean to talk all things vegan.
Can you tell us your vegan story?
“I’ve told this story a lot to different people so maybe people have heard this before but I was living in Australia, which is where I’m from and I was driving with some friends along a highway and we got stuck in traffic and we got stuck beside a truck that had live chickens crammed in the back. I was thinking ‘you know what, I go to KFC a lot and I think that these chickens are going to be killed for food. So I think there’s a connection here between me buying that chicken and there being a demand for these chickens.’ Then a few days later I was watching the news and I saw footage of a truck carrying cows, it had tipped over on an outback highway, some of the cows died, some were staggering around injured and I thought ‘OK that’s it, between those chickens and these cows, I’m vegetarian now.’ I switched to being a vegetarian overnight but it took me a few years later to understand the connection between dairy and eggs and the cruelty and suffering associated with that. I was vegetarian for a few years and then eventually switched to become vegan.”
There certainly seems to have been a surge in popularity of veganism, have you noticed a change over the 16 years you’ve been vegan?
“It’s easier now to find vegan products everywhere and I don’t think that’s necessarily 100% down to the fact that there are a lot more vegans. Or that it’s vegans that are buying these groceries, of course we are and of course we need to be listened to. But I think there are a lot of non-vegans accessing vegan food and products every now and then a lot more. I think there are a lot of people, there’s this trendy term called ‘meat reducer’ or ‘flexitarian’. I think there are a lot of these people around who are making the major co-operations like Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose sit up and listen or sandwich shops like Pret and saying ‘you know what there are these people, there are the vegans, there’s hundreds of thousands of them but there are also a hell of a lot more who want to access vegan products and food a lot more than they did five years ago’ and I think that’s really the driving force behind this huge explosion of veganism.”
Do you think that is sustainable?
“I think so, I see it for non-vegans I think people look at veganism the same way or a similar way that they do fair trade, or they do organic in that they know it’s kind of a more compassionate stance or shopping stance to take. So they take it when they feel they can or want to or when they can afford to and I think that’s going to grow and it’s here to say. People are switched on to veganism as a kind of choice and then make it when they can.”
People are turning vegan for many different reasons now, be it environmental, health or for animals. What’s your stance on promoting veganism?
“I’m a big supporter of pushing the message that it’s all about animals because that’s what veganism is, it’s about reducing harm to non-human animals. If somebody wants to be a health food vegan or an environmental vegan I think that’s great but that’s secondary, being vegan is about reducing harm. A vegan can eat what’s deemed healthy, a vegan can eat in an environmentally responsible way, controversially so can a meat eater, most meat eaters I know are healthier than I am. I just think it’s dangerous and it dilutes the vegan message to mix it up with eating healthy, or wellness or even to an extent environmental messages but I’m not so against that, I think that’s a very important point to make. But veganism isn’t any of those things, veganism is about reducing harm to animals and anything else after that is a personal choice for somebody and it’s how they live their life.”
There’s a perception that all vegan food is healthy, what are your thoughts?
“When people think of vegan or see vegan mentioned, they often construct images of vegetables and salad, that’s not what it is, vegan doesn’t mean you instantly eat salad every day vegan means you instantly don’t eat animals every day and that’s the difference.”
Your blog has been a huge success; can you tell us the timeline of becoming vegan and then starting the blog?
“It was a very, very long time I’m an old person. I turned vegan around the year 2000 and I’ve been blogging for almost six years so I was vegan for a long time, I think I was vegan before blogs existed, it wasn’t on my radar back then. Before I became Fat Gay Vegan, well I’ve been Fat Gay Vegan for a long time, but before I became ‘The’ Fat Gay Vegan I had another life, I had a job, I was a primary school teacher, that was my life. But when I started to blog and I started to run vegan events towards the end of 2010 and they started to get really busy I had to make a choice whether to continue being a primary school teacher or try and make a go of it as a vegan blogger, event planner and whatever else I do.”
Was that a difficult decision to make?
“Yes, it was because I love teaching and I think I’m good at teaching but I think I also have a lot to bring the vegan community and I think I have a lot to bring the struggle to improve the outcomes for animals as well. I really felt there was something missing in the UK from that point of view, that people needed to be supported and celebrated in their decision to go and stay vegan and I wanted to do that by having fun and having parties and creating social opportunities and celebrating people. If people feel happy and supported and celebrated in their decision they’re more likely to stay vegan. I made the choice and it was a tough one, I don’t ever regret making the choice I made but I still sometimes wonder what it would be like to be a school teacher again.”
Have there been any moments in your blogging career that you thought, have I made the right decision here?
“I’m very persistent and I’m very strong minded so I don’t think I ever wondered ‘was it the right decision?’ I haven’t struggled so much, I mean I have a very supportive partner who believes in what I do and supports me. I’ve been able to make it financially viable, I’m no Donald Trump in the finance stakes or racism or sexism stakes. I’ve made it work, I can pay my bills and I can do what I want to do in life, and I feel incredibly privileged, well I don’t feel, I am incredibly privileged to be in this position. I’m always telling people do what you want to do, if you want to throw your job in and become a Z-grade vegan blogger only a few people listen to every now and then, do it. Because if you believe in something you should follow your dreams and especially if it’s tied up with your moral compass or your ethical stance on what you believe in, it’s a very powerful way to live your life.”
Can you tell us a bit about how the Vegan Beer Fest started?
“I was inspired by my friend in Los Angeles who writes a blog or she used to write a blog, she’s still very active on Instagram, her blog was called quarry girl and she started the Los Angeles Vegan Beer Festival probably about 7 or 8 years ago. I was very inspired by that and I just thought to myself ‘why don’t we have this in London?’ Why do they get to have this in the US and we don’t have this in London?’ and so I was inspired from that and decided to take the lead from that and I started a London version. So this year we celebrated the fourth London Vegan Beer Fest, and it’s so popular and so loved that I was also then inspired to take it on the road, I staged one in Glasgow and staged one in Manchester. Next year I’m looking to take it to a few more cities as well hopefully.”
What were the reasons behind choosing Glasgow and Manchester?
“I have connections to both cities in that I have friends there and I’ve done events and travelled there, I’ve lived in Manchester be-fore in my life, I’ve done events in Glasgow before. It made sense to go where I think the most vegans are. Glasgow I think is the best city in the UK for being vegan and Manchester also has an incredibly strong vegan scene. I knew that there are people who like to drink there, there’s a lot of great vegan beer being produced in both of those cities and there are a lot of vegans so it made sense to make those the first two cities I branched out to.”
The Glasgow Vegan Beer Fest looked to be a huge success. You held it at one of Glasgow’s vegan institutions, Mono. What was your experience of the Festival?
“I think that was key to the success was where we staged it, Mono is so loved. Out of every event I’ve done in my six years as being Fat Gay Vegan I really think that was my favourite event to be part of. Because it was almost like an extension of the vegan community and everybody knew each other, everyone was happy, and everyone had a great time, there was no stress, no drama and people just got on. I’ve never had so many people slap me on the back or try and hug me or kiss me and say ‘thank you for bringing this here’ and I was in turn saying ‘thank you for coming’ it only exists because people show up. It was lovely, it was a sold out event and it was just a terrific day, so I can’t wait to come back next year.”
The vegan community here in Glasgow seems to be very strong with a number of growing vegan businesses, what’s your opinion on the Glasgow vegan community?
“I think it really needs to be said that a huge part of the success of veganism and the strength of the vegan community in Glasgow comes down to Craig Tannock who runs Mono and a number of other vegan establishments. The resources he and his team, his friends and family have put into the Glasgow vegan community over decades is nothing short of amazing. None of it would be possible without the hard work they put in, I mean I’ve seen other cities and towns that are still languishing and still crying out for a vegan scene at a fraction as amazing as Glasgow. Craig has really done an amazing job in making it vibrant and making it feel possible and showing people that positive things can be done in the name of veganism.”
And finally, what does being vegan mean to you?
You can follow Sean’s blog at: