Normalising veganism in Glasgow: Craig Tannock (UK)

A shorter version of the interview was published in a special edition of Tallinn Vegan Fair in November 2017.

Glasgow was named the most vegan-friendly city in the UK by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in 2013, and it has been said that Craig Tannock’s vegan ventures helped Glasgow secure PETA’s award. Craig Tannock’s Mono Cafe Bar has won the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce 2016 Award for Glasgow’s Favourite Business, and Stereo Cafe Bar was nominated for the Best Vegan Restaurant in the VegfestUK Awards 2016. It has been said that it is not an exaggeration to say that the growth of Glasgow’s vegan culture is in a large part down to the tireless work of one humble and unassuming man called Craig Tannock.

Photo: Bart Urbanski

Craig, in one interview you said that you went vegetarian and then vegan, and that you went for the full lifestyle. Also, you said that you were the last person that anyone would have expected to go vegan. What were your reasons for going vegetarian and then vegan?

In 1980, when I was 20, an incident during a Psychology lab at St Andrew’s University got me seriously thinking (for the first time) about the total lack of respect for animals within my culture and the subsequent systematic abuse that occurs on a perpetual basis. I decided that I did not want to contribute to this abuse, so I decided to go vegetarian shortly after. I went vegan two years later once the connections   between the meat and dairy industries became clear to me, i.e. when I finally realised that they were in actuality parts of the same industry.

I was brought up in Greenock in west central Scotland and ate the traditional local diet. All meals involved animal products and almost always meat. I didn’t eat much in the way of vegetables apart from potatoes (often fried). I have to say that I loved my typical west of Scotland diet, particularly steaks, chicken and bacon. My family were shocked when they found out about me going vegetarian and ‘knew’ that there was no way it would last as ‘he just loves his steak too much.’

Stereo’s food choices. The Stereo’s Instagram photos.

What is veganism for you?

For me, veganism is about doing the best that I can to both remove myself from the pervading institutional speciesism of my culture whilst at the same time trying to contribute to attitudinal change within that culture.

For me, cruelty-free living means living a completely vegan lifestyle as best as I can. This approach impacts everything really; food, drink, clothes, toiletries, household products, medicines, etc. It would be very difficult to completely remove the possibility of my existence resulting in harm to other living creatures, and so there always have to be compromises e.g. I use public transport, I eat root vegetables. I find that over time I am compromising less and less, though I remain relaxed about my choices and I don’t stress about it as that would be harmful to myself. I think it is important that people considering going vegan don’t assume that they need to jump in at quite the same level as long-term vegans overnight. They can go at their own pace, plus there is now a huge amount of advice and support for anyone considering this really positive change to the way their life impacts on animals and the environment.

Of course, for me, cruelty-free living also means doing everything I can not to contribute to human suffering either. For me it is all the same thing. Trying not to be complicit whilst advocating for change from within.

Harmonium. Photo: Bart Urbanski; The 78. Photo: Stephanie Gibson; Mono. Photo: anonymous author; Harmonium. Photo: Bart Urbanski.

Craig, you are the owner of Glaswegian vegan favourites, Mono, Stereo, The Flying Duck and The 78. What were your reasons being establishing vegan restaurants and driving vegan culture in Glasgow?

I have played in bands since I was 15/16. I have also worked in bars since I was 16. Myself and a couple of friends opened a small recording and rehearsal studio in Glasgow in 1987. In 1991 we got the opportunity to expand the studio into larger premises that also included a café/bar/venue, which we were able to take over. It was agreed that the food served would be vegetarian. This project went really well; however, there was a major fire upstairs 9 months later and our premises was destroyed by water damage. We managed to set up a café/bar/venue again somewhere else, though we concentrated on the evenings for the first couple of years and didn’t serve food. We started opening during the day and served 100% vegan food from around April 1994.

Part of the reason for serving only vegan food was simply because I was vegan myself and didn’t want to be supporting the animal abuse industry by either my personal choices or those of the business. The other reason was that I realised that this was an opportunity to help normalise veganism in the city and beyond. We had already established a strong reputation for our music programming and for the way that we supported up-and-coming bands. We didn’t make a big deal that the food was vegan; there was only some small print at the bottom of the menu stating that all food served was free of animal products.

How has the vegan landscape changed over the years in Scotland?

It has changed beyond all recognition. I went vegan in 1982 and it was around 3 years until I knowingly met another vegan, and his name was also Craig (and no, it wasn’t a mirror).There were very few specialist vegan products in 1982, and, apart from a couple of notable exceptions, what was there was of poor quality. Having said that though, there were plenty of basic ingredients available and I ate well.

I didn’t feel that there was much in the way of a vegan community in Scotland or the UK in the 80s. Occasionally, I would hear about the existence of another vegan, though I rarely met any. I moved to Glasgow in 1984 and it was not until the very late 80s that I became aware of there being a few more vegans around. This continued to develop through the 90s and something approaching a small community began to take shape, though things still seemed pretty static for years until, I don’t know, maybe around 5/6 years ago. There was simply an explosion then, not just in Glasgow but all over the world, all at the same time, and it hasn’t stopped. If anything the pace of change is accelerating in my opinion. In 2010, you could pretty much count the number of vegan businesses in Scotland on one hand, and most of them were run by ourselves. I couldn’t tell you how many there are now but certainly somewhere between 60 and 100, and half of these have started within the last couple of years.

Until a few years ago, most of our customers were not vegan or vegetarian. They were mostly people who enjoyed our places and the food that we served. This is now beginning to change and I would now guess that the majority of our customers are now vegan/vegetarian, and probably more vegans than vegetarians. This is a huge change and it has been reflected in us being more comfortable in being a little more upfront with our vegan status. We are still not judgemental, just more confident in being able to be clear about what we are about. 

I believe that the ‘vegan market’ is massive. It is obviously not just vegans who are interested in vegan products. The key is quality. If the quality of any particular vegan product is high, then its appeal can be universal.

Stereo’s food choices. The Stereo’s Instagram photos.

How does one become a successful entrepreneur in the field of vegan business? 

In this regard, I think that it is important not to see other vegan businesses as competition, even those doing the same thing as you. In my experience, most vegan business owners are about expanding veganism first, business second. We are all obviously working towards the day when all businesses/projects will be vegan, so it doesn’t make sense to do anything other than try and help other vegan businesses. They should be seen as allies rather than competitors. Also, even from a strictly business perspective, every new successful vegan business helps to grow the market for vegan products, so everyone wins. The key again though is quality. Any vegan business that cannot deliver high quality could do harm to veganism. By vegan businesses being open and supportive with each other, we can hopefully maintain high quality and reduce business failures. Vegan businesses can make a huge contribution to the further development of veganism; however, in my opinion they must be willing to be mutually supportive if they want to maximise the benefit. I think taking this collaborative approach is key to working successfully within the field of vegan business.

How does one become a successful vegan entrepreneur in the field of business? 

This is a different matter altogether. Most businesses are currently clearly not vegan, and most business services have no interest in veganism e.g. banks, insurance agents, major suppliers, etc. So a lot of one’s professional relationships are not with vegans or vegan businesses. 

My advice is to not try and use these relationships for any direct advocacy. Keep them professional and straightforward. Let your professionalism and good results be your advocacy within these sorts of relationships. Though if questioned about the vegan nature of your business (which you will be), then do not shy away from explaining why you and your business is vegan – just keep it short and simple though. A combination of professionalism matched with clear business results will be the best advocacy that can be achieved with these non-vegan business relationships. You may not directly convert anyone; however, you will gain their respect and may open their eyes to some extent. 

You need to gain this respect if you want to have productive business relationships outside of the vegan business community.

So my advice with regard to this question would be to be a business person first when dealing with non-vegan organisations, but be ready to explain one’s veganism when asked.

What is the most important thing for you while running the eateries?

The most important thing is the culture of the workplace.My veganism is not just about non-human animals; it’s about respect for all animals, including humans. If the culture is broken than everything becomes very difficult and nobody wants to be there. We have always tried to engender a culture of mutual respect and support. A place where people trust each other and can be open with each other. Not simply a place of work, but somewhere that you can be proud to be part of, and actually enjoy being part of. I am not saying that we have always succeeded, or that we will always succeed in the future; however, the intent is genuine. 

Can you name the best methods of nonviolent struggle? 

Methods that confront the ‘foot soldiers’ of the oppressor with the inhumanity of their policies/actions, and attempt to make the power of the oppressor irrelevant. Absurdity can be very effective in putting matters into a more sane context, e.g. the violin playing street protestor in recent demonstrations in Venezuela, or the classic placing of flowers in gun barrels.

What has been the most rewarding for you as a vegetarian and vegan, and also as a vegan entrepreneur?

Becoming vegan, I feel that I have become myself. I can’t think of anything more rewarding than having the opportunity and freedom to be who you are. It is a gift that I am very grateful for, and never take for granted.

I am not very keen on the term entrepreneur being applied to myself. I feel that it has strong capitalist connotations. As veganism for me is based on compassion and justice, then I don’t see veganism as being compatible with capitalism. Having said that, I am all for trade. In my opinion whilst trade and capitalism can certainly crossover, they are certainly not the same thing.

As a vegan trader then, one of the most rewarding things has been knowing that over the years our businesses have made a real contribution to the acceptance and development of veganism in Scotland. That makes me happy. There is still very much to do; however, I do take some comfort in what has been achieved to date.

There have been many challenges with the establishments over the years, I am sure. Can you share a lesson learned with the readers?

There have indeed been many existential challenges/crises over the years. Too many to go into here, so my lesson learned will have to be a general one.

If a crisis hits, don’t panic. What you are experiencing is your emotional reaction; it is not the complete reality of the situation. Be open about the problem with colleagues, friends and family. Don’t keep it all to yourself. Try and create as much time as possible for any big decisions you have to make relating to the problem. If you only have hours, then go for a walk. If you have days, then spend one in the countryside or by the shore. Change your environment. You need to find a way of putting the problem into its proper perspective. You need to find peace within yourself. Only then will you be able to function effectively and make good decisions. Big decisions should not be made in the midst of an emotive state. Big decisions should only be made when you are feeling yourself. If you do this, then nothing more can be asked of you.

I have heard that the number of vegans in the UK has increased by more than 350 per cent over the last decade. With veganism becoming a more popular dietary choice, restaurants, cafes and shops have adapted to keep up with the demand of over half a million vegans. Many think that veganism is hip and fashionable, not actually something that matters. What would you say to people who strongly believe that veganism will never become mainstream and that veganism is only a trend? 

Veganism has never been a trend. Even though the term was only coined in 1944, there have been vegan practitioners in the UK since at least the 18thcentury. So, definitely not a trend. Nobody knows what the future will bring, but to say that veganism will never become mainstream would be foolhardy. All of the evidence would strongly suggest that it is rapidly becoming the socially acceptable diet of choice amongst the younger generations and there is nothing to suggest that this is going to do anything but increase. Our cultures are changing. More and more people are having the confidence to think for themselves and make their own decisions on a whole host of issues. Becoming vegan is an act of taking control over your own life and its impact on others. Whilst veganism has been around for a long time, it certainly feels that many more people than ever before are seeing its absolute relevance to their lives and their search for peace within themselves.

Tobias Leenaert, a long-time speaker, trainer and strategist, and the author of How to Create a Vegan World: a Pragmatic Approach (Lantern Press, 2017) has said: “In this world where there is so much suffering, it’s hard to do enough. Doing your best is maybe never really your best, because you can always do better. We can spend more money on good causes, and watch less Netflix, and help more.” How would you comment on that?

The world is a horrific mess. No one person can fix that alone, but everyone can help. What is the point in life if it is not to be happy. Yes, if you care about others, then it is difficult to be happy when you know others are suffering, but you are only a human being, a human animal. You will not be able to function at your best unless you are happy. Humans have an amazing capacity to hold conflicting concepts and emotions at the same time. We must use this capacity and must never neglect our own wellbeing and happiness. Only then can we do our best for others.

Get inspired!

Mono Facebook page:

Stereo Facebook page:

The Flying Duck Facebook page:

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