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How veganism is changing Colchester’s cuisine

PUBLISHED: 15:24 23 January 2016 | UPDATED: 15:24 23 January 2016

V Catering owners Ruth Dacres, 31, and fiancé Byron Higgins, also 31

V Catering owners Ruth Dacres, 31, and fiancé Byron Higgins, also 31

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Their colourful, meat-free snaps have lit up our Instagram and Twitter feeds for months – and now vegans are transforming Colchester’s attitude to food.

V Catering's BBQ JackfruitV Catering's BBQ Jackfruit

From festive pop-ups to streetside stalls, Britain’s oldest town is now home to more than five vegan-only businesses. Most of these started cooking in the last year alone.

But these new eateries aren’t short-term solutions – unlike most of us in mid-January, many Colchester outlets believe becoming a vegan isn’t part of an annual fitness kick, it’s a “life choice.”

As Byron Higgins, owner of Colchester-based catering agency V, says: “once you go vegan you never go back.”

Byron, 31, set up V Catering Co. in 2014 with fiancé Ruth Dacres, also 31, after watching a documentary about animal cruelty.

V Catering's BBQ JackfruitV Catering's BBQ Jackfruit

“The documentary really upset me and it’s what made me become a vegan. I did some research and I hated what I was seeing. I discovered it was so easy to swap meat for vegetables and vegan proteins.

“I feel so much healthier now – I play football and not eating meat or dairy has helped me have so much more energy.

“We’ve become so much more interested in food and the people we have met on the way are inspirational. It’s great that Colchester has so many new vegan outlets, it means it becomes a lot more normal and gets the message across that veganism is a very healthy, cruelty-free life choice.

“Our stalls attract quite a few meat eaters – especially when we’re preparing our BBQ pulled jackfruit. It’s an easy swap from pulled pork – what it’s based on – to pulled jackfruit. The flavour packs a punch – you wouldn’t know it wasn’t meat.”

V Catering owner Byron Higgins, who says he V Catering owner Byron Higgins, who says he "can't imagine going back to eating meat"

And V Catering isn’t the only Colchester business promoting cruelty-free cooking.

In March 2015, The Den at 23 became the first vegan café in the town.

Run by husband and wife team Jennifer and Robert Dunn, the Crouch Street cafe’s menu reflects the pair’s focus on “breaking stereotypes” about becoming a vegan.

Jennifer, 30, said: “We set up The Den at 23 because we wanted to showcase the diversity of vegan food, and prove that it’s not limited to salads, soup, or homous!

External shot of The Den at 23External shot of The Den at 23

“We wanted to create the kind of place we’d like to visit – with fun and naughty vegan food! That’s why we offer burgers, chilli, and cakes.

“We chose a vegan lifestyle for animal rights reasons. We both love animals, so we don’t want to fund an industry that harms them. We’re keen to spread the vegan message!

“Rob especially is always educating people about how dairy milk is produced, as so many people don’t realise the cruelty involved.”

Everything on The Den’s menu is plant-based, making it the first outlet in Colchester to only serve ingredients containing no animal products.

The Den at 23's chilli nachos dishThe Den at 23's chilli nachos dish

A non-vegan TripAdvisor user said in a review of The Den at 23: “Don’t be put off by the fact that this is a vegan cafe! We’re not vegan, but come here regularly for the best quality, fair trade Brazilian coffee. We were a bit sceptical to start with, but are now convinced.”

Why not try a vegan treat at home - here Byron shares one of his top recipes.

Robert Dunn, 31, owner of The Den at 23Robert Dunn, 31, owner of The Den at 23

V Catering Co’s BBQ Pulled Jackfruit

Seasoning: 1/4 tsp BBQ seasoning, 1tsp paprika, 1tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1/2 chilli powder, 1 tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce , 3/4 tsp BBQ sauce

Method: Shred the jackfruit and toss in the seasoning

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