DominiKa Plascenka, a vegan student studying journalism, secured a place on this year's Vegan Venture cookery course.
Even though Vegan Venture was scheduled to start quite early, it was a warm and sunny morning as I cycled through the tree-stuffed Altrincham just after 8am. Having never been there before, I was surprised that an area as green as this exists in Manchester. But even a greater amazement struck me upon seeing a splendid mansion, humbly hidden behind a hedgerow — The Vegetarian Society headquarters.
As I watched two staffies running around, too busy playing with each other to notice me, I locked my bike outside. And there I was — with an immense desire to learn to cook better to show the world how easy and delicious vegan food can be.
I hadn't thought much about what to expect but when I was led into the room where we had breakfast, I was dazzled by how beautiful it was. It was full of vegan goodness: dairy-free yogurts, soya milk, cereal, tea and coffee, wholemeal bread, peanut butter (my absolute obsession), jam and even Marmite.
There were a few shy teenagers sat around the table, whom I tried chatting to as I ate my meal. We were then taken to the kitchen, where we were tutored by the lovely Mo. She quickly showed us some recipes and then got us cooking.
I was astonished by how simple and quick vegan mayonnaise is — and god, was it delectable... I would have never eaten mayonnaise by itself but I wanted to devour a whole jar of this one!
You know that marvellous feeling when you're somewhere where you keep spotting household products not tested on animals and cruelty-free objects? This literally made me feel at home.
My group prepared lentil cakes with salsa and sour 'cream', coleslaw and lemon biscuits. Others made lettuce and sweetcorn soup with fried tortilla strips, mushroom stroganoff, gooseberry mousse, chocolate and banana cake, mac and 'cheese' and we all baked a broccoli flan, too. The reality greatly exceeded my expectations — it was just so much fun.
Everything was transported to the dining room and we had a heavenly feast. The course is held in the memory of the Society's President Maxwell Lee. We were joined by his wife Sylvia and daughter Kathy, who is now Chair of The Vegetarian Charity, as well as Jane, the charity's Grants Secretary who had managed the course bookings. Everybody loved the food.
Suddenly as I looked around, all the shy teenagers I had only met a few hours ago transformed into chatty bundles of happiness, enjoying themselves like they've known each other for years.
Everyone loves food but it was more than that — there was a bewitching atmosphere created by the incredible feeling of being surrounded by people who understand your passion for animals. It seemed like animal cruelty doesn't exist anymore as we bit into food that nobody had to die for.
We were kindly given the leftovers to take home and I could not wait to stuff them into the faces of everyone I know and tell them I made it. Now I can do it much more often thanks to the extremely useful tricks and skills I learned from Mo.
That day was so special it was really sad to be cycling back into the not-so-green Manchester; it was as if I had just left a parallel world full of wonderful vegan food and beautiful people. If only everyone attended Vegan Venture, we would all be vegan!