Natural Therapy Zone at VegfestUK London – Discussion and Criteria

19th July 2019

The Natural Therapy Zone at VegfestUK London 2019

Tim Barford from VegfestUK takes a closer look at some of the issues and the criteria for this area.


Welcome to Level 2 & the Natural Therapy Zone

VegfestUK London, now in its 7th year, and the biggest vegan event in the UK, currently has a whole new area covering around 4000 sqm of exhibition space, carpeted and with natural light from the high central glass roof. Level 2 at Olympia allows for a new standard of visitor experience for this event, which in previous years has been at times very busy. This will be excellent news for some visitors who have enjoyed the show for many reasons, but may have found it too busy at times. In addition to the well established Level 1 and the West Halls (where most of the main stalls and the food village are to be found, along with the 2 entrances and exits) and the Conference facilities on Level 3 (where the main auditorium and lecture halls are located), Level 2 has a number of new features including plenty of seating areas, an extended Health Talks area, run by the Plant Based Health Professionals UK, a Kids Theatre and Storytelling space, the Lifestyle talks stage, a Chillout Music stage, the Holistic Health Hub, the Veganic Growers area hosted by Vegan Organic Network, Yoga classes run by both Yogific and Rainbow Yoga, a Speed Dating zone run by VeggieVision Dating, a Market area for stalls, and the Natural Therapy Zone (NTZ), comprising around 50 stalls towards the right hand side of the floorplan. It’s this area that we are looking at in more detail.

You can read more of an overview of Level 2 and the NTZ to date here.

The floorplan for Level 2 is here


Veganism – conflating or complementing?

There will be some vegans who object strongly to seeing veganism – which is essentially a justice for animals way of life that reflects the animal rights position that affords animals the one basic right not to be used as property – being conflated with natural therapies, which are health-based human-centric concepts, that in some cases doesn’t have any science-based evidence to support their effectiveness. There is some justification on those grounds for removing the NTZ altogether. But if we apply that principle, then around half the features at our event would also disappear. Our event remains unique in the UK for embracing so many different facets that make up the bigger vegan lifestyle umbrella, and we recognise that for some, veganism is primarily about health, and for others, their prime motivation for being vegan is concern for the environment, and for some, veganism is just about feeling great. We agree that veganism is about animals but it’s also important, especially with the current climate change concerns, that we embrace as many different approaches views and roads to a vegan way of life, without losing sight of what veganism is really about. To this end, the inclusion of areas such as the Animal Rights and Activism room, the Movement Building stream, the VGN room, the Wildlife summit, the Sanctuaries Fair and the inclusion of a number or rights based speakers, panellists and presentations keeps the animals and veganism as an ethical way of life centred in the whole event. Our Criteria page on our website also helps clarify our position regarding veganism – we recognise The Vegan Society definition of veganism in 1979, and we hold in high regard the works of Professor Tom Regan, one of the founders of the modern day animal rights movement.

The two articles here that are currently in print this summer underline these aspects. The Animal Aid magazine interview in Outreach amplifies our Animal Rights position, calling for clarity and honesty regarding veganism and animal rights, and the article in Holistic Therapists Magazine is a clear invitation to people new to the vegan way of life to come and find out more about veganism, using an area of existing mutual interest. It’s a similar principle we have often applied, be it with headline bands, comedians, debates, special offers, freebies, celebrities or other attractions – ensure you attract people in the first place, but try and ensure they leave with a) a positive impression of the vegan way of life and b) the information and access to education that they need to help make positive lifestyle changes, without conflating this with feelgood factor, healing, wellness, detox, enjoyment, pleasure, optimum mental health plant-based diets, health, environmental concerns, sustainable global food supply, or any other positive facet that can come with the vegan way of life.

(click on the 2 articles below to enlarge)


Some issues with Natural Therapies

‘False claims’, ‘woo’ or ‘non evidence based’ ‘cures’ 

One of the issues for consideration is that some of the therapies that may be included in the NTZ might lack comprehensive evidence or conclusive research that supports their effectiveness. Meanwhile there is clear science and research to support the benefits of plant based diets, and this is often a cornerstone of vegan outreach. Therefore by including non-evidence based therapies in the NTZ, this might undermine the science-based evidence that supports plant based diets. We agree this might be an issue, and are fortunate to have the Plant Based Health Professionals UK curate present and populate our Plant Based Health Talks areas. This group of qualified and experienced practitioners has access to the latest research to the benefits and dangers of plant-based diets and presents a balanced evidence-based programme of talks under the auspices of founder Dr Shireen Kassam, a UK-based Consultant Haematologist and an abolitionist vegan who is passionate about the use of plant-based nutrition for the prevention and reversal of life-style diseases.

Even so, we recognise that there is a danger that we could undermine the good work of much of what we have already done at VegfestUK London if we allow just anyone to exhibit or speak in the NTZ.

Speakers or exhibitors that breach our criteria

An issue can arise if a therapist, speaker or exhibitor is suggesting that someone should avoid seeking medical help in place of their own ‘remedy’. Recently we had to remove a planned speaker and exhibitor from one of our events as there was clear evidence that they may advise the public not to seek medical help in place of their chosen therapy, and they were unwilling to provide any written reassurances to the latter, despite multiple attempts by ourselves to resolve this. We believe this to be deeply unethical (as well as potentially to be in breach of the law), and therefore their attendance was withdrawn.

We have to date taken the decision to not accept 3 further applications from therapists that we recognise contravene our criteria.

Therapies that encourage the continuation of destructive or offending behaviour

Some therapies may encourage an individual with destructive lifestyle choices or behaviour to ‘accept’ themselves as they are when seeking therapy, thereby potentially encouraging that individual to give a ‘green light’ to behaviour they find acceptable, but another individual or society at large does not. This is particularly relevant to where an individual engages in behaviour where there is a victim as a result. Some Therapy can potentially encourage that individual to pursue what may be a destructive path, without that necessarily being the intention.

By being aware of this potential issue, we can avoid this at our own event.


Criteria and Decision Making

Without pretending to be gatekeepers to the world of Natural Therapies, we are however the gatekeepers of our own event, and specifically to the NTZ, and potential visitors have a right to know in advance what they are likely to find here, especially before tickets are purchased. With that in mind, we have developed some criteria, and a list of what we would allow and what we would exclude. Currently out of the 50 or so stalls in the area (of which half are booked 3 months ahead), many are bodycare, clothes and health-focused foods and related lifestyle products rather than actual therapists, which by nature is limited to ensure there aren’t too many of the same, & likewise the talks, many of which are more lifestyle-related than therapy-related. But this area still requires considerable attention.

Our decision-making is taken on a case-by-case application, and we act as a team of four, all with different views, experience and input on specific therapies. We look at a few different factors, including any supporting evidence, potential harm, personal experience of the proposed therapy, and then if we are happy to include the therapy in principle, we then look at the therapist’s website or Facebook page, any claims made, other services offered, and any reviews. In some cases we may seek some independent expert advice. From all of this we then make a decision, whilst being mindful that our visitors are also very capable of making their own minds up on these areas.

Where we broadly agree, we have drawn some lines, and likewise where we broadly disagree. This is the first year for the NTZ, and our lines are drawn in pencil, in case we need to rub them out again and redraw them.


Code of Conduct

We value the guidance from The Code of Conduct from The General Regulatory Council for Complimentary Therapies when assessing therapists:

‘’Respect the patient or client as an individual and honour their integrity as well as respecting their customs, creed, race, ability, sexuality, economic status, lifestyle, political beliefs and religion. Obtain consent before you give any treatment or care and work according to holistic principles. Protect confidential information. Recognise the value of other therapies and health care professionals, both within complementary and conventional medicine and work with other practitioners and refer when it is in the patient’s/client’s best interests. A practitioner must not treat a patient/client in any case which exceeds his capacity, training, and competence. Maintain your professional knowledge and competence on a continuous basis so that they may offer the very best standard of treatment. Be trustworthy and not exploit the patient or client. Registrants must maintain the highest morals and behave with courtesy, respect, dignity, discretion and tact. Act to identify and minimise risk to patient and clients.’’

These values are concurrent with those of all the United Kingdom health regulatory bodies:


Therapies you are potentially likely to encounter in the NTZ

  • ‘Hands on’ and ‘manipulative’ therapies with some evidence supporting including Random Clinical Trials (RCT’s) including Massage, Reflexology, Chiropractors, Osteopathy, Shiatsu
  • Mild health claims and feelgood factor, especially for alleviating mood – Including Aromatherapy, Bath Salts, Oils, Tonics, relaxation techniques
  • Disciplines including Yoga, Chi Kung, Tai Chi, meditation, mindfulness
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine including Acupuncture and Acupressure
  • Herbal medicine
  • Supplements
  • Fasting, Detoxing
  • Nutritional advice (the nutritionist would have to identify as vegan or plant based dieter)
  • Retreats, Yoga Centres
  • Colleges
  • ‘Life’ & ‘Wellbeing’ Coaches
  • CBD products
  • Hypnotherapy, mental health techniques
  • Feelgood & positive-thinking aids


Therapies you are unlikely to encounter in the NTZ

  • Anything based on ‘distant’ or ‘cosmic’ energy healing, including for example Reiki, Radionics, Distant Chi Healing, Crystal Healing, Magnetic Therapy
  • Anyone making non-evidence based health claims for serious degenerative diseases
  • Anyone advising visitors not to seek qualified professional health care or advice
  • Books or courses that require a hefty fee to purchase based on ‘magic’ claims or special ‘knowledge’
  • Energy cleansing
  • Homeopathy
  • Faith healing or treatments based on belief systems

We acknowledge that these are areas in some cases yet to be fully researched, and in some cases have supporting anecdotal evidence, or years of tradition, and that also may exclude some very valuable and highly achieving individuals from the NTZ, and that we are currently in some respects under-qualified or informed to make these decisions but for 2019 we think this approach is prudent, it helps clarify for visitors, and opens up further debate on these areas.

Astute observers will also note the attendance of the College of Naturopathic Medicine (CNM). The CNM has exhibited at Vegfest for a number of years, and has a range of excellent courses available, which also includes reiki, homeopathy and one or two other therapies we wouldn’t generally include according to our own criteria. But we also recognise that this is a college offering a course, and not a therapy at the event itself, which would by nature require more commitment and informed choices from a likely participant. We see this as slightly different from the actual therapy being offered at the event, although we appreciate it is a fine line there.


Therapies – evidence

We invite people to do their own research here, and there is considerable information available, some of it conflicting. We do not consider ourselves experts, but we have tried to find reliable sources to share that include both bias for, against, and overviews of available data. The PseudoScience Wikipedia series is fairly disparaging as you may expect, but is a valuable source in many respects. There are plenty of positive resources from the therapists and practitioners themselves, and The National Centre for BioTechnology Information  (NCBI) website contains overviews of RCT’s (Random Clinical Trials) which is very helpful.

To take an example, if we look at Chiropractors:

Pseudoscience Wikipedia

An interesting overview which whilst acknowledging that the evidence is ‘conflicting’, does list a lot of research that doesn’t support the effectiveness of this therapy:

The Royal College of Chiropractors carries a number of reports detailing trials and conclusions:

The National Centre for BioTechnology Information includes a number of articles on recent research RCT’s and evaluation, often inconclusive but not without some evidence from RCT’s either. Conclusions like this one are not unusual:

“Moderate evidence suggests that chiropractic care for LBP (Lower Back Pain) appears to be equally effective as physical therapy. Limited evidence suggests the same conclusion when chiropractic care is compared to exercise therapy and medical care although no firm conclusion can be reached at this time. No serious adverse events were reported for any type of care. Our review was also unable to clarify whether chiropractic or medical care is more cost-effective. Given the limited available evidence, the decision to seek or to refer patients for chiropractic care should be based on patient preference and values. Future studies are likely to have an important impact on our estimates as these were based on only a few admissible studies.”

There may well be better sources with more up to date research and conclusions which we would welcome, or not enough research to make informed decisions, nevertheless from limited research into these areas, the same pattern exists for a number of other therapies – take Reflexology as a further example (and one which we would allow in the NTZ). The PseudoScience page is once more disparaging, whilst individual practitioners do make a number of health related claims based on an unproven system of understanding how pressure of the feet may affect the functions of the inner organs of the body. The NCBI overview of RCT’s on reflexology:

“Reflexology is a popular form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). The aim of this update is to critically evaluate the evidence for or against the effectiveness of reflexology in patients with any type of medical condition. Six electronic databases were searched to identify all relevant randomised clinical trials (RCTs). Their methodological quality was assessed independently by the two reviewers using the Jadad score. Overall, 23 studies met all inclusion criteria. They related to a wide range of medical conditions. The methodological quality of the RCTs was often poor. Nine high quality RCTs generated negative findings; and five generated positive findings. Eight RCTs suggested that reflexology is effective for the following conditions: diabetes, premenstrual syndrome, cancer patients, multiple sclerosis, symptomatic idiopathic detrusor over-activity and dementia yet important caveats remain. It is concluded that the best clinical evidence does not demonstrate convincingly reflexology to be an effective treatment for any medical condition.”

The conclusion for us is that for a number of complementary and natural therapies and treatments, there is often plenty of supporting evidence through RCT’s that they may well work, but that both the quality and the quantity of research often leaves the evidence as inconclusive, or remains evident but not convincing. There are often a number of trials that conclude that a therapy doesn’t work at all. Therefore in many cases it is for the individual to ascertain for themselves as to whether they should engage with either the therapy or the therapist. But in the case of lack of tangible or credible evidence or RCT’s, or where the therapy has conclusively been ‘debunked’, or where a belief system or an ‘act of faith’ is required, or a belief that something has ‘magic’ or ‘special’ powers…..we are acting as gatekeepers and are not allowing therapies of this nature to be on offer in the NTZ for 2019.


The Future

For those of us especially who have been vegan a long time, it is of course thrilling to see the vegan way of life become more accepted and in some cases going mainstream. But as veganism goes mainstream, events like VegfestUK London, and many of the exhibitors at these events, face a different set of challenges as A) people can cross the road to buy vegan options in supermarkets which impacts on the number of visitors attending a vegan event, and B) some of our exhibitors have developed niche products that are now replicated in Supermarkets and high street outlets, which might mean they are cheaper and more accessible. And with the proliferation of vegan events everywhere, this is making it more of a challenge for all shows to attract both exhibitors and visitors. Successful events are offering more than just stalls and food, and constantly evolving to attract new visitors and provide more for existing visitors. To some extent the addition of the Natural Therapy Zone, along with other new additions including the Sanctuaries Fair (a games area with a fundraising aspect for 10 animal sanctuaries), the new Kids Theatre and Storytelling area, and other features including an enhanced Fitness zone, a faith-based day of cookery demos, the VGN room and the VGN Climate Change focus on Sunday, the Wildlife Summit (Sunday), the New Vegans Support room (Sunday) and the Vegan Activists Support room (Saturday), the new Lifestyle talks room, and the Speed Dating sessions all day Sunday, plus 2 additional stages for music and multiple seating areas all seek to achieve the aim of increasing the overall visitor experience as well as numbers, whilst still doing justice to the original focus of veganism – a Justice for Animals based way of life that reflects an animal rights position.



There are legal, ethical and moral consequences here, including saying ‘no’ to someone intending to act either illegally or unethically at our event. We take the position seriously and take time to look closely at anyone applying to participate in this area. We accept our responsibilities to ensure to the best of our ability that anyone included in the NTZ does not impact negatively on either our visitors, or veganism as a whole, and reassure visitors and participants that we take an open-minded approach to each individual application whilst striving to achieve the ‘middle ground’ by including a number of broad lifestyle options, remaining attractive and welcoming to veganism without impacting negatively in any way on the vegan position and lifestyle.

This will be posted on our event page with further discussions invited. Thank you for reading.


Appendix A – History

Since our first vegan event back in 2003, we have always included some natural therapies, talks and alternative approaches to holistic health at our events, in part because our vegan festivals were influenced by other festivals like Stonehenge Free Festival in the late 70’s and early 80’s, likewise Glastonbury from the same period. The first Vegfest events (then the Bristol Vegan Fayre) all carried talks on holistic health, alternative & complementary treatments, and with the inclusion of the then titled Bristol Cancer Help Centre (now the Penny Brohn Centre), a clear alternative approach to living with cancer and other serious degenerative diseases. The early Vegfest events were very much health and feelgood-focused, with animal rights barely visible in the talks lineups, although the many campaigns groups present brought a lot to the table of course. In part this was because there were only two other vegan events in the UK at the time, both of them pretty much ‘by vegans for vegans’, and our approach was to be very much the opposite of this – in some respects a huge outreach event designed to draw new people into the vegan way of life, based on the idea that the event needed to be attractive, uplifting, inviting, exciting and dynamic to ensure people attended in the first place – but also to ensure also that they left with not only a great uplifting feelgood factor, and a terrific vegan food experience, but some of the literature, ideas and in some cases attention to some of the atrocities of what was going on in the animal agriculture industries, along with information and support for making lifestyle changes. This approach has worked very well – not only does feedback constantly indicate that a lot of people go vegan after visiting our events, but also the fact that our events have inspired many other vegan events of a similar nature, including vegan events outside of the UK.


Appendix B – Personal & anecdotal experience of Natural Therapies

For 35 years, the same amount of time I’ve been vegan, I have benefited extensively from Natural Therapies, and at various times have found (and currently still do find)  reflexology, massage, acupressure, acupuncture, Rolfing, chi kung, tai chi, breathing exercises, herbal remedies, tonics, fasting, cleansing, juicing, meditation, yoga, mindfulness, osteopathy, cranial osteopathy, chiropractors, Taoist philosophy and acts of loving kindness to have been of immense value. Some of these natural therapies I practise or self-administer, but on the many occasions I have worked with a therapist, have yet to encounter a fraud or charlatan – indeed, the opposite, some of the most nurturing, caring, healing people I have had the good fortune to encounter – and only once or twice have I felt like not returning to see an individual therapist. Only once have I advised a friend not to see a therapist, on account of them suggesting it would take 20 sessions or more to help them. That didn’t sound right. The most amount of sessions I have ever been offered is a maximum of 6. If a therapist can’t help you after that, they generally will say so. If not, the alarm bells may rightly ring.

Here are some of the natural therapies that have helped me, my friends and family considerably:

Extreme back pain – Like many, I have experienced extreme lower back pain, which my GP was unable or unwilling to help with. A combination of different Chiropractors and Osteopaths has been instrumental in making a full recovery from serious spinal injuries. These include McTimoney Chiropractors, Osteopaths, and Cranial Osteopaths. The latter was able not only to accurately diagnose the issues (something my GP was unable to do), which was a major part of the healing process (understanding what was actually happening) but also offered a huge amount of long term relief in just one session. They have all helped me with significant advice and exercise suggestions to help avoid further issues.

Addiction and substance abuse – Services from prisons, addiction centres and agencies have come a long way since they were introduced and some counsellors do utilise complementary therapies to help their clients. Natural therapies can potentially be of some use in this under-researched and under-funded area.

When people are sent home to die from hospital – I have had experience of this first hand on 3 occasions, including one colleague who spoke no English. I was his translator and as a result accessed much of the medical process first hand, including having to explain to my friend (and his family) that his disease was terminal. All 3 involved serious cancers, and sadly two of them are no longer with us. That one of them still is, 25 years on, is remarkable in many ways. All 3 turned to natural therapies in their hour of darkness, and all 3 benefited on several levels, and all 3 were sceptical of any natural therapies beforehand. And although for two of them the therapies available at the time did not really help prolong their lives, they did make a visible difference to their quality of life in the final weeks, especially in terms of mental health, positive thoughts, managing pain, staying calm and ultimately managing the process of dying. This also made a difference for the support teams of family and friends, and helped bring some dignity at a time when the doctors were no longer able or willing to assist.

Grief or Depression – NT’s and therapists can be of much value in these areas. From experience, simple therapies like massage and deep breathing exercises can be powerful tools in dealing with profound sadness, grief or depression.

Preparing for, or recovery from surgery or degenerative disease treatments – Therapy can be very beneficial for these areas. The role of the mind in combating disease and recovering from disease especially, is something therapists can help with on more than one level.

Tickets for VegfestUK London

Advance tickets for this event will be on sale from August 1st at

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Plant Powered Expo – February 1st 2nd 2020 @ Olympia London

The organisers of VegfestUK are running a new show Plant Powered Expo next February in the National Hall of Olympia London. This new event celebrates the best of a plant-based way of life with 235 stalls, 12 features and 100 speakers. For more information, visit

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