Perhaps because he's been so quick to spot that I'm not one of his, Tim Barford can't help evangelising about the vegan movement and its phenomenal growth in Britain: Scotland, and especially Glasgow, is becoming a significant player in its development, which is why Vegfest, now Europe's largest vegan festival based in Bristol, is coming to the SECC for the first time in December.


Vegfest director Barford is already estimating around 10,000 visitors over two days; sponsors are flocking in and so far include Bute Island Foods, Suma Wholefoods, Koko Dairy Free and YahoHemp. Glasgow could, he says, even match Brighton, which broke all attendance records earlier this year with 12,000.

Much of this is evidenced by the popularity of the city's vegan restaurants Mono, Stereo, 13th Note, the Flying Duck and the Centre for Contemporary Arts. This alone is enough to have Glasgow's vegan scene compared to that of Berlin.

From his home office in Bristol, where Vegfest began in 2003 with just 1,500 visitors and 40 stalls, he's busy organising a packed schedule of festivals in London and Brighton as well as Glasgow, where he's hoping for about 120 stalls.

Each festival has the aim of "educating people to help them change their diets for the better". Going vegan means, of course, eschewing all animal products including meat, diary fish, eggs and even honey, for the sake of the planet, and instead embracing a diet of vegetables, pulses, legumes and fruit, seeds and nuts because they are kinder to the environment.

For Glasgow Barford is planning a line-up of speakers that includes vegan comedians, bodybuilders, marathon runners, cyclists and footballers; there will be health professionals giving talks and cookery demonstrations. Even more surprising, for those not in the loop, is that half of them will be from Scotland.

"Scottish poets and artists have already been in touch," he enthuses, "and an all-woman team from Edinburgh who make raw cakes from their mobile bus are also interested in attending."

All of which seems unlikely in the city that in certain areas has yet to shake off the notoriety of having the worst diet-related health record in Europe. But Barford tut-tuts my misgivings. Or cynicism. Some 80 per cent of those who embrace veganism do so out of concern for animals and the impact on the environment of factory farming, slaughterhouses and the meat, dairy and egg industry, he says; the desire to follow a healthier lifestyle naturally follows. On top of that, Glasgow has always been an intellectual, challenging city; another natural fit.

"To adopt the vegan lifestyle is to join a social justice movement," he says. "It's more than just a diet, it's about taking a moral and ethical standpoint and seeing animals as our equals. We're now at the point in history where we can include animals as beings that have rights. They do. They have the same right to live and breathe, to love, to have decent living conditions, not to be abused, as humans do. Even if they can't speak for themselves they have people like us to speak for them. People recognise that."

So is it a protest movement? "Some people choose to protest but my personal approach is to offer non-violent, peaceful vegan education," he says. "That's my weapon of choice for the movement.

"Vegan education is explaining to people the benefits of the lifestyle and supporting sustainable food production while staying healthy and retaining nutrients in the diet, even if you're a child, a pregnant woman or an old man."

It's true that at 52 he looks fit. "Going vegan is very healthy and good for you, and it's very easy to do now, much easier than when I became vegan in 1984 in Leeds, when all you could get was white bread, baked beans and chips. I called it the Margaret Thatcher Vegan Diet. Research shows the incidence of cancer, heart disease and diabetes is lower in vegans. Animals products are detrimental to health.

"It's also about telling people the truth about behind animal livestock production, that 97 per cent of all meat and dairy consumption in the UK comes from factory farming. There's nothing human about keeping animals. Nothing human about mincing a male chick alive because he's not needed. Nothing human about increasing a cage from 12 inches to 14 inches just to make us feel better about paying more for it."

But meat and dairy farming is massive in Scotland, most of it is ethically, sustainably produced. And isn't the vegan diet in direct opposition to the health, environmental and economic benefits of eating local and seasonal? Hemp and chia seeds and oil, nuts, grains and cereals are largely imported, which begs the question of the vegan diet being kinder to the environment.

Is he saying Scottish farmers should stop what they're doing?

"Not at all. If we all ate vegetables there would be a lot less dairy consumption, but dairy farmers are already on their knees. Some vegans are happy about that, but I'm not. I have real sympathy for their struggle and challenge, much of it down to the supermarkets paying them less for milk than it costs to produce.

"The answer lies in growing other plants like hemp, which is easy to grow, is in huge demand and has superb health benefits. At the moment there are 30,000 hectares being used for the cultivation of hemp in Dorset and East Anglia. The basics of the vegan diet could be comfortably produced in Scotland. Canada is one the few countries to explore this on what used to be prime wheat-growing land.

"It's not just a case of saying, 'Sorry, farmers, but you've got the wrong end of the stick, we want justice for animals. Justice for all means everybody. Beef and dairy farmers should be taken into account and allowed to survive and thrive in a different way so they can farm sustainably, competitively, ethically and do well for themselves the vegan way."

He insists his is a non-political movement. During the 1980s, when he turned vegan, he was a traveller on a New Age peace convoy, living in tepees on his travels. His daughter Keza was born at this time. She studied Philosophy at Glasgow University and they would eat at Mono when he came to visit. Now pregnant herself, he says he's looking forward to becoming a grandfather.

He won't vote on Thursday. "Personally, I don't vote. I'm in the Russell Brand camp," he says. "I have a natural affinity with the Green Party's aim to ban the Grand National and greyhound racing, but whether they'd be any good in government is another matter."

Currently single, he jokes that he's married to Vegfest and is "happy and lucky". He reckons the vegan lifestyle is an optimistic one, and says the Glasgow event will be fun rather than serious. "Choosing the began lifestyle is truly the people's vote."

Doesn't he ever get downhearted? "Occasionally I do when I read global meat production is increasing, especially in emerging markets like India and China. Demand is growing and the omnivore culture is outstripping that of vegans. Unless something happens, we're heading for environmental disaster. Some 70 billion animals are raised for food every year. Livestock farming accounts for 50 per cent of all water consumption, but you need ten times less water for crops.

"On the other hand, I'm pleased to see a 20 per cent drop in meat- and dairy consumption in the UK last year. It's already happening big time."

I ask him how he feels about Glasgow being among the UK's largest users of food banks. He calls it the "tragedy of people being left behind" and posits that if food were cheaper to produce, then more people would have access to it. Veganism, he insists, would help a lot of the problems of feeding people.

Rather than see the end of supermarkets, he'd rather see the growth of the independents, the corner shops, the farmers' markets and veg box delivery schemes. "Without packaging, marketing, transport you reduce costs right down and make it easier for local people to keep sustainable food shops without the objectionable profiteering of the big multinationals," he says.

"I'm not saying let's destroy the supermarkets, but let's ensure there are other ways of making sure food gets distributed. Social justice is for everybody. It doesn't matter if you're a Tory banker or a Romanian immigrant, we're all people first. All the other stuff comes after that."

Given his concern for others, I wonder if Barford is motivated by religious belief. It turns out he has studied Islam, Buddhism, Christianity and Judaism and says he has "massive respect" for all of them. He also lived with a Druid in Thurso during the 1990s and learned about the pagan religion of the Celts. But while he respects people's desire to "see and know God" he doesn't believe organised religion is necessary: "I believe the true path to the godhead is within us all."

* Vegfest Scotland takes place at the SECC, Glasgow, on December 5 and 6, 2015.