Why the Fields Beneath has gone vegan

One of Kentish Town’s most respected cafes has this week ditched the dairy

Are you with them? One of K-Town’s pioneering artisan cafes has changed direction (just a bit). Photo: PR
Whodafunk it? For a few weeks now, the quite lovely café beside Kentish Town West overground station has moved quietly away from selling ham-and-cheese croissants and cakes made with eggs.

Now owner Gavin Fernback announced today that dairy milk will also no longer be served. In a conscious uncoupling from all animal products, the café, which opened back in 2012 as a speciality coffee shop, is now 100% vegan.

What was the trigger? Well, it began in 2015 when Gav and wife Caz started reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals. It piqued their interest and pricked their conscience, and they merrily worked their way through Food Inc., Forks Over Knives and Cowspiracy on Netflix. Phew.

The pair started asking questions about where their meat came from and even where the animals were slaughtered. “We weren’t ready to change, though,” says Gavin. “We were still trying to justify our carnism [the ‘invisible’ belief system that conditions people to eat certain animals – ed].”

Gavin Fernback in 2012 just after the cafe launched. Photo: Stephen Emms
It was when Caz watched the five-minute Youtube hit Dairy is Scary that she knew she couldn’t continue consuming milk, and Gavin was right with her. But what to do when you own a café that serves meat and dairy? Well, you use it as an opportunity to showcase how great vegan food can be, while talking to customers about the meat, milk and egg trades.

“We started off under the radar,” explains Gavin. “We switched the croissants for vegan ones without shouting about it. It was a slow transition with me being there to talk to customers a lot about it. We went veggie in December, dropped cheese in Feb and were fully vegan by the end of March.”

Then the caff ran a special offer: thirty coffees for £30 from January, giving people a powerful incentive to try dairy-free for their caffeine hit. “By the end of it, we hoped that choosing dairy-free would be normal, they’d keep buying coffee from us and they’d stick to non-dairy. More than 150 people signed up and almost everyone has kept with the new milks.”

(This, incidentally, is the same approach as Veganuary, the charity that Gavin credits with allowing him to feel part of a positive movement, which encourages people around the world to try vegan for 31 days each January.)

The poster in the cafe window. Photo: PR
And now, one thing has led to another: serving great food and coffee is not (never?) enough and the café has become involved in activism. “I joke with customers,” he says, “telling them: ‘on the surface, I want you to give up dairy in your flat whites; beneath that though, I want you to go vegan; and beneath that I want you to become an activist.'”

Yikes. So what’s Gav’s ultimate message to any waverers (like us)? “It’s urgent for the animals that we do this. Lives are at stake and unlike the humanitarian crises happening the world over, it only takes choosing something different on the menu to save animals, and we get that choice three times a day.”

Fair enough. And the name (from the seminal local history by Gillian Tindall) is, in fact, a better fit too, isn’t it?

As the PM said today, you can never go back: so, readers, welcome to the Fields Beneath Version 2.0.

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Find The Fields Beneath on Prince of Wales Road NW5 next to Kentish Town West station. Open daily till 4pm weekdays, 5pm weekends.

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