Natalie Portman, Jennifer Lopez, Jared Leto, Woody Harrelson, Brad Pitt… its not just acting that these people have in common. All are famous vegans, followers of a strict diet and abstainers from all animal products including diary.

Jeremy Corbyn hasnt gone the whole hog but he is a committed vegetarian, which in most cases means not eating flesh.

Veganism is on the rise in the North East as people are becoming more and more aware of the dangers of unhealthy eating.

Newcastle and Sunderland are set to host a string of Vegan food festivals, starting on May 15.

If youre imagining a few small stalls somewhere off the beaten track, think again, because these festivals are far from small fry.

The Stadium of Light in Sunderland will play host in May to the North East Vegan Festival (Nevfest), which highlights the sheer scale of the operation and the expected attendance.

Interestingly, only 20% of attendees at the festivals are actually vegan, with 20% veggie and the other 60% are curious about the food and lifestyle. Much of my experience with vegan food has been that it relies heavily on insipid beige chunks of tofu.

Newcastle University student Vincent Cam, a vegan who attended the tasting session

I have often thought the lack of variety available is what puts many people off the idea of going vegan.

Yet with this huge surge in vegan events, I wonder what has prompted such a social shift towards this seemingly strict diet.

Behind the festivals is the Farplace Animal Rescue charity. It has a shop in Newcastle which recently switched emphasis from traditional bric-a-brac to vegan food produce because this was providing the bulk of the profit.

The festivals are filled with food stalls, there are queues for vegan hot dogs and the cream cake stand is apparently very popular.

Clearly these are some of the things vegans miss once they give up animal products.

Other attractions include animal rights and welfare stalls and live music and, at the Stadium of Light, there will be a craft fair on the third floor as well as talks and lectures. So its clear that there is a growing interest in the North East, but what is vegan food actually like to eat?

I went to a tasting session at the Farplace shop, with food from Mamma Mia on Pudding Chare, to sample what might be on offer at the festivals.

First I tasted some pastas. The creamy white sauce looked a tad gloopy in the jar but I was pleasantly surprised.

Items on sale at the Mamma Mia vegan tasting session

There was no way of telling from the taste that it was free from dairy products. It had a beautiful silky sheen and left me wanting more.

The tomato sauce was much the same. As soon as it was heated up, divine smells came shimmying over to me.

It looked like a classic Italian sauce but the taste was better than many Ive had before.

Not being a mushroom fan, I declined the pâté, but I was told by others how good it was.

The pesto I didnt have high hopes for, although it looked the part. Im such a fan of proper basil and Parmesan pesto that I was sure I would be disappointed…but it was delicious!

Soft biscotti was the only textural disappointment of the tasting but the fact it was yummy almost made up for a lack of crunch.

Mamma Mia owner Joseph Robson, 24, whose wife is vegan, has been offering vegan options for the last year and has seen orders flying off the menu.

He estimates that 50% of his customers are now veggie or vegan but has no plans to go entirely vegan, preferring to allow meat eaters and vegans to have a meal out together.

€œOur vegan €˜green menu has many great sellers but we are particularly proud of our desserts, such as our raspberry and dark chocolate brownie and sticky toffee pudding, which we taste-tested with our regulars, who could not tell the difference,€ he said.

€œWe actually use those exact desserts on our normal menu now.

€œI would personally recommend our new vegan calzone, which is a great dish and shows that just because there is no meat or dairy you dont have to compromise on flavour and quality.€

Alan Trevethan, a vegan on and off since 1971 and an volunteer at the Farplace charity shop, explained why he thinks vegan eating is becoming more popular.

€œYou wouldnt eat your pet labrador! But I also think many people do it for health reasons. The research shows that a longer and a lighter life is one that doesnt have dairy.€

Mr Trevethan, a passionate supporter of vegan food production in the North East, said there was the €œbeginning of a vegan village€ in Newcastle.

A recent BBC documentary, How To Stay Young, purported to show how steering clear of animal-based products could vastly improve life expectancy and quality of life.

It found that vegan is the healthiest diet of all, reducing the risk of cancer, heart attacks and strokes. An even bigger festival is to take place on July 10 at the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle, with organiser Gareth Edwards expecting 5,000 people.

Asked why he thinks a vegan diet seems to be increasingly popular, he said: €œPeople are starting to not see the difference between a dog, a cow, a horse, a pig etc.

€œBut also, you dont have to deprive yourself of anything when there is such good vegan food. The texture and the taste are there €“ the only difference is that there is a much lower fat content.€

Aside from great tastes and health benefits, Alan said: €œYou see the fear when you go into an abattoir. If I eat meat, I am eating that fear.

€œIts like saying, €˜If youre in a world where you can get all the taste and texture without causing that fear, would you? Well, we are in that world.€