Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mingling & Meandering in Minneapolis (2 of 3)

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly
What: Day Two of Their Lives, Our Voices: The Midwest Animal Advocacy Conference
Where: Hubert H. Humphrey Conference Center, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
When: June 6–8, 2008
Why: Attend a historic “first” + chance to see a new city

The Scoop: Following a hearty breakfast of warm local breads, pastries, scones, bagels with vegan cream cheese, and fresh fruit, plus juice, coffee, tea, and an overabundance of Glacéau VitaminWater, the Midwest Animal Advocacy Conference was is full swing. Farm Sanctuary cofounder and president Gene Baur delivered a passionate opening keynote speech centered around his book, Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food. The conference host, Compassionate Action for Animals, made a bold yet effective move in focusing almost every plenary and breakout session around just two themes: farmed animals and activism in general. Unlike most other animal conferences this blogger has attended, there was nary a discussion of vivisection, fur, circuses, or hunting. The organizers decided to devote most of the conference to most of the animals, acknowledging that more than 95 percent of animals used by humans are those of the farmed variety. This daring decision centered the conference’s attention, shifting its energy from that of being potentially overwhelming toward one that was decidedly focused. Given the intimate nature of a conference (there were approximately 200 attendees), the strategy was incredibly effective.

Likewise, while focusing on food animals, CAA also focused on the food served, sans animals. Saturday’s lunch was an impressive Asian-African buffet providing by Asase Yaa Catering, and while this front-of-the-line diner was in awe of what appeared to be far too many choices and could only sample about one-third of ‘em, the remaining attendees devoured the food so quickly that a rush order was called in for more vegan pizza (see my Day One blog entry). No one was going hungry, nor was the conference to be renamed, “Their Lives, Our Stomachs.”

Lunch was followed by more concurrent sessions before the day concluded with VegNews columnist and Compassionate Cooks founder Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s keynote speech “Being a Joyful Vegan in a Non-vegan World.” Colleen’s talk was inspiring, emotional, and humorous, the perfect finale for this first day of lectures.

Another decision that worked for TLOV was to end the day’s activities at the dinner hour, allowing attendees to explore Minneapolis while sampling some of the veg-friendly offerings the city has on tap. So 23 of us descended upon Kilimanjaro Café, a short walk from campus in an area with the largest population of Ethiopians and sub-Saharan East Africans anywhere outside of Africa. Who knew? We ordered eight, yes eight, vegetarian combination platters, each one heaped with lentils, greens, and potatoes atop an extra large pizza-sized injera, the traditional Ethiopian bread made from fermented teff flour.

The food was fantastic and inexpensive, and Nathan Runkle of Mercy for Animals (that's him, below) ate two all by himself.
After a pleasant walk around the city and over the Mississippi River, we ended the night at The Local Irish Pub (“The Local” to locals). Minneapolis’ hippest bar is huge, ornate, and used to be the location of a fur manufacturer, a pleasant change to which DawnWatch founder and Thanking the Monkey author Karen Dawn raised a glass in honor of. Next, it was off in search of a bed to sleep in, as we still had a full day of conference ahead of us.


Dave Rolsky said...

(I was one of the many folks involved in organizing this conference)

First, thanks for the kind words. It's good to know that attendees had a good time and thought things worked well, especially since we had some interesting crises to deal with over the course of the conference. As long as everything appeared controlled, we know we did a good job ;)

When I read "bold and effective move" it was kind of funny to me. We didn't spend a lot of time debating this internally, nor did we think of it as a terribly big deal (at least to me). CAA has focused on farmed animals for such a long time that I think we've internalized the idea and it just feels natural.

We definitely wanted the conference to reflect our core values, one of which is "Focus on factory farming". I guess that's the privilege of being the organization hosting the conference.

In retrospect, when comparing it to the big LA/DC AR conference, this is a bit different.

As far as ending at the dinner hour, this was very intentional. When we first talked about the conference, we wanted to make sure that we left plenty of time for socializing and networking, since this is as important as any session someone might attend, and often it's the most important, exciting part of a conference. We talked several times about making sure we had a good "hallway track". That's also why we had a long lunch (90 minutes) and a Friday night reception which was purely social.

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