Monday, June 23, 2008

Sunny (Finally!) Summerfest

Who: VN Editorial Director Aurelia d’Andrea and VN Distribution Manager Katie Donaldson
What: Vegetarian Summerfest 2008, the 34th annual conference of the North American Vegetarian Society
Where: University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Penn.
When: June 18–22, 2008
Why: To connect with the movers, shakers, and everyday people within the greater vegetarian community

The Scoop: This journey to the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania began before dawn last Tuesday, when Aurelia and Katie arose at 4am from their beds in San Francisco and Boulder, respectively, caught their shuttles to the airport, and began a long day of travel to get to this verdant college campus for five days of lectures, socializing, eating, and, yes, working. After setting up the VN booth, we retired to our dorm-room accommodations so we’d be chipper and charged for the next day’s activities, and were lulled to sleep by the sound of rain falling outside our window.

Mornings at this summer camp for vegetarians began with optional 6am yoga classes, which the two of us bypassed in favor of a few extra Zs. At 7am we were out the door and off to our booth over in the student union, where we awaited the throngs of campers on their way to breakfast in the upstairs dining room. While folks ate, Katie and Aurelia traded-off staffing duties while the other stuffed her gullet with the likes of pancakes, fried potatoes, fresh fruit, and oatmeal. There was even a salad bar for those who think Goddess Dressing is an appropriate condiment with which to start the day.

After eating, we waited for the reinvigorated throngs to pour downstairs and visit our booth. In addition to taking subscription orders and chatting up friends old and new, we did our best to generate buzz about our vegan cookie basket raffle prize, and encouraged folks to enter the drawing for Sun Flour Baking Company bonanza.

When the crowds cleared and the student union turned quiet, we knew it was time to head to one of the many lectures taking place on campus. Between the two of us, we attended seminars led by such veg luminaries as Harold Brown, Gene Baur, Rae Sikora, VN columnist Will Tuttle, and James LaVeck. Other notable speakers included Howard Lyman, T. Colin Campbell, Pamela Rice, Milton Mills, and the fabulous Fran Costigan.

Probably the most exciting part of this event was getting to put faces to the names of fellow veggies whom we’ve only ever corresponded with by phone or email. Linda Long, whose first book, Great Chefs Cook Vegan, will be released in early September, is as lovely as can be, as is JoAnn Farb, who just released her book, Get Off Gluten. Michael Greger, MD—one of our featured 25 Most Fascinating Vegetarians from Issue 56—is much, much funnier than you’d expect any doctor to be, and VN columnist Robin Robertson is a bundle of warmth and conviviality. And we can't forget Friends of Animals' Dustin Rhodes, who kept us laughing and entertained with cute photos of his dogs Lulu and Delilah. We also made a friend in Yvonne Smith, aka The Traveling Vegetarian. A sort of vegan Rachael Ray, we expect her to be the Next Big Thing in the glamourous world of television cooking.

Vegan Rules! Jill Nussinow, Cathi DiCocco, Fran Costigan, and Aurelia d'Andrea

The only downside to Summerfest 2008 was the weather; it rained every single day, sometimes accompanied by thunder and lightning. On Sunday, however, as we packed up and headed for the airport, the sun erupted from a sea of clouds and shined on us the whole way back to Pittsburgh. Both Katie and Aurelia look forward to a very sunny, non-rainy Summerfest 2009.

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