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.

Monday, June 16, 2008

First-Ever Press Pass Giveaway!

The Scoop: Congratulations to Vegan_Noodle! Not only has Amanda Mariano, author extraordinaire of Walking the Vegan Line, been awarded a Veg Bloggy award, but she's also the winner of our first-ever Press Pass Giveaway! Her response to our question asking why she deserves the super-sleek Farm Sanctuary Matt & Nat tote bag—which comes chock-full of vegan swag—was our editors' favorite. Here's what she had to say:

The reason I deserve to win this press pass giveaway is because I plan on giving it to a very special person who really deserves it, the founder of our local vegan society (Society of PEACE) who dedicates her time, money, and enthusiasm to spreading veganism in Houston, TX and is doing a dang good job at it.

This is just the kind of attitude we're looking for: generous, and genteel enough to say "dang." We like that. Here's to spreading the vegan-goodie love around!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mingling and Meandering in Minneapolis (3 of 3)

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly
What: Day Three 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: In spite of the late nights for many (see yesterday’s blog entry), most folks were able to rouse themselves Sunday morning in time for HSUS’ Senior Director of Factory Farming Campaign Paul Shapiro’s morning pick-us-up keynote speech, “Advances for Farm Animals: How and Why We Are Winning.” Paul presented a well-documented and timely Power Point presentation detailing almost all of the successes farmed animals have gained in recent history, from statewide ballot victories to slaughterhouse closings to the number of ‘tweens, teens, and college students who now identify as vegetarian. Paul accidentally left out that a certain vegan publication was recently named “Best Lifestyle Magazine” in the country, though he promised to correct this faux pas or eat foie gras.

Next up, Lorri Bauston of Animal Acres educated us on the effort to establish humane enforcement agencies for farmed animals in California—basically an SPCA for cows, pigs, chickens, etc. ACI, or “Animal Cruelty Investigations,” is currently in the process of gaining legal status--a worthy, progressive effort you certainly will be hearing more about. COK’s Executive Director Erica Meier followed Lorri, giving new meaning to the phrase “voice for the voiceless.” Doing her best raspy Demi Moore impersonation (did someone stay out too late last night?), a slightly under-the-weather Erica showed her compassion over illness by gamely delivering her presentation, “Veg Outreach: Marketing Our Message.” Erica showed how we can take a page out of the multi-billion-dollar advertising campaigns of fast-food conglomerates to spread the word about veganism, be it via ads on MTV or “feed-ins” where volunteers give away free veg food. You may gargle now.

Lunch in the VegNews Atrium consisted of approximately 14,835 Chipotle Mexican Grill burritos and fajitas, enough so that each conference attendee got, well, more than one. The ever-hungry Nathan Runkle complained that they were “too small. I’m used to football-sized ones” though they were large enough that the one I snuck on the plane for my flight home certainly caught the eye of the fine folks at Homeland Security. Suffice to say, all you foodies out there, there was no problem finding sustenance at this conference. CAA might consider changing it’s name to Chow for Animal Activists.

While the festivities began to wind down post-lunch, as it was getaway day for many, there were still a few more highlights to be had. A session titled “Lightning Talks” gave anyone in attendance the opportunity to test his or her skills in front of an audience with a five-minute rant on a subject of their choosing. Seeing young people nervously speaking in front of a crowd for possibly the first time certainly gave this seasoned citizen a warm feeling for the future, and truly epitomized the nature of this first Midwest conference. The final plenary followed Lightning Talks, delivered by Mercy for Animals’ Director of Campaigns (and University of Minnesota grad) Freeman Wicklund. Freeman borrowed the title of the conference, “Their Lives, Our Voices” for his talk, which focused on why so many people fight for the dignity of non-human animals. It was the perfect ending to this inspiring conference, and I highly recommend everyone view Freeman’s speech, which I am hoping CAA uploads soon.

The only “negative” part of the weekend was departing Minneapolis. I predict that the Midwest Animal Advocacy Conference will grow in size and stature, becoming one of the “must do” events of the year. I’m glad I was able to be at the first.

Manolos or Manilows? Boyz in the City: Matt "Miranda" Ball of Vegan Outreach, Paul "Samantha" Shapiro of HSUS, VN Publisher Joe "Charlotte" Connelly, and CAA's amazing conference organizer, Gil "Carrie" Schwartz

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.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mingling & Meandering in Minneapolis (part 1 of 3)

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly
What: Day One 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: To attend a historic “first” + a chance to see a new city

The Scoop: When approached to sponsor the inaugural Midwest Animal Advocacy Conference, hosted by Minneapolis-based Compassionate Action for Animals, VN jumped at the opportunity. And we’re damn glad we did. Much like now-familiar orgs Compassion Over Killing and Mercy for Animals, CAA is the new wave of animal activism, blending a winning combination of ingredients including youth, intelligence, professionalism, media savvy, and contemporary technology to advocate passionately and successfully for its chosen constituency.

So, I packed my bags and red-eyed it into Minneapolis, watching the sun rise as the 757 descended. Having never been to Minnesota nor the Twin Cities, Day 1 was set aside for exploration. Meeting up with an old friend, together we walked through downtown and all around southwest Minneapolis. We were amazed to discover this jewel of a city: spotlessly clean, refreshingly cosmopolitan, yet historically beautiful. Old buildings blend with new; lakes pop up everywhere, some just a few short blocks from downtown; modern skyscrapers leave their shadows on charming residential neighborhoods of hundred-year-old homes. Is this city for real?!

We lunched at one of the city’s noted veg spots,
Ecopolitan, a 100-percent-organic raw-vegan restaurant embedded in a building that also houses a spa, oxygen bar, and art gallery, and that also holds free weekly lectures, making it a veritable one-stop eco-health shop. Ordering the Ginger Lemonade (apple, lemon, lime, ginger), it stunned the senses with such flavor that we quickly ordered a second. Next, we settled on two entrées: Spicy Thai Noodles (julienned "noodles" made with carrot, zucchini, daikon, and red bell pepper intertwined with coconut, pineapple, almonds, and cilantro) and the Savory Casserole (a sprouted buckwheat concoction ripe with avo, veggies, and a herbed cashew crème). Each teased the ‘buds with multiple, complimentary flavors: fresh, savory, ripe, spicy. Is “healthy” a flavor? In addition to the fab fare, Ecopolitan is a happening place. Abuzz at 2pm on a Friday afternoon, diners ranged from hipsters to the health conscious. Oh, and how many restaurants do you know that include a “services” section on its menu? I’d like to order a 30-minute Infrared Cedar Sauna Session, please. Thank you very much.

Next, we meandered back toward downtown, taking in the architecture, crossing a highway on a surreal pedestrian bridge, traversing Loring Park (yes, there were lakes), and visiting antique shops and used bookstores. All in a day’s work, mind you. Next it was on to the opening reception of Their Lives, Our Voices.VegNews had the honor of sponsoring the Atrium, the hub inside the Hubert H. Humphrey Conference Center where TLOV was happening. The Friday night reception was casual; guests mostly socialized and munched delicious vegan pizza from Pizza Luce. Both the venue and the conference were intimate, yet the speaker line-up and lectures were A-list. Check back tomorrow for VN’s recap of Their Lives, Our Voices.