Who: Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
Where: Los Angeles, Calif.
When: July 21–24, 2011
Why: To connect with fellow activists, get re-energized, and eat some amazing vegan food
The Scoop: The world's largest and oldest animal rights conference is still going strong, and, once again, VegNews was a sponsor. It's incredible to walk the aisles of the exhibit hall and see what all the various organizations are doing to help animals. It gives me hope, and I am forever grateful to anyone who dedicates their life to the plight of animal welfare.
So why do we go to this event year after year (my first AR conference was in 2000, and VN Publisher Joseph Connelly has been going since 1994)? Here are my top 10 reasons:
1. The speakers
The jam-packed schedule features more than 100 speakers from 60 organizations, with sessions on everything from how to engage the media and communicating effectively to the abuse of companion animals and understanding the meat mindset. Although the weekend whizzes by, I try to hit up as many talks as possible.
2. The personalities
Imagine 1,000 people in a Westin hotel for four days straight. There are a lot of great networking opportunities, and it's always amazing to learn about the incredible work everyone is doing. Under one roof are Gene Baur and Bruce Friedrich (Farm Sanctuary), Nathan Runkle (Mercy for Animals), Erica Meier (Compassion Over Killing), Jack Norris (Vegan Outreach), Nick Cooney (The Humane League), Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan (Our Hen House), and Julieanna Hever (VN columnist and vegan dietitian extraordinaire).
3. The exhibits
More than 90 exhibitors displayed at this year's conference, and it was nearly impossible to talk to everyone. I allotted ample time to connect with people from Action for Animals, Animal Aid Unlimited, Kinship Circle, A Well-Fed World, HealthForce Nutritionals, In Defense of Animals, Lantern Books, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, V-dog food, and VegFund. Keep up the great work!
4. Film Premiers
Each year, there's a media room dedicated to showing a full schedule of videos–including Farm to Fridge and How I Became an Elephant. We arrived early Thursday to catch the COK-hosted film premier of Vegucated, the new documentary by Marisa Miller Wolfson. Look for a full review in the next issue of VegNews, but here's a sneak peek: it's smart, it's funny, it's heartfelt, and it's going to change lives. I was on the edge of my seat for the entire film, and I can't wait for the world to see it.
5. The Awards
Every year, FARM does a wonderful job of recognizing animal activists for the important work they're doing. This year, the Grassroot's Animal Activist Award went to long-time champions Bryan Pease and Kath Rodgers, both of Animal Protection and Rescue League (Bryan is also on the VegNews Advisory Board). And who won the coveted Animal Rights Hall of Fame Award? None other than the venerable Carol J. Adams, a preeminent speaker and author of The Sexual Politics of Meat. Congratulations to all.
6. The Food
OK, we're vegan, so what would any conference/event/vacation be without the food? Let's just say that FARM takes great care of you. Each morning, complimentary bagels, spreads, and coffee are available to conference attendees, and then a late-night buffet of snacks and sweets are offered after the evening plenary. They've also negotiated with the hotel to offer affordable, all-vegan breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffets at the two on-site restaurants—which may include stuffed ravioli, an array of salads, and freshly baked cookies. Finally, two exhibitors, Samosa House and Southern Fried Vegan BBQ, offered up hot samosas and soul-food favorites like Po Boyz sandwiches, mac 'n' cheese, Fried Chikun sandwiches, and jambalaya.
A closer look at Southern Fried Vegan BBQ's Cajun Chikun sandwich and mac 'n' cheese
7. The Excursions
Once in a while, you want to step out of the hotel and do some exploring. And when Veggie Grill, VegNews 2008 Restaurant of the Year, is just minutes away, we knew it would be part of the weekend. Of course, immediately after our plane landed, the VegNews staff headed straight for the new 'Grill in Santa Monica and gorged ourselves on burgers, sweet potato fries, and desserts. And, since once is never enough, we returned the following evening with some friends (where the whole restaurant seemed as if it had been taken over by AR attendees).
Vegucated star Brian, Our Hen House's Mariann and Jasmine, Vegucated creator Marisa, VN columnist Julieanna Hever, and I head out to Veggie Grill for All-Hail Kale salads
8. The Reunions
When you've been a part of this community for a long time, it's so lovely to re-connect with people at these conferences. For me, it's always the best part of the experience. This year, we had a special reunion. Nine people from our first-ever VegNews Great Adventure to India were attending the conference, and we couldn't wait to see each other again and reminisce about our days abroad. One super-generous local, Frankie, invited us all over for the most amazing vegan spread—homemade lasagna (best I've ever had), Caesar salad, garlic bread, iced chai, and ice cream. It was so good to see everyone, and we can't wait to do it again!
9. The Bar
Like any good conference, the bar is where it's all happening every night. Whether you're a teetotaler or can put them back like nobody's business, about 100 people lounge late into the night talking life, activism, food, and, well, just about anything. It's always a good time, and a great opportunity to get to know people.
10. Support FARM
FARM, the conference organizer, has been working on behalf of the animals for 30 years. Led by the tireless Alex Hershaft, we want to support their great work any chance we get. In addition to organizing the annual Animal Rights Conferences, they also lead campaigns for World Farm Animals Day, the Great American Meatout, Meatout Mondays, and Vegan Earth Day. Happy Anniversary, FARM, and keep up the incredible work!