Before I relay my adventures at the Twin Cities Veg Fest, I’d like to extend congratulations to myself (how modest of me) for my one-year blogoversary! Exactly one year ago today marked the onset of Farmers Market Vegan. I cannot thank all of you enough for your continued support and enthusiasm toward my blog and hope to continue my online advocacy for many more blogoversaries.
Last Saturday, my best friend Maddie and I completed the four-hour trek up I-94 to Minneapolis for the first annual Twin Cities Veg Fest. Eager to chat with like-minded vegans and to gain further insight into the issues surrounding animal rights, I arrived on the University of Minnesota campus armed with a camera and a smile, while my vegetarian companion proudly sported an open mind in the hopes of receiving the tidbit of knowledge that would finally inspire her to adopt a fully vegan lifestyle. The festival served both of these purposes to an extent and proved quite enjoyable, though Maddie and I both identified significant changes to the event that would vastly improve it for next year.
Arriving at the festival right around noon, I tore into the lunchbox I had packed from home while Maddie perused the food vendors inside the Exhibition Hall. After sampling a meatless frankfurter from Field Roast, Maddie’s ethnic-food-centric tastebuds quickly directed her toward the table of Asase Yaa—a Ghanaian food cart who’s namesake translates to “mother earth” in Akon mythology—for a well-spiced stew of black eyed peas topped with succulent slices of chewy, creamy plantains. Immediately beside Asase Yaa, a raw catering and take-out company called Pure Market Express served up uncooked variations on classics such as lasagna and Boston cream pie, while Seward Cafe offered light, bistro-style fare such as pesto tofu sandwiches and pasta salads. Though I didn’t partake in any of the eateries’ vegan creations, I happily learned that all three sold out of many of their items, further proving the efficacy of advocacy through delicious food.
After lunch, Maddie and I moseyed over to the welcome table to inquire about the free outdoor yoga supposedly occuring at 1:00 that afternoon. As you’ll notice from the two yoga mats protruding from Maddie’s backpack in the above photo, we arrived well-prepared to bliss out in the grassy courtyard with fellow festival-goers. To our gigantic disappointment, however, festival organizer and head honcho Dave Rolsky regretfully informed us that a miscommunication between him and the yoga teacher resulted in the class’ cancellation. First festival suggestion: follow through on advertised promises.
Easing our lamentation of the festival’s lack of yoga, we reentered the exhibition hall for a thorough tour of almost 40 exhibitors, including animal advocacy groups, local veg-friendly businesses, vendors selling compassionate clothing and accessories, and vegan food companies offering free samples. However, amongst the classic exhibitors one might expect to encounter at a veg fest thanks to their deeply rooted vegan ethos (Compassion Over Killing, Mercy for Animals, Field Roast, Upton’s Natural’s, Equal Exchange, Bee-Free Honee, Dandies, Tofurky, Primal Strips, etc.), a couple non-vegan (or even vegetarian) organizations displaying their wares seemed quite out of place in my opinion. Granted, these groups share values common to a veganism—AM950 educates their listeners to make informed choices as consumers while The Hub Bike Co-op fosters a close-knit community of shared knowledge and experience—but when asked about their personal dietary choices, the representatives assured me rather adamantly that they themselves did not follow a vegan lifestyle, nor did their organization advocate for one. The Sierra Club’s presence at the festival worried me even further seeing as they openly support hunting practices. I realize that scouting out an ample number of exhibitors to provide for an interesting and exciting festival, especially in the event’s first year, would certainly be a daunting task, but I think that the TC Veg Fest organizers could have contemplated a bit more about whom they wanted representing the Minnesota vegan community. As I mentioned before, I attend vegan festivals to converse with like-minded people and feel at home for a day in a blatantly non-vegan world, not to receive constant reminders of the lengthy battle our movement still must fight or to have ballot initiative petitions shoved down my throat by Sierra Club members. Second festival suggestion: feature only vegan/vegetarian exhibitors.
1:30 marked the onset of our three-speakers-in-a-row extravaganza, in which we listened to Mark Berkson, Professor of Religion at Hamline University; Shannon Kimball, a humane educator for Bridges of Respect; and Suzy Sorenson, a registered dietician and owner of Move2Veg Nutrition Counseling.
Mark Berkson, Shannon Kimball, and Suzy Sorensen
Mark’s talk, entitled Faith and Food: Comparative Religious Perspectives on Animals, Compassion, and the Meal on Our Plate, examined three of the world’s major religions—Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism—in the context of animal welfare. Arguing that “all religions, at their best, can provide us a framework to see non-human animals not as resources to be used, but rather as kin, as beings with whom we share a great deal and to whom we must extend compassion and concern,” Mark cited specific passages from the Bible, the Koran, and various Buddhist principles to debunk the myth that any form of God—be it Jesus, Allah, or Buddha—encourages the consumption of animals. I found especially interesting Mark’s point that God’s ideal existence for Adam and Eve in Eden included a completely vegan diet and a harmonious lifestyle with their fellow non-human creatures; only after “the fall” did God realize the evils of humanity and the inevitability of cruelty toward “lesser” beings, ceding that humans would eat animals if he supported it or not.
Shannon offered an insightful overview of the popularly exaggerated differences between factory and family farms in his Our Food, Our World talk, focusing largely on the egregious cruelty toward chickens. Commencing by instructing two audience volunteers to stand barefooted on top of an overturned milk crate while he continued orating, Shannon interactively displayed the discomfort and cramped spaces that hens squished into battery cages must endure for 17 months nonstop. He also implemented thought-provoking visuals, such as disturbing photos of the aforemetioned battery cages stacked 13 stories high in a pitch-black, seemingly endless hall of torture, as well as a scene from the movie Peaceable Kingdom that displayed the horrendous fate of male baby chicks—either thrown into a grinder while still alive or discarded in dumpsters overflowing with fluffy yellow chirpers stepping over one another’s mangled bodies. Assuring his audience that these torturous conditions occur not only on factory farms, Shannon then revealed the absurdly low standards by which a farm must abide to achieve the completely false labels of “organic,” “free range,” and “cruelty-free” on their products. All of these noble-sounding classifications permit debeaking, the common practice of severing a chick’s beak with a flaming-hot blade; “organic” only refers to the absence of pesticides, herbicides, and GMOs, not to the animals’ living conditions; “free range” only requires an additional square foot of space on a farm and that hens have access to the outdoors, though this often translates to a tiny opening in the side of the coop leading to a barren rectangle of dirt to which hens have access for a measly hour in a day. In the middle of the talk, Maddie turned to me wearing a disgusted expression and asked, “How on earth can anyone who debeaks baby chicks call their farm ‘humane?'” Exactly my question, as well.
Excited for another compelling talk after our two previous enlightening ones, Maddie and I listened attentively to Suzy’s introduction to her talk, Your Powerful Plate: Nutrition Basics for Plant-Based Eating. However, about two slides into Suzy’s powerpoint, we both agreed that I probably could have delivered a more accurate, informative, and interesting presentation myself. Admitting her own lack of interest in cooking, Suzy advocated a rather expensive and not optimally healthy vegan diet based heavily on processed, premade foods. Instead of emphasizing beans as sources of ample protein and leafy greens as powerhouses of calcium, Suzy recommended relying on manufactured plant-based meats and non-dairy milks to fulfill nutritional requirements. While I respect the use of these convenient products as helpful tools for transitioning to a vegan diet, I firmly believe that we should all strive to base our eating habits solely on wholesome, unprocessed, organic foods—and I would prefer to think that a plant-based nutritionist would agree! Suzy also mentioned supplements quite frequently, highly encouraging the majority of vegans to consume vitamin B12, vitamin D, and DHA in pill form. I will cede the prudence of supplementing a vegan diet with a well-balanced daily multivitamin and a weekly B12 capsule, but Suzy’s intense praise of over-the-counter medicine frightened me; pharmaceutical companies wield a ridiculous amount of power over Americans and advertise pills as cure-alls instead of responsibly informing their patients to improve their self-poisoning Standard American Diets. Disappointed and disturbed that Suzy’s talk did not center around the infinite benefits of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, I completely lost hope in gaining at least a smidge of valuable insight once Suzy declared, “it’s just so easy to pop a couple of pills to fix everything!” Third festival suggestion: feature speakers that advocate a wholesome vegan diet, not a junk food one, dammit!
By 4:30 when Suzy’s talk ended, the festival excitement had exhausted Maddie and I. Thus, we both turned our attention to a gourmet raw dinner at the eco- and health-conscious restaurant Ecopolitan. However, I’d prefer to save that venture for a future post, as this one has already proven quite lengthy. All in all, I quite enjoyed my experience at the Twin Cities Veg Fest and remain expectant for an even more pleasant event next year.
Comment Provoking Questions: What’s the most recent vegan festival you’ve visited? What are your favorite aspects of vegan festivals? Do you find that my criticisms are common negatives at vegan festivals?
Until next time, Ali.