Recap of the 14th Annual Institute for Critical Animal Studies Conference

Hello, all! As I mentioned last Monday, I had the pleasure of spending last weekend at Binghamton University for the 14th Annual Institute for Critical Animal Studies North America Conference, along with seven of my fellow members of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) and one VARC alum. Today, I’d like to share with ya’ll some of what I found as the most compelling insights from the conference, and well as what I think needs improvement.

First, a bit of background on the awesome organization known as the Institute for Critical Animal Studies (ICAS): co-founded in 2001 and still currently headed by powerhouse intersectional activist Anthony J. Nocella II, ICAS began with the intent of defending the radical politics and activism of the Animal Liberation Front. Today, ICAS — grounded in animal liberation — promotes solidarity with all oppressed groups with an aim towards collective liberation for all beings, functioning as an academic-activist research center that seeks to foster holistic, intersectional social justice spaces, networks, scholarship, research, and education. ICAS now has chapters/offices on each continent, and has hosted conferences like the one I attended last weekend since its inception.

Completely on our college’s dime, I any my fellow VARC-ers drove a big ol’ 12-seater van three hours north, arriving on the Binghamton campus just in time for the last panel of the conference’s first day. Though I was disappointed to have missed presentations on interspecies intelligence, human exceptionalism, and the idea of parasites as companion species from earlier in the day, I excitedly attended a panel that included presentations on neoliberal green capitalism and critical perspectives on the current state of animal advocacy.

The first presentation — given by Livia Boscardin, a doctoral student in Sociology at University of Basel, Switzerland and entitled “Green Growth, Happy meat, and Resource Species: Animal Exploitation in Neoliberal Green Capitalism” — focused on the link between ethical consumption practices (“green” products, “happy” meat, and vegan consumerism, in particular) and capitalism (check out my post on Veganism & Consumerism for more details). I appreciated Livia’s framing of vegan consumerism as a co-optation and de-politicization of the radical idea of animal liberation, as well as a way to isolate the animal justice movement (more on this term later!) from understanding  the interconnectedness between all struggles for liberation, such that we continue to perpetuate violent ideologies like racism, sexism, transphobia, and ableism.

Livia Boscardin presenting (photo: Anthony Nocella).

Livia Boscardin presenting (photo: Anthony Nocella).

Also during that first panel, the aforementioned Anthony Nocella gave a presentation called “Challenging Racism & Ableism within Animal Advocacy,” in which he laid out an “eco-ability” framework that understands how ecological destruction intersects with human identity, and how discrimination against the disabled body is intimately linked with discrimination against non-human animals. As examples of ableism within animal advocacy, Anthony pointed to the “sexy vegan” image that privileges thin, able bodies, as well as oft-cited philosopher and Animal Liberation author Peter Singer’s eugenicist view that humans should be able to kill babies born with developmental disabilities because they ultimately won’t be “useful” to society. As for examples of racism within the movement, Anthony identified the prevalence of vegan Thanksgiving events that encourage folks to celebrate a “compassionate” holiday, while failing to acknowledge the day’s origins in the Native American genocide (and thus that the holiday can never be “compassionate,” even if animals are left off of the table).

After a restful evening in a nearby hotel where most of the conference attendees were staying for the weekend, our VARC cohort returned to the Binghamton Campus for our first full day of panels. I started off the morning at a panel on anti-speciesist pedagogy, which featured a presentation by Binghamton senior Trevor Reddick entitled “An Argument for Native Studies: Toward a Critical Animal and Anti-Colonial Pedagogy.” Paralleling much of the postcolonial theory in which I’ve been interested for a couple of semesters now, Trevor pointed out how colonialism — not a phenomenon of the past or of elsewhere in the world — continues to shape the way we move about and interpret the world, such that we understand ourselves, our modes of being, and our theories and inherently superior to all other peoples (including non-human animals) with whom we share the world. Trevor proposed the integration of Native Studies into educational institutions as a manner of challenging this framework under which we operate, suggesting that by familiarizing ourselves with indigenous worldviews we can begin to interact with the world in less violent ways. While I quite enjoyed Trevor’s presentation, I do wish that he had mentioned that, for this type of work to truly challenge the hierarchies of domination that exist between industrialized and indigenous cultures, those of us embedded in the former must step down from the podium and make space for those of the latter to guide human modes of being in the world, rather than voyeuristically looking at other cultures for our own benefit.

Pedagogy panel (photo: Anthony Nocella).

Pedagogy panel (photo: Anthony Nocella).

Additionally in this pedagogy panel, Binghamton Lecturer of English JL Schatz gave a talk called “Teaching Critical Animal Studies: Beyond Gradeability,” in which he introduced an interesting idea that he had just begun to practice of allocating ten percent of his students’ grades to their “internalization of course material.” At the end of the semester, JL explained that each of his students must reflect upon how well they integrated course material into their daily life, and provide a brief essay on how they rigorously engaged with the course texts so as to move beyond mere consumption of information. As examples, JL suggested that students who adopted (temporarily or permanently) vegan diets in light of their readings on speciesism, or those who called their friends out for making misogynistic jokes thanks to their texts on feminism, would receive exemplary grades in this internalization aspect of the course. I would love to hear the thoughts of any educators out there on this practice!

Later that day, after a delicious lunch generously provided by conference organizers, I checked out the “Theorizing the Biopolitics of Animal Life” panel, featuring a presentation by VARC alum and all-around awesome person Lauren O’Laughlin, who is currently a doctoral student in the Department of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington. Lauren’s fascinating presentation — entitled “(Un)Sexing the Animal: Thinking Critically About Intersex Fish Panics” — examined how scientific discourse surrounding environmental chemicals known as endocrine disruptors (EDCs) reflect the pervasive belief that intersex bodies are unhealthy, inferior, and undesirable. Pointing to scientists who frame as an ecological catastrophe frogs who have both testes and ovaries, Lauren urged us to “articulate environmental concern in ways that do not erase queer pasts and presents.” Omg, VARC alums are the best.

Lauren and I voicing our dissent of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) (photo: Anthony Nocella).

Lauren and I voicing our dissent of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) (photo: Anthony Nocella).

We current VARC members had the immense pleasure of hanging out with Lauren all weekend (they shared a hotel room with us and rode in our van with us), and were able to gain much insight from chatting with them. One thing that really stuck with me from speaking with Lauren was their use of the term “animal justice,” as opposed to “animal rights” or “animal liberation.” Lauren, like me and many others, finds problems in a rights-based framework, and finds the animal liberation ideology to be overwhelmingly masculinist, so feels that “animal justice” most adequately reflects their work as of right now. The term jived with me, so I’ve begun to use it as well.

I took a break from the final panel and ended up having a fantastically productive, imaginative, and inspiring discussion with Anthony and Lauren about the future of VARC and radical animal work in general, before heading back to the hotel for a rousing few rounds of Hearts (my card game of choice).

On Sunday — the last day of the conference — my good friend and fellow VARC co-leader Rocky gave an impressive presetation on the masculinist rhetoric of scientific objectivity integral to discussions surrounding the deer cull  that takes place on the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve (VFEP) every two years (for more info check out the Poughkeepsie community-run SaveOurDeer.Webs.com), which provided a perfect conclusion to our conference adventure.

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While above I’ve reflected upon some of my highlights of the conference, the weekend did disappoint my fellow VARC members and me in a number of ways. For one thing, a number of presenters espoused implicitly racist and colonial ideologies in their presentations, such as the activist who insisted that we “educate” soup kitchen organizers to only serve vegan food to a population whose agency and bodily autonomy are already constantly infringed upon, or the white scholar who railed upon the Native activism organization Idle No More for their “speciesist” traditional practices. Additionally, many (if not most) presenters employed ableist language in their presentations, even after Anthony explicitly listed examples of such language in his presentation on the first day of the conference. Finally, even speciesist ideology made an appearance at the conference — further proving that veganism alone is not enough to challenge internalized speciesism — such as in the research that a Master’s student was about to undertake, which relied upon the assumption that one cannot engage in farming practices without viewing non-human animals as tools for human use. Despite these disappointing aspects of the conference, I’m hopeful for the future of animal justice work and critical animal studies, for most of the younger activists with whom I spoke took radically progressive, intersectional positions in their activism.

All in all, I’m very happy that I got the chance to attend the conference, and look forward to staying up-to-date on the groundbreaking work constantly happening in the realm of critical animal studies. Perhaps I’ll see some of ya’ll at next year’s conference!

In solidarity, Ali.

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To Be Continued…

Hi, all! This weekend I had the immense pleasure of attending the 14th Annual Institute for Critical Animal Studies Conference at Binghamton University, along with eight fellow members of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) (including an alum!). The weekend was jam-packed, leaving me little time to even turn on my computer, much less type up a blog post on it. Rest assured, however, that next Monday I’ll provide you with a recap of the thought-provoking, challenging conference. Until then, stick around for Thursday’s regular # NewsandChews post. Have a great week!

Photo via ICAS.

Photo via ICAS.

In solidarity, Ali.

Vegan Chews & Progressive News {1-2-15}

Farmers Market Vegan’s “Vegan Chews & Progressive News” series strives to promote artful vegan food and progressive discussion of social issues—both of which prove necessary in fostering a society that prioritizes the well-being of all creatures (not just the rich, white, or human) over the continuous striving for profit/resource accumulation.

Happy New Year, all! On today’s edition of Vegan Chews & Progressive News (# NewsandChews), we’ll get into some stories regarding the destructive dieting & detox culture that inevitably crops up around this time each year. But first, an ode to carbs (how do I love thee?) with matzo ball soup and potato salad. Also, don’t miss the three exciting projects in need of support that I’ve highlighted at the very end of today’s post!

Favorite Newly Published Recipe

Pumpkin Matzo Dumpling Soup
Via Bittersweet

Image via Hannah Kamisky.

Image via Hannah Kamisky.

As the winter weather moves into bitter territory, this bowl of rich broth studded with dense golden orbs of chewy goodness seems so inviting I might just bathe in it. I didn’t think that matzo ball soup could be any more comforting, but leave it to vegan cookbook author and photographer extraordinaire Hannah Kaminsky to accomplish such a feat by adding pumpkin into the mix.

Best Recipe I Made This Week

Potato Salad with Coconut Bacon
Via Divine Healthy Food

Image via Susanna at Divine Healthy Food.

Image via Susanna at Divine Healthy Food.

Coconut bacon, caramelized onions, vegan mayonnaise, and potatoes all mashed up into one dish? You might as well just call this salad “Mouthful of Happiness.”

Must-Read News Story

With all the detox, dieting, and New Years’ resolution rhetoric flying around this time of year (which has definitely addled my mental health recently), I wanted to highlight a couple stories that serve as important reminders of self-love, body acceptance, and inner kindness. Two of my favorite bloggers – both of whom write often, inspiringly, and supportively on the topic of disordered eating – have offered just such stories this past week.

Coping with Eating Guilt, Toxic Comments & Triggers
Via Raechel at Rebel Grrrl Living
and
The Two Phases of My Recovery
Via Gena Hamshaw at Choosing Raw

Photo via Rebel Grrrl Living.

Photo via Rebel Grrrl Living.

Favorite Podcast Episode or Video

Time for a New Year’s Revolution: How Diet Culture Upholds Capitalism
Via Melissa A. Fabello at Everyday Feminism

Photo via Everyday Feminism.

Photo via Everyday Feminism.

While I feel that the first portion of the video gets a little victim-blamey, I think that the majority of it does a great job of pin-pointing the social structures behind the common and super destructive phenomenon of the diet/binge/self-hate cycle. One quote I pulled from the video that particularly resonated with me:

“We think we’re unhappy because we don’t look ‘good,’ but the truth is that we’re unhappy because consumerism needs us to be.”

Book Recommendation Awesome Projects That You Should Totally Check Out

Instead of highlighting a book this week, I’d like to point you toward three exciting endeavors currently in need of support. The first is seeking contributions to a supremely important conference taking place this March, while the last two are asking for financial contributions to support meaningful projects.

Call for Presentations – East and South Asian Voices Challenging Racism, Colonialism, and Speciesism Online Conference
Via Hana Low with the Institute for Critical Animal Studies–North America

Image via conference Facebook page.

Image via conference Facebook page.

New Sistah Book Project & 2015 Conference
Via A. Breeze Harper at GoFundMe

Photo via Sistah Vegan.

Photo via Sistah Vegan.

Support the Femmes de Chermaitre Women’s Co-op
Via Vassar Haiti Project

Jeanne Saintulis, President of Femmes de Chermaitre / Photo via Vassar Haiti Project

Jeanne Saintulis, President of Femmes de Chermaitre / Photo via Vassar Haiti Project

A specific note about this last project: while I’m usually hugely skeptical of campaigns spearheaded by Western actors to “benefit” folks in non-industrialized societies (*cough* white savior complex *cough*), my good friend and fellow Vassar student who heads up the Vassar Haiti Project assures me that “this isn’t really a ‘typical’ do good-y non profit type thing. All the initiatives in the fundraiser came from the women, and will be fully implemented by their co-operative….we just put their ideas onto a webpage so that it can hopefully can the support it needs.” My more general reservations aside, I wanted to honor my friend’s request to help spread the word about the fundraising campaign.

In solidarity, Ali.

Vegan MoFo #13: Tamarind Noodle Stir Fry, the Sistah Vegan Conference, & Birthday Love

vegan mofo 2013

Yesterday, my birthday, boasted a bike ride with my good friend Gabe over the Hudson River, attendance of the Sistah Vegan Web Conference with my VARC co-president and secretary, and an intriguing dinner that featured one of my new favorite ingredients: tamarind concentrate.

tamarind noodles (1)

After reveling in my usual green smoothie-granola breakfast bowl, Gabe and I hopped on our bikes and embarked upon the 8-mile journey through Poughkeepsie and across the Walkway Over the Hudson, the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world. Though exhilarating to speed over the Walkway with the wind whipping through my hair while Gabe and I reminisced over our most memorable burrito experiences, traversing Poughkeepsie always instills in me a slight sense of despair, for there exists a prominent juxtaposition between the wealthy, privileged students at Vassar and the largely impoverished, underserved community surrounding us. I suppose that witnessing this disconcerting disparity constitutes the first step in fostering change, and I know that Vassar reaches out to Poughkeepsie residents through school tutoring and gardening programs…but that doesn’t ease my deep anger with the class war that intensifies every day. From that class war, of course, comes food deserts and exploitation of agricultural workers (among other food-related issues), all of which hugely intertwine with the commodification of non-human beings.

These contemplations of the intersections between class issues, racism, and speciesism continued throughout the day with the Sistah Vegan Web Conference, entitled “Embodied and Critical Perspectives on Veganism by Black Women.” Conference presentation topics included the animal rights movement’s problematic tendency to perpetuate patriarchal ideals in campaigns; the paradigm between the body types of black vegan women and the stereotypical skinny, white vegan body; and the oppression often bolstered through the consumption of vegan commodities (for example, the cocoa trade largely depends upon child labor). My fellow VARC ladies and I gathered in my room to virtually attend the conference, and spent a thought-provoking afternoon listening, learning, and discussing these urgent social issues.

 Katie and I broke from the conference for about an hour to concoct a Thai-inspired, veggie-laden, steaming hot dinner inspired by G0lubka’s recipe for Cellophane Noodle with Crispy Vegetables. Though we modified the recipe considerably, Katie and I still managed to produce a satisfying one-dish meal. Our cooking method follows: we sautéed one small onion, a large clove of garlic, and a generous knob of fresh ginger in a tablespoon of coconut oil until just browned. We then added half of a head of green cabbage, a big handful of green beans, and a couple sliced button mushrooms and sautéed until caramelized. Meanwhile, we whisked together the juice of three limes, one tablespoon of olive oil, two tablespoons of coconut sugar, one tablespoon of tamarind concentrate, and one tablespoon of tamari, while we boiled a package of brown rice noodles. Finally, we added a diced heirloom tomato, the cooked noodles, and the sauce to the sauté pan and tossed until well-combined. The tangy, succulent noodles would find improvement only with the addition of pan-fried tofu squares and fresh basil.

I concluded my day by discovering multiple wishes of birthday love plastered upon my door in Ferry, ever reminded of the supportive community in which I’m so unbelievably lucky to take part.

Until next time, Ali.

Vegan MoFo #4: Curried Tomato Lentils, Three-Grain Pilaf, & Crunchy Summer Salad

vegan mofo 2013

My fabulous housemates Tamsin (who shares my deep appreciation of organization and efficiency) and Tim (who spent his summer traversing the country in an eco-friendly educational van knows as the “Big Green Bus”) provided Ferry House Dinner last night. On the menu: a stew of tender brown lentils simmered with tomatoes and curry powder; a creamy pilaf of short-grain brown rice, millet, and amaranth; and a bright, summery salad of kale, sweet corn, apples, bell peppers, and fennel in a lime-cayenne dressing.

dinner 1

Tamsin always ensures that her Ferry dinners include a grain, a protein, a leafy green, and plenty of veggies, offering her housemates an optimally nutritious meal. Though Tim has spent much time in Ferry in the past, he has never before called the house a home, and his first foray into cooking Ferry Dinner proved wildly successful.

Big ol' pot of lentils!

Big ol’ pot of lentils!

In other news related to both Vassar and veganism, yesterday I had the immense pleasure of attending the first class of my Gender and Nature course, taught by a likeminded professor, Jill Schneiderman. I knew when I registered for the course that I would find it extremely enjoyable, though now I’m fairly certain that Professor Schneiderman tailored it specifically to suit me. In examining issues of gender, nature, and environmentalism, the course seeks to accomplish these three hugely intriguing goals:

1.) “To illuminate the connections between subjugated others such as animals, women, and people of color in environmental movements.”
2.) “To understand scientific and cultural histories that led to the gendering of the Earth as female.”
3.) To wrestle with the implications for all life on the planet for capitulation to the nature/culture binary.”

Three-grain pilaf.

Three-grain pilaf.

Um, yes please. The course description reminds me largely of the Marti Kheel ecofeminist conference that I attended last spring, entitled “FInding a Niche for All Animals.” That conference first opened my eyes to many of the issues I expect to discuss in my Gender and Nature course, and I cannot wait to formally grapple with them in an academic setting. The course syllabus such literary works as The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol J. Adams, articles by renowned ecofeminist Greta Gaard and philosopher Lori Gruen, The Dreaded Comparison by Marjorie Spiegel, Sistah Vegan by A. Breeze Harper, and Animal Liberation by Peter Singer—essentially, we’ll read my entire personal library. I almost shook with excitement as Professor Schneiderman introduced the course today, and I will most certainly keep you, dear readers, updated on my studies as the semester progresses.

Summery salad.

Summery salad.

Until next time, Ali.

Vegan MoFo #1: Reflections on an Internship with Compassion Over Killing and a Summer in DC (Part 2)

vegan mofo 2013

Allow me to begin by wishing you all, dear readers, a very happy Vegan MoFo! This virtual festival of vegan yumminess unites food bloggers from all over the globe for one month each year, during which bloggers attempt to post as often as possible, if not every day. Clearly, I’ve started off my MoFo-ing on a rather lackluster note, having failed to post on the very first day of the event (yesterday). Additionally, my first post of Vegan MoFo, rather than featuring a healthy dose of veggie food porn, serves as the second in my series of reflections upon my summer internship with Compassion Over Killing. Rest assured, however, that you can expect many posts, recipes, and tantalizing photos in the upcoming month. Vegan MoFo, onward!

The first batch of DC summer adventures I regaled to you ended with the successful Rehoboth VegFest and the completion of my first week interning with Compassion Over Killing. Predictably, the month of June held many more escapades, both related to my internship and as part of my own personal undertakings. To maintain sufficient organization (a top priority for yours truly), let’s recount my summer tales chronologically, shall we?

June 3

After a whirlwind weekend at the Rehoboth VegFest—one during which I unintentionally abused my feet with sunburns, hours of standing, and plenty of running around—I and my fellow intern Katie received the following Monday off of work. COK struck me as quite committed to ensuring that they didn’t overwork us interns, seeing as they never once during the summer failed to compensate us with adequate rest time after our various outreach endeavors. Considering the very real phenomenon of activist burnout, I duly appreciated this measure of care.

The evening of our COK-free day, Katie and I met for dinner at Sticky Rice—in part to celebrate a job well-done on our first major veg outreach event, but mostly to enjoy a fabulous array of vegan Asian-fusion food. Don’t miss my review of Sticky Rice for a full recap of our overflowing peanut-soba noodle bowls.

sticky rice (5)

Soba noodle bowl with tofu and veggie in peanut sauce at Sticky Rice.

Katie and I at Sticky Rice.

Katie and I at Sticky Rice.

June 8

A mere week following the Rehoboth VegFest, COK participated in yet another large-scale outreach event—the Capital Pride Festival. One of the largest pride festivals in the country, Capital Pride fills two days with ever-present rainbow flags, tons of queer solidarity, a massive parade, and an all-day outdoor festival complete with food vendors and musical performances. Luckily, since COK only participated in Sunday’s festival, Katie and I had the fortune of fully enjoying Saturday’s parade. (Apparently, COK has joined the parade in past years, but everyone at the office seemed incredibly excited to not take on that rather overwhelming responsibility this year). Boasting a seemingly never-ending stream of colorful floats and beaming individuals throwing bead necklaces into the cheering crowd, the parade lasted for about three hours and attracted a crowd that completely overran the Dupont Circle neighborhood.

PETA’s float in the parade.

Because we faced a good seven hours of tabling for COK during the next day’s festival, Katie and I opted not to leaflet the parade. The vibrant and inspiring animal activists Aaron Ross and Kate St. John of Vegan Outreach, however, took full advantage of this hugely valuable outreach opportunity and handed out over 3,000 leaflets to the Pride Parade crowd. Katie and I happily ran into Kate and Aaron as we departed from the parade, reminded of the committed community of animal activists in the DC area.

Katie and I with our beads at Capital Pride.

June 9

Early on Saturday afternoon, I biked over to Pennsylvania Avenue where the Capital Pride Festival filled two street blocks with over 150 exhibitors, music stages, and food carts. I found the COK table located adjacent to a queer Shakespearean theatre company and across from PETA (what a corner of animal advocacy, eh?). Elena, COK’s fabulously competent Special Events Coordinator, allocated to me the task of handing out free samples of Field Roast vegan frankfurters and sausages sliced, toothpicked, and served on a platter with the option of ketchup. Standing next to me, Katie provided an educational leaflet to anyone who took a sample, ensuring that we accompanied the “how” of veganism (with delicious and hearty plant-based foods) with the “why” (to combat animal exploitation).

COK’s table at the Capital Pride Festival.

Festival attendees responded to COK’s outreach with overwhelming positivity; many self-proclaimed “carnivores” admitted that they probably would not have identified the Field Roast products as plant-based if we hadn’t informed them beforehand, and a generous handful of festival attendees enthusiastically revealed to us their own burgeoning journeys toward more compassionate food choices. I mentioned in my summary of my internship endeavors during the month of May that I most enjoyed the aspects of working with COK that allowed me to directly interact with the public, for I still view basic, good-natured grassroots activism as the most effective form of social change…plus, I thrive in any situation in which I can converse thoughtfully about the ethics surrounding veganism.

The Capital Pride festival also provided me with my first sampling of the top-notch vegan soul food offered by Woodland’s Vegan Bistro, formerly known as Everlasting Life Café, my extensive review of which you can find here.

everlasting life cafe capital pride (1)

Vegan BBQ chick’n wings, sweet kale salad, and baked mac n’ cheeze.

June 11

With COK’s two major outreach events of the early summer behind us, I began to focus on more individualized duties in the COK office, including contacting possible exhibitors for the upcoming DC VegFest and launching my restaurant outreach project, in which I attempted to work with various non-veg eateries in the Capital Hill neighborhood to help them incorporate more veg options onto their menus. Restaurant outreach can serve as a hugely valuable form of animal rights activism, since it harnesses the power to maximize the availability of veg menu items and shows non-vegans diners that veg*nism is fast becoming a mainstream movement. You certainly needn’t secure an internship with COK to engage in restaurant outreach, though—with a bit of planning, communication skills, and a visit to COK’s online guide, just about anyone can team up with restaurants in their community to inspire lasting change for animals.

Most days after work, I would retire to my apartment and whip up a fabulous dinner with the farmers’ market produce I’d purchased that Saturday, but I also visited my fair share of the finest restaurants DC’s veg eatery scene has to offer. On the Tuesday after Capital Pride, I embarked upon my third DC dining adventure with my newfound friend Emily, which transpired at Busboys and Poets and involved a plate of the most magical tofu I’ve ever put into my mouth (be sure to check out my review of B&P here).

Coconut Tofu Bites at Busboys & Poets.

Coconut Tofu Bites at Busboys & Poets.

June 14

Much of my internship work this summer involved organizing and carrying out various leafleting and feed-in activities. After researching public events around DC, Katie and I would decide which events would attract a large, receptive, and generally young crowd. We’d then write a description of our leafleting/feed-in to post on COK’s “Upcoming Events” page and advertise the outreach on COK’s various social media platforms to attract volunteers.

Our first formal leafleting endeavor took place at the monthly Truckeroo festival, a showcase of DC food trucks held at the fairgrounds next to the Nationals baseball stadium. Before planting ourselves on a bustling street corner in front of the fairgrounds to hand out leaflets, Katie and I purchased our lunch at the newly opened all-vegan food truck known as The Randy Radish. Offering such hearty hand-held items as jackfruit BBQ sandwiches, tofu reubens, and iced cinnamon buns, truck owners Nancy and Sharon debuted The Randy Radish at a flower and garden show in Virginia and have since taken to the streets all over the DC metro area. The ladies plan to feature their on-the-go plant-based fare at COK’s DC VegFest on September 28, so be sure to visit the festival if you live in the DC area.

Katie and I in front of The Randy Radish all-vegan food truck.

June 18

COK seeks to tailor internships to best serve and contribute to the activist growth of their interns, and my boss Erica Meier ensured that during the summer I would have many an opportunity to practice the skill I view as absolutely indispensable to my activism: writing. Not only did I produce blog posts for three of COK’s major websites (VegDC.com, TryVeg.com, and DCVegFest.com), I also drafted a number of sample letters to the editor to aid the Humane Society of the United States in their fierce campaign to defeat the nefarious King Amendment.

My most major writing accomplishment this summer, though, came when the Washington Post published my letter to the editor, which responds to a very veg-positive article entitled “Vegetarian children in omnivorous households” by recounting my family’s own collective journey to veganism. Erica first introduced to me the notion of writing an LTE in response to the aforementioned article, and in doing so demystified the process of writing and submitting an LTE.

June 23

While Katie and I embarked upon a handful of additional leafleting ventures after our first at the Truckeroo festival, we hosted our first feed-in less than two weeks later by distributing free samples of Field Roast frankfurters at a Nationals baseball game. After devoting the morning to cooking, stuffing inside hot dog buns, and wrapping in tin foil about 400 veggie dogs, Katie and I metro-ed our caravan of food and supplies to the stadium, where we met our team of enthusiastic volunteers. We set up right in front of the stadium’s main gate with two people holding our “Free Vegan Food” banner, two holding the trays of veggie dogs, and the rest handing out leaflets to attendees of the game. In our prime location, we handed out veggie dogs at an impressive rate for about 30 minutes before security ordered us to shift our setup outside of stadium grounds since nearby vendors had complained about us encroaching upon their business.

Katie and a volunteer holding our feed-in banner.

Katie and a volunteer holding our feed-in banner.

Because foot traffic severely decreased in our new location, we couldn’t hand out all of the veggie dogs we had prepared, but donated the remaining food to DC Central Kitchen, a prominent organization in reducing hunger in America and rebuilding urban food systems through social enterprise. While dropping off the veggie dogs at DC Central Kitchen, Katie and I met a director of food recycling who had been a vegetarian since childhood and a chef who eagerly asked for our advice in adopting a plant-based diet. A valuable day of outreach, indeed!

June 27-30

The last major (and largest…and most involved…and most exhausting) veg event of June, the 2013 National Animal Rights Conference prompted four days of COK tabling, constant mingling with passionate activists, and note-taking in various panel discussions. I recounted the conference in detail in a previous post, so check that out for further details.

Katie, myself, and our friend Alan (who works for MFA) at the AR Conference.

Stay tuned for the third installment of my summer adventure tales, as well as the amalgamation of vegan deliciousness that is Vegan MoFo.

Until next time, Ali.

Reflections on an Internship with Compassion Over Killing and a Summer in DC: Part 1

Way back in May, I embarked upon a summertime adventure in Washington, DC for an internship with the fabulous national animal advocacy organization Compassion Over Killing. 85 days, 7558 distributed leaflets, 3 feed-ins, 1 veg fest, 1 national conference, 1 letter to the editor published in the Washington Post, 1 animal sanctuary visit, and an innumerable amount of stuffed envelopes later, I’ve returned home to Madison to enjoy nearly two weeks of repose before heading back to New York to commence my sophomore year at Vassar.

I largely refrained from posting about my DC shenanigans during the past three months—save for my restaurant and farmers market reviews—since I wanted to reflect upon my summer outreach as a whole before sharing my experiences in the public realm. Now, after having the opportunity to gather my thoughts in a space physically divorced from my internship, I can confidently deem my stay in DC an overall positive one, though certainly not without fault.

In this and the next three posts, I’ll first narrate the highlights of my summer chronologically before elaborating on my general views of both my internship and life in DC. This particular post will focus on my experiences during the month of May.

After arriving in the nation’s capitol on the 25th and settling into my apartment, I began my foray into the world of DC-area animal advocacy and vegan living by attending a Memorial Day vegan potluck-barbeque with my boss, Erica Meier, and fellow intern, Katie. Star-struck even before setting foot in the COK office, I disbelievingly hob-nobbed and shared veggie burgers with prominent figures in the animal advocacy movement whose work I had followed since the early days of my veganism—COK executive director Erica Meier, journalist and author of “Green is the New Red” Will Potter, Sticky Fingers Bakery founder Doron Petersan, and co-author of “The Animal Activist’s Handbook” Bruce Friedrich, to name a few. The next day provided a “welcome-to-DC” lunch with Erica at Sticky Fingers, while the day following marked the first of my actual internship.

Sticky Fingers storefont.

Sticky Fingers storefont.

During my preliminary week with COK, I met five of the organization’s nine full-time employees (the other four work in COK’s LA office), learned basic nonprofit tasks such as fulfilling requests for merchandise and literature, and stuffed an office full of goodie bags in preparation for the Rehoboth Beach VegFest that weekend.

VegFest goodie bags, stuffed by yours truly! Image courtesy of COK.

Not but four days after the onset of my internship, I and the rest of the COK team ventured east to Delaware for the first-ever Rehoboth Beach VegFest. The first large-scale AR event I had ever helped to organize, the VegFest attracted over 600 attendees who spent the unexpectedly windy day browsing the wares of 35 exhibitors and listening to entertaining and informative speakers like The Humane Society of the United States’ Paul Shapiro and vegan cookbook author John Schlimm.

Image courtesy of COK.

VegFest speakers tent.

VegFest speakers tent.

My role at the festival included staffing the Tofutown table to offer event attendees samples of Viana sausages and soy- and rice-based whipped creams—though, the aforementioned wind complicated this task by completely overturning my table’s tent on multiple instances throughout the day. Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed my time at the VegFest, where I first discovered my love of interacting with the public while tabling. While I spent much of my summer internship completing important assignments and projects in the COK office, I reveled most in the occasions during which my outreach assumed a more tangible form, such as leafleting, tabling, or hosting a feed-in. For me, no other endeavor—in terms of the positive impact for both animals and the environment as well as the immense satisfaction of having truly made a difference in an individual’s life—surpasses aiding said individual in transitioning to a compassionate, vegan lifestyle. Every leafleting, tabling, and feed-in opportunity this summer provided an ideal venue for doing so, and the Rehoboth VegFest proved no exception.

Tabling with Katie at the COK booth.

Tabling with Katie at the COK booth.

Handing out free vegan sausage samples to festival attendees. Image courtesy of COK.

Dinner on Friday as well as lunch and dinner on Saturday came from a veg-friendly to-go café called Root Gourmet, located across the street from the festival, which specialized in freshly prepared deli salads, made-to-order sandwiches and flatbreads, and packaged dips like hummus and guacamole. Root, along with such beachside restaurants as Hobos, (a)Muse, and Cake Break (which supplied vegan cupcakes for the festival’s cupcake-eating contest) served their vegan menu items at the festival, to the annoyance of a small handful of attendees who complained about seeing non-vegan restaurants featured at an all-vegan event. However, I see the inclusion of such establishments as yet another form of activism; non-vegan eateries can meet and interact with the vegan customers they’ve already at least somewhat acknowledged, thus solidifying the importance of offering animal-free menu items.

Nage & Root Gourmet festival menu.

Nage & Root Gourmet festival menu.

(a)Muse festival menu.

(a)Muse festival menu.

Cake Break cupcakes.

Cake Break cupcakes.

Cupcake-eating contest in action! Image courtesy of COK.

After bidding goodbye to the last few festival goers, disassembling the last tent, and wiping down the last table, I and the rest of the exhausted COK team retired to Nage, the more upscale sister restaurant to Root that would host the VegFest benefit brunch the next morning. Though Nage’s usual menu only features a small handful of vegan dishes, our party enjoyed a sampling of appetizers including shoestring sweet potato fries, hummus and flatbread, and chickpea fritters with lemon marmalade. While my fellow intern Katie and I thankfully could partake in our three square meals on the day of the festival, even amidst the behind-the-scenes chaos integral to event-organizing, many other COK members had not eaten anything more substantial than vegan cookie samples all day—apparently, the hecticness of vegfests frequently leads event organizers to forget to nourish themselves, as our COK co-workers would inform us. I, however, fully intend to never allow this phenomenon to affect me, for I believe that taking the time to tend to one’s personal needs proves necessary in avoiding activist burnout, even if only on one particular day.

Hummus & flatbread.

Hummus & flatbread.

Chickpea fritters.

Chickpea fritters.

Shoestring sweet potato fries.

Shoestring sweet potato fries.

Before heading to brunch at Nage the next morning, Katie and I journeyed to the Rehoboth beachfront in order to experience the real draw of the largely touristy town. With the sand in our toes and the clear water lapping at our ankles, we spotted a dolphin swimming close to shore—a picturesque way to end our weekend at the beach.

rehoboth beach veg fest (9) rehoboth beach veg fest (6)

Nage’s vegan brunch featured an impressive array of vegan pastries, pancakes, grilled veggies, fresh fruit, oatmeal with nuts and dried fruit, tofu scramble, curried coconut cauliflower and peas, and mushroom scrapple—the latter two items absolutely knocked my metaphorical culinary socks off. Plus, as COK interns, Katie and I enjoyed the normally $35 brunch for no charge. Ah, the benefits of nonprofit internships.

Brunch buffet line.

Brunch buffet line.

My plate of mouthwatering brunch fare.

My plate of mouthwatering brunch fare.

After a whirlwind week-and-a-half in DC, I entered into June with bountiful optimism toward the following month of my internship. And that, dear readers, will have to wait for another blog post.

Until next time, Ali.