Your 2014 Guide to Vegan Festivals and Events in the Midwest

By Leslie Brefeld, 2014 Winter Intern

Looking to get out and expand your vegan circle? One great way to meet like-minded folks who share your compassionate eating values is to attend a VegFest. With more and more vegan festivals popping up each year, even areas that aren’t known for being particularly “veg-friendly,” such as the Midwest, can now boast of several great events. Most festivals are free and offer a day (or two) of festival-atmosphere fun with music, educational speakers and activities for kids. Below are just some of the events that are taking place this year. If there are other vegan festivals in the Midwest that you enjoy, please keep the conversation going by posting the details in the comments section. Thanks!

VegFest, Vegan Tastefest and Expo

Date: April 13
Location: Novi, Michigan
Time: 10:30 am to 5 pm
Cost: $10 admission

The festival features speakers including Daryl Hannah on Turning Inspiration into Action, cooking demos, a food court, children’s activities and an expo with vegan, environmental and healthy products and services.

Chicago Veggie Pride Parade

Date: May 31
Location: Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois
Time: Parade is at noon, registration is at 11 am
Cost: Free admission

Join the parade to support local vegans and vegetarians, raise awareness about a plant-based diet, and socialize with like-minded people.

Mad City Vegan Fest

Date: June 7
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Time: 10 am to 5 pm
Cost: Free admission

Madison is an awesome city, so any excuse to spend a nice summer day up there is a no-brainer. Check out http://madisonvegan.com/ if you want to hit up a vegan restaurant while in town. The festival features speakers including author Nick Cooney, cooking demos, exhibitors and free food.

Veggie Fest 2014

Date: August 9-10
Location: Naperville, Illinois
Time: 11 am to 8 pm
Cost: Free admission

Veggie Fest is the big one in Chicago. It’s named in VegNews magazine’s 2011 list of Must-Visit Summer Vegetarian Festivals. And according to their facebook page, Veggie Fest is one of the largest vegetarian festivals in the country. The festival features over two days of live bands, a Spirituality and Health Symposium, international food court, art show, food demos and family events.

Chicago Vegan Mania

Date: October 11
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Time: 10 am to 5 pm
Cost: Free admission

The festival features speakers, workshops, chef demos, live music with the Culture Cafe Entertainment, kids activities, a food court and exhibitors.

Also, if you’re into travelling, or not a Midwesterner, the Vegan Voice offers a great year-long calendar of worldwide vegan events.

Hope to see you out there! Leave us a comment if you attend to tell us about your experience.

Plant Peace Daily: Everyday Outreach for People Who Care

Book review by Leslie Brefeld, 2014 Winter Intern

Plant Peace DailyPlant Peace Daily is a handy reference guide for vegan advocates. It’s packed with creative ideas that can easily be incorporated into daily life and is a great resource for vegan groups.

The authors, VegFund co-founders Jim Corcoran and Rae Sikora, created the book Plant Peace Daily as an extension of their organization by the same name, which works to guide and inform people on their path to non-violence and cruelty-free living. The two experienced vegan advocates currently lead programs in topics such as Health and Nutrition, Ethical Consumerism, Sharing Our Earth Home, Communication/Conflict Resolution and Effective Activism.

Their book offers many ideas for outreach, tips on how to best communicate and the perfect venues for advocacy.

A few of their ideas include: be your own billboard, use local public access TV, do a natural food store tour, set up library displays, create a local group, leaflet and distribute starter kits and influence restaurants.

Other great info in the book includes a section on effective places and times to do your advocacy work. In “The Perfect Venues” chapter, they note that any place where people are standing in line and bored is a place where people might like to have something to read. Why not a brochure on the benefits of going vegan?

There are also helpful tips on how to communicate with people. The authors remind advocates to consider that they are representing what they are selling:

When you are doing outreach, you are really saying, “Want to be part of my community?”…Be a bright, healthy, positive example in all your outreach.

Plant Peace Daily makes it super easy to find what you’re looking for. Each of the major ideas for outreach are listed in the index, so you waste no time looking around and can go right to the section you need to get more information on a given topic.

Groups or individuals looking for ideas, structure, inspiration or clarification on how to best advocate for animals and veganism will find a perfect match with this book.

You can purchase a paperback copy, which will likely be especially handy if you’re a vegan group leader, or you can access a free PDF version on the authors’ website.

Check it out, and you’re sure to find something new to implement into your advocacy! And, don’t forget to let us know how it goes by sharing your experience in the comments.

 

Dear World, See What I See

Book review by Leslie Brefeld, 2014 Winter Intern

Dear World Cover ImageDear World, See What I See is an honest book about the gap between what vegans see and what much of the rest of the world has yet to discover.

Author Shanti Urreta’s book is written as a series of letters, all addressed to the world. Her introduction to eating healthy (no meat and fresh, plant-based foods) begins with a health scare. Looking for a way to cure her illness, she went online and found information about the links between diet and health. By the time the health scare passed, she had seen the light. Her paradigm shifted, and she suddenly found herself as an ethical vegan.

Urreta chronicles her emotional journey as she tries to make sense of how the majority of people fail to see what she has come to realize. In her new viewpoint as a vegan, she sees that animals are just as deserving of a life of peace and freedom as their human counterparts. She sees that humans acting violently toward animals correlates to humans acting violently toward each other. She sees that by feeding our planet’s resources of food to animals, who are then eaten by the wealthy, we are starving impoverished humans. She sees the need to do what is right.

The purpose of the book is to bring others into the light of this knowledge, which once seen, cannot be unseen. She writes:

“The goal of this book was to have our level of awareness increased in order for us to do better.  My hope is that you are open to this level of awareness. Please continue to learn. See a little of what I see … please

One of the letters of the book is a meditation on karma. She believes that much of the suffering of humankind is a result of our violent and disrespectful treatment of animals. She takes a look at what humans are doing to animals, and relates it to similar stories of what humans are doing to each other. The karma letter includes a selection of stories with topics including loneliness, obesity and deceit.

“…(W)e are all separate individuals, yet we are connected. And since we are all connected, what I do to others is really hurting myself. Animals are also part of us. We are all life—WE are the BEINGS on Planet Earth. We are connected to the animals just by being alive,” she writes in the book.

Urreta also touches on her struggles with how to communicate the message without losing friends or offending people, which she candidly admits she has done with mixed success.  She notes how she has been learning effective communication strategies through public speaking with Toastmasters, and how she tempers the degree to which she advocates when around her family. For instance, she explains that her husband, although a vegan himself, does not like the attention they get when she wears vegan-themed T-shirts. So she only wears them when they are not out together. She makes it clear that her family is an important part of her life and includes stories about them. The book concludes with a few of her family’s favorite vegan recipes.

As an author, Urreta wears her heart on her sleeve. Her desire to share this message of veganism and find a loving way to do it is evident in her writing. Vegans who are having trouble coping with the distance that being a vegan sometimes creates between themselves and their loved ones, or prospective friends, would likely find comfort in reading about the author’s experiences. It is a quick read and definitely gets across the critical points of why veganism is important, making it a good resource for the veg-curious as well. If someone has yet to understand how eating animals is an act of violence, this book might just help them finally make the connection.

 

Vegan Outreach in the Yoga Community

By Leslie Brefeld, 2014 Winter Intern

Hilda in Yoga Pose; Photo by RayAngelo

Photo by: Ray Angelo

People who do yoga are generally a conscious and caring group. They tend to be open to new ideas, and they are growing in number. Vegan advocates, especially those already involved in yoga in some way, would likely find a good audience in people who do or teach yoga. Advocates can bring up the ethical, health and environmental implications of a diet that includes animals raised for food, in the terms of the yogic philosophy.

Ethics

Patanjali, the great yogi who was able to conceptualize and write down what yoga is, described the eight limbs of yogic practice. The limb that stands out for the issue of eating animals is Yama, or “choosing to practice moral restraint in external interactions” (p.44, The Aquarian Teacher). Yama is then broken into five subsets, which include non-hurting (ahimsa) and non-stealing (asteya). Clearly, all the horrors inflicted on animals raised for food from birth to slaughter would violate the former. Diverting milk intended for a mother’s child, and diverting that child away from his or her mother, would be considered a violation of the latter, stealing. Those who practice yoga are working their way toward being more and more compassionate. If they can see that every meal is an opportunity for a caring act of nonviolence, it may turn some minds toward veganism.

Health

Considering health, the following is the perspective of eating meat from yogic philosophy:

“Meat is among the most acid-producing foods. It leaves a residue of uric acid in the bloodstream. Acidic blood is an ideal environment for the development of cancer. Uric acid is a toxin that makes it harder to reach the higher, clearer meditative states because it is an irritant in the bloodstream.

Meat is also among the greatest sources of cholesterol, which contributes to heart disease, hardening of the arteries, and senility. Most animals which are raised for their meat today are fed a variety of chemicals and hormones to make them grow faster and bigger.

Meat takes three days to pass through the human system. For optimum health, men need to digest food within 24 hours; women 18 hours” (p. 253 The Aquarian Teacher).

Yogis tend to be concerned with their health and would likely find all the health benefits of a plant-based diet compelling.

Environment

Refraining from eating animals also corresponds to the yogic principles of taking care of the Earth.

Andrea Kowalski wrote in a 2012 feature for VegNews magazine how the yama (moral restraint) aparigraha, or greedlessness, supports a vegan diet. Specifically, she writes about how much more land, water and energy are used to raise animals for food in comparison to how much would be needed to feed a human with a vegan diet. Also, the yama asteya, mentioned earlier as non-stealing, can also be interpreted as “right use of resources” (p 44, The Aquarian Teacher), which would support this viewpoint.

Jivamukti Yoga co-founder and vegan, Sharon Gannon, answers the question “Can someone be a meat-eating environmentalist?” on her website:

“If that someone is a human being, then in my opinion, no; it is a contradiction in terms. To be an environmentalist is to care about the environment and care about life on planet Earth. The raising of animals for food and all that it entails is the single most destructive force impacting our planet’s fragile ecosystems. Our planet simply cannot sustain the greed of billions of human beings who are eating other animals.”

Reaching Out

Nikki in yoga pose

Nikki in yoga pose

A great way to reach out to the yogic community is to provide them with delicious samples of vegan food. In so doing, an activist can introduce people to the vegan diet, showing how it is normal and good, and also how it connects to yogic practice. Sampling out food is a very positive way to engage people and is an excellent conversation starter–anything from where the ingredients were bought, to how it is prepared, to why people choose to be vegan.

Educational literature to reinforce the vegan food and your message is also important. A Life Connected, by NonViolence United, is a beautiful piece and would be great for placement in a yoga studio. Vegan Outreach’s Compassionate Choices emphasizes the compassionate angle, while the Eating Sustainably brochure from Compassion Over Killing illustrates the ripple effect of eating on the rest of the world. Farm Sanctuary’s Recipes for Life Booklet would likely be appreciated by healthy yogis who enjoy cooking.

If you’re thinking of reaching out to the yogic community and are in need of funding to support your outreach, be sure to check out VegFund’s Food Sampling grant program.

In sum, people who practice yoga often have a deep understanding of how everything is connected into one web of life. Helping this demographic see how veganism is in line with their beliefs can have a big impact. If the yoga community is asked to look deeply at the roots of yoga and its connection to veganism, they can create real social change and greatly reduce the amount of suffering by fellow sentient beings on the planet today.

References:

Bhajan, Yogi. (2003). The Aquarian Teacher

Kowalski, Andrea. (2012). VegNews magazine. “Karmavores?”

 

Starting a Campus Animal Rights Group

By Leslie Brefeld, 2014 Winter Intern

Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) distributes hundreds of vegan food samples and brochures at their college's activities fair.

College campuses are an ideal place to start an animal rights group. Not only are the students open to new ideas, but it gives those involved a great way to creatively express their passions.

AR groups allow you to meet with other like-minded people, to get experience as an activist, to inform, and maybe even inspire, many others.

Even though the number and diversity of animal rights groups is growing, there are still many schools and colleges that don’t have an animal rights/vegan group. If you’ve ever thought about starting a group at your school, but didn’t know where to start, we’re here to help! In this blog, we’ll be listing five tips to starting a group at your college or university, and you’ll get expert advice from current college students who have started, or are a part of, an animal rights group. Creating a vegan or animal rights group doesn’t have to be hard, but it will definitely be rewarding!

1. REGISTER YOUR GROUP

If you want to be affiliated with your college, which means use of their resources, like rooms to meet in, faculty help and greater exposure, sign up to be a school organization. Find out what is needed to get that accomplished through your school’s student affairs or student life office.

Expert Tip: Oxy VegHeads founder at Occidental College in California, Brandi Tebo, described this first step: “So one of the first things I did when I got to college was found veg club. I started by going into the office of student life, sitting down with a coordinator, and asking what I needed to do to get it rolling! Then I filled out the necessary paperwork, and started advertising! I made up these cute little flyers and posted them everywhere around campus, then spent a lot of time planning the first meeting and never looked back!”

2. GET TOGETHER

Set up an informational meeting. Hold it in a public place, maybe in the student lounge or veg-friendly campus food court, so random people aren’t showing up at your house or dorm. During the meeting, find out what people’s interests are and what they would like to do through the group. Make sure to get everyone’s contact information, and if necessary, take up a small donation to cover any costs you incurred by hosting the meeting or to help cover costs for the next meeting. Take notes. You can help newcomers get up to speed by recapping the last meeting’s notes at the beginning of the next meeting. You may also want to think about assigning each other roles so everyone has a clear idea of what their part is.

Resource: Check out the UK Vegan Society’s How to Start a Vegan Group.

Expert Tip: Kitty Jones of the Berkeley Organization for Animal Advocacy described her experience in a college group, after having started a group in high school. “I’m now one of the leaders of Berkeley Organization for Animal Advocacy (BOAA) and am trying to use what I learned from high school in managing this group. BOAA was founded in 1999 at UC Berkeley. BOAA also has no set hierarchy, however there are definitely a few members that are particularly involved. I think that having member roles/hierarchy would make the group work more smoothly and efficiently though.”

Kitty Jones of BOAA gives out samples of vegan ice cream3. DECIDE WHAT YOU’RE ALL ABOUT

Think of what excites you. Leafleting? Tabling? Making meals to share? Creating an animal rights film festival? Starting a vegan mentor program? You can also find inspiration by looking at other student-run vegan and animal rights groups’ websites to see how they are structured and what the various tones/styles of the groups are.

Resources: Check out “Plant Peace Daily” by Jim Corcoran and Rae Sikora. This book includes tons of ideas for activism that can be done alone or with a group. Other great resources are major vegan and animal rights organizations. Look to their websites for information, activist activities, funding and general support. Some of the biggies are Vegan Outreach (for leaflets and tips), and of course VegFund, for resources and funding.

4. MEET WITH REGULARITY

Make sure you give your group a chance. If you don’t have a lot of people at your meetings, don’t be discouraged. Give it some time and think of new ways to bring people in.

Expert Tip: “Whether this is a weekly dinner, bi-weekly movie-screening, etc., make sure that there are certain regular events in place that people enjoy coming to and they know they can rely on. This is the backbone of your organization,” Tebo wrote in an email.

5. MINGLE

Once you are a solid group, don’t be afraid to get out there and network. Keep an eye out for how other groups and yours might have things in common or would just like to do something together. You many never have the opportunity to be around as many people willing and wanting to get together as you do in college.

Expert Tip: According to Alessandra Seiter, co-president of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition at Vassar College in New York, working together with other groups is valuable. “For every event we host, we reach out to other student organizations and academic departments who we think would be interested in co-sponsoring an event. For example, six other campus groups–such as the Food Committee and French Club–co-sponsored our recent Vegan “Wyne” & Cheese Tasting because their missions related to our event,” Seiter wrote. “The most important piece of advice I can give is to network. Having a strong community of driven individuals is indispensable in making a large impact with activist work.”

Good luck and have fun!

Are you part of a campus AR/Vegan group? If so, we’d love to hear about your experience. Please leave a comment below.